Planning this week's lesson (#6) was tough. Last week was a disaster. Having split up students by the missions they were aiming to accomplish, we divided the groups between Diane (to do some programming) and myself (for building).
Those that didn't just walk away from my building table (I let them, not having the heart to tell them not to program) stuck around only to distract each other by building model cars, motorcycles, or other (neat, but off-task) things. On the bright side, I suppose, Diane said that programming made some progress. Still, not good for a full 10% of our time with these kids.
So, we met with Danielle (our new TA) and decided that we were going to go back to the old, broken model of Programming Team, Building Team, and Project Team. So much for changing things up from the old Chocobots team. We put off making the actual divisions until my and Diane's weekly planning meeting on Sunday night.
Of course, the planning meeting hasn't happened on Sunday night for the last few weeks; it's been ad-hoc postponed until Monday at least twice before -- today, we did one better and spent so much time psetting in the Eliot dining hall that we gave up and set the meeting for lunch the day of.
So the two of us are sitting in the Queens' Head Pub beneath Memorial Hall, --
Hold on. Why is there a pub underneath the freshman dining hall?
What's worse, any given upperclassman probably has to walk past two Final Club parties and at least one Harvard Square bar to get to the QHP. I should ask Benedict Gross sometime; the thing was his idea.
So the two of us are sitting in the Queens' Head Pub, poring over a list of our students, trying to decide what they'll be doing for the next month and a half. Once again, I'm struck by how different this is than the sort of things that our coaches did for us. Wasn't this activity supposed to be 'kids do all the work'? What place do the two of us have, to assign groups?
Oh well. They'll never get anywhere otherwise, we tell ourselves. And in any case, we leave from lunch with a list that we'll try to coerce the kids into -- while pretending that it was their idea all along. The best builders with me, the dedicated programmers with Diane, and with Danielle, an even mix of hardworking students and troublemakers who could hopefully be coerced into writing a short skit about natural-disaster preparedness.
One lecture on Operating Systems later, and I'm biking on my way to Roxbury. Diane gets held up by a delay on the 1 bus, so I start the lesson myself, by explaining when and where the competition will be, and the scoring format: 1/3 Robot Game (split between board score and technical interview), 1/3 Teamwork (split between team challenge and floor-judge reviews), and 1/3 Project Presentation. And, just as Diane walks in, I pose the question:
"Here at the halfway point, we're going to refocus the teams and get started for real. So, who would like to work on the project portion?"
This is a long shot. We expect that no one will step up, and we'll have to assign people to the group later. Probably have to go back and apologize to the good students that we had to steer away from the group that they had wanted.
Four hands shoot up -- one takes with it the girl it belongs to -- and Diane and I meet eyes in shock.
We recover, she gets to writing their names on the board, and we go on to split off the programming and building teams (with students asking for each in even numbers, precisely along the lines we expected). And like that, the disaster is averted.
The lesson, if there is a lesson, is one that I ought to have learned last time I was surprised by my students: Have a little faith. Students have a way of catching you by pleasant surprise.
Which, of course, does not mean not to prepare for the absolute worst case. After all, a lesson without every minute planned is a disaster waiting to happen. But it does mean that, every once in a while, it's actually the best case that you get.
I like days like that.