Bill MacKenty

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I like to write about different things.

The future of high school computing

Posted in Computer Science Teaching Diary Writing on 03 - July 2023 at 11:00 AM (about 8 months ago) 648 views.

Large language models like ChatGPT mandate we change the way we approach high school computing.

This article will discuss the importance of differentiation between software engineering and computer science in secondary (high school) educational settings and the impact of large language models on the former. Without correct understanding of computing, we can't fully appreciate how LLM's change it.

In the 2020 Computing Curricula recommendation, the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) states that within the domain of computing, there are five primary disciplines. The reason it is important to understand this is because while there are some shared characteristics between these disciplines, they are different enough to be taught as distinct disciplines.


  1. Computer Engineering (CE)
  2. Computer Science (CS)
  3. Information Systems (IS)
  4. Information Technology (IT)
  5. Software Engineering (SE)

To acquire a deeper comprehension and appreciation of these disciplines' distinctions and interconnections, please refer to the following documents:


  1. Overview of Computing Fields
  2. Field Characteristics
  3. ACM 2020 Computing Curricula Recommendations

For some more serious approachesThere is a lot of noise and hype around AI in education - I tried to find respected institutional research to help frame LLM's within education. to AI in education research, please refer to the articles below:

  1. Artificial Intelligence and the Future of Teaching and Learning
  2. Artificial intelligence and the Futures of Learning
  3. The Position of Artificial Intelligence in the Future of Education: An Overview

High schools (and even some universities) often blur the lines between software engineering and computer science, using these terms interchangeably and without recognizing their essential distinctions When your students are applying to university please - I'm begging you - insist they read the actual courses they will be taking. . This conflation creates an ambiguous academic journey for students entering the computing field. While there is some overlap between the disciplines, clearly defined tracks are important in guiding students along the right trajectory.

In numerous educational institutions, students are exposed to programming (akin to software engineering), robotics (related to computer engineering), and occasionally resource management and abstract data structures (pertaining to computer science). Often, the overarching terms used for this education are "computer science", "technology" or "computers".

To make the distinction clearer and prepare students for the evolving world of computing, it is essential to design two distinct tracks within high school computing:

Track 1: Software Engineering

The significance of this track stems from the transformative impact large language models (LLMs) like ChatGPT have on problem-solving through programming. Students should be taught the fundamental coding concepts such as variables, control structures, and data structures. However, they must also learn to harness the power of LLMs in solving problems. By integrating LLMs, students can explore innovative ways to create solutions. Essentially, software engineering should focus on basic programming, computational thinking, and the astute utilization of LLMs. I include tools like co-pilot, tabnine, and YouCompleteMe, which use LLM-like technology to vastly improve programming output.

Track 2: Computer Science

The second track should concentrate on the foundational aspects of computer science. This encompasses theoretical data structures, advanced mathematics, and computing theories. The core areas of study within Computer Science include artificial intelligence, computer systems and networks, security, database systems, human-computer interaction, vision and graphics, numerical analysis, programming languages, software engineering, bioinformatics, and the theory of computing.

Conclusion

With the advent of LLMs, it is imperative for the education system to adapt and prepare students for the dynamic computing landscape. While LLMs present extensive possibilities for problem-solving, it is also crucial to nurture the next generation of computer scientists who will forge cutting-edge tools. Equipping students with the right skills and knowledge will be an important differentiator for students entering college and universities.

This article was supported with the use of chatGPT. I used the prompt "please provide your opinion on this article" and then I pasted in the article.


Project management tools

Posted in Blogging Personal Teaching Diary Writing on 10 - April 2023 at 08:35 AM (10 months ago) 612 views.

What a mess. Pricing models are all wrong. Trello seems to have the most common sense...

The best advice I've heard about project management tools is they should help you manage your projects, and stay out of the way for everything else. I'm sure there is some witty corollary here...That is, the extent to which a project management system is useful is directly linked to how well it does that one job it should do.

I investigated several project management tools, first opting for locally hosted, open-source projects (my preferred solutions for most problems). I got open project working, but the UI felt sludgy / kludgy. I then joined monday.com and love the UI / ease-of-use but their pricing model doesn't accommodate 1 single user. There is a minimum for three person teams - which is expensive.

I settled on Trello. Which has everything I want and a pricing model I like.

My project management plan for my sabbatical is on Trello.

Customers will only buy your product if they believe that the value they’re receiving is greater than the price they’re paying; otherwise, why would they pay?

Warren Buffett


Sabbatical planning

Posted in Blogging Teaching Diary Writing on 03 - April 2023 at 05:02 AM (about 11 months ago) 551 views.

A rare and welcome opportunity to deeply recharge, learn and reflect...

