Crazy busy week!

So far this week: 30 hours of research, 15 hours of TA fun (Arduino, woohoo!), 10 hours of getting to hang out with awesome 7th and 8th grade future engineers as a science fair judge, 20 miles of running (plus adding in some strides this week!), and even some fun time downtown with MountainMan & his brother & brother’s girlfriend.  

 

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View from the science fair during pre-judging.  Saw some amazing projects and chatted with some inspiring and creative “baby” engineers 😉  Got to judge a few computer science projects too – these kids could totally kick my butt in the code category.  We had students building catapults, magnetic rail-guns, coming up with awesome Arduino + IR sensor set-ups for teaching elementary school kids about physics, and decoding viral genomes!  So much awesome!

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Going out!  That doesn’t happen too often with the crazy grad-school schedule 😛  Had some great beer , great food, great company, and a lovely walk around downtown.

TAing this week was crazy – we started teaching C, which meant a lot of syntax confusion after months of Matlab.  It didn’t help that we were also switching between DevC++ C and Arduino C…a few crucial differences that were fun to try and explain to our poor confuzzled students.  You know it’s bad when the TA’s themselves are stumbling over the syntax from so much program switching.  The excitement on students’ faces when they got their robots to work made the stress and chaos totally worth it though 🙂  And I love that I have improved my coding skills enough to troubleshoot students’ code while exhausted, distracted, and constantly switching syntax’s 😛  

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Ended the workday today with several hours of trouble-shooting a half-working model.  Didn’t get it figured out, which led to some serious research frustration, but I got to say “adios!” to the lab at 7 and work the frustration out with 3 awesome miles of relaxed striding around campus.  Finished up with some hip & glut work – full of endorphins and ready to head into the weekend!  

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TA round 4

I’m really excited to start another semester of TAing tomorrow.  My 2nd semester was rough, but this fall reminded me why I love it.  There is nothing cooler than seeing a student “get it.”  I got much better reviews for this past semester than I did last year, which was a great confidence boost.  Several students said stuff along the lines of “she know her stuff!”, which made me smile.  I usually get pretty good ratings as far as availability and caring about students, but it’s nice to get some skill-based good reviews as well.  

I’ve done much more programming since I last taught this course (the focus is Matlab and Arduino programming), which should help me avoid the confidence issues that I ran into last Spring.  We’re also cutting back on some of the non-programming lessons, which should reduce chaos (is there any way to have a freshman class with ~150 students, two professors, and 6+ TA/graders NOT be at least somewhat chaotic?!?).  And I still have the one thing that made teaching this course feel valuable even during the struggles of last year – I can empathize with the students who struggle with programming and enjoy helping them work through their barriers.

 I am not a particularly “natural” programmer.  From experience, I know how much of a confidence boost it is when an instructor admits they haven’t always known everything.  Hearing that competence in programming takes practice and patience to develop is a life-saver during those first few weeks of deer-in-the-headlights overload.  I’m really looking forward to working with my fellow TA’s to convince our little freshmen that yes, they really can learn how to write code and get some awesome robot game time out of it 😉

Stepping back

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Today in Matlab:

That ‘duh’ moment when you step back from a problem you’ve been working on for 8+ hours and realize there’s a really simple solution that only takes 2 minutes to implement…how is it possible to simultaneously be so frustrated about wasting so much time and so thrilled to finally be able to get some results?