Don’t "like" this post

Wednesday, April 8th, 2015
A few days ago, I was talking to my Robotics students about the posts made in our Facebook group. I didn't want to come across as the old guy bashing social media, but I told them I was surprised at how little discussion was actually taking place online. Students would post, but usually others would only respond by "liking."

If my students were only posting cat videos, I wouldn't have a problem with people clicking "like" as cat videos lend themselves to that behavior. On the other hand, because most of the posts were intended to start a discussion or get feedback clicking "Like" is less useful, in fact it's often meaningless.  

Before Facebook and Twitter, if you wanted to engage with somebody's post, the only way (on nearly all platforms) was to make a comment. Writing and posting a comment takes at least a little thought and effort.

I'm not saying that "Liking" is bad and everyone should stop it. What I am saying is this: think about what your "like" means.

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Getting a robotic arm to solve a puzzle might not seem like much, but two students in my CS328 Introduction to Robotics course have been learning how challenging stuff like this actually is. That's why I'm proud of what they have accomplished.

The classic "Towers of Hanoi" puzzle was invented by the French mathematician Édouard Lucas in 1883 and involves moving blocks or discs from one place to another according to certain rules. This is often difficult for a human to figure out -- just imagine programming a robot to solve it!

Here's a quick video of the robot in action:

The Towers of Hanoi is a common problem assigned to computer science students to help them organize their thinking about problem solving and iterative logic and most especially recursion.

The above video shows step one, which is to solve the problem by discrete programming moves. The next step, if they are up to it, is to take what they have learned and write the algorithms to solve this problem automatically. In any case, they are off to a fine start.

Yes, most of the equipment is older than they are, but it's all they need to learn the fundamentals. And it builds character!


If I may brag for a moment...

Saturday, February 28th, 2015
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That's Amy in the pink dress in front of the symphony orchestra last night. She's narrating George MacDonald's classic story of The Light Princess, which she adapted into a narrative performance accompanied by a complete orchestral score, all written by her.

She also designed and commissioned the paintings on the screens so they could be displayed while she presents this work. It was very well received, and 700-800 people attended the world premier of The Light Princess.

Not to brag, but Kathy and I obviously have the most talented and hard-working daughters in the world.

For more highlights from the concert, you can check out Amy's blog here.

And a couple more pictures for good measure:

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One of the personal projects that has taken quite a bit of my time lately has been helping our symphony orchestra prepare for their mid-winter family concert.

This year, the all of the music including the featured work, The Light Princess" was written by my daughter, Amy, who is a music composition major at The Master's College.

Amy has been working for years on the arrangements for this concert which is called "Tunes, Tales, and Truths." The concert will feature the World Premier of “The Light Princess,” an adaptation of George MacDonald's beloved fairy-tale into orchestral music and narration.

The concert will also include a sweeping suite of original music: pirate legends, great awakenings, swinging jazz, and powerful tales of redemption and new life.

T3 poster - painting with title text

See that painting above? That's an original painting -- one of 10 -- that Amy commissioned for the concert. Working with the artist, Jay Wegter, Amy designed the theme and sketch for each piece of art which Jay then masterfully painted. These will be presented on giant screens during the concert. After the concert, the original score and the 10 paintings will be available in the lobby for closer inspection.

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Why I love teaching at The Master’s College

Tuesday, January 27th, 2015
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Imagine returning to your old college – seeing students learning what you learned so many years ago, maybe even from the same professors, getting the same education you did. Imagine returning to be part of their journey!

That's just what I've been doing for seven years as an adjunct professor at The Master's College. Obviously, I have the best students in the world, and I love my subjects and the school's commitment to Biblically-based teaching.

The Biblical perspective shapes everything about teaching here, from how the material is presented to how professors engage with the students.

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Not long after my Introduction to Robotics course started, it got its very first press coverage!

Three years ago, I was interviewed by Jason Cremeen, a student writing for The Master's Piece, a student publication of The Master's College. What I love about this article is how Jason emphasizes that this course is not an engineering program for computer nerds only -- it's a hands-on critical-thinking course for anyone.

You can read Jason's article here.

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We had a great first session of my Intro to Robotics class last night at The Master's College! I have 17 upper-division computer science majors, and I think they're even more excited about this course than me!

The students were so engaged last night that I asked them whether they'd like to stay an extra half-hour, and every one of them said yes.

After the lecture, we spent time in the lab building our test robots. It's going to be a lot of fun helping them move from inanimate software development to moving parts!

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For more info on the course, see here.