Strive for Understanding Principals and Concepts

When learning something new, always strive to understand the whyPicture of Wayne Cook behind the basic principles and concepts. Too often I see students cram for a test only to forget everything after the test is completed. If you strive for understanding the material and the reasons behind the “facts,” you will be much better prepared for doing the work in the class and for taking any final exam given.

Understanding Computer Science

In my computer science classes, the tests are always related to the material being taught. If you understand the concepts being taught, your tests and your programs will be much better. As your understanding of programming concepts and structures improve, your code improves also. As a side benefit, you will do better on any computer related tests. As you learn to study the concepts and principals of programming, your ability to study other subjects will improve also.

Understanding Basic Mathematics

In mathematic classis, the basics must be totally understood before being able to complete any more complicated problems. Understanding how to add, subtract, multiply, and divide, and how to order those functions (PEMDAS) is critical. Understanding things like multiplying is really just multiple additions helps memorize the multiplication table. When these concepts are understood, then additional concepts (like powers) can be added. With powers, the Pythagorean Theory makes much more sense.

Understanding History

Likewise, history makes much more sense when you understand what was really happening at the time the events transpired. History is written by the victors. From my family history, I am a descendent of King John, the signer of the Magna Carta. Anyone who has read Robin Hood, knows how history portrays Prince/King John. Everyone has good and bad characteristics. He was the first king in England to give people more control over their own lives. He also cared about his brother, King Richard. Recent stories show that King Richard was captured and imprisoned in Austria on his way home from the Crusades. John had the choice of leaving him there or raising the money for the ransom (adjusted for inflation, the highest ransom ever paid). In John’s position what would you do. The key is to know as many of the underlying facts as possible.

To understand the United States Declaration of Independence and Constitution, you must understand how the colonists were being treated by the British. There is a specific reason for each the first ten amendments in the “Bill of Rights.” Strive to understand the reason behind each amendment to better understand the importance of each. The best place to start learning about the Constitution is the Federalist Papers.

To do better in any subject, strive to understand the basics of that subject and build from there. Memorizing facts or studying for a test may help in the short run, but truly understanding the principals and base concepts is the best way to understand any subject.

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Be Your Best

Remember the old saying: “Be your best self, everyone else is taken.” There is only one you in the world. Find your strengths, and build on them. At Colorado Early Colleges Fort Collins, we use the Clifton Strengths Assessment to help you find your strengths. Front Range Community College uses a few assessments, including Myers-Briggs. 80% of businesses use Myers-Briggs. Truity has a sample exam that is short and helpful. Knowing your own strengths helps you to succeed in school and beyond.

Clifton Strength Results

Clifton Strengths will show you your top five strengths out of the thirty-seven strengths they have identified. Mine are:

  • Responsibility
  • Learner
  • Achiever
  • Strategic
  • Individualistic

What are your strengths?

Myers-Briggs Results

Myers-Briggs is broken into a four axis summary. An example is as follows:

Sample Myers-Briggs

Sample Myers-Briggs result for an ENTJ person

I highly recommend taking either (or both) the Clifton Strengths Assessment and the Myers-Briggs Assessment. Use the information gained to make better decisions about your future. While you are in school, especially middle school and high school, explore different subjects. You will not love everything you try, so find out what you do like. If you find something you like and are able to find a good paying job in that area, then “you will never have to work a day in your life, because you are doing what you love.”

Help Yourself by Helping Others

One of the best ways to learn is to help others with a subject you would like to master. Teaching someone else forces you to know the material. Learning the material gives you a good amount of knowledge about any subject. When you have to explain it to someone else, it becomes a part of you and helps you master that subject. There may be a time when you do not know the answer. In that case, always A.S.K.

Conclusion

Whatever you decide to do, be your best. Discover your talents. Some talents you may not realize that you have and those are the fun ones to discover and explore. Clifton Strengths tell you where your native strengths reside. Your discovered talents usually relate to your Clifton Strengths. Using your Clifton Strengths as a guide to where to search for hidden talents is very helpful, it may speed up the search for your talents and help you more quickly find an occupation you would enjoy.