Next year (school year 2023 - 2024) I will taking a sabbatical (proposal here). 14 years at my current school (American School of Warsaw), 22 years in education = time for some reflection and a recharge. Many of the technical skills I use and teach every day I first learned more than 20 years ago. Technical languages, software development practices, and development tooling has changed quite a bit in the last 20 years! With the rise of large language models and their ilk, it looks like the next 20 years will be even more interesting. I don't think the practice of teaching has changed as rapidly as technology but it also has benefited from years of researchI wonder how much has changed about imparting knoweldge, skills, and lessons in the last 20 years....

Other than technical upskill / refresh I am also looking for some time for deep reflection. I am a fan of a book by Daniel Kahneman, Thinking Fast & Slow. Taking the time to consider and thoughtfully and deliberately act is wise. I still feel quite full of motivation, ambition and drive. But at 53 years old, I'd like to move deliberately and maximize meaningful impact.

By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; Second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest.

Confucius


A mostly terrible time

Posted in Blogging Writing on 26 - March 2023 at 09:49 PM (11 months ago) 563 views.

On being a parent to a teenager...

Being a parent brings the greatest joys and deepest pain. Recently our teenager has been struggling with things many teenagers struggle with On a good day being a teenager is hard... and it's just painful to see someone you love struggle. At the same time I appreciate and value struggle; some things you just need to learn the hard way. I suppose at that moment, just showing up and loving you kid is the best you can do. My instinct is to protect, prevent, and cover my daughter from pain and painful experiences. But in that difficulty arises strength and courage; and it is something each of us must find ourselves.

If your goal is to avoid pain and escape suffering, I would not advise you to seek higher levels of consciousness or spiritual evolution. First, you cannot achieve them without suffering, and second, insofar as you do achieve them, you are likely to be called on to serve in ways more painful to you, or at least demanding of you, than you can now imagine. Then why desire to evolve at all, you may ask. If you ask this question, perhaps you do not know enough of joy.

M. Scott Peck


The faltering

Posted in Writing on 20 - February 2023 at 08:33 AM (one year ago) 590 views.

Steady and true. Steady and true?

Being brave and being brave. Doing the right thing. The whole nonsense of "the greater good" for the greater good - which, to be honest, is for the greater good.  A sisyphean task; should we surrender to the wants of others or live in the self-centeredness of our own ego?

The answer lay in the wise words of Ken Wilber I think he's wise. who posited the truth of things is in both the ascendent and the descendant. That is; to shun the descendent in the name of godly virtue is an error. But also, to practice gaia Sex Magik without abandon is also an error. That balance seems a prescription best filled regularly.


The bear

Posted in Writing on 30 - December 2022 at 05:28 AM (one year ago) 878 views.

There is a bear with a reputation for being strong and intimidating, but something is wrong...

The bear had verifiable reports of Great Deeds. The bear had big muscles, and was physically huge. At one point, the bear's territory was massive; entire nations lived under his rule. He had untold and unimaginable riches. His music, song, and dance were elevated to the highest places. His science and industry were potent. 

All of this led to great pride for the bear. He would rightly walk with his head high and his chest out. He could exercise influence. He could will something and make it happen. Smart, strong, and competent minions worked hard to actualize the bear's goals. People feared the bear, and this was his source of power and control over many people. Some people respected the bear, some people (comfortable and warm) ignored the bear. 

But somewhere, along the way, perhaps as he became old, the bear became sick. So enamored with his power and past, he didn't support and make ready young leaders to replace him. He didn't adapt or change. He fought wars that had no business being fought. He fell into his cave; afraid of losing his power? 


He could be great, of course, but he isn't, anymore. 



As far as dinners go,

Posted in Writing on 12 - December 2022 at 05:59 AM (one year ago) 470 views.

An hour drive through the first real snowstorm, a spectacular meal, two young effervescent boys, a fire in the backyard amidst the blowing snow, wonderful company and engaging conversation...

We enjoyed a wonderful social connection with friends last evening; a warm home - good food and soup on a cold night. There was much to discuss, and we covered many topics. Ostensibly we were there for the 5th birthday party of one of the boys but really, just to see friends. 

After the soup and food, after the fire outside in the snow, after the conversation - with our daughter asleep in the back seat of our car, I just felt...so filled...

Good company does a body good, indeed. 


chatGPT part 2: how we change our teaching and student learning

Posted in Teaching Diary Writing on 07 - December 2022 at 05:39 AM (one year ago) 463 views.

A high school student asks, "what will I do for work with chatGPT around?"

My seniors students have discovered chatGPT. They (like me) were stunned when they saw it. One student asked me why they should study software engineering when there is a tool like this. 

I agree, this tool changes things, but while it can provide snippets of code, I don't think it can write whole systems with various input, processing and output. Much like visual studio code copiliot, I see systems like chatGPT offering support for experienced programmers.

