Archive for February 14, 2011

When ordering matters: Why are other countries doing better in science than the U.S.?

Here’s a compelling example related to our earlier discussion about if and when order in a curriculum matters.  This report suggests that having the appropriate background knowledge helps in understanding content fully, so that what’s learned is not just memorized terms.  I like the argument, that we delay teaching a subject until students know enough to understand the fundamentals of a subject.  However, there’s still a question of what we call “fundamentals,” of how deep.  I’ll bet that the eighth graders who learn about the eye learn about nerves and light and rods/cones, but probably not about rhodopsin, and quantum mechanics.  At some point, there is a “just trust us on the rest of it” to the explanation.  The question is where to draw that line — in what primitives does one ground the explanations? What’s “fundamental” enough?

Students in the United States generally start to learn about the human eye in elementary school. Students in many other countries, though, don’t discuss the eye until eighth grade. At first glance, this difference would seem to indicate that our eight- and nine-year-olds are receiving an advanced science education compared to their peers elsewhere in the world.

But the disparity instead provides an apt analogy for the problems with the U.S. approach to science education, according to William Schmidt, a professor of education at Michigan State University.

When our elementary school students learn about the eye, they typically memorize the different parts and leave it at that. Meanwhile, their peers in high-performing countries study the basics of atomic structure and photons. When they first turn their attention to the eye, in eighth grade, they know enough to understand how one sees and they study how photons of light are translated into electrochemical impulses.

via Hechinger Report | Why are other countries doing better in science than the U.S.?.

February 14, 2011 at 2:35 pm 1 comment

CS is for everyone: On having students realize that CS is not for them

I heard the line that Eugene Wallingford mentions several times at CE21: “Students need to realize earlier that CS isn’t for them.”  Because it’s such a waste of time to take CS classes?  Because CS is only useful if you take a complete degree?  Because learning Python and data structures and maybe some OO and simulations is a bad thing?  If you have this attitude, how can you reconcile that with the belief that “computational thinking” has value?  Don’t students who have those first courses and then go on to other studies take with them valuable computational skills?  Haven’t they learned some computational thinking?

I started out in undergraduate studies as an electrical and computer engineer.  That first year doing circuits and breadboards and basic Engineering classes has served me very well as a computer scientist.  No knowledge is wasted.

Computer science belongs to everyone. Not just for those who can get through our degree gauntlet.

Of course, using a powerful, fun language in CS1 creates a new set of problems for us. A while back, a CS educator on the SIGCSE mailing list pointed out one:

Starting in Python postpones the discovery that “CS is not for me”.

After years of languages such as C++, Java, and Ada in CS1, which hastened the exit of many a potential CS major, it’s ironic that our new problem might be students succeeding too long for their own good. When they do discover that CS isn’t for them, they will be stuck with the ability to write scripts and analyze data.

With all due concern for not wasting students’ time, this is a problem we in CS should willingly accept.

via Knowing and Doing: February 2011 Archives.

February 14, 2011 at 9:26 am 6 comments

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