Priorities - A: high, B: medium, C: low; Status - _: unfinished, X: finished, C: cancelled, P: pending, o: in progress, >: delegated. Covey quadrants - Q1 & Q3: urgent, Q1 & Q2: important
A_Prepare lab for DSS from 2005.09.16 (2005.09.16 teaching TaskPool)
A_@1400-1700 Write Excel lab for next week {{Deadline: 2005.09.20}} (2005.09.16)
A_@1400-1700 Prepare lab for DSS from 2005.09.23 (2005.09.26 teaching TaskPool)
A_@1200-1300 Q1 Do lab in RS303 from 2006.02.01 (2006.02.01 teaching TaskPool)
AX@1200-1300 Q1 Do lab in RS303 from 2005.11.16 (2005.11.16)
AX@1400-1700 Check projects (2005.11.14)
AX@1200-1400 Read DSS reports (2005.11.11)
AX@1230-1330 Point people to Weka resources (2005.11.10)
AX@1200-1300 Q1 Do lab in RS303 from 2005.11.09 (2005.11.09)
AX@1200-1330 Q2 Prepare lab for DSS from 2005.11.04 (2005.11.06)
AXUpload instructions to course website (2005.11.04)
AXRevise instructions (2005.11.04)
AX@1500-1600 Meet Prof. Shepard regarding Weka project (2005.11.03)
AC@1400-1700 Q2 Prepare lab for DSS from 2005.10.28 (2005.10.28)
AC@1200-1300 Q1 Do lab in RS303 from 2005.10.26 (2005.10.26)
AC@1400-1700 Q2 Prepare lab for DSS from 2005.10.21 (2005.10.21)
AX@1200-1300 Q1 Do lab in RS303 from 2005.10.19 (2005.10.19)
AC@1400-1700 Q2 Prepare lab for DSS from 2005.10.14 (2005.10.14)
AX@1200-1300 Q1 Do lab in RS303 from 2005.10.12 (2005.10.12)
AC@1400-1700 Q2 Prepare lab for DSS from 2005.10.07 (2005.10.07)
AX@1000-1130 Prepare lab (2005.10.05)
AX@1200-1300 Q1 Do lab in RS303 from 2005.10.05 (2005.10.05)
AX@1130-1300 Q1 Prepare lab for mie451f (2005.10.04)
BXDiscuss data import : E-Mail from Peter Shepard (2005.10.04)
AX@1400-1500 Prepare lab for DSS from 2005.09.30 (2005.09.30)
AC@1400-1700 Prepare lab for DSS from 2005.09.30 (2005.09.30)
BX@1300-1500 Attend TATP: Evaluating written work in science and engineering, Robarts 4048-4049 (2005.09.29)
AX@1130-1145 Pick up projector and maneouver it to GB248 (2005.09.28)
AX@1200-1300 Do lab in RS303 from 2005.09.28 (2005.09.28)
AX@1430-1500 Meet Peter Shepard regarding groups and lab (2005.09.26)
AXE-mail Harpreet about access to S: (2005.09.26)
AX@1200-1300 Do lab in RS303 from 2005.09.21 (2005.09.21)
AXAssign group : E-Mail from Greg Dashwood (2005.09.21)
BC@1000-1200 Attend TATP: Preparing the teaching dossier, Robarts 4049 (2005.09.19)
BC@1300-1500 Attend TATP: Award-winning TAs talk back, Robarts 4048-4049 (2005.09.19)
AX@1330-1415 Finish writing lab (2005.09.17)
AXFix team lists, remove wanting gan : E-Mail from Peter Shepard (2005.09.17)
AX@1400-1700 Prepare lab for DSS from 2005.09.16 (2005.09.16)
AX@1030-1130 Encode DSS questionnaires (2005.09.14)
AX@1200-1300 Attend lab session (2005.09.14)
AX@1300-1400 Read lecture handouts and Excel book (2005.09.14)
AX@1900-1930 E-mail groupings to DSS class (2005.09.14)
AXCheck web accessibility from projector computer (2005.09.14)
AX@1115-1215 Meet Peter Shepard regarding groups and lab (2005.09.12)
AXDownload Jess (2005.09.12)
AC@1000-1200 Attend TATP: First time TA: Engineering and Science, Robarts 4049 (2005.09.12)
ACQ1 Find out how to do submissions (2005.09.12)
AX@1230-1250 Read in preparation for DSS class on Monday {{Deadline: 2005.09.12}} (2005.09.11)
AXPrint revised copy of syllabus with dates (2005.09.08)
AXCheck if new version of weka is installed (2005.09.08)
AXFollow up with Jess license (2005.09.08)
AXQ1 Find out where to get projector (2005.09.08)
AXQ1 Get door access for MIE lab (2005.09.08)
BXLog on to CCNet and set my password : E-Mail from Peter Shepard (2005.09.08)
AXQ1 @1500-1600 Attend TA training for MIE CCNet (2005.09.07)
AX@1200-1300 Q1 Do lab in RS303 from 2005.11.02 (teaching)


