Saturday, April 4, 2015

Put a Great Title Here

Bubble, insertion, selection and merge. What do these word have in common? The answer is, not much, unless you know a little about computer programming. In that case you could continue the list with quick, shell, heap, and shaker, among others. These are names for different ways to sort data sets. I mentioned in my last post that my teacher observation was in my AP Computer Science class and the lesson had to do with sorting data. I have just listed the names of 8 different ways to sort data. There are many more. Why in the world would there be so many different ways to get such a simple job done? And, yes, at its heart sorting data is a simple task. Part of the answer is that not all data sets are the same and different sorts are better at sorting some data sets than others. Another part of the answer is that we are creative creatures and sometimes enjoy the challenge of finding another, maybe better, way of doing something. One of favorite sayings in APCS is one my mother said many times as I was growing up: "there is more than one way to skin a cat." Having never done this particular activity, I can't vouch for its validity, but I think it is simply a way of saying that things don't always have to be done the same way. In fact, there is a lot to be said for recognizing that when someone does something in a way that is not the 'usual way' and it does the job, we should acknowledge it.

Several years ago I was a reader for the AP Computer Science test. I spent 7 days on a college campus with 120 other computer science teachers and professors (including my college computer programming professor!) We had a couple days of training and 5 days of grading the free response questions from that year's test. The APCS exam has 40 multiple choice questions and 4 free response (sort of like essay) questions where they usually have to write code to solve a problem. During the grading week we each graded one question and one question only, 700 times. The same question, 700 times. This particular exam is notoriously difficult to grade because, in fact, there is 'more than one way to skin a cat'. Several more ways and we, as readers, had to able to grade them all in a fair, equivalent, consistent manner.

Why am I telling you this? I have taught APCS for over 20 years and it has taught me one thing for sure, not all students learn the same way and not all students perform equally well in all ways. For instance, in astronomy we have book test, but we also do many online activities. I love the website known as APOD, Astronomy Picture Of the Day. Since 1996, NASA has posted a picture related to some astronomical topic. It is accompanied by a paragraph of description and explanation written by a knowledgeable person. That is a lot of pictures. You could do an entire course in astronomy just using these images. Check it out. This is a link to the archive page which lists all images:
I also have them do reports and presentations. But best of all are the two ways we experience the sky: in Starlab and through a telescope at nighttime observations. I get no greater thrill than showing someone something they have never seen before through a telescope and them responding with a "that's cool" or just "wow." We haven't had one in a while so we're due.

In other news, Thursday we had our Cobalt Reveal, the current method the junior class Cobalt Committee has of telling the rest of the juniors and the seniors the theme and location of this year's Cobalt (think prom.) It is at The Devyn, a relatively new venue in Sarasota for this kind of event. I am looking forward to going especially since it will be my last one. Everyone looks fabulous in their gowns and tuxes. They do clean up well.

Let me remind you that I will be making a big announcement next post. You don't want to miss it.

Thanks for reading this.

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