Thursday, November 17, 2011

Letting undergrads control my schedule...

Two years ago, I TA'ed an undergraduate Intro to Programming course. The most interesting aspect of that course was seeing non-computer science/engineering students learn to think differently. On the first day of class, the professor asked students to brainstorm how to write a computer program that would solve a sudoku. I have never enjoyed sudoku because it is precisely the type of puzzle that computers can easily solve, and it is therefore a waste of my time to try and solve it.
While I commend the students for volunteering possible approaches to solve the problem, it was clear that many of them were not used to thinking methodically and breaking down problems down into single, executable instructions. However, the last assignment of the course was to actually write a program to solve a sudoku, and it was so satisfying to see the students able to do it. I was most impressed by the students who were non-majors, like art majors and psychology majors, who were able to learn to write elegant, executable code. 

Each of the TA's was assigned to create a problem set for the class. For my problem set, I instructed the students to create a rudimentary calendar program that would update based on events that I decide to add while running the program.
An additional function was that the program had to suggest an activity that I should do (as well as provide the time I should do it). Out of 81 students who submitted the assignment, here were their suggestions, broken down into categories. (Some students suggested more than one activity, so the total adds up to 107.)
Toad's Place is a small-ish bar/dance club/concert venue on campus that graduate students will only visit on the rare occasion that an interesting musician comes to town. Until this assignment, I didn't realize how popular the Wednesday night dance party was among the undergrads.

Here is a further breakdown of the most popular category, television. Remember that this is from 2 years ago, shortly after Lou Dobbs ended his show on CNN, and Lost still existed.
It may seem like a lot of students were really into Fringe that semester, but those 8 students actually just re-used the example I gave in the assignment. I know this because I accidentally listed the wrong start time for the show, and those particular students left that mistake in their submitted programs; only 1 person noticed/bothered to fix it.

A further breakdown of sports shows that TV is still a dominant aspect in this category:

And finally, you're probably wondering what students could possibly suggest outside of those 5 categories. Here they are:
  • attend a Philosophy Society meeting
  • attend an archeology seminar
  • go to Pancakes for Poverty
  • brush my teeth (not sure what the student was hinting at here...)
  • attend an undergrad art critique
  • go to a Knitting Club meeting
  • duel my social rivals
  • go to the Mad Hatter's Tea Party
  • attend a play at the Yale Repertory Theatre

It was a large class, and grading their assignments was quite an undertaking, but they definitely kept it amusing.

Data collected: 11/13/2009

Sunday, October 23, 2011

What should I write on my defense cake?

I had been thinking about creating this blog for a long time, but I just never had time. My defense essentially marked the end of perpetual busy-ness and so I think this is the perfect first post.

So there was a tie between "Congratulations Dr. ThaiBinh!" and "Congratulations Dr. T! ... I pity the foo who did not attend ThaiBinh's defense." (I'd like to credit ES for the latter submission.) I had to make an executive decision and go with what would realistically fit on the cake:

Teehee. Just kidding. My sister took this picture for me:

Bonus! Some friends also submitted haikus (in both 3-5-3 and 5-7-5 form):

You are a doctor...

Many years hard work
Soon you'll have a PhD

ThaiBinh! Now you are both a
doctor and a dwarf!

ThaiBinh's defense, yay!
Will there be talk of pipets?
Probably not, no.

Well done ThaiBinh, PhD
Science is true virtue.

Data collected: 10/13/2011 - 10/21/2011