Tag Archives: discussion board

Why Teach Computer Science – Facebook Discussion

So last week on Facebook I posted this link: Teach US Kids to Code. It brought up a really interesting discussion between some of my former students about computer science classes.

Now back when I taught these kids (now very much grown up and in their careers) my focus was mostly code, code and more code. I am happy to say my teaching has grown since then. Our discussion centered on the fact that many kids just don’t “get” coding. They pointed out that half the kids in our classes never really moved beyond variables. And honestly this was my fault.

Without the broader context the abstraction of computer science can be overwhelming. Especially for an age group that has not necessarily hit the abstract thinking phase of development. Abstract thinking starts in early adolescence and continues until they are in their early 20’s. And as teachers we can’t control where they are in that spectrum.

What I can control are the activities and topics we do in class. By building a scaffolding through engaging activities you create a framework and a context for all these abstract things. Though practice comes understanding.

This leap from teaching code to teaching computer science has been the biggest development in my career.

NCIS

So here is what I wrote. It is the core of why I think every kids deserves computer science in school.

In a way it is asking the question from the wrong angle. For instance in Latin there is no expectation that every student become a master level linguist. There is an understood intrinsic benefit to studying something rigorous even if you do not hit mastery.

For too many cs classes we have a kind of Jedi master approach  You will either become expert, or get nothing out of the experience. I think there is a valuable middle. 

I assume all of my students will engage with some type of computing device in their professional lives. Having some experience with programming means they have a better understanding of what these devices can and cannot do.

We’ve hit the point where cs is the magic trick…watch any old episode of NCIS to see that. For too many people you hit the button, magic occurs and answers appear. Any person with some cs experience knows how untrue that is, and how manipulative it can be.

We are at a point where you are either someone that understands this, or is getting tricked. It has become a basic literacy issue.

So no, many of my students will not master abstraction or recursion, but my classes also cover the culture of cs. They don’t have to get every nuance of programming to understand some of the science behind what we do.

And that knowledge puts them on the stage with the magician, maybe holding the hat but still on stage, rather than in the audience. Cs should be more than a fun show. We depend on these devices so much that cs is a core part of being a literate person of influence.

 

Created by Rebecca Dovi

I have spent the last 18 years teaching math and computer science at Powhatan High School in Powhatan Virginia. I currently teach Algebra 2, Exploring Computer Science/Game Design, and AP Computer Science. I also facilitate a Middle School Tech Club, Game Design and Tech Divas Summer Camps.

Marissa Meyer – Nine Lessons Learned about Creativity at Google

This is a talk given at the Stanford’s Entrepreneurial Thought Leader’s podcast by Marissa Meyer, new CEO at Yahoo back in 2006.

The talk is 48 minutes total, and they have it broken down into ten video clips. These would make great prompts for student discussion boards.

Of course as a high school computer science teacher this news is very exciting. She is a very visible and successful computer science major. All the news buzz about her balancing work and family have been a bit overdone in the media, buy for the girls in our classes it is great to see this conversation play out on such a large stage.

Created by Rebecca Dovi

I have spent the last 18 years teaching math and computer science at Powhatan High School in Powhatan Virginia. I currently teach Algebra 2, Exploring Computer Science/Game Design, and AP Computer Science. I also facilitate a Middle School Tech Club, Game Design and Tech Divas Summer Camps.

Freshness Algorithm

OK, so I never figured I’d be teaching algorithms and current events. Today the New York Times ran an article about Google’s new search algorithm: http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/11/03/google-changes-search-algorithm-trying-to-make-results-more-timely/?hp

This should make a great start for a discussion board posting for the CS Principles class.

Created by Rebecca Dovi

I have spent the last 18 years teaching math and computer science at Powhatan High School in Powhatan Virginia. I currently teach Algebra 2, Exploring Computer Science/Game Design, and AP Computer Science. I also facilitate a Middle School Tech Club, Game Design and Tech Divas Summer Camps.

Computer Science News Roundup – May 30, 2012

Each week my computer science students do discussion board posts that respond to current events. Here are some stories that caught my eye this week.

Computer Science related news this week’s theme is the future of technology:

  • The Spaceship Has Landed – the SpaceX Dragon spacecraft has docked at the international space station. How does this change space travel? What are the chances you could ever go to space? would you want to? Do you think this will impact any other areas where research and development happen?
  • Optimism – This article talks about the reasons to be optimistic about our future. The author lists several reasons to be optimistic. How does technology play a role? How does the constant stream of information that is created by technology contribute to pessimism? Do you agree with the author? Are you optimistic about your future? Why?
  • What do you expect? – Shelly Turkle’s book is called “Alone together: Why We Expect More From Technology And Less From Each Other”. In this article she summarizes some of her ideas. Her Ted Talk on the topic can be found here. What role does technology play in how you communicate? How has computer science impacted how you communicate? How could computer science be used to fix some of the problems the author write about?
  • Internet Defense League – This group wants to “defend the Internet from bad laws and monopolies”. Do you think there is a need for this? What harm could come from groups like this? Benefits? Should there be a concern about vigilantes on the Internet? And finally – do you agree that the cat is the symbol of the Internet?