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Guam Vocational Technical High School Philosophy

I was a part of a group that developed the Guam Vocational Technical High School (GVTHS) philosophy document. The committee consisted of administrators and teachers to develop the best vocational and technical educational opportunities for our students. George Washington High School, where I taught, worked closely with GVTHS. The year of the development was 1975. At the time I taught Computer Science and was head of the textbook selection committee for the Guam public schools.

Logo for George Washington High School (also home to the Warriors, each high school had two teams)

Authors

The four authors are Dave Applegate, Wayne Cook, Carl Marking, and Frank Russell. S. Leon Guerrero was the Principal for GVTHS.

Please remember that this was written in 1975 and the generic pronoun at that time for all students was he, him, and his. These terms are used in this document.

It appears that GVTHS has been succeeded by Career Tech High Academy Charter School.

Guam Academy Charter School (new version of GVTHS – built for typhoons)

Document

The philosophy of Guam Vocational Technical High School is broad enough to cover the scope of students and staff potential and at the same time is specific enough to offer a sense of direction to those people that will be utilizing it as a guide.

In the broadest sense the philosophy encompasses and is formulated upon the concept of change and that we are in a world of change and that the only permanence in education and the world is change. GVTHS will provide a vocational-technical and academic program which is tied to the world of tomorrow. The tie between the security of the past, the reality of the present, and the challenges of tomorrow must be the combined cohesion of staff and student potential abilities, the physical plant and curriculum, and the communities’ present and projected needs.

To that end the more specific parameters of the GVTHS philosophy would be numerated as follows:

  1. Staff development through aggressive pursuit of Federal and local funds relating to in-service training.
  2. School and industry validation of curriculum through intensive utilization of area, school, and state advisory groups.
  3. Acquisition of vocationally qualified staff through industry and school established criteria.
  4. Acquisition of the best supplies, equipment, and facilities available under practical economic guidelines, through staff involvement.
  5. High emphasis on attitudinal development necessary to acquire, retain, and progress in the vocation.
  6. Emphasis in the development of trade language, manual, and academic skills necessary to progress in the career pursuit.
  7. High priority for area related work experience (i.e. independent work experience, etc.) as soon as is practical.
  8. Aggressive pursuit of a placement and follow-up program to guide the alteration of present class programs and institution of new programs.
  9. Active support of character building programs such as VICA and DECA by utilization of staff sponsorship.
  10. Development of a consumer education and safety and first aid program required of all students.
  11. An aggressive student screening program, using the latest testing material and methods, to assure high quality students place in their most appropriate areas.
  12. Create an awareness in each student of his inherent and alterable abilities and limitations.
  13. Develop and maintain a current broad enough academic program to allow student to pursue further education.

Metric System

At this time I was teaching a Physics basic measurements system class. After having the students name the various units of measurement for length of each system, I asked them to convert within that system from one unit to the next. After this exercise, all the students chose to use the Metric System. Most students did not know many yards were in a mile. Some knew how many feet were in a mile and converted. Following is the proposed letter from the Principal of GVTHS to promote the use of the metric system in all classes.

As Principal of Guam Vocational Technical High Schoo, I recognize the growing importance of our students fully understanding and being able to apply the concepts of the metric system. I am also aware of the impact of the metric system on all students. Therefore, I full endorse this proposal as it will better prepare our vocational students for the world of work, and the materials developed as a result of this project will be transferable to other schools and students.

S. Leon Guerrero, Principal Guam Vocation Technical High School

Meeting records for the above mentioned task force

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Mondays are Beautiful

Each work and school week starts with a Monday. It is the opportunity to start something new. A video my Michael Brown Take Monday Down! inspired me to write this article, and a quote by Will Linssen of the Institute of Coaching that I heard at Church today:

New challenges brings growth, but growth is always built on current knowledge and/or major inspiration. Even major inspiration often comes by understanding what has been accomplished before. The invention of Calculus was based on discovered mathematical concepts that led to the development of Calculus independently in England – Sir Isaac Newton (1642-1727) and Europe – Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646-1716). Each contributed important concepts. A brief history of Calculus is available which gives important moments in the development of Calculus.

