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Lady Gaga and Computer Science

Recently I heard a British author on the radio lamenting that the world is more obsessed with what Lady Gaga wears (I would think it probably goes beyond her clothes!) than that the oceans are dying. How to turn that around? I don't believe that young people are less idealistic than when I was young. So how do we transform that youthful obsession into action?

On a recent trip to the U.S., I saw a program on California schools taking students to glean a harvest (collecting the undersize, misshapen, slightly spoiled produce). The produce that the students collected was subsequently used in the school cafeteria to provide nutritious meals for the students. The farmers were happy, the students and teachers doing the gleaning were happy, and the whole school population benefited through healthier eating. Clearly this experience went far beyond the Lady Gaga range of engagement.

There is an opportunity to appeal to the more altruistic side of our students through computer science. The series of videos produced for CS Ed week (http://csta.acm.org/Advocacy_Outreach/sub/CSEdWeek.html) showcased the diversity of endeavours using and dependent on computer science. It would be great to build on that and reinforce the message that CS can be linked to doing good and solving the world's problems.

I remember trying to convince a couple of girls who were in my programming club to take computer science as a subject the following year. "But I want to be a doctor", "I want to do things for others" were their responses. I clearly did a poor job of letting them see that CS was in fact a means to bettering society.

It takes imagination and energy on our part as educators to go beyond, for example, the teaching of syntax or hardware specs. I heard recently of a volunteer program in Canada, for example, that uses Alice to help native students tell their history and incidentally learn to program. The volunteers are modeling the altruistic nature of education and helping students realise that their history is valued and valuable.

So the challenge is there for all of us. How can we use this amazing discipline we teach to excite the minds of young people to be more interested in saving the oceans, saving lives, saving the planet?

If you have any ideas or suggestions, please share them.

Margot Phillipps
CSTA International Director


This is one of the reasons that Microsoft's Imagine Cup (http://www.imaginecup.com/) set of competitions is based around the UN's Millennium Development Goals. It is important for students to be able to see how what they can and are doing have the potential to make the world a better place.

Thanks for sharing such informative post. I have always been interested in computers and this is awesome.

i have to agree with margot when she said that this is going to be a challenge for all of us. we are living in a fast evolving world and it is up to us to use our great knowledge to improve the lives of people or not.

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