Deeper Discussions

People enjoy Professional Development Days because it’s an opportunity to get together, talk, and share ideas. I think that Computer Science teachers may well be among the group that enjoys these events most for one simple reason. In most schools, you’re the only Computer Science teacher. As such, who do you talk to? Who do you bounce ideas off? Of course, Computer Science teachers aren’t the loneliest of teachers – there’s the music teacher or the Grade 5 teacher embracing Web 2.0 technologies, etc.

Even when these groups get together to share, the conversation typically turns to the “what”. What programming language are you using for the ICS2O course? What are you teaching about internet safety? What are you teaching to address the ethics component? How about the new Environmental Stewardship and Sustainability strand? It’s not to cast blame – there are limited hours together and so the “what” is an important and valued part of the discussion.

The problem is that the discussion only goes so deep.

So, you’re going to use a Wordle. So, you’re going to Skype with an expert. So, you’re going to work with Scratch in Grade 10. So, you’re going to talk about enumeration. So, you’re going to talk about 3-D arrays. So what?

The most important and deeper question that needs to be answered is “why”. Why are you doing this?

The simple answer that is knocked around so much is “to increase student achievement”. The quick comeback should be “how”.

Not only should you be able to clearly articulate whatever it is that you’re teaching, you need to equally as clearly describe why. It’s when you can answer why that everything comes into focus and you can realistically expect people to buy in and follow. What does this look like?

I saw an absolutely superb discussion recently on Alfred Thompson’s blog. The post was entitled “A Rose is a Rose“. Alfred started the discussion talking about using “Rock, Paper, Scissors”, a very common application used to demonstrate the concepts of selection to students. You take a familiar activity for them and build the concept into an algorithm.

Alfred’s thoughts…

Let me think out loud here a little and get some opinions. On what? On how far to go when naming things in programs. let me start at the beginning. The other day I decided to code up a game of “Rock Paper Scissors.” Perhaps latter to develop into the more geeky “Rock Paper Scissors Lizard Spock.” I’m doing this as a demo of the Select/Case structure in Visual Basic and the switch/case structure in C# along with a little compound if/then/else stuff. It’s a common enough project and simple enough that when I started I let the default object names stand.

Now, if you’re not a Computer Science teacher, don’t bail out now.  It’s not the content here that’s important.  It’s the next part of the article where Alfred goes into a discussion of alternatives and why they are foremost in his thoughts.  That’s the beginning to a deeper and more important discussion on the topic.  Quite frankly, any Computer Science teacher can address the “what” with her/his eyes closed.  It’s being able to explain why that drives this conversation.

And, converse, people did.

Visitors to the blog weighed in on the concept and offered some alternatives.  This simple concept really bloomed into a good discussion.  The Computer Science teacher in me really enjoyed it.  The teacher in me got very excited as the why takes over and we start to see many sides to this discussion.

When a discussion becomes this deep, and we start to question the why beyond the simple answer, true professional development emerges.

links for 2010-06-05