Posts tagged ‘computing education’

High school CS teachers need to read and trace code, not develop software

My May 2014 Blog@CACM post, “What it takes to be a successful high school computer science teacher” sneaks up on a radical suggestion, that I’ll make explicitly here.  High school computer science teachers need to be able to read and trace code.  They don’t necessarily need to know much about writing code, and they certainly don’t need to know how to be software developers.

As we are developing our CSLearning4u ebook, we’re reviewing a lot of our prior research on the practices of successful CS teachers.  What do we need to be teaching teachers so that they are successful?  We don’t hear successful CS teachers talking much about writing code.  However, the successful ones read code a lot, while the less-successful ones do not.  Raymond Lister has been giving us evidence for years that there’s a developmental path from reading and tracing code that precedes writing code.

Yes, I’m talking about taking a short-cut here.  I’m suggesting that our worldwide professional development efforts for high school teachers should emphasize reading and tracing code, not writing code.  Our computer science classes do the reverse of that.  We get students writing code as soon as possible.  I’m suggesting that that is not useful or necessary for high school teachers.  It is easier for them to read and trace code first (Lister’s studies) and it’s what they will need to do most often (our studies).  We can reduce costs (in time and effort) of this huge teacher development effort by shuffling our priorities and focusing on reading.

(We do know from studies of real software engineers that they read and debug more than they write code. Maybe it would be better for everyone to read before writing, but I’m focusing on the high school teachers right now.)

May 30, 2014 at 8:23 am 31 comments

NSF funding for junior faculty in first two years

Computing education (CE21) researchers are explicitly encouraged in this solicitation.  It’s a nice idea to try to deal with the low success rates of NSF proposals these days.

With the goal of encouraging research independence immediately upon obtaining one’s first academic position after receipt of the PhD, the Directorate for Computer and Information Science and Engineering (CISE) will award grants to initiate the course of one’s independent research. Understanding the critical role of establishing that independence early in one’s career, it is expected that funds will be used to support untenured faculty or research scientists (or equivalent) in their first two years in an academic position after the PhD. One may not yet have received any other grants in the Principal Investigator (PI) role from any institution or agency, including from the CAREER program or any other award post-PhD. Serving as co-PI, Senior Personnel, Post-doctoral Fellow, or other Fellow does not count against this eligibility rule. It is expected that these funds will allow the new CISE Research Initiation Initiative PI to support one or more graduate students for up to two years.

via Computer and Information Science and Engineering (CISE) Research Initiation Initiative (CRII) (nsf14562).

May 17, 2014 at 9:04 am 6 comments

Reading, Writing, Arithmetic, and Lately, Coding: But mostly a video game (Elliot Soloway)

Elliot gets it right in his NYtimes quote from this last weekend.  Young kids who code are probably not learning much computer science that might lead to future jobs.  Rather, they’re “programming” as if it’s a video game.  That’s not at all bad, but it makes less believable the argument that we need coding in skills to improve the future labor force.

The spread of coding instruction, while still nascent, is “unprecedented — there’s never been a move this fast in education,” said Elliot Soloway, a professor of education and computer science at the University of Michigan. He sees it as very positive, potentially inspiring students to develop a new passion, perhaps the way that teaching frog dissection may inspire future surgeons and biologists.

But the momentum for early coding comes with caveats, too. It is not clear that teaching basic computer science in grade school will beget future jobs or foster broader creativity and logical thinking, as some champions of the movement are projecting. And particularly for younger children, Dr. Soloway said, the activity is more like a video game — better than simulated gunplay, but not likely to impart actual programming skills.

via Reading, Writing, Arithmetic, and Lately, Coding – NYTimes.com.

May 15, 2014 at 8:38 am 10 comments

Teaching Code in the Classroom – Room for Debate – NYTimes.com

Remarkable debate on the NYTimes website about “Should coding be part of the elementary school curriculum?”  All the debaters have very short statements, and they’re disappointing.

  • Hadi Partovi claims “By high school, it can be too late” and “Students learn fast at a young age, before stereotypes suggest coding is too difficult, just for nerds, or just for boys” — I don’t agree with either statement.  We have lots of examples of women and under-represented minority students discovering CS in high school. It’s not at all clear that students learn everything quickly when they’re young — quantum physics and CS might both be beyond most second graders.
  • But John C. Dvorak’s claim that “This is just another ploy to sell machines to cash-strapped school districts” is also clearly wrong.  The computer manufacturers are not playing a significant role in the effort to push computing  into schools.

Take a look and see what you think.  It’s exciting to have this kind of debate in the NYTimes!

Despite the rapid spread of coding instruction in grade schools, there is some concern that creative thinking and other important social and creative skills could be compromised by a growing focus on technology, particularly among younger students. Should coding be part of the elementary school curriculum?

via Teaching Code in the Classroom – Room for Debate – NYTimes.com.

May 14, 2014 at 8:37 am 12 comments

Happy 50th Birthday to BASIC, the Programming Language That Made Computers Personal

A really fun article, with videos of lots of classic Basic systems running.

Kemeny believed that these electronic brains would play an increasingly important role in everyday life, and that everyone at Dartmouth should be introduced to them. “Our vision was that every student on campus should have access to a computer, and any faculty member should be able to use a computer in the classroom whenever appropriate,” he said in a 1991 video interview. “It was as simple as that.”

via Fifty Years of BASIC, the Programming Language That Made Computers Personal | TIME.com.

May 12, 2014 at 8:58 am 2 comments

Coding in schools: A is for algorithm | The Economist

The Economist does a nice job of capturing succinctly the history of teaching computing in schools, the explosion of interest worldwide, and the greatest challenges to making it work.

Above all, the new subject will require teachers who know what they are doing. Only a few places take this seriously: Israel has about 1,000 trained computer-science teachers, and Bavaria more than 700. Mathematics and computer-science graduates generally choose more lucrative trades; the humanities and social-science graduates who will find themselves teaching coding will need plenty of support. Britain is skimping: it is introducing its new curriculum in a rush, and preparing teachers has mostly been left to industry groups such as Computing at School, which helped put together the syllabus. If coding is to take its rightful place in the classroom, it cannot be done on the cheap.

via Coding in schools: A is for algorithm | The Economist.

May 7, 2014 at 9:12 am 1 comment

CRA study: How long does it take to get a PhD in CS? Longer for women and minorities

Really interesting new study out of Computing Research Association (CRA). How long does it take to get a PhD in CS? How does that compare to other STEM disciplines? How does it differ based on gender or minority status?

Table 3 and Figure 1 show the median time to complete a Ph.D. since first beginning a graduate program, for each subgroup, for each cohort.

Gender . Women take longer than men. This is true in both cohorts; there is a larger difference (almost a year) in the second cohort.

Citizenship status. In the earlier cohort, students on temporary visas take less time than citizen or permanent resident students. In the later cohort, the median times of the two groups are exactly the same.

Minority status. Students from underrepresented minorities (URM) – that is, racial and ethnic groups underrepresented in computing – take longer than majority students to complete a Ph.D.. In the first cohort, the difference is almost two years; in the second cohort it is close to one year.

Carnegie Class. Eighty percent of doctorates in computing are granted by “Very high research activity” institutions; students at those institutions take noticeably less time to complete their degrees than those at the less-research-intensive institutions.

via Computing Research News – Online – Computing Research Association.

April 30, 2014 at 9:12 am 6 comments

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