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Comment: Re:Don't bother with AP CS (Score 4, Interesting) 144

I teach AP Computer Science. I definitely think it's worth the time if you can fit it into your schedule. That's the main issue at my school. I constantly hear from students that they are told by admissions people (and yes, admissions people from engineering schools) that the school would rather see a fourth year of Spanish than a year of computer science. The students just can't fit it all in (and I don't want them stressing themselves out to do it). One of the best things about AP Computer Science is that you get some good experience with recursion, inheritance, interfaces, class design --- more advanced topics that you might not encounter as a self-educated programmer (and many of the students in my classes are extensively self-educated). For students majoring in engineering / natural science fields other than computer science or computer engineering, it's definitely equivalent to the first-level undergraduate course. For a student majoring in CS / CompE / EE, I would suggest re-taking the introductory course. One of the things I got out of my introductory CS course at college (my background is EE / math) was familiarization with Unix. It's also easier transitioning into the advanced courses like data structures (especially if the language used is C++ instead of Java, which AP CS uses). I took five AP classes in high school (including the AP CS AB exam in Pascal and Calculus AB). I retook CS and Calc even though I passed the exams (and not because I didn't get useful credit for passing those exams, but because I thought it was unwise to skip them).

Comment: Actual Math + AP CS teacher here (Score 4, Informative) 155

by reiscw (#47293479) Attached to: Computational Thinking: AP Computer Science Vs AP Statistics?
I am a teacher who has taught math and electronics in a high-performing public suburban school and currently teach math and computer science in a comparably performing urban preparatory school.

There are several reasons why AP CS enrollment has flat-lined as AP Statistics has surged (here are three that came to mind immediately):

1) There are a lot more kids taking Algebra as 8th graders. These kids (assuming success through the American four year Algebra, Geometry, Algebra 2, Precalculus sequence) need a course to take senior year. Most high school teachers will suggest AP Calculus or AP Statistics as an option. My previous employer went from 1 section of AP Calculus when I started to 7 sections of AP Calculus and AP Statistics by the time I had left (enrollment declined slightly during that time). Yes, the average AP scores went down a little during that time --- but I still think it's a good thing that more kids are taking the classes.

2) Lots of math teachers are willing and able to teach AP Statistics, but few can teach AP CS. In most states you need a separate license to teach it. I teach at a private school, so no such license is necessary (my undergrad is in electrical engineering, most of my work experience was software, and thus I feel comfortable teaching the course). The topics covered on the A exam (the AB, or harder, exam that I took in high school no longer exists) are not trivial. Inheritance, interfaces, polymorphism, and sorting/searching algorithms are all presented. Data structures topics (linked lists, stacks, queues, etc.) are not taught but could easily be taught in a follow up course, since most students taking AP CS at my school are juniors. Some of my teaching colleagues who know how to program would struggle with the object-oriented focus of the exam given that they came up during the Pascal era.

3) In the era of budget cuts, if you can only get 15 students to register for AP CS, it will not run in many schools. Sometimes it's feasible to run it every other year, but often that doesn't work. Many kids who are interested in programming cannot fit two semesters into their high school schedules. AP Statistics, however, fulfills the fourth year of mathematics that many schools require and thus is easier to fit into the schedule.

Let me say that I very much enjoy teaching the course. The examination in CS is challenging and well written. There are some topics that I'd like to see added (file input / output is not typically covered). I am confident in my students' ability to take Data Structures as a freshman if they pass the exam with a 4 or 5.

Comment: Two thoughts from another math teacher (Score 1) 416

by reiscw (#40190235) Attached to: Ask Slashdot: What To Do With a Math Degree?
1) The end of the school year is typically when many teachers feel like getting out of the profession. This could be fatigue talking. I'm conducting exam review right now, and after three precalculus classes in a row in the late afternoon, doing limits, regression, trig. substitution, derivatives (not using shortcuts, but using the limit definition), vectors, and parametric functions, I'm exhausted. Maybe she wants to take some time over the summer to reflect about what it is she wants to do, and see how she feels in late July / early August. We don't start school until after September 1st.

2) Actuarial science is a field that might be good, if you are good at self-study (other posters mentioned insurance companies, and this is the path to such positions). The exams and preparation materials are not expensive (meaning, a lot less than taking courses at a university). Once you pass a few exams, many insurance companies will hire you and support you through the rest of them.

I can understand how she feels. It's not easy. That being said, usually by August I'm still excited to go back to work. I'm sorry it hasn't worked out better for her.