The key thing is evaluation. How will we know the answers we get from chatGPT (and copilot) are correct? I spoke with our school director, always intellectually curious, who suggested teachers ask students to evaluate a reply given by chatGPT. I think this is where we need to be in relation to chatGPT: a smart assistant who needs to be watched carefully. 

That being said, it looks like intelligent agents are going to become better (much better) at being assistants. This seems to be a plausible near-term future

Our job is to teach our students well enough so they can evaluate / analyze the output to determine if the solution is correct / best fit for the problem they are trying to solve. 


Sabbatical learning - part 2

Posted in Blogging Personal Writing on 03 - December 2022 at 04:46 AM (one year ago) 382 views.

How to best set the stage for new learning?

Part 1 here. With a sabbatical scheduled for next year, I am excited and anticipating some good work to be completed. Being able to coalesce many years of experience to renew learning engagements and refresh my understanding strikes me as a golden time. 

I am not only going to work on "professional Bill" but I will also attend to "personal Bill", where I intend to:

  1. focus on exercise, diet and mindfulness
  2. focus on my garden and backyard - long neglected
  3. focus on hobbies 
  4. focus on friends

I will be reaching out to friends who have taken sabbaticals to learn from them; what they did well, what they didn't do well. I don't intend my learning to stop, but this might be the last time I have for long-term break until I retire.

I can't wait!

As I prepare for my sabbatical I am building mountains of curiosities and interests. "I wonder how XYZ" works. Why is XYZ like that". These types of wonderings prime the pump for engagement and interest in the work ahead. 


update from Poland

Posted in Blogging Writing on 16 - November 2022 at 05:09 AM (one year ago) 519 views.

A Russian missile strike in Poland...

Welcome to the occasional update for the academic year 2022 - 2023.  I’ve lived and worked in Warsaw for almost thirteen years and these are my perspectives about current events in Poland. 

We learned yesterday (Tuesday) there was a Russian missile strike in Poland. The village is located less than 10 km from the Polish-Ukrainian border. It is inhabited by about 500 people, 2 people have died.

There is much we don't know but we know the missile was russian-made, and it exploded in Poland. 

According to Polish press, General Waldemar Skrzypczak stated:

It was probably hit by Ukrainian anti-aircraft weapons and misaligned, or it was misprogrammed and, as a result of various errors, went where it saw a different target. Or she got lost and flew until she ran out of fuel, the general estimates.

(almost all words in Polish have a gender associated with them, hence the word she)

To say the least, things are a bit tense in this area of the world. IF this is an attack, this would trigger article 5, which states:
 


“The Parties agree that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all and consequently they agree that, if such an armed attack occurs, each of them, in exercise of the right of individual or collective self-defence recognized by Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations, will assist the Party or Parties so attacked by taking forthwith, individually and in concert with the other Parties, such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force, to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area.
 

This is essentially Poland asking for formal help from the alliance, and falls under a key NATO idea “an attack on one of us is an attack on all of us”. Many things to unpack here:

  1.  Russia is losing the war Ukraine. badly
    1.  Russia's military has been pushed back to pre-February 24 borders, and the Ukrainian military has made stunning gains. If you are interested in non-political reading of the war, I cannot recommend understandingwar.com highly enough.
    2. Napoleon famously quipped:  Never interrupt your enemy whilst he is in the midst of making a mistake. Putin is making a doozy
       
  2. …but there's still a war…
    1.  missile attacks continue, and just yesterday there were more attacks on Kiev, and Russia fired over 100 missiles.
    2. Following a pattern in recent weeks of lashing out far from the front after battlefield losses, Russia fired long range strikes at the capital Kiev, where air raid sirens rang out, two explosions were heard and columns of smoke rose into the sky. The mayor of Kiev said Russian missiles hit two residential buildings (ref).
       
  3. Russia made an uncharacteristically rational decisions by retreating from Kherson
    1. Russian military action has been irrational, disorganized and remarkably inept.
    2. The manner in which the Russian military retreated from Kherson was more careful and competent than what they have done in the past
       
  4. Since this conflict began weapons, supplies and help have been pouring into Ukraine from Poland
    1. but the missile hit a grain storage in a tiny village, nowhere near anything of strategic importance
    2. There are also tens of thousands of American (and NATO) troops / equipment / missile defense in Poland
       
  5. Seems to me the last thing Russia wants if to trigger a war with NATO
    1. Considering their stunning failure in Ukraine, a war with NATO would be unimaginably stupid and result in a catastrophic defeat of the Russian military
       
  6. Please understand: nothing unites the Polish people like an attack 
    1. In Poland, as a rule, there is bickering, complaining and division but when the need arises, the Poles unite at remarkable speed and in remarkable solidarity.
       

