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Computer Science Education Summer Institute 2008 Critique

jrlewis's picture

Haverford College hosted the Computer Science Education Summer Institute for one week. There were six speakers who presented on how to incorporate computers and computer science in K-12 education. They provided hands on activities, sample material, and a context for the programs or topics discussed. The thoughts I present, reflect the times I was in attendance. Unfortunately, I was not able to participate in the entire institute.

The Institute got off to a great start. There were several returning teachers, who were already comfortable with the program. Paul Grobstein's presentation regarding reality and virtuality was well received. He elicited insightful and thoughtful comments from the participating teachers. Asking the teachers to post on Serendip, was a great way to start an exhcange of ideas.

The next presentation, on map use by Dora Wong, was very informative. The teachers participating in the program were easily amused by playing with the assortment of maps and applications. She was able to get them to interact with software and allowed them to pursue their own interests. She made the point that maps may be used to obtain economic, environmental, historical, and topographical information. Her presentation emphasized the information science component of computer science. Although she did not provide many direct connections or implications for classroom implementation, Dora did get the participating teachers do interesting things with maps. It follows that the teachers might be better equipped to get their students use maps more creatively or productively.

The following day, Monisha Pulimood's introduction to Scratch was fantastic. Hearing her son's opinion of the program was a great way to reinforce her account of children's interest. She and her son provided very useful information about monitoring, the online community, and safety. However, it could have been helpful if she had mentioned Scratch's ability to operate, support, and translate languages other than english. The program might be used to engage bilingual students and nonnative speakers. Despite discussing the artist appeal of the program, she did not make any comments about its use in a digital media course. Such a use of Scratch would allow teachers to incorporate a little computer science into an art class.

The third presentation, Computer Science Unplugged by Tom Cortina was extraordinary in that it kept everyone engaged for the entire day. He demonstrated many elements of computer or information science in the absence of computers. His presentation was also the most physical in nature, even taking everyone outside the building. He showed the teachers that computers are constrained by their human programmers, an abstract concept that he illustrated with accessible concrete examples and metaphors. His presentation emphasized the importance of linguistics and logic in treating computation.

In my reflections on the Institute, two comments come to my mind. The presentation were a little too long in duration. At the end of each session, the participating teachers were mentally exhausted and unable to absorb or process more information. At this point it could have been valuable to hold a group discussion of the day's presentation or topic. This would allow the teachers to share with one another their new thoughts and ideas. They could process the concepts they were learning and reflect on the activity just completed.

More opportunities for communication are also essential for retrieving the vast body of experience and knowledge that the teachers participating in the program possess. There was a great amount of diversity in the composition of participants at the institute which could have been used to enhance the Institute. It would also be more faithful to the collaborative objectives of the Institute to access and make use of the teacher's judgments and knowledge.