It Is a Language Other Than English!

It has been a bit of a day, but we now have official word from Texas Education Agency that Computer Science I, Computer Science II, and Computer Science III are all considered as Languages Other Than English and therefore meet the LOTE requirement for students for high school graduation.

At the time of this writing, much of the information on the TEA website is out-of-date and refers to a September 1, 2016 deadline for when these courses no longer count as a LOTE credit. This was what generated much of the confusion.

For us, this means that this course must remain named Computer Science I and not Computer Programming. The difference is that Computer Science I is funded from the State of Texas Technology Applications / Computer Sciences budget while Computer Programming is funded from the Carl D. Perkins-backed Federal Career & Technical Education budget.

Regardless of funding source, we want to do what is in the best interest of our students and offering them an additional “foreign language” alternative is in their best interest. As such, it’s Computer Science I for this year.

Robotics Proposal

Well, I gave myself a real challenge this year: I put down as one of my professional goals for my T-TESS to complete a proposal for expanding our robotics program within the district. I was smart and simply said that I will have a proposal before the School Board and did not say if it was approved or not. Of course, I hope that it would be.

Currently, we have STEM labs at our upper-elementary school, intermediate school, and junior high school. Those labs are based upon the SmartLabs by Creative Learning Systems.

My proposal would be complementary to those STEM labs and allow students to expand their horizons further into the fields related to robotics and automation.

As far as current robotics classes, we have a single Robotics and Automation class at the high school and a single FIRST Tech Challenge robotics team that is also based at the high school.

The proposal would call for us to add a second-year Robotics course to the high school, which would center around curriculum related to the FIRST Robotics Competition program. The first-year Robotics course would center around curriculum related to the FIRST Tech Challenge program.

In addition, we would add two new courses to the junior high school offerings. We would have a Robotics 6 and a Robotics 7/8. The Robotics 6 class would center around curriculum related to the FIRST Lego League program while the Robotics 7/8 class would center around curriculum related to the FIRST Tech Challenge program.

These are absolutely part of the proposal in addition to AP Computer Science I (AP Computer Science – Principles) and AP Computer Science II (AP Computer Science – A).

I have also been brainstorming on if there is a way to incorporate a FIRST Lego League team or teams at our intermediate campus, but as of now, I can’t seem to come up with a way to incorporate that.

A rough schedule would look something like this…

08:00am to 08:53am – Robotics 7/8 (FJH)
08:58am to 09:51am – Robotics 6 (FJH)
09:56am to 10:49am – Conference/Planning (FJH)
11:10am to 12:20pm – Advisory/Lunch (FHS)
12:25pm to 01:55pm (A) – AP Computer Science I (FHS)
12:25pm to 01:55pm (B) – AP Computer Science II (FHS)
02:00pm to 03:30pm (A) – Robotics I (FHS)
02:00pm to 03:30pm (B) – Robotics II (FHS)

As you can see, there is really no time for a transition and class for a single teacher to cover at another campus. Now, I may add in the proposal a future considerations section which would discuss FIRST Lego League and FIRST Lego League Junior at the upper-elementary and the intermediate campus.

Still in its early stages of development and drafting. Time will tell what the final proposal looks like.

Water Bottle Rocketry

We started the school year in Principles of Technology with a bang – more like a blast!

The first project, right out of the gates, was soda-bottle water rockets. This was the introductory project for the course and for Unit 1 – Motion.

The class was broken into self-selected teams of 1 to 3. The class was given a complete 2-liter soda bottle and access to random materials from around the classroom. The teams were given 3 90-minute class sessions to brainstorm and complete their rocket designs.

Upon completion of the designs and following the launches, teams completed force diagrams and a post-launch analysis explaining why their rockets performed the way they did.

Here are the various rockets on the morning of the launches…

Driving Finches

My Robotics class was busy for the past few days working in SNAP! to program the Finches to perform various tasks. We started off easy with some pre-programmed sequential instructions like the following:


We then quickly moved up to more interactive non-linear / non-sequential programming which allowed us to create basic driving functionality. Here were the fruits of their labors:

The students seemed to have fun working with the Finches and it gave them the flexibility to focus solely on the automation programming without having to also worry about the engineering design.

