Computer Science Teacher
Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

June, 2007

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Computer Science Unplugged: CS Activities For K–12 Beyond Programming

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    I'm sitting in 'Computer Science Unplugged: CS Activities For K–12 Beyond Programming' a session at NECC being given by Tom Cortina and Tim Bell. They are talking about the exercises in the Computer Science Unplugged book. They just opened a new version of their website today.

    CS Unplugged is very interactive so of course the workshop is as well. We've had several interactive exercises that have involved people working at the front of the room. I like this technique because it is a great step away from the old fashioned "pundit on the platform" form of teaching that is so common not only at conferences but in the classroom.

    Right now the people in the front of the room are working on a deadlock exercise. This is a concept that can be difficult to understand but I think this activity is really a great way to make the concept more real and less abstract. 

    These exercises really make me wish I had a class to try these exercises out.

    A reminder that there is a CS4HS workshop this summer. Information at http://www.cs.cmu.edu/cs4hs The ideas in CS Unplugged are taught in those workshops.

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    CSTA Wants to Hear Your Story

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    Chris Stephenson of CSTA told us (those of us at the SIGCT breakfast) about a new effort to collect success stories from teachers of computer science and Computing & Information Technology. All the facts and figures that can be collected about the need for computer science and the possibilities an education in CS & IT bring, while great, do not tell a compelling story. All too often the media and politicians are looking for a story - a success story - to communicate in a way that resonates with more people. CSTA wants to collect those stories.

    So what kind of stories? From the handout:

    Every day you make a difference in the lives of your students. Tell us how your computer science course has improved life:

    • for a student
    • for your school
    • for your community
    • for your state

    Email your story to story (at) csta.acm.org and be sure to include your full contact information.

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  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    The First Thing Is To Get Them Interested

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    I am sitting in the SIGCT Breakfast Forum at NECC this morning. The discussion is pretty interesting already and I am going to try to "live blog" a bit.

    One of the first things that has come up is the need to get students interested in computer science. Michael Kölling pointed out that at the university level students come in interested having selected the field. In K-12 though many students are not as self-selecting and often a third or more of students will not be interested. I would add that because computer science often is not only not required it often can't be used to meet major non-elective credit for graduation is is easy for students to drop out. Sometimes they drop out without actually removing the course from their schedules.

    Chris Stephenson is pointing out that it is no longer productive or in fashion for universities to criticize high school CS education. She also points out that our (CS education) language wars are a distraction that make our field less interesting and scares others away. She also asks about how well are we doing at getting and holding student's interests is productive ways. In short "how are we teaching" becomes as important as what we are teaching.

    Phil East points out that the computer, like math, is a tool to solve other problems and not an end in itself.  We all too often teach students the skills of the tool and not really how to solve real problems. We teach programming for programming's sake and not really as a tool for solving real problems. In that way we don't really teach problem solving.

    A lot of the people who are teaching vocational computer science are not involved in things like NECC. Teachers who teach applications or hardware courses like A+ certification are not promoting computer science/programming as logical next steps in vocational education. Internships are a great learning tool that we don't take enough advantage of. 

    Joe Kmoch points out that part of the reason behind the name change for SIG CS (computer science) to SIG CT (Computer Teachers) was to increase the involvement of K-8 computer teachers. There are a good number of K-8 teachers here BTW. It looks like more middle schools especially are represented. A good bit of the discussion is around the need to teach computer skills and problem solving techniques at younger grades in ways that make the tool useful and relevant.

    Someone is talking about the fact that a lot of the good things in computer education are being done in private schools and that we need to have some knowledge transfer from private schools to public schools. The digital divide between public and private schools is a concern by many. It is interesting to me as someone who used to work for a private school where we used to wish we had the money that public schools have. I think the difference is one of priorities. The private schools place a higher priority in many cases on computer science education than the public schools.

    Well my battery died before the group discussions started but fortunately a lot of the notes people took during them are at the SIGCT wiki - scroll to the bottom of the page for those links.

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