Friday, January 4, 2013

Approval for CS101 at the Community Center.

As I explained in my late November, 2012, blog posting, I liked Udacity CS101 enough to propose a mentored edition of the course for the new North Hempstead "Yes We Can" community center, here in my neighborhood. The idea is to offer the free CS101 course with the added value that the community center provides the PC's and Internet that folks need for working on the course, and the students get my presence, so they have someone to turn to for help if they get stuck on any points of the course. The challenge for me will be to recruit and retain students. I don't just want to get people to start CS101, I want them to complete the course and earn the certificate that Udacity offers to folks who pass the final exam. I've drafted up a brief course description. Professor Evan's video (linked earlier in this paragraph) may be better marketing than plain old text on paper, but a snazzy video is hard to leave in the hands of a school administrator as a souvenir of a meeting with me.

For more about what I hope people will get out of CS101, see my early December blog posting about CS101. I really hope that the course will influence some kids into taking the prospect of college more seriously, and to maybe even consider a possible major in computer science. Of course, it is easiest to remember your goal is to drain the swamp when you are not waist deep in alligators, and the approval for offering CS101 at the community center only came on 12/21/2012, the day that the schools let out for Christmas vacation. (It was last July that I proposed this program. It just took a while to win consent from Parks and Recreation, the folks who run the center). So, as of this writing, I have not met with the high school administration to discuss how to recruit students for the class and can sit around with high hopes. "Nothing but blue skies...". Even though I know reality is dead ahead and I'm closing in fast.

My plan is to have once/week class meetings of the whole team (Monday evenings). I can slip a little of my own material in to those days. We'll start each of those sessions with a Scrum-inspired stand-up meeting where we'll ask each person to briefly state:

  1. Who they are.
  2. What did they do last week (lessons, and forum activity).
  3. What do they plan to do this week.
  4. What obstacles are hindering their progress?

The stand-up meeting is short and we don't try to solve the obstacles during the stand-up meeting, but I hope the meeting will help people connect if someone has a problem and someone else has a solution. If there are consistent problems heard, that'll be my clue to perhaps try to explain something in class. The other "win" from this meeting is it gets people to commit to what they aim to do that week. Scrum-methodology calls for a daily stand-up meeting, but I'm uncertain we could get everyone to show up at the community center every evening. So, I am aiming to do weekly meetings on Mondays.

For the first session, I've prepared a set of slides to give people an overview of what to expect from the course. I'm hoping that first session will get people to commit to sticking with the class for as long as it takes (and as it's nominally an 8 week class, it isn't a particularly long term commitment).

I've given some thought to what we might want to cover in class on other weeks. I hope the CS101 videos convey the technical material well enough on their own, so the sorts of things I'm thinking I might need to add are:

  1. Goal setting.
  2. Time management.
  3. Good work habits. Note taking, minimize distractions. Maintaining a balance between work and play.
  4. The value of participating in the forum. Why take the time to help other people out?

Other school nights, I plan to be available in one of the tutoring rooms in the community center from 7PM-9PM. If anyone wants to see me on weekends, they'll have to make an appointment with me. The center is across the street from my home, so it's not going to be a hassle commuting to there.

If you have ideas on ways to improve the wrappings I'm suggesting for Udacity's CS101 course or thoughts on how to recruit students for that course, I'd sure like to hear them. I'm expecting we'll need January to work out a few technical issues (like the community center's overly restrictive firewall) and to get out the word about the class. I hope we'll be able to start the mentored course offering in early February.

The course is free, but membership in the community center is required to use the center's facilities. If you live in North Hempstead, NY, please consider signing up to take CS101 at the Yes We Can Community center on Garden St. in New Cassel.