3. Teaching reflections

Yesterday's class session went well. FINALLY! I felt like I was _really_ doing something. What made the difference?

  • Attendance. The professor emphasized the importance of the lab, so all the students showed up. The previous two lab saw half the seats empty, which distracted me a bit. A full house gave me more energy to work with and more questions to field during the lab portion.
  • Preparation. I remembered to tell students about the detailed lab handouts prepared by the previous teaching assistant. The students also spent some time working on the project, which gave them plenty of questions to ask.
  • Timing. The students had the theoretical background from the lecture _and_ the practical need for the tool (even if it was a need created by the project definition). The previous two lab sessions were a little too early, and the lack of theory and need confused the students. This time, though, everything fit.

That was the third time I'd covered roughly the same material, and the difference really showed. I learned from my mistakes and a few brave students' questions, and I figured out what aspects I needed to focus on in order to address their concerns.

I was supposed to introduce JESS, the Java Expert System Shell, but I felt that focusing on Weka for the entire session would leave the students with better understanding. That was a good call. There's enough time to briefly introduce JESS next session, anyway.

What can I do better next time? Preparation is something within my control: always make sure that learning is motivated by something and that students have written instructions that they can follow at their own pace. Attendance and timing are things I can address with the professor's help. I'll also take comfort in the fact that things get a little easier the more I teach them, so I shouldn't be too worried when I completely bomb the first time I teach something! =)

2. Headless chicken impression

Categories: 2005.09.21:2Permalink

Lab 1: What If? Scenarios in Microsoft Excel turned out to be an excruciating demonstration of Murphy's Law straight out of a Worst Case Scenarios book. I put the Microsoft Excel file on my website and confirmed that it worked before the class started. I had my spiel all set up and ready to go. I labeled each desk with teams to help people find each other. And then I waited.

Ten minutes. Fifteen. People still weren’t there, so I started the lab with just half the class present.

I told them about my commitment to not just teach, but help people learn. I got their feedback on what works for them and what doesn’t. (Good: provide lots of exercises, ask questions, give help. Bad: computers that don’t work, teaching too fast.) I asked them to help me remember to slow down.

Then I started on the lab.

Or at least, I tried to. Murphy’s Law just steamrolled right over me.

sacha.sachachua.com was unreachable. I had a copy of the lab on my computer, but no USB disk. I couldn't connect my laptop to the lab network. I couldn't even remember my password to the course website in order to upload the file after a resourceful student lent me his USB disk.

I was sweating floods of panic.

Backup plan: I bookmarked a video demo of scenarios accompanied by a text description. I told students to check that out while I frantically looked for ways to get the file online.

When I couldn't figure out a way, I started Excel and tried to show it–but the screen would’ve been nearly unreadable from the back. I quit that in frustration and started telling people instead about why they should learn about Scenario, Goal Seek, Solver, and other cool functions, but hearing someone speak about the coolness of Scenario and other things is really no substitute for actually doing things, actually trying things out.