Created by Rebecca Dovi

I have spent the last 18 years teaching math and computer science at Powhatan High School in Powhatan Virginia. I currently teach Algebra 2, Exploring Computer Science/Game Design, and AP Computer Science. I also facilitate a Middle School Tech Club, Game Design and Tech Divas Summer Camps.

Computer Science In the News

Each week my computer science students do discussion board posts that respond to current events. Here are some stories that caught my eye this week.

 

Created by Rebecca Dovi

I have spent the last 18 years teaching math and computer science at Powhatan High School in Powhatan Virginia. I currently teach Algebra 2, Exploring Computer Science/Game Design, and AP Computer Science. I also facilitate a Middle School Tech Club, Game Design and Tech Divas Summer Camps.

Writing in the Computer Science Classroom

So, you think you are not an English teacher? Guess again.

Disney’s Paperman

This is a good article about the new Disney short film Paperman.  We’ll be using this article as a prompt in the CS Principles class this week. In making the short Disney combined traditional hand drawn animation with the CGU technology with a piece of software called Meander.

For the CS Principles Pilot this year the focus is on assessment – how will Collegeboard test the kids at the end of the year?

One major change from the existing AP Computer Science course is the addition of written portfolio items. You can preview them here under Prototype Items. Students are asked to write to demonstrate learning in the CS Principles class.

The best way to prepare for a written assessment is to write, go figure. So though out the course I have the students respond in discussion boards and journals. My goal is once a week. Just like with coding frequent practice leads to mastery.

It has been very interesting to see the student’s reactions. In the pilot class I have a wide range of abilities. Some are seniors taking mostly IB and AP classes, others might not take a single advanced class while in high school. From all the computer science teachers I talk to this is pretty typical. It means that we cannot make assumptions about the students’ writing levels.

One thing I learned last year was I had to be very explicit about what academic writing should look like. While they have all written English papers, it doesn’t always occur to them that rules like “write in full sentences” apply in the computer science class.

We finished up the first Portfolio papers right before winter break. Since the Internet Unplugged is the second unit I cover int he course we did the Internet Portfolio paper. We’ll be doing the ones on data and programming over the next two months.

I’ll summarize more about the Internet Portfolio papers and the experience of working on them with the kids later. Right now I am just trying to come up with enough interesting discussion board topics to keep them writing until the next round.

 

Created by Rebecca Dovi

I have spent the last 18 years teaching math and computer science at Powhatan High School in Powhatan Virginia. I currently teach Algebra 2, Exploring Computer Science/Game Design, and AP Computer Science. I also facilitate a Middle School Tech Club, Game Design and Tech Divas Summer Camps.

How to Use a Discussion Board

Since SIGCSE last week several folks have asked about how I handle discussion boards for the CS Principles class.

I include discussion board topics to gauge how the students are thinking and learning about the topics we cover. It is so much easier to asses code, and it creates a big temptation to fall back on “just coding”. The discussion board has been a great way to read along with their learning process.

For this to work we have to really structure it at the beginning. This is not a type of writing that high school students are used to. Add the natural joy they feel at hearing “Now we are going to write about…” it can take a while to get them going.

The first topics of the year year focused on how to effectively participate in a discussion board. Students do not know how to do this yet, so the skill must be taught. Lots of feedback and very clear guidelines are a must.

They must do at least three responses a week. I am very specific about what I am looking for, and what will not count. A response must:

  • Move the conversation along, not just rehash other posts
  • Add a new analysis or fact to the discussion
  • Ask a question (“I don’t get it” doesn’t count)
  • Respond to another student’s post (“I agree” or “LOL” is not a response)

Like most things at our level, if it is not graded they will not do it. Rules about language usage help. My students communicate online socially, not for education. I have learned that you must make this distinction very clear. Specifically we follow the 4-P’s:

  • No Profanity
  • No Plagiarism
  • No Paraphernalia (drugs, alcohol, etc)
  • Play nice – no bullying

I developed these when I was in college sponsoring a local high school’s literary magazine and they work in lots of teen-related situations.

This can also be a good time to talk about their digital life. They don’t often stop to think about the information they are leaving online for the world to see…this makes a great discussion board topic, in a self-reflexive kind of way.

Need more? This pdf from TeacherStream is one of the best resources on facilitating discussion boards I have found. Edutopia has a whole list of resources for online learning that can be helpful in a traditional classroom also.

Created by Rebecca Dovi

I have spent the last 18 years teaching math and computer science at Powhatan High School in Powhatan Virginia. I currently teach Algebra 2, Exploring Computer Science/Game Design, and AP Computer Science. I also facilitate a Middle School Tech Club, Game Design and Tech Divas Summer Camps.