Thursday, 13 November 2008

computer science

I have been looking at computer science in schools a little more closely lately, there are a number of blogs

to which I subscribe to that have talked about a book called Stuck in the shallow end - education, race, and computing, by Jane Margolis. I have begun reading this and are part way through the introduction, The Myth of Technology as the "Great Equalizer". I will post more about this later on, but it has got me wondering how New Zealand have stuffed Computer Science in Secondary Schools up for so long.

It has got me thinking about some of the issues that we face in New Zealand, how many Pacific Island and Maori students are doing computer science?

What is computer science?

It is not computer literacy skills, such as word processing or Internet and Web Searching. While literacy skills are without a doubt a twenty-first century necessity. Succinctly-albeit broadly-defined, "computer science is the study of computers and algorithmic processes, including their principles, their hardware and software designs, their applications and their impact on society" (ACM K-12 Task Force Curriculum Committee 2003, 6).

Not only is overwhelming job growth in information technology and engineering projected over the next decade; computer science is one of the keys to innovation in general.

For an increasing number of jobs in the new economy, then, the cognitive bar has been raised, requiring a firm understanding of the problem solving process. And is noted that the line that marks the "digital divide" keeps shifting.

But it is not just the economic landscape that is changing. The technological world is reshaping culture and political participation. issues and events have that have profound consequences for the way we live our lives (from the creation of jobs, to scientific discovery, to fair voting procedures, to communication network) are all being reshaped by technological knowledge. Who has this knowledge and who does not is consequential for democracy. What John Dewey (1916) said almost a century ago is still true today: education will only prepare people for life in a democracy when the educational experience is also democratic.

It is during high school when students make academic decisions that have the most serious implication for their college and/or career opportunities.

We know that their are innovation schools that are trying to integrate the problem solving of computer science throughout the curriculum.

In America their is the No child left behind legislation, this has nominally been designed to narrow the "achievement gap", has instead narrowed the curriculum and, in turn, the intellectual paths for students in low performing schools.

Many well meaning people are at the centre pf determining which kids can learn what, and as a result, creating an unlevel playing field. But they are unaware of the role they or their schools are playing, or how their actions and beliefs-and the system within which they exercise them-are perpetuating a system of which they may not even approve.

In curriculum guides Computer Science is nowhere to be found; despite the role that it plays across multiple disciplines and arena, it is not considered a core academic subject.

A computer literacy test over there includes the following relatively rudimentary tasks:

Save a document into your travelling folder

Type, proofread, and correct sentences in a word-processing document

Adjust margins, alignment, change type styles, adjust type size, use bold, italicize and underline, and so on

Find information and images on the Internet, and copy them into a word-processing document

And so when it comes to technology, we see the same effect of testing pressures, but in reverse. Any attempts to teach to the test of technology competency will automatically concentrate on this basic level.

According to the Association of Computing Machinery, the nation's computer science professional organisation, and exemplary K-12 computer science curriculum should, among other things, prepare students to understand the nature of the discipline and its place in the modern world, help them to recognise it as a field that interleaves principles and skills, and equip them to use computer science skills (especially algorithmic thinking) in problem-solving activities in other subjects.

At schools with large percentages of english language learners, language issues are often cited as evidence that students are not ready or able to learn.

we get kids coming into high school here who are reading at the third and second grade levels. And for example, we tried to start a cisco networking academy here, but the students don't do particularly well because they have a reading level that's not sufficient to handle the online materials that are part of the course.

It is true that concentrations of English-language learner provide a real challenge for schools and the district at large.

Too often-particularly in subjects that are thought to be objective, like computer science-classroom practices can be disconnected from students lives, seemingly devoid of real-life relevance. Not only is it important for computer science teachers to show that there are computer scientists who "look like" their students, it is also vital that the communicate the fact that computer science is relevant.

Computer science teachers are traditionally isolated in their schools, with no collegial support in the planning and teaching of computer science. there is typically no computer science department within high schools, so computing teachers belong to various other departments, such as business, or math.

It is noted that many teachers enter the field with a moral purpose of wanting to teach and help children, they are missing the skills of change agentry, and as a result, many burn out and get discouraged. The capacities to become effective agents of change are not developed individually but must be nurtured and consciously shaped collectively in a professional setting.

Now for some links

computer science resources for secondary schools

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