If we step too far away from what we know, it can be a disaster. Forcing ourselves out of our comfort zone, based on what we have learned and discovered, we can enter our Growth Zone and achieve great accomplishments. The Disaster Zone can be a quite scary place. Disasters, like being put in a country with no knowledge of the language and customs, are recoverable with great effort. As long as we physically survive we can move the results into our Growth Zone. No matter how difficult, we can eventually succeed.

Comfort -> Growth vs Disaster

Zones of Growth and Comfort

I believe growth comes when a person pushes the boundaries of their comfort zone. In teaching a computer language, the basics must be taught first. All students learn to write “Hello World!” before learning more complicated programs. By the end of the first class in either Java or C++, the student can write some complicated programs well. A major project is always assigned at the end of each class. At this point the students know the basics of the language well and need to learn how to organize and use revision control to develop a complicated and good project.

The reason I said that Mondays are beautiful is because Mondays are the start of something new. I start a new lesson each Monday and I am able to learn as much from students as they learn from me. If I can instill in students a love for learning and a willingness to enlarge their comfort zone they will be successful in life. And that is the greatest gift any teacher can give to their students.

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To Teach Well, Learn from Students

While teaching my beginning Java class this morning, I again realized how important it is to learn from students. For a student, transitioning from thinking about procedural programs to developing code using Object-Oriented design is a tremendous paradigm shift. It is not always an easy one. I am always looking for better ways to explain this shift.

In class, the students are learning about inheritance, with a super (parent) class and a sub (child) class. One student was having some difficulties grasping this change, but he asks great questions. Questions are an important part of learning. As a side note, I always tell my students that the only dumb question is the question that is not asked. From my experience, a student will be thinking about that question until it is answered. This hinders understanding what is being discussed in the class. So it is better for my students to ask a question when they have it instead of waiting for an “appropriate” time to ask that question.

On the concept of inheritance, sub classes, and super classes, one student came up with the idea that a sub class is a mutation of the super class, and called it a mutant. This is an interesting concept, in that the subclass can be considered an altered version of the super class. For example, if you think of a rectangle it has two sets of parallel sides, each pair having a specific length. A square is a rectangle with all sides the same length. Most of the functions or methods in the rectangle can be used by the square sub class. The only restriction for the square is that all sides have to be the same length. A square is just a changed or mutated version of a rectangle. Once this student saw this, he better understood the concepts of inheritance, super classes, and sub classes. A sub class is just a mutant of a super class. This is a little different way to think of inheritance, but if it works that is great.

There are sometimes tough questions, to which I do not immediately know the answer. If I can help the student create methods to find the answer, we both learn and benefit. Students will not be in my class forever, so learning the tools to find the answer is important. In helping the students do this, I continue to learn new techniques and facts myself. We all benefit. When you have a question, then A.S.K.

In education, learning is important for all involved. To teach well, I need to learn from my students. This is just as important as my students learning from me.

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Teaching the Use of the Metric System (TUMS)

I taught Physics at George Washington High School on Guam. I gave the students the choice of Portrait WW Cookeither using the Imperial System (what we use in the United States) and the Metric System, which is used in the rest of the world. This article will make a short comparison of Metric System vs. Imperial System.

At first, they usually wanted to use our usual measurement system because that is to what they were accustomed. I then gave them a simple set of questions. On the Imperial System (I will just call it the English System from here out), I asked them the units we use for measuring distance. Their usual response was inches, feet, yards, and miles. I then asked, how may inches in a foot, how many feet in a yard, and how many yards in a mile. They knew the answers until they came to the yards in a mile question. A few could tell how many feet are in a mile (probably something much easier for my current students in Colorado), but they struggled on how many yards were in a mile. I then gave them a brief chart:

NameMultiplier
kilo1000
hecto100
deka10
1
deci0.1
centi0.01
milli0.001
Metric Conversion

Then I told them that this applies to distance with meters, liquid volume with liters, and mass with grams. Then I told them that the United States of America officially adopted the Metric System in 1865, but never implemented it because the businesses at the time thought that it would be too expensive to convert.

