My final exams for the Fall quarter take place today. One of the perks of working at DePaul is the odd quarter system schedule that has a teaching pause for most people from Thanksgiving until early January. (Before you feel too envious, we start our Winter quarter on January 2nd this year …) Naturally, this is always a time when I reflect on how the quarter went.
Unfortunately with one of my classes this quarter it was challenging. There were a non-trivial bunch of students for whom basic concepts that I’ve always had success conveying in the past were a major struggle. I tried everything I could to explain these ideas: multiple worked examples, visualizations, analogies, etc. The ideas just eluded them, which frustrated both me and them. I have never had so few students take the follow-on course with me in Winter quarter, which in this case is probably a good thing. Maybe another instructor will be more successful in reaching them.
Given that, it was heartening for me that I seemed to connect well with the other class. Even after I inadvertently gave them a tough midterm, they stuck with it, dug in, and had success in understanding some challenging things. They also seemed to listen well, something that hit home during the section of the course on recursion.
I often tell students that once you really need recursion to help you solve problems, it becomes almost impossible to visualize in your mind. So having a good plan on how to write a recursive function is crucial, and we spend part of class time writing plans for functions. I even told them that if they included those plans in their assignments, that I would celebrate it with a happy dance. I then promptly forgot that I had said it until I saw the following comments in a student submission:
#plans (happy dance)
#base case -> k > n -> print nothing -> implicit
I laughed out loud when I saw it and did in fact do a happy dance. I then baked a bunch of cookies for the students after I was done grading and brought them to class the next day. Having moments like that was important to me this quarter, and I thank my accelerated Python students for giving me the experience.