Henry Walker Interview: Selected Quotes


link to return back to top Henry Walker Henry Walker interview excerpt:
Classmate was daughter of textbook author

So I took AP Calculus. I think the year or two after, a whole class of students, twenty-five or whatever, were advanced, but in my year there were five of us. One of the things that was sort of fun about that, at the time one of the major textbooks was by George Thomas -- Thomas Calculus was sort of the same stature that Stewart Calculus is today. Jean Thomas, George's daughter, was in my class. So every so often, the teacher would say, "Jean, tell your father there's this thing on page 17" or whatever, which was sort of fun. It was a nice, wonderful thing.

link to return back to top Henry Walker Henry Walker interview excerpt:
As an introvert he uses role playing

I have always been really very much of an introvert. I mean, absolutely true. It's absolutely true. From theatre in high school, I know how to play roles effectively. I know what I need to do. And I do enjoy that. And it's not that I'm putting it on. But deep down, I'm happy to be just on my own, quietly... But still, when I was SIGCSE chair, the outgoing parts of that were things that I could do in terms of thinking about a role to play, because that's how I could operate with people.

link to return back to top Henry Walker Henry Walker interview excerpt:
He was convinced he would flunk out

When I went to Williams, I tell this to some of my advisees, I went to Williams and I was absolutely convinced I was going to flunk out. It was not a matter of "if", it was just a matter of "when". So I spent a lot of time in the first few years -- every waking moment I was studying one thing or another.

link to return back to top Henry Walker Henry Walker interview excerpt:
A strategy to speak up in class more

The first semester of my second year I had a political science instructor who took me aside toward the end of the semester and said, "You know, you've got a number of interesting ideas, but you really need to speak up in class more." Because looking back at how I was in the first few semesters of college, I was just the sort of student that I would currently hate now. Because I just was a sponge. I would absorb everything and never say a word. But the political science instructor said, "You really need to say something or other about what your ideas are. Because they're interesting ideas, I can tell from your papers, but nobody else knows." So he said that what I was supposed to do was the next semester, I was to be sure I said something in the first class meeting of every class I took. Didn't make any difference what it was, but I needed to say that. I took that seriously. And that really made a substantial difference in helping me come out of a shell.

link to return back to top Henry Walker Henry Walker interview excerpt:
The test question was to give incorrect definitions

The instructor gave take-home tests in that linear algebra and was tired of all the standard stuff. So one of the questions was, "Give incorrect definitions for the following terms". So this was something that I thought was just fabulous. I could just let my imagination go. So I started, "A linear transformation is a model city's program in Flatland." I really just enjoyed that kind of stuff. But actually, we were told later, there were several people who got points off on that. Because they used double negatives and such and actually ended up with the correct definition. But it had little to do with understanding of linear algebra.

link to return back to top Henry Walker Henry Walker interview excerpt:
Course had enrollment greater than course number

So over the course of quite a number of years, we gradually increased the offerings of computing courses. I should say for this innovative course that I had this first book out in, it was Math 101. And as far as I know it's still the only course at Grinnell that has ever had enrollment higher than the course number

link to return back to top Henry Walker Henry Walker interview excerpt:
Social Responsibility and SIGCSE

[I am a ] product of the sixties where there was a real sense of service and social responsibility ... So I am really interested in working with educators at all levels to help improve education, help teaching, getting people involved... I have this sense of really needing to work within a community in order to develop as a teacher. Networking has been very important for me. There are several organizations that I have been part of involved with that, but SIGCSE is the big one in terms of the size and the diversity of the group.

link to return back to top Henry Walker Henry Walker interview excerpt:
Community and what one person can do

But I do have this sense of a community really interested in how do you move forward in education and connect with students. How do you connect with not just this group of students or that group of students but the whole diverse population? So what's the state of education? Well, the state of education is one where there's limited funding. Resources are sometimes available, often not very well. So how do you make a difference in that? As I said in my talk earlier this week, I am one person, I can't do everything. But I feel very strongly that that doesn't mean that I can't do anything. So I need to find where is there a need that could actually maybe help somebody.

link to return back to top Henry Walker Henry Walker interview excerpt:
Parent and partner

I think Terry and I have been a very good team. She's had her professional career. I've had my professional career. And we really have been very good at trading off what needs to happen. When the kids were around at home, each day we would need to think about, "Now who is going to be picking up which kid where and do what?" We both did our part.

link to return back to top Henry Walker Henry Walker interview excerpt:
Possible impact of teaching

There have been a number of folks over the years that I've been able to work with and serve in some sort of mentor role. And again, when you're working with students, or working with colleagues, you often really don't know what impact you've had. I'd like to think that some of that's been useful. But you don't really know that very much, right? You know, it's just ... that's the nature of teaching. You sort of try to plant the seed, try to help things grow, and eventually something happens. Maybe.

link to return back to top Henry Walker Henry Walker interview excerpt:
A certain amount of planning

I guess for me, on the one hand there's been a certain amount of planning. There has also been a lot of paying attention to what circumstances you find yourself in, and taking advantage of serendipity. And, you know --- as I have built the program at Grinnell or as I have seen various things in the SIGCSE organization --- yes, there are some general principles of inclusion, and respect, and social responsibility, and those kinds of things for SIGCSE. Or some ideas of you should expand computing somehow in the Grinnell curriculum. But when you start along a path you certainly know a bit of where you are starting from, but you know that will change when you do the first steps. So the way you may be envisioning the path at the beginning is absolutely not going to be how it is going to work. Because when you take a couple of steps, there is now a different environment. You are in a different place yourself. And so you need to keep listening, keep re-evaluating, keep thinking about what sort of an interesting, worthwhile thing to do next.

link to return back to top Henry Walker Henry Walker interview excerpt:
Third grade teacher says that better

When older daughter Donna was in third grade, she came home and had a question about math. At that time, the whole class she was in would go to a language teacher, and then to a social studies teacher, and then to a math teacher. Her math teacher was Mr. Connor. She came home and had a question one day. And I said some stuff -- that was my field and I knew about that stuff. And she listened to me and said, "You know, Dad, Mr. Connor says that a whole lot better than you do." You know, she was absolutely right because he understood how third graders work. And, you know, I quote that story often, because each area of teaching is special. It's not just about content. It's how do you connect with that particular group. And Mr. Connor could deal with third graders in a way I would never be able to. And I think that's an important thing to keep after.

link to return back to top Henry Walker Henry Walker interview excerpt:
Destructive binary search

It's common in a computing course to talk about binary search. So the approach that I typically use -- I got it from someone else; it's certainly not original with me, but I've used this from time to time. And it happened that there were a couple of prospective students in class the day I was doing [the binary search ]. So what do I do? I got out an old Grinnell telephone directory to do binary search. How would you look up this name? So I turned to the middle page. It's going to be in the second half of the book, so I just took the structure and ripped it in half. And I thought those two students were going to just fall on the floor. {both laugh} But then, you know, it's called a destructive binary search.