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Overcommitment, Summer 2016

Summer is supposed to be an easy time for teachers, or at least that’s what they myths say. But I never find that my summers are all that much easier than my academic years. While I don’t have classes, I do tend to have research students, I have projects to catch up on at work and at home, and it never seems like paperwork goes away.

So, what am I doing this summer? My big project is Narren Brown’s fault. A year or so ago, I was talking about efforts to diversify CS. Narren said Sam, while you can make a difference for students once they come to Grinnell, you’ll make more of a difference if you set up summer coding camps for middle schoolers. So we embarked upon a project in which we would design and run three different models of coding camps, one focusing on coding for social good, one focusing on coding for the arts, and one focusing on coding for digital humanities. In addition to encouraging students, we hoped to learn about the effects of different models on students’ interest and self efficacy. And we chose a reasonable approach: We were going to have a group of research students spend this summer developing the first camp and offer a local only camp. Next year we would develop the second camp and offer two camps. And the third year, once we had much more experience under our belt, we would extend to the third camp.

But then I got the email. Sam, the Meskwaki Settlement Schools got money for summer STEAM activities. Can you suggest students who can help run a few weeks of coding camp? When I asked about the curriculum, it was clear that they didn’t have one. And so, instead of having the full summer to prepare a full curriculum, my students will have one week to adapt existing curricula. (At the middle school level, we’re going to try for one week of Scratch and one week of Processing.)

To make matters more fun, it feels like there’s much more ancillary work for the summer camps than I was planning on (both my camp and the ones I’m helping MSS run).

Okay, so my summer includes running four weeks of coding camps and ten weeks of supervising a cadre of research students. Not the best plan, but not horrible.

But then there are the things I do to make my summer more fun, particularly participating in workshops. I’m spending a week in the Grinnell/UIowa Digital Bridges institute, learning about data (or capta) in the digital humanities. I’m in that because I’d like to design a version of our intro course that focuses on such issues. I have a week-long (half-day) workshop on diversity in the sciences. If you can’t tell by now, that’s a topic I value highly. I have a week-long (half-day) workshop on our new letterpress. As Michelle says, I need the arts somewhere in my life, and this seems like a good way to make sure I get them somewhere. There’s also some chance for good collaboration with other colleagues. Finally, I have a week-long (full-day) workshop on online teaching to prepare me for my fall online course. I think that’s it.

I also have two grant proposals that I should get done this summer, one relating to the coding camps and one relating to the new digital humanities course.

There’s also some normal work: I should be getting my three classes ready for the fall; two need revision and one is new.

At the end of the summer, I’m co-directing the Grinnell Science Project. GSP is a lot of fun. But it’s also a lot of my time. I remember GSP days as being exhausting (although they are worse for our student assistants, who also work evenings).

I think I’m supposed to be doing paperwork for two open positions (one faculty, one staff) and probably even starting the search for one of those positions. There’s the normal summer chair’s responsibilities. Oh, and since I’m on our Digital Accessibility task force, there will be meetings for that.

Most importantly, it’s my middle son’s last summer home before college. He’s already working too many hours each day, but I do want to find time to see him. Time with him and the rest of my family is not negotiable.

So, while summer may seem like it should be relaxing and simple, it’s anything but. Clearly, I need to plan daily schedules to make sure that I spend time on each task each day.

I suppose I should learn something from this. Probably do less. Probably volunteer for less. It may be that I should value less, since most of what I do is for things that I value. I should look for synergies, whenever possible. I’m hoping that there’s a close relationship between the topics we design for the summer camp and my new Art of Code | Code of Art course for the fall. I’m hoping that there’s a similar relationship between work on coding for digital humanities and the new intro course. What else? I should treat my workshops as relaxation, rather than work. More broadly, I should remember that I really enjoy this work and I’m fortunate that I get paid to do meaningful work that I enjoy.

I think next year, I should map out the summer earlier and think about what can really fit and what can’t. I should make sure that I leverage synergies. (Such a great buzzword phrase.) I should remember that three years of planned coding camps means that there’s not room for much else.

But life is not work. Most importantly, I should plan to keep weekends for family and friends.

Here’s my summer, week by week, mostly for my own planning purposes.

Week 1 (May 30-June 4): In the Digital Bridges institute, 9-5 each day.

Week 2 (June 6-10): Research kickoff. Also in a workshop on diversity in the sciences. Probably a good week to take my students (and kids?) to lunch out of town.

Week 3 (June 13-17): Running a code camp for the Meskwaki Settlement Schools every afternoon. Time with family and research with students in the morning and evening.

Week 4 (June 20-24): Running a code camp for the Meskwaki Settlement Schools every afternoon. Time with family and research with students in the morning and evening.

Week 5 (June 27-July 1): Running a code camp for the Meskwaki Settlement Schools every afternoon. Time with family and research with students in the morning and evening.

Week 6 (July 4-8): Time with my family. Research with my students.

Week 7 (July 11-15): Time with my family. Research with my students.

Week 8 (July 18-22): Digital to Letterpress workshop mornings.
Time with family and research with students in the afternoon and evening.

Week 9 (July 25-July 29): Training for online teaching.

Week 10 (August 1-August 5): Running version 1 of our full-day code camp.

Week 11 (August 8-August 12): Last week of summer research. GSP preparation starts.

Week 12 (August 15-August 19): Grinnell Science Project.

Week 13 (August 22-August 26): Classes start on August 25!

Version 1.0 of 2016-05-31.