Thursday, August 22, 2019

What I Want from Computer Science Education Professional Development

The CSTA 2020 Call for Proposals is out and as usual it has me thinking.   Two questions come to mind. One is, what can/should I propose to present? The other question is what do I want to learn? I think I have been to every CSTA conference (since it was the CS & IT conference) so I have attended a lot of sessions. I’ve presented quite a few times as well. So I have a lot of history to think about.

I don’t currently have any sessions or workshops I want to present. I keep asking myself is that is because I am not working hard enough to innovate or create new ideas. I suspect that a lot of people doubt if they are doing anything special enough to present. Some of those people are right but a lot of them are wrong. So I need to think about that.

I’m thinking more about birds of a feather sessions to propose and looking at my projects to see if I have something really nifty for the nifty project session. Birds of a Feather (BoF) sessions are very interactive and are great for refining ideas. And nifty projects are, well, they’re nifty.

What do I want to see presented? That’s actually hard these days. Why? Because my brain is already full of more ideas than I could learn or teach in a lifetime. Artificial Intelligence, cloud computing, Internet of Things, game development, virtual reality and on and on. Content! There is a lot of possible content out there.

What I really want to learn is how to teach better. I’m doing some reading (Computer Science Education is my current read) and I’ve been learning a lot from Mark Guzdial’s blog for a while. If you ever get a chance to hear Mark talk about how to teach computer science GO HEAR HIM! There are a number of his talks on YouTube BTW.

Lots of people want to promote a new tool (software or hardware) as a silver bullet for teaching. I’ve heard enough of them. Given a few myself. The more I teach though the more I think there is more to becoming a better teacher than a cool new robot, a fancy new IDE, a great new “educational toy.” or what ever.

Teaching is ultimately about establishing a relationship between teacher and student. It is about communicating well and sharing passion. That’s what I want to learn how to do better. And if you have research to back up what you are teaching about how to teach I really want to hear from you.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Vicki Davis Interviews Alfred Thompson

Over the summer Vicki Davis interviewed me for her Ten Minute Podcast. Vicki and I have been friends for a number of years and it is always a pleasure to talk with her. We talked about a number of things including Project-based learning. Passion-based learning. Problem-based learning.


Sunday, August 18, 2019

And So It Begins–School year 2019 2020

Tomorrow (Monday) I will meet the new freshmen in my study hall. And I’ll finish getting my room ready for the new school year. First day of real classes is Tuesday. And I am not as ready as I would like.

I have a day by day plan for every day of the semester (even the year for my AP CS Principles class). Lesson plans last until they run into actual students so there will be adjustments. There always are. It’s my 5th or is it 6th year teaching honors programming so that is more settled than anything else. I still make changes as I go along because not every class in the same as any other. And who wants to do the same thing year after year anyway.

It’s my third year teaching AP CS Principles and I am making big adjustments in the schedule over last year. I am hopeful that I’m going to get it better this year but who really knows.

My third year for teaching Mobile Application Programming and I am switching from AppInventor to Thunkable. AppInventor has given me a lot of issues with the emulator and most of my students have iPhones and Apple is dragging their feet on allowing AppInventors iPhone software. Thunkable already works with iPhones, though without support for some features I would really like. Plus it seems to connect to phones more reliably. We’ll see how it goes. I’m adapting project ideas as I go along. That’s not completely new but it is not without risk.

At least I only have three preps. Last fall I had four. I also have more free periods as I am teaching a reduced load (at my request) and that should help a lot.

Are you ready? Have you begun already? Let’s do this thing!

Wednesday, August 07, 2019

Book Review: The Creativity Code

I’ve been reading a lot about Artificial Intelligence (AI) this year. Several of them have been pretty scary. It was recommended that I take a look at “The Creativity Code: Art and Innovation in the Age of AI” by Marcus DuSautoy. It was a good recommendation. This book is different from the others I have read. Or tried to read. It’s focus is not on business or about intelligent weapons. The focused as the title suggests is on creativity.

The book discusses how computers, or rather AI software, is creating art, music, and new ideas in mathematics. The author is a renowned  mathematician so the sections on using AI in math, developing proofs for example are especially well done. One unexpected benefit of the book for me was a new appreciation for what mathematicians actually do and why they find some year joy in the field.

The author shares some concerns about how AI might make mathematicians like himself obsolete. In the long run though he sees a place for human creativity in the world. AI routines are still being trained by people. They do go beyond what they are specifically trained but have to start with that training. Well, usually anyway. Will that change? Let’s just say that there are still a lot of unknowns. AI has moved in ways we haven’t expected already so there is that.

If you are interested in learning about AI in art (computers creating works in the style of famous artists for example, music (using existing styles or creating new ones), writing (fiction or non-fiction), mathematics, and several other fields we don’t usually associate with AI this is a good book for you.

It’s an interesting and usually easy read (I confess some of the math was a little deep for me). It an in interesting look at AI. Recommended.

Thursday, August 01, 2019

What Programming Concept Do I Use?

I’ve been programming a long time. I wrote my first computer program in 1972. I think the parents of some of my students were not even born yet. So it’s hard to remember what it is like to be a beginner. Late last school year it finally occurred to me that a lot of my students understood concepts in theory but were having trouble knowing which concept to use to solve problems. Honestly this was having trouble sinking it with me because this stuff is so obvious to me.

Lauren Margulieux helped me out here with her recent blog post I’ve been a Computing Education Researcher for 8 Years and just took my First Programming Course: Here are 5 Things I Learned. This is a must read post for anyone who teaches beginners. One of her five things was “Deciding which programming concept to use was harder” Just what I had been thinking about lately. I think her experience, background, and ability to self-analyze her own learning helped her to see  what I think are common beginner issues that I have had trouble seeing myself. Maybe other teachers have trouble seeing these things as well. Or maybe just me.

Suffice it to say, I have to really think about how to help students over these hurtles.  Helping students to see when to use various concepts is my first priority. Stories maybe the answer. Can I tell stories about the sorts of things various concepts are good for. I do some of that already but maybe more examples will help. It’s worth a try.