Teaching algorithms: a one-step look-ahead


What does a one-step look-ahead for teaching discussion/recitation look like?

(And first off, what is a one-step look-ahead? It’s a technical term used in planning algorithms in artificial intelligence, used here to mean that although it’s hard to plan out exactly what to teach for the whole semester, what if we instead plan locally (in time) by looking at what students will need until you see them next? So, let’s plan one step ahead. In this case, since we have weekly discussion sections, this means one step = one week.)

Suppose the primary goal of discussion sections (recitations) are to prepare students for their homework and the next lecture. (The true primary goal is to make sure students learn the material, and the aforementioned is a proxy for doing so. In a well-designed class, these should be well aligned, but that won’t always be the case. [1]) “Prepare” is meant loosely and can include intuition, mathematical background, mechanics of problem solving, concrete examples and applications, visual/graphical explanations. Secondary goals of discussion sections may be to complement/supplement lecture, encourage students, gauge the class atmosphere, get some feedback on how the class is going, solidify your own knowledge of the material, practice public speaking, etc.

Then, to prepare for the next discussion, a one-step lookahead means:
– Anticipate the content of the lecture following the next discussion. This is happening in simulation because it’s not really possible to know exactly what the professor will cover, days in advance. Then, figure out what background students may likely need in advance. (On second thought, this can be pre-planned, with some coordination.)
– Go through the full homework due the following week (following Monday), in order to anticipate techniques and concepts helpful for the homework.
– Go through the discussion worksheet prepared by the course staff.
– Then, put everything together. Pick and choose from the discussion worksheet, with the selection guided by the first 2 items.
– Time permitting (though I believe this is very important), then try as much as possible to find alternative ways to present and explain the material — visually, through demonstration, through simulation, through math, through analogy, through concrete examples.

Let’s try out this policy!

[1] Thanks Shray for the feedback!

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