Special thanks to Birdbrain Technologies for loaning us the Finches this year for the students to work with!

All Official & Open House

Well, here we are! It’s Meet the Teacher Night at Ferris High School!


The 506B computer lab is done with training for the day and prepped and ready for students and their parents.


The 506A classroom, which is where we will be working on Robotics is coming along. Once we have more equipment, we’ll be thankful for having this space to work with!


I guess I am all official now with my own name plate on the door. A big shift from where I was at last year with 4th Grade.

Well That Stinks

Well, we were on our way to having both of our vehicles paid down when our 2012 Kia Sedona with 108,000 miles decided to bite the dust.


The transmission completely failed, the diagnostic computer was hallucinating and many other issues have emerged on this 4-year-old wonder. The repairs were projected to run between $5,000 and $7,000! We’ve already spent nearly $3,000 in various repairs on this thing over the past two years and 50,000 miles (failed oil pump, leaking oil pan, failed oil pressure switch, etc…).

Unfortunately, we purchased it used from CarMax and as such, the factory warranty was void since the full-length only applies to the first owner (according to Kia). I’ve usually been happy with CarMax, but not with this purchase. We’ve done business with them on 8 other vehicles over the years.

As we were very upside-down on this vehicle, we knew our only option was to purchase a vehicle we could roll that substantial negative equity onto. Actually, you don’t roll the negative equity onto the loan, the dealership reduces the price of a vehicle but keep the finance amount at the full price of the vehicle. Unfortunately, this only works on vehicles that are either over-priced or that the dealership wants to get rid of.

In our case, we got a little bit of both. We got two new cars:

2016 Honda Civic


2016 Honda CR-V


While we were not exactly planning to go out today to purchase two new vehicles, we were relatively happy with the final outcome. I very impressed with the staff at Rusty Wallis Honda in Dallas.

I will miss my 2005 Honda Pilot, which was the other vehicle involved in the transaction which we had equity in to offset some of the losses from the Kia.

Easy as Pi

The basic LEGO Mindstorm EV3 truck we are using in this example contains two main drive tires and two smaller “bumper” tires. The balance of the weight is carried on a skid on the back-center of the robot. Each of the main drive tires are driven by a large motor. The task is to pre-program a robot to drive along the border of a 5 foot by 3 foot rectangle.

The main drive tires are the only one that we are interested in to solve this problem. First, we need to know the diameter of each tire. In this case, the truck is using 68.8mm diameter tires. We know the circumference of a circle is calculated by multiplying Pi (π) times the diameter or multiplying Pi (π) times double the radius.

C = πd or C = π(2r)

So, with a diameter 68.8mm, these tires have an approximate circumference of 216.14157mm. This means that for every full rotation of the tire, the robot moves 216.14157mm.

Now, let’s look at the length of our track. It is two 5-foot lengths and two 3-foot lengths. The converts to two 60-inch lengths and two 36-inch lengths. There are 25.4mm in 1 inch. As such, our track consists of two 1,524mm lengths and two 762mm lengths.

Unfortunately, we don’t luck out with our circumference evenly dividing into either of our lengths. This means that to stop at the exact length, the tire will not end at a complete rotation. We must calculate how many complete rotations and then how much of a fractional rotation would be needed for each length.

Let’s start with the 5-foot lengths. Remember, they are 1,524mm. Each complete tire rotation is 216.14157mm. So, we need to do some division:

1,524 ÷ 216.14157 = 7r11.00901

In common English, this means that to travel 1,524mm the wheel must rotate 7 complete times and then an additional 11.00901mm. The problem is how do we tell the computer to accomplish this task?

Option 1 – Fractional Rotations

In LEGO Mindstorm LabView, we can instruct the motor to turn a set number of rotations. In this case, we need to return to our division problem and solve for a floating decimal remainder

1,524 ÷ 216.14157 = 7.05093

This means that the motor will need to rotate 7.05093 times. If we double-check this, we multiply our answer (total number of rotations) by the circumference (distance traveled by each rotation) and should get our total distance.

