Friday, May 9, 2008

Mini-Course: Finished

I guess you could say there's a reason I didn't post anything about my mini-course for days two through four. That reason is quite simple: I was too tired and had too little time to write whilst preparing my slides for the next day! I guess this is what happens when you prepare a course for the first time - I'm sure next year will be easier... right? Right?? :)

In all seriousness, though, I am so happy with how the week went that I can hardly put it into words. So I'll begin with a summary of what we did after day one, and end with an attempt to capture my feelings as they are just two hours after it all ended.

On Tuesday, we kicked things off with some material on game design. I wanted to squeeze a bit of that in before we started working on our own games in the lab, but also wanted to give as much lab time as possible, so I only did an hour's worth of lecturing before moving on. In the afternoon we were back in the classroom, and covered topics of usability, using principles from Donald Norman's Design of Everyday Things. I used CS Unplugged's Chocolate Factory activity to get the girls thinking about issues of design.

I spent some time on Wednesday morning talking about computer graphics. This was a tricky one, since the theory behind it is pretty complicated. I wanted it to be mostly understandable, yet deep enough to make the class feel like they actually learned something. So I didn't spend much time on it, but gave a flavour of what vector and raster graphics were, as well as what some of the topics of 3D graphics would be. I even showed that first movie made in Blender, Elephant's Dream. I capped off the morning with the rest of my game design material, and we spent the afternoon in the lab again.

For both Thursday and Friday mornings, we worked in the lab finishing up our games. I covered some basic artificial intelligence on Thursday afternoon, talking mainly about finite state machines and the Turing test (again using two activities from CS Unplugged). I particularly enjoyed the discussion we had about AI, since the class had an unusually good insight into how computers worked and what they were capable of. They understood inherently that computers essentially stored information and could maybe deduce new things from it, but that they couldn't do anything we didn't tell it to do (I did tell them a bit about neural nets, which seem to be more like learning, but not so much in the sense we humans do).

Finally, we grouped a couple of the games classes together Friday afternoon and tried out each others' creations. I think the boys were definitely impressed with what we were able to do.

I kind of already mentioned one of the reasons that I am so happy about this course, and that is the awesome discussions we were able to have. These girls are so smart! What's more is that they looked genuinely interested, not just while in the lab, but in the classroom as well. When I asked if anyone was interested in trying computer science out in high school, they pretty much all said yes! Wow! I thought if I had made even one or two interested, then I would have succeeded in my mission. I really hope they can find joy in the subject as they get older, because I can tell you right now, they have HUGE potential.

So that about sums up my very first experience teaching a real class. I hope this is just the beginning! Watch this space for some more info about my course notes. I may post them for all to see, and if so, I'll link to them here.


Ashley said...

Glad you thought we were smart, Gail!

Gail said...

Glad you came by to check out the blog! And you guys were really smart. Kudos! :)

Debbie said...

Aw, you called us smart :)

My ants send their love... all four thousand of them. :D

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