Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Doug Bergman–Amazing Computer Science Educator Revisited

About five years ago I interviewed Doug Bergman for my occasional series of interviews with computer science teachers.  Doug is constantly doing new things so I thought it was time to interview him again.

How would you describe the changes in CS education in general and at your school in particular in the last five years?

We are seeing CS find it's way into schools where is simply did not exist before. Certainly that presents challenges, such as how do we find teachers, but what an AWESOME problem to have, right?!. And supply and demand usually drives the market, so I would think that "if we build it, they will come" (name the movie?).  We are already seeing the numbers of new teachers in CS increase dramatically.

Our program has always tried to keep at the leading edge of technology and CS education. And for many years, we were far out, but over the last 5 years we have seen other CS programs really start to make traction, even entire schools and school districts and even entire states (AK due to the incredible leadership by Anthony Owen et all). So, it has pushed us to continue to innovate and try to stay ahead of the curve.

This year with the addition to David Renton to our department, we are adding in Virtual Reality development into our curriculum. In fact we have started exploring that with our 12th graders and are excited to see what projects they propose. Other areas we are aggressively exploring are A.I., cloud based computing, cybersecurity, and IoT.

You always seem to have the latest state of the art hardware at your school. Be it Kinect, robots, or Virtual Reality headsets.  How do you get that stuff?

So, this has happened through a variety of avenues. We have had several grants that we applied for. Early on, we actually went out into the community and actually asked for seed money to get things started.  We are a private school, so we have to distinguish ourselves from our competition (public and private), so once our program started to get traction and our enrollment numbers started increasing, it started to become something the school can use as a tool of recruitment, so there was good reason to support a budget. We don't really use textbooks, so while other departments spend thousands of dollars on textbooks, we use that textbook money for technology. Then we use that technology for years afterwards, so it spreads out the cost.

Our school also has a couple programs where we can apply for money for special projects, and we take advantage of those.  But one line item in my budget is just an exploration item. We need money to explore new technologies. And the school supports our efforts.  I'll sometimes speak to the board at their meetings, and I also like to invite board members/administrators to our events, so they can see what we are doing.

Our school does a lot of marketing , so I make sure we are part of that as often as possible. We usually have several NCWIT award winners, so I make sure the newspaper and TV and gov't leaders are aware of the awesomeness coming out of SC (and also PG). Whenever I present at a conference or have some type of public "something", I make sure our school name is front and center, giving them credit.

Speaking of those hardware options, what do they add to your program in terms of student engagement and student learning?

Students needs to be comfortable working with a variety of technologies that have non-traditional inputs and outputs. Everyone can code with keyboard and mouse and output to a screen, but we want our students to go beyond that.  Inputs such as voice, touch, light, infrared, proximity, thought, temperature, footpad, game/hand controller, steering wheel, or sound---  and outputs such a VR goggles, tablets, robot motors or lights or sounds, a webpage, database, or message.

Each ones requires a different way to interact and most likely a different language. I want students to have that experience, so when they go into whatever industry with whatever technologies, they will be comfortable figuring things out.  Students get used to failure and exploration and experimentation, but also how to use different technologies to address things that matter to them.

How does including (arguably) fancy equipment change how you teach?

I would be teaching the same style with whatever technology. Having access to it just helps be at the forefront of what is out there. It keeps class relevant to the them...and to me. I gotta admit, I get to play with, take apart, and program cool toys all day every day.

Porter-Gaud added a CS teacher this year – David Renton. (Loved the interview with you both https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yilTQOW6pfI ) Is that because of growth in numbers of students taking CS? If so, how do you account for that growth?

Yes, we are bursting at the seams. Our numbers are increasing every year, along with that our percentage of females is also increasing!! (woohoo, it's one of the goals of our program. We are at 40%). We have borrowed people from math dept, I.T. dept and taught overloads. Then this years, we brought 5th grade up to middle school, so Bob Irving (also doing amazing things in MS) who was teaching some 9th grade classes for me had to go teach the entire 5th grade as well. So we officially just needed someone.

We were very aggressive in what we were looking for. I needed someone who can come in and hit the ground running with skills we don't already have. We needed someone who explores and experiments every day, but also sees project-based learning as the most effective tools for the CS classroom.  David had already mentored several of our students over the years, (via Skype, email, and FB) even though he was in Scotland.

You are currently a member of the Board of the Computer Science Teachers Association (CSTA). What are your goals in that position?

I love being on the board right now. Our new Executive Director, Jake Baskin, has taken us to the next level in just his first few months on the job. We are now the national (international?) organization that the world has been looking to. Great things to come, and I want to be right in the middle of that.

Another big thing you have done since my last interview is to publish a book - Computer Science K-12: Imagining the possibilities! What is the book about and who is the target audience?

As CS becomes more and more a part of what schools offer, we have chance to do things differently than some of the other more traditional disciplines have done. I don't think lectures, worksheets, and textbooks are the best way to design a meaningful, relevant, and innovative Computer Science class,whether it is a beginner level or advanced. The technologies that are part of CS are engaging and interactive and dynamic -- our CS classes should be like that as well.

My book offers a different way of teaching Computer Science.

Over the years, I have found ways to design projects where the learning is all student-driven and active learning...students choose the topics of those projects, so the projects mean something to them. They are more likely to put in extra work, extra thought, and extra effort if they are creating something that was their own idea; we see that over and over every year in all our classes. 

Teachers can setup their project proposal documents in such as way that students propose a project with complexity and focus enough to include all content/programming-language skills/constructs/vocabulary that is the focus of the project.

My book talks about things you can think about to design a class or program that is truly student-centric. There are lots of examples of projects, rubrics, assignments, and specific student examples, even examples from other teachers.  So for that CS teacher looking to up the ante on their class, perhaps to increase enrollment or change direction, there are lots of ideas in there.

For the CS teacher who is brand new to the field and does not really have anything to go on, it can be a great resource full of links to help get get his/her class off the ground, plus get involved in CS education and community.

And the other group that I think might find good value is that politician, board member, community leader, or principal that doesn't really know what Computer Science is and how it fits into schools. The first part of the book just looks at CS in the world and gives an example in every industry, and then looks at how they might translate into schools.

I can't even think of an industry that is not not heavily dependent upon technology. So, those students that understand, can interact with, can control, can program and reprogram that technology to address and solve the problems of that industry are the future leaders.

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