New tricks, new year, same dog!

Hi, again!  It seems like a month since last Wednesday because a zillion things have happened in seven days — so much busy crammed into seven 24 hour ticks and tocks.  Whew — back to school is a bullet train!  I’ve been making a list of things to share in a MEGA START TO SCHOOL LIST for teachers.  Things that I have dealt with, done, remembered and created in the last seven days.   This was my 27th year to start school in a classroom of smiling faces — 18 of those years at 4 different high schools in 2 states; 2 years at 2 different middle schools (neither of which I was equipped for or very successful at because middle school teaching is a truly calling, and I was put at each as a placeholder until a high school job could be arranged (not because it was my area of expertise) — the struggle was real believe me!); and 7 years at community college where life is light and fluffy and 99% a breeze.   So that has been my very irregular path to 2017-18 where I find myself exactly where God wants me to be teaching, learning and chasing my tail most of the time.   I will say that very proudly I am an old dog at the practice of teaching school.  Old dogs are the best dogs because they are trusted friends, happy to see you, and make you smile.  I strive to be all those things to my students and colleagues.  This year the old dog in me is using and learning a few new tricks that I want to share with you in case you need a few new tricks as well.   Read on as I have subdivided by course to help organize my pretty exhausted and random thoughts~


  • NEW TRICK #1:   It’s official….I’ve decided to try Pacing Plan B with Create PT before Christmas and Explore PT in March.   Seth R., our buddy from Orlando, convinced Gina that we need to be doing the 24% task when students are the freshest to the course >> Gina convinced me that I need to trust myself to try teaching CSP in a different order >> Tommy D in Panama City had the vision before all this to request I create a Pacing Plan B that organized our units in this very format.  So, after three trusted colleagues implore me, I must listen.   I’m in, and we are programming all fall rolling right into Create PT between Thanksgiving and Christmas.  Fingers crossed!   If you would like to see my pacing calendar for the students, it is at JW’s APCSP Pacing Calendar link.
  • NEW TRICK #2:  On the 1st and 2nd days of school we did Boolean bingo then robot algorithms so that the class would be unplugged and engaging.   After get-to-know-you bingo on the first day, we talked about procedures using my robot algorithm worksheets and pencil erasers as our robots.   Day 2 was a little review then I pulled out the shower curtain robot grid and together we worked out the 1st of the 4 robot questions from the released Practice AP Exam.  Next I divided the class into 3 teams and each team was given 1 copy of one of the other robot problems.  They worked collaboratively to solve the problems then as the entire class gather around and with the problem on the projector, the team members served as robots, callers, variable holders to teach the problem to the group.

It was such fun and they actively communicating, problem solving, decomposing, analyzing AKA computationally thinking!  It was a huge success and a great start to the year.   If you have already started school, I recommend you take 2 days and do these activities but get a shower curtain grid made first 😉

  • NEW TRICK #3:  Since I will be programming all fall, I have revised the Flipped Programming Plan and created a Plan B version.  It has a little more stacked programming in Semester 1 and all the EarSketch is moved to Semester 2.  Here is the Flipped Forward Programming Plan B file if you wish to flip your classroom to maximize class time for scaffolding toward the PTs.


  • NEW TRICK #1:  On the first day I wanted badly to do something unplugged and engaged like CSP.  Think.  Think.  Think.   I planned to give the class some flipped work using the site (Lessons 1-3 specifically) so I thought we could do something with Hello World to introduce that.  What I came up with was to code up Hello World in my IDE so it would be color coded then copy/paste that to Word and enlarge it to a full page.  Here is my Hello_forUnpluggedDay1 if you want it.   After that I printed enough sheets for 1 per person, I cut each line of the code into pieces/strips then created envelopes per person with all the pieces (double cut them so students cannot simply reassemble as a puzzle).    Class started with everyone introducing themselves telling how CS-A was going to play a role in their college plans.  [In other words, what do you think you want to do when you grow up and how will this class help you be best prepared.  That helped me know if the right students were in the course.]   Each student then received an envelope and emptied their contents on the desk.  I guided them through “writing” or assembling the program by describing what we were looking for like “is there a piece of code that looks like it might be a file name….everything in Java is a “class”, do you see a class?” then “we need to open a “container” aka { … do you see anything that opens something?”   Eventually we assembled the entire program on their desk by sliding pieces of paper around.

I also distributed a full page of incomplete code for determining radius.  This was pulled from one of our textbook source code libraries.   Because the math was familiar to the students, we analyzed this code by completing the formulas, missing brackets, variables, semi colons.  It was a purposeful, unplugged first day.

On Day 3 when setting up our javaJournals, students added their envelope contents to a page then glued the empty envelope inside the front cover to hold post-it notes.

All in all it was a good way to start the course — thumbs up idea!  [PS, this will probably become my new way to introduce text coding syntax in CSP as a “drag and drop” style of working with the text code.]

  • NEW TRICK #2:  This summer Gina and I talked to several teachers who swear by the use of CodingBat in their CS-A classes.  While we had heard of the site for years, we had not realized until Gina met a teacher in Georgia that there was data to back up the claims.  The teacher Gina met had been tracking his CS-A scores for years (both before and after incorporating Codingbat) and could prove the increase in scores after the interjection of the site.  If pictures say 1000 words, data screams 10,000 words.  Point made!   After pondering and looking online in vain for ideas or for a systematic plan for Codingbat, I ended up making my own plan this weekend.  It may or may not be the perfectly-paced strategy, but it is my first way to reward the hard work of coding by using as a test score and to divide the categories of topics by nine weeks.  Please use, edit, make it your own.   Just go forth and conquer Java!   Here is my codingbat-java_checksheet

In addition to all those new tricks, I wanted to say that I make a point in class and on our LMS digital classroom in Canvas to share the Course and Exam Descriptions, rubrics, exam info from AP Central.  Students need to know how to find and know the resources CollegeBoard provides for their course just like we use them as teachers — please point students to their CollegeBoard course pages and resources. 

So as you can see, I’ve had a very busy last 7-10 days.  It is tiring just thinking about it in the rear view.  No wonder I’m an old dog and getting older by the minute HA!   Pretty soon things will settle down and a routine will set in.  If you haven’t started back yet, please rest up and enjoy the last of August.   If you are like me, hang on because we are rolling already, baby!

It’s going to be a great year — glad you are along for the journey.    Blessings, Jill