Step 40: Teach Loops

Another week, another failure.

My lab last week continued to be too hard. The ultimate cause of all this misjudgment on my part is that in place of a homework that would have gently introduced my students to loops, they had their first project instead, which was still focused on functions and branches. Since the students did well on the project, I hadn’t realized this, and had written the lab as though students are already comfortable with loops. There were other faults with that lab – like the fact that it could be done without using loops at all, and the fact that students are still struggling with loops made that the more attractive option. Which is why I had to back-track and review loops yesterday.

The good thing is that I’m starting to understand where students are failing. The students actually understand loops, or at least, they can figure out what code with loops will do. What they can’t do is think about them. Perhaps it has been too long since I’ve learned to code, but it came as a total surprise to me that students didn’t know how to write a loop that summed up the contents of a list. More specifically, student have an intuitive grasp that they need a variable to accumulate values outside the loop, nor do they have a good sense whether they should be looping over the elements of a list or the indices of those elements.

The bad thing is that I still don’t know how to go about addressing these problems. After lab last week, I talked with the students to see what I could do to help, and ended up writing both a guided worksheet to loops as well as a larger set of ungraded problems for them to try out. The exercises were a good idea – most of the questions were asking students to implement existing functions from the Python library, both to give them practice and to reinforce the idea that they don’t need to memorize all those functions if they don’t want to. While this is great for a lab in the next iteration of this course, I’m not sure it is sufficient to build students back up to where I hope they would be. Also frustrating these efforts is that, because their first exposure to using loops was through the overly ambitious lab, their confidence may have taken a hit that is harder to recover than if they had to just gain it in the first place.

We do have a quiz on Thursday, so I’ll wait for that to see how the students are doing before deciding my next move. But I need to get my act together and fast.

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Step 40: Teach Loops

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