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

April, 2010

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Teachers Don’t Talk Enough


    I was invited to be on a panel at Northeastern University (I was a last minute fill-in but happy to attend) talking about Teaching With Technology. Now the difference between teaching technology and teaching with technology is a big one. And important one. I’m big on both but honestly think that teaching with technology is a better way to teach technology than teaching technology for its own sake. The panel was taking and discussion questions based in large part on the keynote presentation by Don Marinelli from Carnegie Mellon’s Entertainment Technology Center which Don co-founded with the late Randy Pausch.

    We had an hour scheduled for the discussion but we could have gone for hours. Really hours without repeating or running out of questions and discussion topics. The discussion was lively and, for me at least, very engaging. I see this with just about any panel I attend either in the audience or as a panelist. I also see “more time to network and talk with colleagues” as a major bit of feedback for most of the educational conferences I am aware of. If you’ve been to some of the major edtech conferences (TCEA and ISTE for example) you will see long conversations in the halls, outside the meeting rooms, at blogger cafe’s and just about any free space. People blog and twitter about these conversations being the best part about some conferences.

    Why? Because teachers just don’t have enough time to talk with their peers in their daily work lives. Yet talking with ones peers is a wonderful way to learn new things, share ideas, ask weird but useful questions, and generally develop oneself as a person and as a professional. But teachers are locked up isolated in their classrooms most of the day. faculty lounges while occasionally helpful have limitations. Too little time in them for one thing. Too many other things going on it them. And all too often a slightly toxic atmosphere in the schools that could most benefit for helpful learning.

    So what to do? I recommend blogging and twitter. Yes you have heard this from me before (well unless you are new to my blog. :-)) If you are looking for a more scholarly set of reasoning check out Rationalizing Academic Blogging by Mark Guzdial who is a tenured professor at Georgia Tech. Start with reading them and adding your input to the discussions. Really the comments are often the very best part of a blog post – especially with this blog. Then think about writing your own blog. You know stuff or you wouldn’t be a teacher – share it with others. Come on and join the conversations. You know you want to!

    Michelle Hutton of the CSTA posted a good blog roll at the CSTA blog. You are following the CSTA blog right? For teachers in all areas there is a great list of blogs at the Moving Forward wiki. Start with Education blogs by Discipline and when you create your blog make sure you add it to the list.

    BTW I have just updated my personal blog roll on the side of my blog. The CS Teacher list includes:

  • Mark Guzdial – Computing Education Blog
  • Wicked Teacher of the West
  • Leigh Ann Sudol - In Need of a Base Case
  • Kathleen Weaver - Teaching CS in Dallas
  • Eugene Wallingford – Knowing and Doing
  • Ben Chun – And yet it moves
  • Stacey Armstrong - A+ Computer Science
  • Brian Scarbeau - A high school CS teacher in Florida
  • Mr. Higgins Blog (who I need to bug to update more often :-) )

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Does Your Computer Lab Scare Away the Girls?


    The Internet is as the same time one of the great distractions and great spontaneously learning environments in history. As I looked at my twitter stream I saw a link to the live stream from TEDxSeattle and decided to take a look. The session I stumbled on was by Sapna Cheryan who studies stereotypes. Of interest to me is that she has been studying how stereotypes may be keeping women away from computer science.  She asks the question “Might this be because the powerful image of the male “computer geek” makes women feel like they do not belong in the field?” Now she is not the first one to ask this question of course. Jane Margolis and Allan Fisher asked this question in their research which led to the book Unlocking the Clubhouse: Women in Computing.  But I found the research experiments that Sapna Cheryan related to be particularly interesting and relevant.

    Two questions that I hear regularly are “how should I set up my computer lab” and “can you get me some computer posters for my classroom?” This tells me that people give a lot of thought to there computer labs. And well they should. The question of physical arrangement is usually focused on how best to have things to teach and for good classroom management. The second question though is about making the room an attractive learning space. That is where the relevance of Sapna’s research comes to my mind.

    They have created room that were decorated in stereotypical “geek” spaces with science fiction posters and books, soda can statues, etc. and then the same rooms with les stereotypical decorations. Art or general science posters, no soda can piles, etc. Then they asked people which room they thought they would do better in as a student. Also they asked people how interested they were in computer science. Women were more interested in computer science and more optimistic about how well they would do in the non-geek room. Man, generally but not always, favored the geek room. Other research shows that students who expect to do better in an environment actually tend to do better in that environment by the way. So this is interesting on several levels.

    We want our learning spaces to be attractive and to promote learning. This research suggests that if we want to attract more people who are not currently being attracted to computer science that we want to avoid too much “geeking out” of our computer rooms and lab spaces. We need to make them welcoming rather than intimidating. For some of us, geeks like me in particular, that may mean getting some decorating help. Maybe that will open some doors of communication as well.

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  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Everything Is Changing in CS Education


    There seems to be a lot of agreement that we need to change the way we teach computer science, especially at the pre-collegiate level. Not complete unanimity of course. Unanimous agreement is pretty much out of the question in computer science. But at least many people see that computer science education is declining in numbers (at the HS level even if it has stabilized or trended up in higher education of late) and that diversity in gender and race are far from where we need them to be. An interesting new report from Anita Borg Institute, CSTA and the University of Arizona called “Addressing Core Equity Issues in K-12 Computer Science Education: Identifying Barriers and Sharing Strategies shows that K-12 Computer Science education in the United States is in a state of crisis.” So what do we do about it?

    Well one option is the new AP CS Principles (my take on AP CS Principles here) which is more of a breath course in computer science. Hélène Martin has her own take on breath courses in computer science on her blog. It really deserves a close read as well. For her it is a question, to some degree, of relevance to students. To another degree it is about short changing programming. At least as I read it. As someone who fell in love with computer science because of programming I am concerned about that as well. There is also the question of rigor – are we “dumbing down” the first course of computer science? That’s a concern I have heard raised a number of times and it must be addressed. My hope is that breath courses will lead students to take more programming among other things. Will it work? Time will tell I guess.

    Oh and while we are at it, has the web changed “everything” in computer science as well as so many other things? Ed H. Chi says “Time to Rethink Computer Science Education: The (Social) Web Changes Everything!” on the Blog@CACM.

    Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) has created the nation's first undergraduate degree in Web Science External Link.  The news release said that the students in this interdisciplinary degree program will investigate issues on the Web relating to "security, trust, privacy, content value." RPI President Shirley Ann Jackson was quoted as saying: "With these new degree programs, students and researchers here at Rensselaer will help to usher in a new era of understanding and study of the Web from its social and economic impacts to the evolution of data".

    Are these issues now? I think not but to some degree they have moved up in the priority list for most of us. With good reason of course. Where do we teach this to computer science students? How much can we cram into a first course. Sometimes I think it would take three years to teach all the things that many people think belong in a first course. Seems impractical to me. But we need to agree on some basics. I don’t see unanimous agreement happening though. The best we can probably hope for is a couple (two maybe three) courses that large groups of people can agree on. Hopefully there will be enough overlap in the agreement to handle issues like transfer and placement credit. It will take more discussion and some flexibility but at least I think people are willing to talk. And that is a good thing.

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