Spring term projects

It’s Week 5 of Spring Term here at Carleton and I’m wondering where the hell the term went. I’ve been so busy I’ve barely had time to catch my breath, or blog—and this is supposedly my “light” term, since I’m only teaching one class. Ye gods.

So what have I been working on? As usual, too many things, but I’m enjoying all of them immensely. Here’s a snapshot of what’s keeping me out of (too much) trouble these days:

Teaching: Flipping for the flipped classroom

flipped classroom

I’ve been reading about, and contemplating, the “flipped classroom” concept for quite some time. (The basic idea is that the “lecture” part moves outside of class—students do this part on their own—and classtime is spent on “homework”—more involved problems that get the students to grapple with and apply the material, under the guidance of the professor, in groups.) Since I’m only teaching Intro this term, and since I’ve taught Intro so many times that it’s second nature to me, I decided to experiment with flipping my Intro classroom this term.

I made some modifications to the model: I don’t post any video lectures, nor do I have an online discussion component. What I have done is assigned very targeted readings and exercises before each class. Most of the exercises the students do on their own. I frame these exercises as a self-check: “after doing today’s reading, you should be able to do the following”. The students hand in one exercise at the start of class. Sometimes it’s a programming exercise, sometimes it’s algorithm development. Based on the exercises that come in early enough and my past experience with certain tricky concepts, I will sometimes do a short lecture/example/summary at the start of class. The bulk of classtime is spent having the students work in pairs on programming problems. I usually have them work on a problem for 1-2 classes, and then hand in the finished product a few days later (so that they have time outside of class to finish up if need be).

The main thing I’ve learned from this experiment is that I talk way too much! The urge to lecture is strong. But I’ve also seen gains in learning and, more importantly, tremendous gains in confidence in my students using this model (particularly when I shut up and get out of their way). They’re working on what’s traditionally been an angst-ridden, tricky project involving datasets and lists this week, and I’ve been amazed at how smoothly it’s gone. They’ve even found conceptual issues with the textbook, on their own. I’ll admit, I’m flipping for the flipped classroom!

There are some changes I’m contemplating. I see myself posting some videos in the future (particularly around class development and recursion), and I may add a discussion board in the second half for students to post (and respond to) questions about the readings. But so far, I’m very pleased with the results. It will be interesting to see what the students say on their midterm evaluations about the model, to see if they are as enamored as I am.

Research: Writeups and grant apps and data, oh my!

My research life is where I feel torn in many different directions. On the one hand, I’ve got a tremendous backlog of data to analyze and stories to tell about that data. I figure I have 3 more papers worth of stuff there. So I’m trying to get those out into the review stream. One’s close, but I’m having problem with the framing. One needs a lot more data analysis before the story becomes clear. And one I haven’t even started yet.

On the other hand, there’s this new research I want to get moving on, on self-healing networks. Even here, I’m pulled in 2 directions: extending my current work, to develop general system heuristics for quality of experience prediction; and extending the general idea of self-healing networks into the home networking space specifically. Thanks to our IT folks, I’ve been able to expand my testbed so that I can try a whole bunch of crazy things, but finding the time to design and carry out experiments is tricky. But I need the data from the experiments so I can write the necessary grants so that I can do more experiments.

When the number of hours I can spend on research each week is in the single digits, finding the right balance between writing and new research is a struggle. I’m still trying to figure out that balance.

Life: Keeping up with the kiddos

Someone told me that going from one kid to two is an exponential increase in work, and darned if that isn’t true. My son’s been home for 4 months now, and I’m still trying to get the hang of being a parent of 2. Not to mention all of the adjustment issues inherent with adopted kids and the daily assertions of independence from my almost-5 year old. One thing my lighter teaching load has afforded me is the opportunity for weekends mostly free of (school) work, so I am enjoying the extra family time. I just wish these kids didn’t exhaust me so thoroughly!

The big project on the home front has been the post-adoption stuff. Reports and social worker visits at 1 and 3 months, plus another one next month. Paperwork, paperwork, and more paperwork. We’re also starting the process of finalizing the adoption, which means….yep, more paperwork. But if all goes well, the adoption should be finalized this summer (and then we get to apply for citizenship and a passport and a SSN…the fun never ends. Yippie.). And in the end, it all means we have this wonderful, funny, happy, loving little boy in our family, so of course it’s all so very worth it.

So that’s a snapshot of life, spring-term style. What are you up to this spring?

Image source: http://fgd.trebec.org/posts/fun-and-games/