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Computers Shouldn't Make Sandwiches

This past weekend, I had the pleasure of attending the CSTA/Anita Borg K-12 Equity Teacher Workshop at the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing conference in Portland, Oregon. It was great to feel energized and inspired by the power of so many computing educators talking about critical equity issues in computer science education.

Along with, Elaine Bromeyer, an Exploring Computer Science teacher from South Gate High School in Los Angeles, I gave a presentation to highlight the contextual and pedagogical elements of teaching computer science. As part of this presentation, we showed a short video of Elaine's classroom lesson that focused on students' creation of directions for assembling a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

The conversation Elaine and the audience participants had following this video highlighted the particular inquiry-based pedagogy and equity-based practices of Elaine's classroom. Though I found the entire discussion illuminating, Stanford professor Eric Roberts' final question has stayed with me as a central pedagogical technique that blends inquiry and equity.

Eric Roberts began with commenting on one of the students' reflective remarks on the lesson that stated, "I learned that computers shouldn't make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches". Eric's question was, "How can we take student comments like these to look at other things computers aren't particularly good at?"

By pointing out this teachable moment, Eric highlighted how student-centered instruction can lead to sets of rich discussions about central themes of the utility and tradeoffs of computing in particular social contexts. I believe that this instructional technique of using student reflective comments to drive classroom discussions of related computing topics a great instructional tool for computer science classrooms. Having students write journal reflections on a regular basis is a great way to adopt this approach in your own classroom.

Joanna Goode
CSTA Equity Chair

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