Not Your Father’s Computer Science

Yesterday’s post “Exercise Makes You Grow” drew some interesting thoughts that I wish had been posted as comments to share formally.  Consequently, I’ll talk about the gist of the thoughts here.

First – “I remember taking computer science. It was stuff like IF GOTO THEN PRINT GOTO INPUT — BORING — TOO HARD”  As a matter of fact, I do too.  But, I thrived on the stuff and looked forward to learning the next statement in whatever language we were using (if my case, the first language was Fortran) so that I could do something else cool.  In fact, I started my teaching career teaching as I was taught.  Fortunately, we got away from that really quickly.  Today’s computer science teachers aren’t “one language wonders”; they’ve got a big background and know that the language is the insignificant part.  Problem solving and sharing your solutions effectively are far more important.

Second – “C’mon – dragging and dropping a keyword isn’t programming.”  Really?  Check out Wikipedia’s definition of “Programming“.  Years ago, programming may have meant a single person struggling through a single problem working on a single computer.  I would defy you to walk into any school where programming is taught and see if you could even find that sort of activity.

Third – “Moving a Dinosaur around a screen is hardly programming”.  Again, really?  Even from the earliest days of Logo, computer science has embraced the idea that you could write instructions to move something around according to an algorithm.  It could be a turtle, a turtle graphic, a robot, a pixel, a graphic, or even a dinosaur.  For several years, Scratch and Alice as two examples, have been seen as highly motivating introductory programming environments.  I’d like to throw Daisy the Dinosaur into the mix.  Don’t forget “Cargo-Bot” which I had played around with earlier.

Let me continue with some thoughts.

Computer Science has truly matured.  In fact, in Ontario, our guiding document is now titled “Computer Studies“.  Computer Science is but one of a slate of offerings within that document.  The document also recognizes that not every student who takes a computer studies course will be a programmer.  It looks at the well-rounded computer professional as a citizen and includes strands dealing with ethics, documentation, environmental stewardship, social impact, etc.  Check out the document at the link about.

Alfred Thompson has a wonderful post dealing with a number of tools for the beginning programmer.  It’s a great collection.

I hope that people can realize just the purposes of these.  You’ll never write the next great Android application with Daisy but that isn’t the point.  The point is to get people smarter about the world around them.  We like in a world where we have to program so many things.  It’s a skill that everyone should have.  You won’t teach a Grade 4 student how to compile a program in C++ and have them begging for more.  You will, however, if you present an environment that’s designed for their age.  That’s where Daisy fits in and just might inspire a student to continue to learn how to program.



One comment

  1. Great post Doug.
    I am finding more and more variety to add to my CS classroom each year. I often “borrow” from other sources like Explore CS, CS Unplugged, and many more..


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