We simply pay attention, listen carefully, and get on with our lives as best we can. 


saying goodbye to an idea

Posted in Blogging Writing on 10 - November 2022 at 04:49 AM (one year ago) 351 views.

This is actually a thing...

After more than 20 years of development, I have shut down moderncommand.com, a text-based game built on pennmush. I haven't touched code on moderncommand.com in more than 10 years. Github repo here.

 

Modern Command simulates running a contemporary nation-state. You assume the role of a Prime Minister (or President), and make decisions that effect the lives of millions of people in your country.

 

Technology, social, political, military, and economic issues all reflect events in today's news. You will control and manipulate this world just like real life leaders do; you will issue orders, sway opinions, budget resources, provide a vision and structure for your apt minions to do their work. You will negotiate, order, ask, sign, give, take, listen and talk.

 

Here's the final announcement. My avatar's name was Boris: 

Announcement: Boris shouts, "Thank you, Modern Command."
Announcement: Boris shouts, "you have provided me with many hours and days of escape, enjoyment, and fun"
Announcement: Boris shouts, "it is time for me to move on, but you will always have a special place in my life"
Announcement: Boris shouts, "I am saying goodbye"
Announcement: Boris shouts, "the enjoyment of creating and crafting and making"
Announcement: Boris shouts, "was made possible by you"
Announcement: Boris shouts, "so long, and thanks for all the fish."
 

@shutdown
GAME: Shutdown by Boris
Going down - Bye

 

The purpose of this blog post is to reflect on the grief of saying goodbye to an idea. Moderncommand was a dream for me, made real. I suffered a little bit from perfection; waiting until the game was “just right”. But I was proud of the systems I wrote and the time and effort I put in to make a good game. 

The game was a dream and it's time to say goodbye - this frees me to embrace other ideas and other stories. But the feelings of grief are real. I think when you have an idea you also have dreams about the idea; what it could be, what life would be like with the idea. 

I don't think you can fully move on until you say a proper goodbye. 


No peace without balance of power

Posted in Blogging Writing on 09 - November 2022 at 04:44 AM (one year ago) 356 views.

Personally and politically, this seems like it may be true.

Power is possession of control, authority, or influence over others (source). There are different kinds / types of power, and different contexts with which it exists. 

Peace is not the absence of conflict; peace is about a real balance of power between and amongst groups. We cannot negotiate through a position of weakness, but rather strength. 

I live in Warsaw, Poland. As the war rages on in the Ukraine I see how power (coalitions of power and alliances of power) can create peace, but only when there is a balance of power - that one group is not dominate over another. For Ukraine, the only path to true peace is to fight. I think this may be true for all of us.


The original hum

Posted in Blogging Writing on 07 - November 2022 at 05:08 AM (one year ago) 378 views.

A sound before our mother's heartbeat?

Lithe and moving, lost and ecstatic. There was nothing but the dance. The music flowed through him and he through the music. a perfect connection of sound and movement. He flowed as he flowed, as the music took him, each person did; each with their own call to the sound. 

But everyone on the dance floor was lost (and found) in the sound. The descendent; the earth, the ground, the body were triumphant. It was just perfect movement. 

It started adequately episcopal. 

A Proper Wedding (with People In Formal Attire). A lovely couple, a nice setting. A chuckle and tear as vows were exchanged. Toasts were made. Dinner was enjoyed and some wine was drunk. 

(Some wine was drunk, indeed).

And the traditional party favorite songs, and the traditional party dancing, mostly constrained and happy. 

It wasn't until a few minutes before the last song. Ties had been discarded, shoes had been cast aside, when it just. simply. started. The beat began and people just became lost in the movement, the moment and the move. Made of red light,  a thread emerged on the dace floor and oscillating and the guests just had to follow it; they had the surrender; then came the joy. And then the ecstasy.  The bodies began moving and couldn't stop if they wanted. The light from the thread spread out and everyone who was dancing coalesced. 

The music and dancing consumed them. And as it consumed it sought ground; with feet, with the earth. In a moment they all knew the first sound. Each person knew the hum. The body. The sound of life. 

..and he became, for a moment, fully alive


Early morning

Posted in Blogging Writing on 03 - November 2022 at 05:47 AM (one year ago) 363 views.

The early morning is magic. Quiet, still, and a time to focus prior to the cacophony of the day.

I've always been an early bird. Lately I've been getting up around 4 or 4:30. I get so much work done. 

I should clarify: I don't mean work for work. I mean making progress on things I care about. Giving myself time to focus on personal goals and make progress on growing in a way I like.

There is a cost to this of course. Going to bed early I miss time with my wife, who is a bit of an evening starling. We still connect - but I suppose I get my quiet time in the morning and she gets hers in the evening. There's a balance in that. 

To the morning, to the start of things, to the time of focus and clear thought, free of interruptions, I salute you.