Archive for August 2010

Intro to Jython Lecture: Reflections

I’m acting as an unofficial TA for an unusual course this semester: “Rapid Prototyping”. This is a course for students with non-CS background: the goal is to get them up to speed with the basics of quickly building UIs and other apps for research. It’s not a gentle introduction to programming; after half a class on loops, objects, data structures, etc the class move quickly into building Java (Jython UIs and a variety of other fairly tricky topics).

I got the opportunity to teach that “recap of all CS1 (in a different language you don’t know) + building UIs” course. Three hours to cover a great array of topics, going off slides that the main professor prepared. Even just keeping the students semi-conscious for 3 hours is definitely a bit of a challenge (thought these are all graduate students so it’s better).

What I did:

Part 1: Language Intro: The main things I thought about was trying to reach lower skilled students and keep everybody interested for the whole time.

I supplemented the existing sides with 8 exercises designed to highlight what I thought were tricky things. I used my usual “ghetto clicker” technique of having students hold up fingers to indicate solution 1 2 3 etc.

Pros. The initial activities did well: most students had to think a little but in the end most got them right. Plus after the questions I would tend to get a little flurry of questions to help clarify understandings even from the people who did get it. Coding ones seemed to work given the talking and the fact that we could contrast the syntax between correct and what they wrote. This (as usual) also got good feedback in the mini-surveys I passed out. Plus, just helped to break up the lessons a bit.

Cons. Questions about finding bugs proved a bit problematical – I think I need to make it concrete by labeling the lines and asking to pick which one has the bug. Also a problem was knowing when students are done…need a way to figure that out even with the ghetto clickers.

Part 2: Java UI basics: I wanted to keep things practical so I opted for live-coded examples + the original slides.

Pros: Generally this went pretty well and I could hear a little flurry of typing whenever I started so people seemed to be keeping up to type as I did. Might be possible to leverage this into a more hands on activity where not everything needs to be coming from me. Got one enthusiastic respond from my surveys.

Cons: Obviously took some time but I think it was well spent. Major issue here was just exhaustion on my part – 2.5 hours is a long lecture. I think I need to plan more carefully at the end…I tend to plan beginning to end which leaves the end a little weaker. Maybe the other way would be better.

Part 3: Random stuff and talking about the assignment: I followed the notes with this, but it was difficult because it was unclear exactly how things fit together, which stuff was more important. Maybe rushed a bit. I think we could easily have taken the “learn about the assignment stuff” offline…and gotten more time. But what would we have done? If I had to do this again I might have tried to put some longer coding thing in the middle so that both the students and myself would not be so tired at the endpoint.

My Slides!