Tuesday, January 01, 2019

Happy New Year 2019

I’ve been thinking about this post for the last several days. My usual practice has been to start the year with a list of things I want to watch in CS education during the coming year. As I look at last year’s list (see Looking Back on CS Education in 2018) I don’t see a good list for this year. The things I’ve been watching have largely matured. The next big growth area is not clear to me.

Sure we’re making progress in getting computer science education for more and more people. Of course there is more to do and room for growth but it feels like momentum is going to carry us through.

So this year I am thinking about what I can do to give my students an edge. What can I shoehorn into my curriculum that will go beyond the average. There are people who way ahead of me of course. Doug Bergman and David Renton at Porter-Gaud School are doing amazing things. A number of the career/technical schools I know of have room in their curriculum for a lot of things I haven’t been able to fit into mine. Likewise, there are a number of magnet schools covering some really advanced topics. Most of these have more room in their curriculum for CS than my school. That means I need to do things differently.

I suspect that most teachers at comprehensive or college prep schools have some similar time limitations. We have room for only so many courses. In may case I have what seems like a lot of options. We teach some programming in our freshmen course (it’s only one semester long and we cram a lot in already). I have a one semester honors programming and a one semester mobile application programming course. In both of those we get students to the point that they can do interesting things and then the semester is over.

We offer both Advanced Placement Computer Science courses. They're both a full year long but it feels like they are pretty constrained. I only teach the Principles version so playing with APCS A is a moot point for me.

The AP courses are a problem of sorts. As they say, a blessing and a curse. Parents and administrators love them. They help make schools look good to parents. They make students look good to college admissions officers.  There is lots of well-developed curriculum and professional development for teachers. What’s not to like?

But you wind up teaching to the test. It’s almost unavoidable. Your curriculum plan has to be approved by the CollegeBoard for starters.  While you can get clever about things like projects, tools, and for APCSP even languages there is always that constraint about what is on the test that you have to focus on. If APCS is the only course one teaches you probably have the type and energy to get really creative. If you teach four different courses (as I do) it can be a bit overwhelming to make big changes to the AP CS course.

The path of least resistance (for me teaching APCSP) is to use the developed curriculum and teach using that. The code.org APCSP curriculum, which I am using,  is pretty amazing for teaching that course. Since I have two other courses I teach alone based on self-developed curriculum there is some strong motivation to spend time on those.

What I want to squeeze in somewhere are cloud computing, Artificial Intelligence, and Virtual Reality development. I don’t really know enough about any of these to know how hard it will be to fit any of them in or where they would fit logically. If I had a year long course after my honors programming class that wasn’t constrained by the AP curriculum I would recruit a group of smart curious students (plenty of them around) and we’d all learn together. Alas, that is not currently an option for me.

My current thinking is to try and learn more about one or two of these on my own and by the summer have an idea where I can fit some of it. Amazon Web Services has AWS Educate which I have signed up for. It has a bunch of free resources and training. Seems like a good place to start learning the cloud. It looks pretty well set up for teachers as well. SO that is the cloud piece.
Next is either VR or AI. VR requires some hardware to do right as far as I can tell so I have to factor that in. Both AWS and Microsoft have some AI that can be used. Since I already know about the AWS resources I may start there with AI.

VR is pretty exciting as well and there are some great resources for using Unity with C# for that. I already teach C# using Visual Studio so going the VR route may be a good option.

I hope to get my current semester long courses in good enough shape during the school year that I can really deep dive into the cloud, AI, and VR over the summer. Not that I will wait until then to start but that will be when I can get deepest. And of course the search for resources for my own learning, for teaching, and for making this stuff fit goes on all the time. Let me know if you have links to share.
So basically my message is, 2019 has some serious potential.

1 comment:

Garth said...

This is one of the big differences from teaching Math and teaching CS/programming. Math curriculum is cookbook. It is laid out and ready to go. In an age based curriculum you know, except for some manageable exceptions, what the kids are going to take each year. CS/programming on the other hand is a mess. I have a sophomore who can program better than me in his sleep. I have a junior who programs for fun. He would rather program than play video games. What I can offer in the way of programming courses is limited by my skill. With math I am good up to and including Calculus. (Yes, I would have to brush up but not a big deal.) With programming if I want to offer something new I am usually starting from scratch and I cannot simply buy a textbook designed for high school with problem sets and all the add-on materials. I can usually find a book but from there I am adapting on my own.

After years of teaching both Math and CS/programming, teaching Math is just boring if I want it to be. Teaching programming keeps the brain tissue active.

If you want to go the Unity/C#/VR route let me know. With Android phones and Google Cardboard it is cheap and fun. There are a lot of good tutorials out there. There are some really bad ones too.