Sunday, November 22, 2020

The Making of a Computer Science Teacher

There is quite the conversation going on in the private Computer Science Educators group on Facebook about teacher preparation for CS educators. This is a very interesting group for CS educators BTW. Join if you are on Facebook. I link to some specific articles at the end.

It’s a lot more complicated question than it might appear. There is the argument about what CS educators need to know to teach CS effectively. Is something better than nothing or is not enough going to mean poorly prepared students? Given all the complaints I have heard from university people about high school students being taught CS wrong (what ever that means) I tend to believe that CS educators should have a lot more depth of knowledge than the courses they are teaching. Definitely more depth than their students will get from the course. We expect this from teachers of other subjects (for the most part – see highly qualified teacher).

As to preparation, and its close cousin – certification – we are dealing wtih three main types of people who need preparation to teach CS.

  • Teachers of other subjects
  • CS experienced people moving into teaching
  • Career beginners who are not previously teachers or CS people

They all need something different. I have heard people say that a good teacher can teach any subject after learning some content knowledge. I would argue that teaching CS is different from teaching most other subjects. A teacher needs to know how to teach computer science. We've been fortunate over the last decade or two that some serious research in how to teach CS has been done. CS teachers need to know what has been learned about HOW to teach.

Teachers of other subjects also need some solid content knowledge. Topping out at the content involved in AP CS Principles and AP CS A (the top high school cs courses) is not enough. Well, not for high school CS teachers. Students are going to ask deeper questions than what is required and you can only get by with “well, let’s look that up” so often before people start to wonder if you know what you are doing.

How much do you need? And this goes for people new to teaching as well as just new to teaching CS. That’s a struggle. I don’t think you can get it in two one semester courses let alone a couple of weeks worth of summer workshops. Two semesters of programming is probably the minimum for that aspect. In the first one a person learns a programming language and a start of how to solve problems. It takes a second course to really become a programmer. Of course there is a lot more to computer science than programming. Vocabulary, networking, algorithms, security, CS ethics, and well, if your have taught AP CS Principles you get the rest. So three or four semesters of real CS.

Everyone who teaches CS including those new to teaching and those career changes needs a course or two (or three) if pedagogy. A focus on teaching CS for sure but also some work on test development and evaluation and classroom management. Do they teach classroom management in regular education programs? CS has some interesting complications involving students playing on the internet and messing with lab computers.

I also think that CS teachers, especially now when there are seldom multiple CS teachers in a building, need to learn about external resources. Social media, CSTA, summer workshops and conferences, StackOverflow, and generally how to build a network to support your growth as a CS teacher.

To prepare to be a great CS teacher is going to take a lot of work. Yes, people do figure it out on their own I know people, I am one, who came to industry without training in teaching and did a pretty good job. Enthusiasm and great students will get you pretty far. That’s not the ideal I look back and wonder how much better my students would have been if I had known what I know about teaching CS back then. I don’t think I messed anyone up too much but could I have taken them further? I like to think so.

If CS is going to take its place with other core subjects we have to learn to teach it well. We have to have more than just enthusiasm for the subject.. We have to set high standards for teachers as well as students.

Facebook Conversations

Mike Zamansky’s post of the subject https://cestlaz.github.io/post/teachers-can-learn-cs/

Monday, November 16, 2020

Tiny Book of Simple Cryptography

I've been playing with simple cryptography. Mostly stuff that was solid before computers. Just for fun mostly but some of it may make for interesting projects for students. I've written a little bit about the things I have been playing with.

This is not a big book and it is intended more to spark interest and not to be a real reference book. There are footnotes linking to Wikipedia articles that would be a good next step for learning more.

I have a couple of substitution ciphers and a couple of  transposition ciphers.

http://www.acthompson.net/TinyCrypto.pdf

Comments and gentle criticism welcome. I have coded solutions in C# that are ok. Some of them even have comments.