I started my first day of classes teaching at one of the colleges I graduated from by giving a test to my new students. It is a digital concepts course which incorporates embedded processors using the Arduino as a stand-in microcontroller – my favorite toy. I wrote the book, Coding the Arduino available on my publisher’s Website, http://www.apress.com, and also available on Amazon and other outlets. My book was written while I was working at my last teaching assignment. Previously, I worked as a teacher at a prison for the State of Ohio for about five years. My students there were great, and we had a lot of fun learning. I was hired to teach computer repair. (Good luck finding a job doing repairs on a commodity item.) I don’t think there are too many toaster or can-opener repair jobs listed on Monster.com. Computer repair has fallen into the same category. Computers are now a commodity item. So, instead, I taught my incarcerated students about general technology, digital technology, programming, and electronics. I can’t say enough about the great experience we had as we put the nonsense aside. We spent quality time learning new things and unearthing our creativity. All of us have made a bad decision in our lifetimes, while most may have been luckily enough to have not gotten caught. Some of us may have been accused of a crime but were able to pay for a competent lawyer. Believe me, the American Justice System sucks. An average person committing a terrible action could be the result of making a bad split-second decision, or because of an issue from their past that was never adequately addressed. Many of my incarcerated students that didn’t have successful results in traditional schools had a knack for learning when new concepts were presented in a non-threatening and fun way. Many of the students developed logical reasoning skills as we developed fun and interesting programs (called sketches) for the Arduino. They promised me that they would follow-up by taking additional coursework after their release, and I sincerely hope they do because they produced great work. We developed games for gambling, games for being disrespectful to people, and games of chance that were fixed. Fun, fun, and more fun. Humans learn while they are having fun. As a baby learns about gravity, it laughs as things fall, Even as adults, we remember and learn while having a fun experience. Why is the American Educational System ranked 27th best in the world? Look in most classrooms, and you will find the teacher of Charlie Brown in front of the blackboard saying, “Bla, bla bla bla, bla.” while the students are tuned-out or dozing-off. Many of the endeavors of my best prison programmers are chronicled in my latest book and available as a free download on GitHub through Apress. The sketches took a lot of work and are a lot of fun.
Today, as I went back to a traditional teaching position with Kent State University where I earned one of my Master’s degrees, I decided to have a little fun with my new students. After emphasizing the importance of good grades, my first day test given today to my traditional college students involved a modification to a cheat program developed while I taught in prison. The original program randomly generates a number between 1 and 99, and asks the player to choose if the next random number generated will be higher or lower. The torture of my new students began at 7:45 AM when I explained that I always start new classes with a pass/fail exam. I mentioned that since the class was a digital electronics and computer class, we would work with the random number computer program. I set up the Arduino to at first never let me guess wrong. I would always win, or at least draw and try again regardless of my guess to the second random number generated. In the demonstration, the first number picked was 49, and my answer was that the next random would be higher – and it was. This went on for a demonstration of 5 draws with me never losing. Then I switched a wire to make the player always lose. I reminded the students that this was their first grade in the class. If they lost, they would be given a grade of F for the exam. As I asked their names and pretended to mark an F for a grade, we went through four students before we all started laughing. I made the point that you should never trust a computer. Teachers may consider the stunt to be a one-time ice-breaker, but I don’t. Every class should be fun. To me, torturing the student is putting them on the spot, forcing them to be involved, getting them to have fun, think, and learn.