We need a greater variety of CS teaching methods: The Way We Teach Math Is Holding Women Back

June 2, 2017 at 7:00 am 4 comments

As I often do, I was trying to convince my colleagues that there is no “Geek Gene.”  One of them agreed that there is no Geek Gene.  But still…some people can’t learn CS, he insisted.  He pointed out that some people take a class “6-8 times to pass it.”

That got me thinking about the evidence he offered.  If someone takes the same course six times and can’t pass, does that mean that the student can’t learn CS?

Or maybe it proves that we’re insane, if Einstein’s famous quote is right (“Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”)  If the problem is our teaching and learning methods, simply repeating the exact same methods six times is not going to work.  Think about in terms of teaching reading.  We recognize that we need a variety of methods for teaching reading.  Having a dyslexic person take the exact same mainstream class six times will simply not work.

Why we are so resistant (as in the mathematics story linked below) to consider alternative teaching methods in CS?

The irony of the widespread emphasis on speed in math classrooms, with damaging timed tests given to students from an early age, is that some of the world’s most successful mathematicians describe themselves as slow thinkers. In his autobiography, Laurent Schwartz, winner of the world’s highest award in mathematics, described feeling “stupid” in school because he was a slow thinker. “I was always deeply uncertain about my own intellectual capacity; I thought I was unintelligent,” he wrote. “And it is true that I was, and still am, rather slow. I need time to seize things because I always need to understand them fully.”

When students struggle in speed-driven math classes, they often believe the problem lies within themselves, not realizing that fast-paced lecturing is a faulty teaching method. The students most likely to internalize the problem are women and students of color. This is one of the main reasons that these students choose not to go forward in mathematics and other STEM subjects, and likely why a study found that in 2011, 74% of the STEM workforce was male and 71% was white.

Source: Jo Boaler on Women in STEM, Ivanka Trump and Betsy DeVos – Motto

Entry filed under: Uncategorized. Tags: , , , .

How to be a great (CS) teacher from Amy Ko Belief in the Geek Gene may be driven by Economics and Educational Inefficiency, plus using blocks to cross language boundaries

4 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Alfred Thompson (@alfredtwo)  |  June 2, 2017 at 8:33 am

    I used to work with a teacher who seemed to just repeat the same explanation over and over again. Of course that seldom worked. I find that almost every time I do a one on one with a student I find a new way to explain things. Often I try to include several different explanations when I introduce a new concept. It just makes sense to me.

  • 2. thinkingwiththings  |  June 2, 2017 at 9:25 am

    This is SUCH an important point. Poor pedagogy disproportionately affects the underrepresented. We have many good, creative approaches to teaching CS (thank you Mark and others) so let’s use them! See https://www.ncwit.org/, my blog posts on rigor and Math Anxiety at https://thinkingwiththings.wordpress.com/?s=rigor and https://thinkingwiththings.wordpress.com/2015/03/10/math-anxiety-and-me-a-tale-of-a-lost-opportunity/, and Universal Design for Learning at http://www.cast.org/our-work/about-udl.html.

  • 3. Beth Quinn  |  June 2, 2017 at 1:42 pm

    Spot on.

    But I would add one thing lest your subtitle–“The Way We Teach Math Is Holding Women Back”–lead casual readers to conclude that there is something inherently different about women (or minorities). As you know, a misfit between student and method can occur for a number of reasons –being a “slow” (I would say “deep”) thinker in a fast/timed situation is one. “The students most likely to internalize the problem are women and students of color.” But this is not because women and minorities are inherently different (an assumption we hear all the time at NCWIT), but that when faced with such a mismatch in a field where you are a minority and there are cultural messages that say people of your group aren’t good at something or don’t belong, it’s an easy conclusion for such a student to come to. Add to that a normalization/naturalization of the teaching method–that is, something that’s never questioned–and it’s easy for both students and faculty to assume it’s a deficiency in the student. We see the same thing in terms of “confidence” where people assume that “lack of confidence” is something inherent in women rather than a rational response to a context that says you don’t belong.

    • 4. Mark Guzdial  |  June 3, 2017 at 3:47 am

      Strongly agreed, Beth. The subtitle was the title of the article I was quoting. Since most of my blog posts are comments on some other web article (“web log”), I try to represent the post that I’m commenting on. I agree that we want to avoid gender essentialism, but we need a wider variety of teaching methods to reach everyone. (This is a theme for most of this month’s blog posts.)


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