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Fun versus Rigor: Getting Students Ready for the Next Level

One of my goals this year was to make my CS course more fun for my students. I felt as if (and received feedback from students that) some of my programming assignments became drudgery, due to my strict adherence to correct documentation and test cases. The joy of finding a solution to a problem, of seeing your program run without error, was overshadowed by the prospect of dotting all i's and crossing all t's. So, this year, I am trying to be more flexible with my approach, and to focus more on the process of problem solving and achieving good solutions, rather than just hammering home the documentation aspect of being a good programmer.

We started off using Scratch this year, which set the tone early, that programming is fun. Students were enthusiastic, were buzzing about what they could create, and ready to show off their programs. We transitioned to BYOB, which allowed students to build their own blocks, or functions, as a lead-in to functional programming with Racket. Not only did this sequence set a more playful atmosphere, it alleviated some fears of this scary subject, computer science. I found it was a good method to ease students into what many find to be an intimidating subject.

As we move through the curriculum, there is the inevitability that topics go deeper and the work becomes more difficult. Computer Science is not an easy subject to study. It is difficult and students at some point, have to realize that. I have had more than a few students who leave my class with an interest in going further in the subject. As they move on to college (our seniors take college courses at WPI), some are overwhelmed by the difficulty of the college classes, don't perform well, and lose interest in the subject. What can I do to better prepare them for the challenge of CS at the college level?

I want to encourage interest in the subject, make it appealing to all students, but not at the cost of academic rigor. Or is that just the nature of moving deeper into a subject – some will discover that it is not for them, for whatever reason?

Karen Lang
CSTA Board of Directors
9-12 Representative

Comments

Karen,

We have written about fun vs. rigor here:

http://www.aaai.org/ocs/index.php/SSS/SSS10/paper/viewFile/1138/1387

and my colleagues (Xu and Kumar) have a project to teach CS through a portfolio-based art approach that takes this to its logical extreme. Looks promising!

Doug,
Thanks for the link to your paper. It looks, by your statistics, that allowing for "fun" doesn't necessarily disregard rigor. I am impressed that the number of women enrolling in CS2 has doubled.

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