The US Metric Association has a good article on the Origin of the Metric System. The Britanica has a brief discussion on the Origin of the Imperial System. If you had to do some scientific work, which would you choose?

In addition, the French defined one cubic centimeter of distilled water too have the mass of 1 gram and the liquid volume of 1 milliliter. They always decided that the math would be much easier using the Metric System.

Working in science most of my life, I would love to see the Metric System used commonly in the United States. Besides TUMS, the second phrase I had written down from my Guam days was: Relief Of Learning Ambiguities In the Deplorable (English/Imperial) System (ROLAIDS).

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Thrive in Hard Classes

Sometimes a class will seem tough, especially at first, especially when there has been a summer to forget everything you have learned. Do not give up too easily, because this is when each of us learn the most. Strive to remember and strive to learn what is not remembered. It will be remember if we try. Remembering then learning something new each day is the best use of our time.

We all need to stretch and do something we have never done before. That is the beauty of taking difficult classes. I am working to remember to jot down something I have learned each day. Our age makes no difference, we can each learn something new. I know that what may seem like the most difficult tasks, those objective that seem like they are almost impossible to achieve, are the tasks in our lives that are the most rewarding. Have you ever accomplished something that you were thrilled that you were able to do. There are many times in my life, in both career and family, that have been difficult challenges but the rewards are well worth the effort. Giving up is not really a good first option. There are often many different ways to solve a difficult problem. We each need to look for the way that serves us best.

At times we all fail, that is normal. It is what we do with those failures. One saying I have developed over the years is that there are usually two types of events that we remember the most, great successes and learning opportunities. Notice that failure is not included here. Sometimes we fall, but as Denzel Washington says, when we fall we need to fall forward so that we can see what is in front of us:

Fall forward, try something new each day. Love life and live it fully. Learn to help others and help them succeed. You will receive more successes in your life than you can ever imagine. We each need to be our best and that will make the world around us a much better place.

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Growth Comes from Solving Harder Problems

At both Tektronix and Hewlett-Packard, I would sometimes see a quote from R. Buckminster Fuller. It probably is not his most famous quote, but it is one that engineers often quoted when given a really difficult assignment. This was especially true when the assignment came with a tight schedule. I found out that the attitude I took into the assignment made all the difference. If I embraced the new challenge, I usually succeeded.

And this can be good

Think about how boring it would be if you were given the same assignment to do over and over. You could get really good at it, or you could start getting sloppy and not do as well at the task as you did the first time. I teach Community College level Computer Science classes. The first assignment given is always “Hello World” no matter what the language is. This teaches the students the basics in how to use a development environment for the language and create a very simple program that prints out the phrase “Hello World!” Students are usually excited when they complete this first assignment. Now imagine being given that same assignment week after week. There is no challenge and the class will no longer be useful. This is why people who do well with one assignment are given harder assignments. It is a benefit both to the person and to the organization.

Imagine a world where you have to do the same series of tasks repetitively. Would that interest you? Do people on assembly lines who do their very best but also look for ways to be more efficient enjoy their work (and do better at the job) than people who just go through the repetitive motions? The key is to do a good job and look for ways that you can contribute to your organization even more. This may lead to harder assignments, but for me that is more interesting than just doing the same thing repetitively.

Be your best, do your best, and grow with new and exciting challenges.

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Push Through Until Task Completion

How many times do we start a project and then leave it incomplete and move on to other tasks? This is something that is the bane of most people, including me. This is one reason agile processes, including the Scrum Methodology were created. Breaking up any task into “bite size” (or for computer aficionados, “byte size”) subtasks is key to success. One philosophy that describes this is attempting to eat an elephant. The elephant is too big to eat all at once, as if anyone would ever really want to eat an elephant. The main point is to break up any task into manageable enough chucks to get each chunk completed in a reasonable length of time. An interesting article was written by Cory Miller from a student’s point of view, entitled “How to Eat an Elephant (Or Tackle Most Any Big, Huge, Enormous Project).” Since there will be many assignments in my classes, it is best to keep up with the calendar and complete each assignment by the due date. Some assignments will be divided into smaller assignments by me. Later assignments become more difficult and need to be divided up by you. I will give some grace period for each assignment, but I will put down an “M” for missing as an incentive to get the assignment submitted. Completing an assignment on time is best, Turning it in late has some penalties, but is far better that leaving it as missing.

