The year of the “Pot Luck” …

So it seems one of the ‘themes’ for this 2012-2013 school year is the “Pot Luck.” It started in September, when out of the blue, one of my grade 11 Computer Science students came up and asked me if he could use my microphone to ask the class a question. Within a few minutes, he had not only proposed the idea of a pot luck, but organized it. A week later, we had a Computer Science pot luck with a class of 95% boys (often very shy and apathetic boys). The kids enjoyed a variety of tasty snacks including homemade samosas (from his grandmother). One of my other classes, my grade 12 I.B. Theory of Knowledge class of 95% girls, heard about this and organized their own pot luck to coincide with Halloween day and our second lesson on ethics. In addition to enjoying tasty snacks (like oranges carved like pumpkins with faces on them and filled with grapes), the kids did ethical dilemma skits (with a Halloween theme) with full stomachs from the pot luck. In addition, a week ago, the Alternative Education program in our school (which is designed for kids who want to recover credits they may not have received  or kids who have troubles operating within a ‘typical’ classroom setting) also organized a pot luck after I mentioned it to the class (I help out in this program every other day). Three different classes: Computer Science, Theory of Knowledge, and Alternative Education all had pot luck meals within their classes. This unique opportunity to create a classroom community, promote sharing and bonding has been a valuable if not unexpected surprise to this year. Below is a short cell video short on Halloween morning during the Theory of Knowledge pot luck:

Teaching our children to ‘read’ and ‘write’ – the case for computer science – Comment – Voices – The Independent

For years our children have been let down. In today’s technological world they run their social lives through mobile and immerse themselves in video game. But when it comes to the classroom all we’ve taught them is ICT – a strange hybrid of desktop publishing lessons.

I don’t doubt that these vocational skills are useful, but ICT simply teaches them how to use technology but gives them no insight on how to create technology. In essence we teach our children how to ‘read’, but not how to ‘write’.

Computer science is different. It is a vital, analytical discipline, and a system of logical thinking and problem solving that is as relevant to the modern world as physics, chemistry or biology. And it is from the combination of computer programming skills and creativity by which world-changing companies such as Google, Facebook and Twitter were built. Rolls Royce and GSK depend on great programming too as much as games developers and visual effects companies do.

The games industry alone makes a real contribution to our troubled economy – with over £2 billion in global sales, it is bigger than our film or music industries. That is why the Government’s ICT reforms are so important to UK plc.

Putting computer science in the National Curriculum will have a powerful effect; it will help prepare our pupils for some of the UK’s most successful growth industries. Having dedicated, high-calibre computer science teachers in schools will inspire and enable children to be creators of technology rather than being simply passive users of it. Whether it’s making games, fighting cyber-crime or designing the next jet propulsion engine, computer science is at the heart of everything in the digital world in which we live today.

via Teaching our children to ‘read’ and ‘write’ – the case for computer science – Comment – Voices – The Independent.

Computer Science education for the ‘real’ world…

So as I look over the agenda that my inservice day would entail, I started to get the most excited about touring the masters and doctorate level projects that the University of Manitoba’s department of Computer Science would be presenting. In some ways it started a little under a year ago when at the Computer Science programming contest I mentioned the Manitoba teacher’s societies inservice day known as SAGE (Special Area Groups for Education). A certain professor, along with myself, and a few other Computer Science teachers from around Manitoba started planning this. We organized it under the umbrella of MANACE (Manitoba Association of Computer Educators), but was truly a separate event. Getting back to my excitement, it was truly interesting to see some of the innovative work being done by the department in areas such as security data analysis (as it relates to the psychological studies of attention), virtual reality, human-computer interaction (as it relates to robotics), human-emotion interfaces (including some research into Autism), and bioinformatics (looking into AIDS research). As well, further discussion with the Computer Science Co-op director showed that the field of Computer Science is still thriving. Just this year’s placements included many high end companies around North America (and worldwide) – see this year’s placements here. For the last few (maybe more than a few) years, SAGE (formally known only as SAG), has been very disappointing. MANACE has given sessions on some interesting technology related topics like blogging, iPads, etc. but nothing even closely related to Computer Science. This has left me lacking in my ability to attend a session of relevance to senior years technology education. For many of us in the senior years, teaching technology is a specific discipline, where we no longer focus on the general aspects of information technology like Word processing, internet etiquette, etc. These topics are still relevant, but now extend out to all disciplines of education. For us, teaching Computer Science, web development, Graphic arts, media production, etc. – technology IS the curriculum, not just the delivery system. This then means for us to do justice to our students, we need to have three primary goals:

  1. To engage students in our disciplines by not only introducing it as a discipline, but making it both interesting and relevant
  2. To prepare students for the ‘next level’ of our disciplines, in whatever format that entails – from University/Community college preparedness, to finding innovative ways to continue to learn the discipline post-high, to looking forward to employment opportunities in the discipline
  3. To find ways to connect our discipline to other skill sets that may become relevant to our students in their future lives (job related or not)

This focus and reinforcing anecdotal data from Computer Science student alumni of mine have strengthened my resolve to continue to strive to keep my teaching of Computer Science relevant and tie it to these three goals. This year, my SAGE day inservice was the first in many years that made me feel that I was heading towards that goal. But enough of all that, here’s a video of University of Manitoba Computer Science graduate students making a robot puppet!