And when I said all that I needed to say about that, I apologized for wasting their time and being such a terrible TA. I had done very things I hated about ineffective teaching–boring lectures, unprepared chaos, unclear structure. That was my responsibility, and I flubbed it.

The students were amazingly supportive. "It’s the effort that counts." "Don’t worry, there’s next time." "You’re better than some of our other TAs." (Funny how that one comment can be both encouraging and saddening.)

And they _applauded._

They clapped for the girl up there in front going to pieces in front of the crowd, who had nothing going right for her but who still kept going anyway because passion wouldn't let her just give up and not care.

They smiled.

They told me they believed in me.

I'm there to help them learn about decision support systems, but they're going to teach me far more about teaching and learning and life.

I'm going to listen to the recording of the session later. It's going to be absolutely painful, but I'll learn from it anyway. (Must stock up on chocolate before I do that.)

What did I learn?

- Upload copies of lab stuff _everywhere_: CCNet, my website, Gmail, etc. - Add stuff to the S: drive so that people can easily grab it. - Might be better to use lab time for questions; need prelab activities. - When things get really messed up, that personal connection is what’s going to pull me through the painful moments.

Easily my worst-ever speech. Easily my worst-ever class session.

... and the most instructive and inspiring moment in my life so far.

1. Teaching assistantship

The teaching assistant for the next class promised to pass by at 1:00 to pick up the projector, but he didn't show up until 2:00. I couldn't leave the projector alone and the office was closed, so I ended up waiting in the lab for an hour. I used the time to read through lecture notes. Interesting handouts! I particularly liked the articles from business magazines on decision support systems and change management.

I also reviewed Excel features in preparation for my labs. It's such a pity that the book I was reading was published in 1994. Yes, it's _that_ old. Egads. I really need to find a newer book on Microsoft Excel. Yes, guys, my job as a teaching assistant involves preaching the goodness of Excel. It's not a bad tool, really. I like Solver and I think PivotTables are really powerful in the right hands. Microsoft Excel is abused far less often than Microsoft Word. (Hear that, all you people sending DOCs when web pages or text files would do?) It's also less insidious than Microsoft Powerpoint, which stunts most people's presentation skills. Microsoft Excel is not a bad thing.


I need to figure out a good way to do the labs. The room is a classic computer lab with big monitors on rows and rows of desks. At 5'1/4", I can barely be seen from the back row--and that's already with my attention-getting red-and-orange outfit!

Demonstrations would also be hard to follow from the back. There are far too many distractions: the hum of the airconditioner, the clickety-clack of other keyboards, the glow of almost forty other monitors... And it's 12 - 1 PM, too! Heck, _I_ felt kinda sleepy.

On the plus side, one student said she liked me because my voice was loud enough to be heard. Hooray for drama in education, and hooray for Toastmasters!


How can I best help them learn?

What am I there to help them learn?

My job is to help them learn how to apply ideas from their decision support systems lectures by using software such as Microsoft Excel, Jess, and Weka.

I _could_ stand up there and demo everything, but I don't think they'll walk away with important lessons. I want them to try out at least one new feature: to know that it's there, why it's there, and how to learn more about it. I want them to have time to work on their project, too, but that's really something they're going to end up working on outside class. I need to talk to Peter Shepard about how much time they should budget for that project.

Self-paced lab exercises helped my first-year Java students back in Ateneo de Manila University, and something like that just might work here as well. I'll need to prepare interesting, engaging exercises that will expose the students to various features of Excel. I can spend 5 - 7 minutes (hah! A Toastmasters talk!) at the beginning of the class to establish the importance of the topic and perhaps take any questions, let them loose on the topics, and then wrap up at the end. I'll need better feedback than waiting for questions. Maybe comments on a blog or on the (very slow) course website? Little slips of paper? Index cards? I don't know yet. I need to figure that out before next week.

It's fun teaching again...