Archive for October 4, 2010

Culture trumps pedagogy: Thoughts after CSTA K-12 Workshop

I attended the CSTA K-12 Workshop at Grace Hopper this last Saturday.  Eric Roberts of Stanford gave a terrific opening keynote (slides available here).  Eric offered the teachers talking points for how to argue for the importance of computer science in K-12 education.  In particular, he addressed the conflicts between the Rising above the Gathering Storm report and the recent NYTimes article about Tech sector unemployment, with a similar argument to what we discussed in a recent post. Eric argued that the problem is the quality of the people in the job pool.  He says that industry desperately wants all the talent that it can find — above the threshold level.  He encouraged industry to use more techniques like telecommuting to support getting the talent where ever it might be found, even if the talented people can’t or won’t move.

I gave a talk on the state of AP CS in Georgia (slides available here).  As part of that talk, I related a study that our external evaluator, Tom McKlin, recently did.  He compared two Fulton County (where Atlanta is) high schools.  In each school, similar numbers of kids take Advanced Placement exams: 453 in one, 333 in the other. However, in the first school, they have a pass rate (percent of kids getting a score of 3 or higher on any exam) of 79%, while the second school has a pass rate of only 5.3%.  These schools are teaching the same things, same curriculum, and in the case of CS, same pedagogy (e.g., same methods).  What’s the difference?

I got an insight into that later in the weekend.  My son is now a freshman here at Georgia Tech.  He posted on his Facebook page last week that he had scored 30 points better than the average on his Calculus test.  The remarkable part for me was the half-dozen of his high school friends who posted comments congratulating him on his success.  When I was in high school, commenting on how well one had done on an exam was typically met with sarcasm and derision. “Brown-noser! That must have been a mistake!  Did you cheat?”  I actually went to a good high school.  My son went to a better one.

Social support and praise for academic achievement is part of a school’s culture.  I suspect that that’s the difference between the two Fulton County schools in Tom’s study.  Culture trumps curriculum or pedagogy.

October 4, 2010 at 3:56 pm 3 comments


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