Guest Post by Joanna Goode: On CS for Each

September 14, 2014 at 8:57 am 7 comments

I wrote a blog post recently about Joanna Goode promoting the goal of “CS for Each.”  Several commenters asked for more details.  I asked Joanna, and she wrote me this lovely, detailed explanation.  I share it here with her permission — thanks, Joanna!

To answer, we as CS educators want to purposefully design learning activities that build off of students’ local knowledge to teach particular computer science concepts or practices. Allowing for students to integrate their own cultural knowledge and social interests into their academic computational artifacts deepens learning and allows for students to develop personal relationships  with computing. More specifically, computer science courses lend themselves well for project-based learning, a more open-ended performance assessment that encourages student discretion in the design and implementation of a specified culminating project. Allowing students to use a graphical programming environment to create a Public Service Announcement of a topic of their choice, for example, is more engaging for most youth than a one-size-fits-all generic programming assignment with one “correct” answer.

Along with my colleagues Jane Margolis and Jean Ryoo, we recently wrote a piece for Educational Leadership (to be published later this year) that uses ExploringCS (ECS) to show how learning activities can be designed to draw on students’ local knowledge, cultural identity, and social interests. Here is an excerpt:

The ECS curriculum is rooted in research on science learning that shows that for traditionally underrepresented students, engagement and learning is deepened when the practices of the field are recreated in locally meaningful ways that blend youth social worlds with the world of science[.1]   Consider these ECS activities that draw on students’ local and cultural knowledge:

  • In the first unit on Human-Computer Interaction, as students learn about internet searching, they conduct “scavenger hunts” for data about the demographics, income level, cultural assets, people, and educational opportunities in their communities.
  • In the Problem-Solving unit, students work with Culturally-Situated Design Tools [2], a software program that “help students learn [math and computing] principles as they simulate the original artifacts, and develop their own creations.” In one of the designs on cornrow braids students learn about the history of this braiding tradition from Africa through the Middle Passage, the Civil Rights movement to contemporary popular culture, and how the making of the cornrows is based on transformational geometry.
  • In the Web Design unit, students learn how to use html and css so they can create websites about any topic of their choosing, such as an ethical dilemma, their family tree, future career, or worldwide/community problems.
  • In the Introduction to Programming unit, students design a computer program to create a game or an animated story about an issue of concern.
  • In the Data Analysis and Computing unit, students collect and combine data about their own snacking behavior and learn how to analyze the data and compare it to large data sources.
  • In the Robotics unit, students creatively program their robots to work through mazes or dance to students’ favorite songs.

Each ECS unit concludes with a culminating project that connects students’ social worlds to computer science concepts. For example, in unit two they connect their knowledge of problem solving, data collection and minimal spanning trees to create the shortest and least expensive route for showing tourists their favorite places in their neighborhoods.

[1] Barton, A.C. and Tan, E. 2010.  We be burnin’!  Agency, identity, and science learning.   The Journal of the Learning Sciences, 19, 2, 187-229.

[2] Eglash, Ron.  Culturally Situated Design Tools.  See: See: csdt.rpi.edu

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7 Comments Add your own

  • 1. dsblank  |  September 14, 2014 at 9:37 am

    Thanks for sharing this research! Very timely… just putting together with colleagues a proposal to explore these issues at the next SIGCSE. (BTW, the links to references appear to be broken.)

    Reply
  • 2. lizaloop  |  September 15, 2014 at 12:35 pm

    Bravo. Although I would call this Computer Literacy, not Computer Science, it is just what we need to demystify computing, lead students to understand and take control of computing resources in their communities and introduce professional career ladders in CS. Drag and drop user interfaces are a long way from programming in assembly languages but they do promote problem solving and systems thinking. The described activities will give students the concept of “garbage in – garbage out”. That’s fundamental for 21st century citizenship.

    Where can we link to lesson plans and examples of this kind of activities?

    Reply
  • 3. lizaloop  |  September 15, 2014 at 12:38 pm

    Reblogged this on HCLE Virtual Museum – the blog and commented:
    Bravo. Although I would call this Computer Literacy, not Computer Science, it is just what we need to demystify computing, lead students to understand and take control of computing resources in their communities and introduce professional career ladders in CS. Drag and drop user interfaces are a long way from programming in assembly languages but they do promote problem solving and systems thinking. The described activities will give students the concept of “garbage in – garbage out”. That’s fundamental for 21st century citizenship.
    Where can we link to lesson plans and examples of this kind of activities?

    Reply
  • 4. Mike  |  September 16, 2014 at 3:22 am

    First, thank you (both!) for posting this! The previous post was fascinating, and I’m really glad to have the opportunity to hear more about this, discuss it further, and to think about it more!

    After the prior post I thought about ways in which one might create assignments that allow different individuals to pursue their own interests. For CS1/CS2 type courses, I wonder if it’d be possible to have the students “make their own assignments”?

    The assignment specification (given to the students from the instructor) could list out the topics that need to be included in the assignment (at whatever level is appropriate – “(1) an if, (2) an if/else, and (3) either a multiway if/else or a nested if/else” might be enough detail for students to know what they need to include in their programs – and the students would then be responsible for writing a clear description of what their program is intended to do (“I’m interested in accounting, so my program…..”), a clear description of where to find the required topics in their program, and then the program itself.

    The upside is that each student could then craft an assignment that meets their individual needs/interests.

    One downsides is that it seems like the assignment would be slower to grade (since each assignment should be unique).

    One thing that I wonder/worry about is whether doing something like would introduce another, unrelated variable to our assessment. Would we not just assess the student’s programming skill, but also how well they can write up their project (and/or how well they can find a topic).
    (each student’s writing ability).

    I would love feedback/comments on this idea.

    (And again – thank you greatly for your excellent guest post – I appreciate the examples you’ve given!)

    Reply
    • 5. Mark Guzdial  |  September 16, 2014 at 7:54 am

      These are the kinds of open-ended assignments we do in MediaComp, where we specify what kinds of computation we want to see, but allow students to decide what to do it about. Take a look at HW3 and HW5 on http://coweb.cc.gatech.edu/cs1315/46

      Reply
      • 6. Mike  |  September 17, 2014 at 2:12 am

        Fascinating! Thank you for posting the link!

        Reply
  • 7. janzeteachesit  |  October 28, 2014 at 3:59 am

    Reblogged this on janzeteachesit.

    Reply

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