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

June, 2008

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Articles About STEM Education

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    Lately (and about time if you ask me)  the problem of computer science enrollment in particular and STEM (science, technology, engineering and Math) in general seem to be getting more attention. Here are a couple of articles that people have brought to my attention that I think are worth sharing.

    Save STEM or watch America fail – It doesn’t get more blunt than that! This article from eSchool News covers a recent summit in Washington DC. It seems like people are saying the right things. People like Bill Gates and Michael Dell are putting their foundation’s money where their mouth is. But is it enough? Are we really committed as a nation to fix this problem?

    Fewer students pursue computer-related degrees – Well I’ve been saying that for a while. And according to the article:

    According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 854,000 professional IT jobs will be added between 2006 and 2016, an increase of about 24 percent. When replacement jobs are added in, total IT job openings in the 10-year period is estimated at 1.6 million.

    The bureau estimates that one in 19 new jobs created in the 10-year period will be professional IT positions.

    "The fact remains that technology permeates all businesses now," said Lou Gellos, a spokesman for Microsoft Corp. "All companies have that person down the hall to help with computer issues."

    This is not a problem we can fix by bringing in people from overseas or by offshoring. One of the big needs these days is computer security professionals and no one in their right mind wants to off shore that!

    And on the positive note, in this interview with Bill Gates (Bill Gates Unfiltered ) one of the things Bill talks about is that he is taking online courses on a regular basis. Yes, the “smartest man in the world” works hard to keep learning and to broaden his knowledge base. If that doesn’t inspire people with the need for life long learning what will? Some of what Bill studies is science – biology and chemistry come up – but there is history in his schedule as well. Having a well rounded education never gets old. BTW there are lots of Bill Gates interviews this week as he prepares to step down from full time work at Microsoft to focus on his foundation. This video interview at Channel 8 is very good.

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Computer Labs As Crutch

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    I ran into a thought provoking blog post the other day. Mike Sansone is a blog coach – a consultant who makes a living helping people blog better – wrote a post called “Are Computer Labs a Crutch?” In it he says that “the computer lab shouldn't be the first (or only) stop in teaching computer and Internet skills.” He’s right about that I think. He lays out a structure for an Internet workshop that sounds pretty good to me. Of course the schedule calls for a class session that is 75 to 100 minutes long and that isn’t happening very often. Perhaps in a school with a long block schedule. The plan is good though.

    One of the things he suggests that I used to good effect is to start with a demo. In computer applications classes or programming classes the first thing I tried to do was to demonstrate what I wanted students to learn. I found this to be surprisingly useful in applications classes. Often students had no idea what an operation was supposed to look like. While some students figure it out from the book a lot of students really need to see it live in action before they can picture it for themselves. Personally that is true for me. Show me what you are going to teach me. Then teach me. Then let me try it for myself and then let’s review. That to me is a great way to teach and learn in a computer lab.

    But honestly the title of his post made me think about other ways that computer labs in schools are used improperly. The problem I see too often is computers, usually in labs, being used as little more than babysitters. I don’t mean by “computer teacher” who generally take full advantage of the teaching resources the lab provides. No I mean “other” teachers who sometimes take advantage of a computer lab and student’s willingness to go to the lab. The student gets out of class and the teacher gets rid of a distraction. And of course to administration it looks like the students are leaving for educational purposes. I guess in theory they really are. The plan to do research. Or perhaps work on a paper. Sounds good in theory and sometimes it actually works that way. Not sure it is a way to bet though.

    There are a couple of problems on the lab side if it though. If the lab is empty there is no, or at least insufficient, supervision. Perhaps is the lab is a monitored study hall, or a library, or a dedicated research/work area this is not a problem. Expecting a computer teacher on a prep period to supervise students isn’t really fair though. And if the lab is in use, for a regular class, it really gets to be a problem. I don’t know any other classroom that teachers feel free to send students to without prior arrangement. Can you see students showing up at a social studies class saying “our teacher sent us here to read your copies of Newsweek” or showing up to gym class saying “we’re just going to play basketball while you run you regular gym class.” But it happens in some computer labs.

    Clearly a teacher can say “no you go back to your regular class” but the room has been disrupted. So often if there is room a teacher will let them stay. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it becomes disruptive. Either way it tests a teachers classroom management skills. But really this is trivial.

    The real problem is that far too many students still do not know how to use the computer resources they have. So they waste a lot of time. People sit back and think “oh good they are getting a lot of computer time” without realizing that much of this time is wasted. This also contributes to the idea that computers are not helping. No tool that is not well used can really be of real help. We need to teach students how to really use the tools we hand them. And we really need to get over the practice of using computer labs as a dumping ground for distracting students.

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    ACM Committee on Women in Computing Newsletter

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    ACM-W, the ACM Committee on Women in Computing, has just published the first edition of their newsletter. The newsletter is called "ACM-W CIS newsletter: Celebrate, Inform, Support" and the first issue is pretty interesting. The ACM-W main web page (here) has a lot of good information on Women in CS. The direct link to the first issue (PDF) is here. The announcement I received said in part:

    Each issue of the ACM-W CIS newsletter will highlight opportunities for women in computing of all ages and career stages, and will include pieces on topics such as news about exciting projects, interviews with women leaders, reports from student chapters and stories from around the world.

    I expect that many people will want to hand off copies of the newsletter to young women to show them that there are interesting women doing interesting, and sometimes world changing, things in computer science. Of course when you think of it that is a lesson some young men could benefit from as well.

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