7.05093 X 216.14157 = 1,523.99908mm

As we are working with approximations of π, a drift of 0.00091mm is sufficiently close.

Option 2 – Degree Rotations

In LEGO Mindstorm LabView, we can also instruct the motor to turn a set number of degrees. We know from earlier that we must perform a minimum of 7 complete rotations and then a fractional rotation.

To perform this calculation, we first need to know how much distance is traveled by a single degree of rotation. For this, we do the following:

216.14157mm ÷ 360° = 0.60039mm/1°

For every degree of rotation, the wheel will travel approximately 0.60039mm. So, to determine how many degrees are needed to travel 1,524mm, we divide that distance by the distance of 1 degree of rotation.

1,524mm ÷ 0.60039mm = 2,538.35007°

This means that to travel 1,524mm, the wheel needs to rotate 2,538.35007°. We know that this answer makes logical sense since we know from earlier that the wheel must complete just over 7 full rotations. There are 360° in a single rotation and 2,520° in 7 full rotations. This leaves 18.35007° to go.

Let’s double-check this. We calculated that a single degree of rotation produced 0.60039mm of travel. So, let’s see how much travel we get with 2,538.35007° of rotation.

0.60039mm X 2,538.35007° = 1,523.99999mm

As we are working with approximations of π, a drift of 0.00001mm is sufficiently close.

What About the Short Length?

Let’s take a moment to look at the short length and see if the level of accuracy between rotations and degrees holds.

Let’s start with rotations again. We know that a single rotation gives us approximately 216.14157mm of travel. We also know that our distance to be traveled is 3 feet or 762mm.

762 ÷ 216.14157 = 3.52546

This means the motor will need to rotate 3.52546 times to travel 3 feet. If we double-check this, we multiply our answer (total number of rotation) by the circumference (distance traveled by each rotation) and should get our total distance.

3.52546 X 216.14157 = 761.99845mm

When working with rotations on the shorter distance, our drift is 0.00154mm. This would mean that our total drift for the entire rectangle would be 0.0049mm.

(0.00091 X 2) + (0.00154 X 2) = 0.0049mm

Now, let’s look at degrees for the short length. Once again, we know that a single degree of rotation gives us approximately 0.60039mm of travel. We also know that our distance to be traveled is 3 feel or 762mm.

762mm ÷ 0.60039mm = 1,269.17503°

This means that if the tire rotates 1,269.17503°, we should travel 3 feet. If we double-check this, we multiply our total distance per degree traveled by the total number of degrees of rotation.

0.60039mm X 1,269.17503° = 761.99999mm

When working with degrees on the shorter distance, our drift is 0.00001mm. This would mean that our total drive for the entire rectangle would be 0.00004mm.

(0.00001 X 2) + (0.00001 X 2) = 0.00004mm

Which is the Best?

Well, if we look at which option gives us the most accurate result, working with degrees resulted in an answer that is only a total of 0.00004mm off while working with rotations results in an answer that was a total of 0.00490mm off. That is a total difference of 0.00486mm.

If we are looking for ease of calculation, the number or rotations requires far fewer calculations and in theory less possibility for calculation error.

Competition for Students


I submitted a proposal in the Spring of 2016 to create a new hybrid STEM Robotics and IT Computer Programming pathway. This entire pathway starts with the STEM course, Principles of Technology.

This course is a very hands-on Physics class with a major CTE flair. The majority of the class, at least 60% must be taught in a hands-on lab setting.

The Problem

Unknown to me, our Physics teacher has been having problems with enrollment in his classes. Namely, he does not have sufficient enrollment to offer the AP Physics class.

He is concerned that more students will leave Physics for the Principles of Technology Course since it’s more “fun”.

The Bigger Problem

To me, this highlights a bigger problem. According to the Physics teacher, his hands are tied because he has a standardized TRS (formerly CScope) test he has to utilize. However, our superintendent has said that these are now only diagnostic and don’t have to be taken for a grade.

He honestly has the freedom to make the Physics (non-AP) into anything he would like to. I think there is unspoken concern in transitioning from a class that is majority lecture/minority lab to the opposite.

