Thursday, March 29, 2018

But I Digress

Students sure are good at distracting teachers from the main topic. Especially if they have a teacher who likes to talk. I confess that I am someone who likes to talk (ok stop laughing those of you who know me.) I tend to think that some digressions are a good thing though. Sure it is not very helpful if students get me talking about my wife or grandson (or my son the principal for that matter.) On the other hand sometimes the best lessons come from a little digression.

Yesterday we were talking about validating data – specifically people’s names which are more complicated than many students realize. That alone can take on far afield. From there we moved on to validating credit cards and from there to validating passports. Yep, we got into check digits which I actually think is an important computer science topic. A few minutes to get students  thinking about that is a good thing.

Some years ago a discussion on loops lead to an unplanned set of examples of loops coded in multiple programming languages including Assembly language. A year later a student returning from university told me he thought that was the most valuable lesson of the course. I guess that worked out well.

Sometimes we as educators get a little too attached to our lesson plans. We MUST cover what we have planned for that day in just the way we have planned. We only have so many class minutes and a lot of stuff to cover. Over the years I have concluded that, at least for me, sometimes it is not just ok but very beneficial to digress a bit from the plan. Spending some time on something that students are actually interested in and curious about seems to help the rest of the material to go down better. Serendipity (a word I learned by chance when I was in high school) is a good thing.

As educators we have to be open to taking advantage of serendipity when it aids learning. Given just how much there is in computer science and how much more of it is then we can possibly teach in the time allowed this serendipitous learning may be the most important learning of all.

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