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It is really great to be back at SIGCSE again this year. I have been coming to SIGCSE for years now. I’m not sure when I started coming but the last five or six years I haven’t missed any. And I have a lot of friends who come most years as well. Some of them I only see at SIGCSE while others I see at other events. In fact it took me a long time to get from the entrance to the exhibit hall this morning because I kept running into people I know and stopping to talk to them. Catching up with old friends took up a lot of the day. This is one of the reasons that SIGCSE is my favorite conference all year.
I made it to a couple of sessions only. I have been spending most of my time in the exhibit hall earning my pay check. But I did make it to some of a session on Scratch this morning. It was interesting hearing how Scratch is being used to teach programming at the university level. There was also some discussion about potential ways that Scratch could grow/improve and what added features would be bad a good. A lot of that relates to difference audiences and purposes. But it was a positive and useful discussion I think.
This evening I attended a Birds of a Feature session discontinuing the future of the AP CS program. The only thing really settled was that nothing was really settled. I heard a lot of the same things I heard last month at a similar session at TCEA. I am coming to the conclusion that the worst problem is not the exam or the reduction from two exams to one. Rather I think the problem is that too many students are not exposed to computer science until too late in their high school careers. AP CS appears to be hard because students have no real preparation in many schools. In others they have some but perhaps not enough. Do you think that teaching AP English to students who could not read and write would be easier than AP CS is now? Somehow I doubt it but that is what comparing apples to apples would be.
The exhibit hall seems greatly reduced this year. The College Board does not have a booth at all. The spaces covered by the book publishers are greatly reduced in most cases. And there just seem to be fewer booths than usual. IBM and Apple haven’t been to SIGCSE in years. Intel, Sun Google and Microsoft all have booths and are sponsors this year. Microsoft’s booth is the same size as last years. Microsoft is also helping to sponsor Kid’s Camp again this year. This is a great day camp experience for the children of attendees.
The Microsoft booth is showing a lot of different things again this year. The Academic Research Kernel program, MSDN AA, Imagine Cup, Kodu, and other things including the star attraction – a Microsoft Surface table. It’s been a busy booth. It’s also where I am hanging out a lot so if you are also at SIGCSE please come looking for me.
Tomorrow looks interesting. Craig Mundie, Chief Research and Strategy Officer at Microsoft, is giving the keynote on “Rethinking Computing” and I hear he has some cool stuff to demo. Plus there will be some sessions of the future of the AP CS program. Yep more talk about that.
Interesting post, actually several, at the CSTA blog lately One is called Where Are All the High School Computer Science Students- and it brings up some interesting things about CS education. I would call them misconceptions.
Computer Science is hard – Say what? Compared to what? Compared to calculus? I don’t think so. Compared to sinking a three-point shot with a six foot six defender guarding you during a basketball game? I don’t think so. Computer science does require that one actually thinks of course and perhaps we have too many students who are not used to that. But is that the problem of computer science? I don’t think so.
OK I’m having a little fun here. Computer Science is harder than some other subjects. Like, well I can’t think of a good example. I mean high school English would be pretty hard if students hadn’t already had 8 years of prior English training. Picture teaching HS English to someone who could not read or write in any language. You think that would be an easy course? And yet we do that with computer science. In some schools AP CS is the first computer course. Think about teaching AP Calc to someone who couldn’t add or subtract for a comparison.
Computer Science is boring – Again compared to what? I find it endlessly fascinating. But than I read history books for fun too and I’ve heard more than a few students call history boring. Perhaps the students who are finding computer science boring are just not paying attention? Or perhaps their teachers are working too hard at making the course boring. Perhaps the teachers would rather be teaching something else? Again, not the fault of the subject.
There are not jobs in computer science – Have you seen a list of open jobs for English majors lately? How about history majors? Math majors without computer science? Take a look at this list of top 50 occupations sometime. Two of the top 10 are computer science related. Elementary school teacher is more in demand but believe it or not the computer science jobs tend to pay more in case money is an issue for your students. :-)
So should we just wait and let students learn computer science in college? Think about that a minute. If having their first exposure in high school is “hard” wouldn’t having their first exposure in college be worse? I think so. Time to start teaching about computer science younger. Middle school is not too soon. Hopefully its not too late either.
I’ll be at SIGCSE this week and one of the things Microsoft will be showing is Kodu which is a game/tool/program to introduce some CS concepts to younger students. It will be interesting to see what discussions develop there.