For the CIS118 class, the lessons are divided up enough that just completing the assigned lessons by the due date is sufficient. If you struggle with any assignment, please reach out to me. I have done most of the lessons and will do any lesson that causes students problems. Communication is a key to success in this class.

For my programming classes, I supply a short Sample Scrum Form with the list of tasks that need to be performed and the priority of each task. Mark off the tasks as they are completed. If you have problems with any aspect of an assignment, please contact me through Teams. I will ask guided questions to see if I can help you develop your own answer, which is very important in the education process. The most learning (and joy) comes from realizing that you can succeed with knowledge you are learning in class and adding in your own insights and ideas. Listen with your “inner ear” to fully understand something. Often insights come by inspiration, hearing what has not been said.

Have you ever thought about everything that has been invented in your lifetime. For me, I remember when the IBM Personal Computer was introduced. When I bought my first, it was quite expensive and came with no hard drive. Think about how new products are created. The inventor(s) had the same information as any other person but was able to put the appropriate knowledge together, through inspiration, to develop something no one had conceptualized before. Learning is a lot like this. In class you will be given basic information about how to accomplish specific tasks. It is how you use that knowledge and how you combine it with knowledge you have gained outside of this class that helps you create the best possible product. To learn the most, challenge yourself. Don’t go with just the basic design for any assignment. Make it something unique to you. Challenge yourself to be and do your best. Doing the hard work now will prepare you for a good career in the field of your choice.

All tasks have a beginning and an end, including any class you are taking. Make the most of it. Learn skills that can be transferred to solving other life experiences. The more you take on tasks that may seem impossible now and break those up into smaller and doable tasks, the more you will be prepared for tougher challenges in the future. We can all gain the intellectual knowledge, it is when we include inspiration that we succeed. Find a quiet place to work, divide up your work into doable tasks, listen carefully and you will find the ability to complete any assignment in this class (or in life). Take the time to read inspirational books and talks. Believe it or not, that will help you solve any problem in this class. Integrate all of your knowledge and experiences together. Everything you have done can be a guide to everything you are trying to do. Plan well, work hard, and look for the needed inspiration.

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Careers in Computer Science

Careers in Computer Science are quite rewarding and can be quite lucrative. Please explore your options and obtain a good foundation. A past article I wrote on Choosing a Career might be of interest to you. Find a career where you are enthused to come to work each day. Time passes quickly, so explore careers and try out different opportunities. Apply for internships, there are several opportunities through the high school. If you find one you might enjoy, then start searching out good colleges that have the reputation to help further your career. One such opportunity was posted on the Front Range Community College Website. There are other opportunities available. Search for them. This article was posted for students earning a Bachelors degree and wanting further education. It is just one example of what is available locally.

Bridge Program – Colorado School of Mines

 Posted Mar 30, 2021 8:27 AM

It’s never been a better time to take your bachelor’s degree and pursue a graduate degree at Colorado School of Mines in computer science! CS@Mines M.S. graduates have outstanding career opportunities, with an average starting salary of $98,730.

 CS@Mines has launched a new Bridge program designed for students without a CS undergraduate degree to prepare for and complete a CS M.S. in just four semesters of full-time enrollment. Limited scholarships are also available. Women and students from underrepresented groups are especially encouraged to apply.

 Attend our upcoming virtual information session to learn more about CS@Mines Bridge, or visit our website for more details: https://cs.mines.edu/csbridge/

 Tuesday, April 6, 4-5PM Mountain Time

Register Here

Zoom access details will be emailed to registrants prior to the event.

Tracy Camp, Ph.D.
ACM Fellow; IEEE Fellow 
Department Head and Professor of Computer Science 
Colorado School of Mines
303/384-2184
email: tcamp@mines.edu
Homepage: http://www.mines.edu/~tcamp/
CS Department: http://cs.mines.edu

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