Built-In Solution

In my original proposal, students were to only be signed up for the Principles of Technology course of they were entering the Robotics / Computer Programming pathway. Otherwise, they should plan on take Physics.

Future Discussion

In the future, I will know to discuss ventures that intrude into the core with the core teachers it may impact while drafting any proposal.

I will also be interested to see just how much of an impact this will have on the enrollment of our Physics classes and home many of my Principles of Technology students go on to Computer Programming and the rest of the pathway.

A Local Robotics Competition


The way that we are establishing our Computer Programming curriculum is as follows:

  • Year 1 – Computer Programming
    • Language: Python
  • Year 2 – AP Computer Programming
    • Languages: JAVA & Ruby

Our Problem

Because UIL uses JAVA as the basis for its Computer Science contests and TCEA uses JAVA as the programming language for their area robotics contests, there is nothing extra-curricular for the students in Year 1 of our program.

Possible Solution

I am thinking that we will implement a local robotics competition for our first-year students using the LEGO Mindstorm EV3 kits programmed using Python to solve a given problem or set of problems.

I’ll need judges from around the local and larger community to judge creativity, engineering, and coding.

Eventually, I would like to open it up as an invitational format that could generate revenue for our robotics program and provide a small thank you gift for our judges.

AP or No AP


This week, I have had the privilege of working with some outstanding educators from across the country at the UTeach: Computer Science Principles AP training held in Dallas, TX.

At this training, we were preparing for the newest addition by College Board to their general AP offerings: AP Computer Science Principles.

On the first day, the presenter stated that not all schools represented were going to be offering this for AP credit and I was stumped. I could not figure out why you would not present a course as AP if you could. However, as the week went on, I realized that my own campus is likely one of the ones that will not offer it as an AP course.

Background (Course)

This course is built to be offered to students who would not typically take a Computer Science course. UTeach has based their curriculum on the University of Texas courseThriving in Our Digital World which is the mandatory Computer Science course for non-Computer Science majors.

Background (My Students)

The students I will be starting with next year have all self-taught themselves JAVA as part of an after-school club. They participated on their own at UIL district competition and advanced to compete at UIL regional competition! These students have a strong desire to refine their skills in computational thinking and program development.

The Problem

The AP Computer Science Principles course is language agnostic and primarily relies on block languages such as Scratch for its primary delivery. As my students have been working with a text-based language, this will feel like a substantial step backwards.

Also, the course will not adequately prepare my students for participation in UIL, which is JAVA specific. I feel that my students will derive more long-term benefit from preparation and participation in UIL than they would completing this AP course.

Administration Support

I am blessed to have an administration team at the campus and district levels who trusts my judgement to do what is in the best interests of our students. I have actually been told by one of my administrators, “My ego is not stroked based upon how many courses have the letters “AP” in front of them. Do what’s best for our students. That’s what I want and what I expect.”

The Decision

Currently, the decision has been made that we will be offering the following:

  • Computer Programming
    • 2016/2017 (Not AP)
      • Programming Language: JAVA
    • 2017/2018 and Beyond (Not AP)
      • Programming Language: Python
  • AP Computer Programming
    • 2017/2018 (AP CS-A)
      • Programming Languages: Python, Ruby and Persistent Parallels to JAVA
    • 2018/2019 and Beyond (AP CS-A)
      • Programming Languages: JAVA and Ruby

The idea is that the students entering Computer Programming in 2016/2017 will be formally learning JAVA. In the next year, those students will progress to the second-year course, which is aligned with AP Computer Science-A and will cover the languages of Python and Ruby with persistent reminders of JAVA. Students in this group will be the UIL Computer Science team for both 2016/2017 and 2017/2018.

The students entering Computer Programming in 2017/2018 will be learning Python while learning computational problem-solving skills. In the next year, those students will progress to the second-year course, which is aligned with AP Computer Science-A and will cover the languages of JAVA and Ruby. Starting in 2018/2019, when these students enter the second-year course, they will be the UIL Computer Science team. In all future years, the team will be comprised of students from this second-year course.

Long-Term Benefit

The hope is that students in this program will leave with truly marketable skills in JAVA, Ruby, and Python development.