The need to make change in CS course expectations: To my daughter’s high school programming teacher

September 11, 2013 at 1:07 am 2 comments

I’m teaching a TA preparation course at Georgia Tech this semester.  My students are PhD students who are learning how to be teaching assistants.  In a session on dealing with classroom behavior and FERPA, I introduced peer instruction — I put scenarios up on the screen with four or five choices of responses, and the students used clickers to choose what they thought was the appropriate response.  One of the scenarios was:

In a class discussion, a student starts yelling at another student: “You moron! C# is a terrible language for that! You should use C++!” What do you do?

I had a distractor that collected a surprising number of votes: “Just let it go – that’s the way CS students are.”  And after the discussion period — that one still got some votes.   The expectation that “That’s just the way CS students are” is surprisingly pervasive. Computer science teachers need to stand up to it, to demand change in culture and expectations.

Later in my class, the students are reading chapters of Diana Franklin’s new book.

So, you see, I was all too familiar with what my daughter was going through, but I was unprepared for the harassment to start in high school, in her programming class.I consulted with friends — female developers — and talked to my daughter about how to handle the situation in class. I suggested that she talk to you. I offered to talk to you. I offered to come talk to the class. I offered to send one of my male friends, perhaps a well-known local programmer, to go talk to the class. Finally, my daughter decided to plow through, finish the class, and avoid all her classmates. I hate to think what less-confident girls would have done in the same situation.My daughter has no interest in taking another programming class, and really, who can blame her.

via To my daughters high school programming teacher | USENIX.

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2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Cecily Heiner  |  September 11, 2013 at 12:05 pm

    I would actually handle this differently depending on the course and the situation; I try really hard to avoid pointless insults (e.g. “You moron!”), but the rest of it I would allow in an upper division programming languages course, We have small upper division courses of fewer than 10 students, and I try to establish an environment that is conducive to debate, repartee, and fun to enliven the rather dry course content. I would be on top of both students to make solid arguments about why they prefer particular languages and we would have an in-depth discussion of the implications for their value system.

    I find classroom management is somewhat more challenging and important in CS1 where my students come from a much broader range of majors and have broader bases of experience and vastly different goals. There are lots of students who are really insecure (like the student using the word “moron”) and there are lots of students who are easily offended. I think one common problem in the computing classroom is that many times students are trying to establish a pecking order, and a lot times they try to do it with comments like these. I think I have done a better-than-average job of dealing with these kinds of comments in my computing classroom. The good news is that the program I am running seems to be helping enrollment- CS1 enrolmment is up 20% since I started 2 years ago. CS2 enrollment is up approximately 40% since 2 years ago. The professors generally feel my students are more prepared than my predecessors’. The bad news is that the students who are used to making complaints about other students (e.g. calling folks morons), are now somewhat more inclined to complain about me because I don’t let them get away with that kind of behavior in class, and that is not so good for teaching evaluations from my chair at a SLAC style school in a small town. Suggestions?

  • 2. guy  |  September 13, 2013 at 1:22 pm

    The comments about “To my daughter…” on the site:

    do not paint a very good picture of high school classrooms… We have a lot of work to do.


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