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They're not dumb. They're different. How do we keep them?

One of my favorite little (really little) books, published in 1990, is Sheila Tobias' They're not dumb. They're different: Stalking the Second Tier. Yes. In 1990. In a related article, Tobias summary of her work states:

Unappealing media depictions of science discourage women and minorities from entering the field. In the author's opinion, college-level science teachers should take responsibility for the high dropout rates in science programs (40% of students drop out of the sciences after the first course taken; 40% more leave before graduation). And key to salvaging the "second tier" of students, she claims, is the following: 1) Engaging teaching practices, 2) Efforts towards recruitment and retention, 3) Increased dialogue and demonstrations in class, 4) Greater emphasis on independent thinking and context, 5) Encouraging cooperation rather than competition among students.

Her work with college students revealed that only 31% of students who drop out of science majors in college do so because the courses are too difficult. The greatest percentage of students leaving the sciences (43%) leave the field because they find other subjects "more interesting."

Although Tobias' work was specific to science, as I read the book and the related articles, I related them to computer science. Some of my best students are art majors and theater majors and music majors. It's my responsibility, as a computer science teacher, to make sure they do not drop computer science because their other classes are more interesting. In fact, I find it refreshing, although sometimes challenging, to have a diverse classroom population (diverse in interests).

I immediately recalled Tobias' work when a colleague shared a November 2010 article from Wired: Clive Thompson on Coding for the Masses. Here are some excerpts:

".... He was a creative-writing major at the University of San Francisco, not a programmer. But he'd enrolled in a class where students were learning to use Google's App Inventor, a tool that makes it pretty easy to hack together simple applications for Android phones by fitting bits of code together like Lego bricks."

"A grassroots movement is creating tools that let even liberal arts majors hack together a program."
"Got a problem you need to solve? When you can program it yourself, there's always an app for that
."

So, how do you make sure your students do not drop computer science because their other classes are "more interesting?" Have an app for that?

Resources:
Wired article: http://www.wired.com/magazine/2010/11/st_thompson_wereallcoders/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+wired%2Findex+%28Wired%3A+Index+3+%28Top+Stories+2%29%29

They're not dumb. They're different. A new "tier of talent" for science. (summary of article in Change, 1990: http://www.cirtl.net/node/5534
They're Not Dumb, They're Different: Stalking the Second Tier. http://www.amazon.com/Theyre-Not-Dumb-Different-Occasional/dp/0963350404

Fran Trees
CSTA Chapter Liaison

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