Severe Disappointment

I’ve been a bit out of sorts today, due to a handful of my students.

Background, not that it should matter: I teach AP Computer Science at a Catholic High School in Nashua, New Hampshire. The kids in my class (9 this year) are usually seniors, and have been through two other programming classes (VB.NET and C++, typically) before they get to AP. The AP classes are the hardest ranked classes in the school, and are generally populated by those who understand what they’re getting into.

That having been said, I assigned a project to the class Friday morning. Nothing too extravagant, a variation of a Cay Horstmann project, write an Object Oriented Java program that accepts three X,Y coordinates of a triangle, and displays the area of the triangle, the perimeter of the triangle, the length of each side, and the size of each angle. Anyone who’s been through Trig should be able to handle this. (I know, I figured it out, even though Trig was 27 years ago.) The assignment sheet said the project was due on Monday, they could work together on the algorthms, but the programs must be their own work.

Partial disappointment came yesterday (Monday) when all nine were whining that they needed more time. They seemed incredulous that "due Monday" meant it was due Monday. Now, our school’s progress reports were going out today (Tuesday), so I couldn’t just extend the due date without really screwing up the system. I did relent (slightly) by saying that as long as they handed in their code by homeroom on Tuesday I’d accept it. (I had a free period first thing Tuesday, and could squeeze things in by the 9:30am progress report deadline.) I pointed out to the nine that they had before / after school and the weekend to work on these projects, and such efforts should not be unexpected for an AP level course.

By homeroom, sure enough, I had all nine programs. Not all of them were working; in fact, quite a number of them were so unfinished that the compiler would have barked big time. (Simple things like assignment statements shouldn’t look like "side1 + side2 + side3 = perimeter;"). But that wasn’t the worst part. I realized as read the listings that two of them were 99+% the same. So identical, in fact, that held to light the listings barely showed a difference. Same classes, same variable names, same comments, same screwball logic for angle calculations … indisputably the same. Making matters worse, a few pages down I found a third project that was 98% identical to the other two (he changed some of the comments, and used a different printer.)

Needless to say, I’m disappointed in these guys. I’m also quite amazed. Ignoring for a moment the fact that the school has an honor code that talks about cheating and plagerism, that the student handbook devotes a page and a half to the topic (starting two pages into the handbook), and that a peer of theirs in VB was nailed for this two years ago, doesn’t it occur to them that in a set of 9 projects identical code would be rather obvious?

As another teacher pointed out, in today’s world plagerism is worse than ever, and not just because it’s so common: Once upon a time, if you copied another’s work, there was a chance that some of the intelligence would seep into your own brain as you copied it. You had to learn something, albeit unintentionally, by writing or typing the work in question. If caught, you might be able to spit back some of the information, and pretend it was yours. Today, however, a click of the mouse and you’ve got it. There’s almost no chance of anything sticking accidentally to the inside of your skull.

In under an hour I’ll be paging the three down to the office. What fun that should be.

P.S. I took the advice of another teacher: I graded the project on it’s merit, and then I gave each student that grade divided by three. Not the "0" they deserved, but definitely a kick in their averages.



re: Severe Disappointment @ Tuesday, September 27, 2005 3:31 PM

I hate when things like that happen. Tough to deal with but one hopes it will be a learning experience for all involved. Good luck!


re: Severe Disappointment @ Tuesday, September 27, 2005 3:53 PM

you are kinder than I m’friend. Good thing for students I’m not a teacher, eh? 🙂


re: Severe Disappointment @ Wednesday, October 05, 2005 12:04 PM

While I must admit, not giving them zeros was an act of mercy (it sounds like the AP class this year needs it), this post is still a breach of the teacher-student confidentiality agreement. Hopefully nobody finds out about this blog, eh?

PS: I’m allowed to say "eh" since I’m canadian.


A touch dissapointed myself @ Wednesday, October 05, 2005 12:30 PM

"Providers will respect the confidentiality of students and share this information only with parents and appropriate school personnel."

^^ Well, I must say, I’m a touch dissapointed myself. *points to the above quote* (from the

Though, I do agree that not giving them zero’s was an act of mercy (as the above commenter has also stated). I am glad not to be in the situation these kids are in, however if I ever were, I’de sure hope that MY teachers would respect my privacy O.o;;;.

Anywho, tootles. Good luck in your endevors.


re: Severe Disappointment @ Wednesday, October 05, 2005 3:55 PM

hey Scali, you blogging anywhere these days? What’s happening?


re: Severe Disappointment @ Thursday, October 06, 2005 12:19 AM

I seem to have touched a nerve. Thanks all of you who’ve read this post, and even more so to those who’ve commented.

Perhaps this should be a forum question: At what point is a discussion a violation of privacy? I don’t think anyone would be complaining if I described an anonymous student who did wonderful things in programming. (Case in point — my entries from last Spring regarding the students who created Pocket PC applications after the AP Exam.)

Yet when I post a story of anonymous students who do wrong — with the intent of making the point that the actions taken WERE wrong, and why — I get criticized for breaching confidentiality.

Anyone care to comment on this? I am open to the free exchange of ideas.


re: Severe Disappointment @ Thursday, October 06, 2005 3:02 PM

Well, Mr. I. It is my firm belief that confidentiality means strict confidentiality unless of course that you ask the permission of the students involved if you could unveil said information.

However, in this day and age it is hard to keep track of such. My shrink for example could be telling her friends mighty fine stories about me in both a negative and positive light, neither of which I would appreciate, but how would I ever know?

It seems it is less of a matter or breaching confidentiality as it getting caught. On a forum such as this one, it is rather unlikely that your students would ever find this text or recognize it as it relates to them.

It isn’t a matter of people appreciating the information you provide or criticizing openly or commenting positively, it is a matter of whether you have breached confidentiality or not.

Many issues are divided over moral issues. For example, people who smoke pot. They are breaking the law. However, some use this illegal drug for its medical benefits (aka, glaucoma). So.. are they in the wrong? To the officials, it doesn’t necessarily matter, because the rules are "no marijuana". The morality of the issue is not what is in question at all. It is whether the rule had been broken, or not.

This of course, is just my opinion of the matter. It is no criticism of you directly just of my own observation of the situation.


re: Severe Disappointment @ Thursday, October 06, 2005 3:58 PM

The students have not been identified though. Oh yes we know that they are in a particular class in a particular school but their identity has not been disclosed. What has been talked about is an incident from which many people can learn.


re: Severe Disappointment @ Thursday, October 06, 2005 11:15 PM

Okay, I’m really enjoying this. Anytime we can engage in an intellectual discussion, whatever the topic, we all win.

To xbnorm: I took your comments to be just that: comments, not criticisms. You are helping me to see your point of view, just as I (hopefully) are helping you see mine.

My goal was to initiate thought on the subject, and to that end I’d say I’ve been successful.



re: Severe Disappointment @ Friday, October 07, 2005 4:02 PM

Whoot, yey for productive thought processes.

Yes indeed. I rather like the idea of "friendly argumentation" I was a frequent of the debate team. And every so often I got to play to play devil’s advocate (as compared with my own personal point of view).

Anywho, best of luck to you and your class.




About Mr. I

After 17 years as a PC Software Engineer I gave it all up in 2000 to become a High School Computer Teacher
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