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A New Direction for CS

This past Tuesday I had the privilege of attending a presentation titled Developing a New National Course in Computer Science presented by Dr. Owen Astrachan of Duke University. The presentation was sponsored by the RISE Network (Promoting Research and Instruction in STEM Education) at the University of North Carolina in Greensboro. The presentation was not only informative, but was enjoyable as well.

I had arrived a few minutes early and took the opportunity to notice the audience as they filed into the lecture room. There were a few folks in my generation, a few somewhat younger, and many who were obviously students (perhaps they received extra credit points for attending). I was delighted to see so many young people attend, but disheartened that only 4 or 5 of the students were female. There was good ethnic diversity at the meeting, so that was encouraging.

Dr. Stephen Tate of UNC-G introduced the speaker and spoke of the several critical issues that we face in Computer Science (including underrepresentation of females in the discipline). Dr. Astrachan then gave a brief background of the (AP) CS Principles course initiative and the process. He then presented the seven Big Ideas for the proposed course:
1. Computing is a creative human activity that engenders innovation and promotes exploration.
2. Abstraction reduces information and detail to focus on concepts relevant to understanding and solving problems.
3. Data and information facilitate the creation of knowledge.
4. Algorithms are tools for developing and expressing solutions to computational problems.
5. Programming is a creative process that produces computational artifacts.
6. Digital devices, systems, and the networks that interconnect them enable and foster computational approaches to solving problems.
7. Computing enables innovation in other fields including mathematics, science, social science, humanities, arts, medicine, engineering, and business.

Dr. Astrachan proceeded to discuss the indicators that would expand each Big Idea, which led to interesting discussions among the group. One must note that the entire course is not programming, though programming is part of the course. Several intriguing examples of content that could be covered in the proposed course sparked student interest. So much so, that one young man raised his hand and asked what the students could do to help with the current state of CS Education. Another spoke up and asked if a mathematics teacher could teach a course of this sort. Again interesting conversation followed.

I was most heartened to see that at least some of the students considered teaching high school CS (problematic in our state, since we have no CS Teaching License). Maybe they liked all the great visual demonstrations that we viewed. Maybe they were inspired by Dr. Astrachan's story about how high school students may come back to thank an awesome teacher for help or inspiration given. Maybe they just love the discipline. We can hope. Maybe this will be the spark that ignites CS education in our schools. Maybe we will see more females in the CS discipline. In any case, this is a new direction and a welcome one.

More information about the proposed (AP) CS Principles course can be found by following this link:

http://csprinciples.org/

A simple Google search on “CS Principles” produces several blogs that address the proposed course, including this one:

http://www.apluscompsci.com/blog/?p=404.

Deborah Seehorn
CSTA Board of Directors

Comments

Author and staff writer for the New Yorker Malcolm Gladwell observes in Outliers: The story of success that no one ever makes it alone. Gladwell describes a young Bill Gates as precocious and easily bored by his studies. So his parents took him out of public school and sent him to Lakeside, a private school that catered to Seattle's elite families. It was at Lakeside, notes Gladwell on page 51, that Bill Gates got to do real-time programming as an eighth grader in 1968. There is, of course, more to the story of Bill Gates' success, but his secondary school played a key role in that success. http://russellboyle.com/programmingthefuture.pdf

Last year we were in danger of losing our CS program at my high school. I am a math teacher that saw the importance of continuing our program and volunteered to take over the program, so yes it is possible for a math teacher to teach computer science. My state does not require certification either, and although I have had some programming classes I was really frightened of teaching CS until I found the Exploring Computer Science curriculum. I have been following the adoption of the CS AP test and see it as another reason to legitimize CS education for all at the secondary education level. As a female teacher I am constantly working on recruiting more females into my CS and Engineering classes. Even if they have no interest in CS careers I make sure that they are aware that they will benefit from the skills they learn in any career they pursue.

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