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

July, 2009

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Computer Science Teachers and Web 2.0


    One of the things that surprises a lot of people I talk to is that there are not a lot of computer science teachers using Web 2.0. By that I mean not many are blogging, Twittering, using RSS readers to follow blogs, participating in online discussion forums or much else except for searching the Internet or the occasional mailing list. Oh there are many computer science teachers on the AP CS mailing list but my perception is that is just about it for online activity. Why? Well yesterday I asked my Twitter followers the question of why more teachers don’t use Twitter. Some answers were:

  • bethstill.@alfredtwo: Why- They need to see a purpose in Twitter and immerse themselves in it to get it.
  • BeckyFisher73@alfredtwo Could it be a "learning style" matter?

  • dkdykstra@alfredtwo I've heard some say that they don't have time (gah!) and that they just don't get (don't see the value).

  • haretek@alfredtwo Perceived time to set Twitter account up and learn how to use it is an obstacle to teachers here.

  • KarenJan@alfredtwo i think it's more about the lack of perceived value, inherent value is not immediately

  • cbrannon@alfredtwo Many think that they don't have time or don't know the value of Twitter.

  • Time shows up over and over again. So does lack of perceived value. My feeling is that teachers, like everyone else, has limited time in the day. So activities have to be prioritized.  There are many teachers who find blogging and Twitter to be very valuable. Personally I don’t know how I’d keep current without them. But many teachers are already running as fast as they can to keep up. The investment in time and energy to learn something new and start engaging in it in a useful manner has to be clearly justifiable. Justifiable enough to let something else go by the boards. Now often a short term set back can pay off in the long term but that can be a hard sell as things are hard to predict. (Especially about the future. :-) )

    Interestingly enough I see raw beginners and very experienced teachers using these tools. Or not. For a young person there seem to be more hours in the days. Often no children to take care of for example. And less need for sleep perhaps. Plus a new person’s excitement with the technology. For more experienced teachers perhaps they are current enough and practiced enough that they can spend more of their time learning new things because they already are getting by.

    Those who don’t use these new tools are, in my opinion, missing out but I can’t bring it upon myself to be too critical. Often they have children and other commitments that really deserve high priority. Or perhaps they  are at a stage in their career where some sort of “just the facts” – the basics and foundational things – are what they need to prioritize. Others just need someone to help them jump start into things. With the right training and examples they could take advantage of these tools.

    But you know, I fear there are some people who just can’t be bothered. For them the same old same old is all they want to do.

    Where should teachers start? Personally I recommend reading blogs using some sort of RSS reader. RSS Bandit perhaps – that is what I use. Outlook has a built in ability to do that. Wikipedia lists lots of them though. Find one that you like and follow some blogs. Follow mine. :-) Follow some of the ones I link to on my sidebar or from various posts. Do a search for blogs by topics that interest you. One doesn’t have to start in by writing a blog. Read some. Leave comments on some. Maybe give Twitter a chance at some point. Later find some online forums and browse them for a while. Ease into things.

    Look for blogs by teachers in other subjects BTW to see how they are using tools like wikis, blogs, and more to enhance the learning of their students. Start now in the summer when things are, perhaps, a little slower. If you need a list to start with I like this one - Educational Blogs You Should Be Investigating

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Project Tuva – a new way to teach and learn


    I have to admit that at first glance the opportunity to hear and watch Richard Feynman lecture was enough to attract me to Project Tuva. I have long been interested in physics and having read some of Feynman’s writing (His book Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman! (Adventures of a Curious Character) was a blast to read) I was interested in hearing him “in person” as it were. I’ve watched much of the first of seven lectures that Project Tuva has available and it was as entertaining as it was informative. I’ve learned a bunch of things about gravitation and how it was discovered (hint: a lot more than just an apple falling on Newton’s head) from what I have watched. Feynham is a great lecturer. If you teach physics or are interested in learning physics this series is a great resource.

    But Project Tuva is really more than just lectures copied from tape to Internet viewable form. There is expert commentary available (for the first lecture – commentary of the rest is coming). There are interactive supporting materials along the way. There is also the ability to take ones own notes that can be timed to the lecture timeline. The videos can be searched as well. And as you might expect there are transcripts to read. Is this the way to capture great teaching and provide a true multi-level, multi-media, interactive learning experience for educational purposes? Perhaps. If nothing else Project Tuva is an interesting exercise in how computer technology can make learning more than just listening to a lecture or reading a transcript or textbook.

    See also the Bill Gates interview on how this came about - Bill Gates offers the world a physics lesson

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    When the power goes off in the computer lab


    Charley Williams, from Villa Park, IL, sent me the following guest post today. It’s a real thinker or as Charley put it a “discussion-starter.” It puts me to mind of the CS Unplugged curriculum and some of the things taught in the CS4HS workshops created by Carnegie Mellon’s School of Computer Science.

    I was working out at the YMCA this morning, when the lights suddenly went out.

    So how much were folks affected? ...Surprisingly, almost not at all! We on the weight machines just kept lifting, people on the bikes just kept peddling. There were treadmill people whose "roads" suddenly stopped moving; they organized their own group and went outside to the nearby running path.

    ...which got me to thinking --> If the lights suddenly went out in a CS classroom, how much would it impact us?

    Here's what I think --> If a teacher is focused "too much" (my opinion) on how to use specific tools, how to use particular features of certain software packages (i.e. how to apply clip-art in PowerPoint, how to use the debugger in Visual Studio), then when you lose your computers, you pretty much lose the purpose of your class. Not that the tools aren't important, but are they driving the learning goals of the class?

    In a "good CS class" (again, my opinion), your electricity can go out, your computers can be taken away, and you can still have a class that's every bit as valuable! This means you're studying problem-solving processes, algorithms, design methods, and evaluating the correctness and efficiency of what you've designed. Sure, computers can help us do this much faster, but what you're really learning isn't dependent on a computer at all, necessarily.

    Just a thought...

    What are your thoughts on this? Please join the conversation!

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