Archive for April 2011

Guest Lecture: Media Computation Data Structures

The best part of the class was definitely mocking the stupid behavior of the wombats

Mark recently asked me to teach a guest lecture in his Media Computation data structures class.  The lecture was an introduction to the Simulation engine Greenfoot.  The goal was to introduce the idea of simulation, toss out a few key bits of terminology to prep students for later classes, and get students playing with the Greenfoot engine.  The course was 50 minutes for a class of 25 (though, in practice only about 15 or so showed).

Mark gave me some slides, I made a few modifications:

  • I moved a few of the definitions to the end of the lecture.  Mark said the main goal was to get them playing with Greenfoot, so I figured I’d get to them if we had time.
  • I turned a few question slides into concrete student activities.  Mark may have intended that…I adjusted them to my taste (mostly putting them in a multiple choice format so it was clear to students that would be accountable for the answers
  • Cut a few slides, replaced some of the code heavy slides with live coding…once again could very much have been the intentio

What Went Well

Students responded well to the activities.  They also quickly warmed up to me, responded to my jokes, seemed to pay attention.  Reintroducing humor into my lessons has been a goal of mine, so I was happy with that.

What Went Poorly

We ran well over time, didn’t even finish the main coding activity (got to a chunk of it).  What made me feel especially dumb was that I wasn’t keeping close tabs like I should so I didn’t even adjust properly.  I was really glad I moved the less key slides to the end.

Part of the problem was I wasted time on the code reading activity.  The other issue was keeping the students in sync with me as we went through Greenfoot took a lot of time.  Very often I had to go back because somebody didn’t see how I added walls to the simulation or whatever.  In retrospect, I think I would have taken a page from Just in Time Teaching here…get the students ready to rock with a small tutorial assignment beforehand, so you can dive right to the interesting stuff in class.

But, excuses aside, letting class time get away from me was really bad and there’s really no reason it should have happened.


As is my custom, I had students fill out feedback forms.  This time though, I included a few content level questions on my forms:

  1. Why do Computer Scientists think building simulations is a skill almost anyone could benefit from?
  2. What is the difference between continuous and discrete simulations

I handed out these forms at the beginning of class.  I was curious to see if the students would answer them as they went or do it at the end.  The result was they did both, but I think either way it caused the students to pay more attention to what was going on in the definition part of the class.


Student feedback summarized here.

My Slides

My slides.  I made it to slide 25.