Comment: Useful information for those who have an issue (Score 1) 307

by reiscw (#38419138) Attached to: Canonical To Remove Sun Java From Repositories, Users' Machines
There are two ways around this in Ubuntu 11.10 (and, I'm assuming, derivative distributions). One way is to install from a PPA (that's the most likely answer you'll get if you search for a remedy online). I don't really like that idea, so I sat down today, did some research, and figured out how to install the latest version (1.6.0-30) directly from the Oracle website. It is not a trivial process, if you are a relative amateur like I am. Why does an amateur like me care? Because a very common mathematics learning software (ALEKS) requires Sun Java to run. I teach using this software, and although I could run a VM to access their system, I'd rather not. If anyone cares, here's what to do, after you download the appropriate .bin file from Oracle:

chmod +x jre-6u30-linux-x64.bin
./jre-6u30-linux-x64.bin
sudo mkdir /opt/java
sudo mkdir /opt/java/64
sudo mv jre1.6.0_30/ /opt/java/64/jre1.6.0_30
sudo update-alternatives --install "/usr/bin/java" "java" "/opt/java/64/jre1.6.0_30/bin/java" 1
sudo update-alternatives --set java /opt/java/64/jre1.6.0_30/bin/java
cd /usr/lib/mozilla/plugins
sudo ln -s /opt/java/64/jre1.6.0_30/lib/amd64/libnpjp2.so


PS I'm sure there's a better way to do this, but it worked. I pieced this together off of the web - none of it is original.
Linux

+ - Linux Mint 12 Released

Submitted by reiscw
reiscw (2427662) writes "While the announcement is not yet official, mirrors have begun to carry the final version of Linux Mint 12 Lisa. It remains to be seen if the Linux Mint team's presentation of GNOME 3 enables it to keep its usage statistics high. Plenty of download links here:"

Comment: These issues are largely gone. (Score 4, Interesting) 708

by reiscw (#37825764) Attached to: Ask Slashdot: GNU/Linux Laptops?
This weekend, I went to Office Depot, bought an HP 2000 laptop for about $329, brought it home, backed up the windows image, and installed Ubuntu 11.10. All of the conditions of his post are met. Battery life is good, fan is quiet, sound works, closing the laptop lid causes the machine to sleep, etc. Not sure what he means about backup - I use grsync which is easy enough to back up my home directory to a flash drive (primitive, I know, but I've never been burnt). No special configurations were necessary to install Ubuntu. It's funny that people keep bringing up WiFi. The last time I had problems with WiFi on Linux was a Broadcom chipset on Ubuntu 8.04. After that, everything has worked without issue (and I could get it working by extracting / copying firmware). Sometimes I think a lot of the Linux complaints about sound and wifi are out of date.

I'm not sure what "AppleCare" is unless it's some sort of extended warranty / replacement program. Unless you're very unlucky, a decent laptop is cheap enough that you're better off self-insuring. While it might make sense for an Apple product (I'm being generous) I don't think it makes sense for a basic laptop workstation.

Comment: I Use Unity (Score 1) 835

by reiscw (#36983708) Attached to: Linus Torvalds Ditches GNOME 3 For Xfce
There seems to be a lot of Unity-bashing around here, but I suspect that very few people have actually used it for an extended period of time. I have and do. It is really not that bad. I do "work" with my system; probably not the intensive coding tasks that many others do, but tasks that require me to be running and switching between multiple applications at the same time. It works. There are bugs, yes, but 11.04 is not an LTS. There needs to be an active user community working with it, so that it gets better. I am confident that 11.10 and 12.04 are going to be major improvements. I am not running it on anything special - a T4300 pentium with 4GB of ram. The performance is fine - much better than Windows 7 on the same machine.

I did switch to Xubuntu and liked a lot of things about Xfce, but went back to Unity because of the great keyboard shortcuts. If I want to run Octave, it's a matter of quickly typing super-o-c and pressing enter. I can also bring up websites pressing the super key, typing the URL, and pressing enter. I realize it would be scandalous for Linus to use Ubuntu, but I won't be surprised if other distributions start offering Unity.

Comment: Educator here weighing in (Score 1) 415

by reiscw (#36962290) Attached to: Missouri Law Says Students, Teachers Can't Be Facebook Friends
I have three to four students per year (that's about 2% of my students) try to friend me. They are all turned down. Parents are usually notified too, because it makes me feel a little creepy (incidentally, I'm male, and all the requests have been from males; I think the girls are better at knowing it's creepy). It used to just be my policy, now it's the administration's policy. The teachers are almost universally a fan of this policy. Some teachers started course accounts on Facebook, separate from their personal accounts. What would be much better is to deploy technology with similar functionality on school networks, so that the school has control and supervision of the content. The kids can contact me through two separate legitimate channels (regular email and our web grading system), both of which I check more frequently than my Facebook account, with questions about grades, homework, course material, etc. These channels are monitored for everyone's protection. I agree with other posters though - most teachers already are not doing this, and school boards are making it policy already. The legislature probably wanted to make sure everybody was covered, and I can understand where they're coming from.

"Show business is just like high school, except you get paid." - Martin Mull

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