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C'est la Z

Computer Science is not (inherently) fun

I saw a tweet the other day by a CS teacher. They were talking about how much easier it is to teach CS because it's fun.

They went on about how they get to create cool problems which makes it so much easier to teach than other subjects.

I've heard this a lot over the years particularly from teachers who are into gaming - "CS is fun because you can create games."

Sorry but I have to disagree.

Don't get me wrong. I think CS is fun (and I'm not a game person) but just because I find it fun doesn't mean it's inherently fun.

I used to think like those teachers posting but one day, early in my career I was observed by my principal. She liked the lesson but focused in on one thing. At one point I mentioned that we could use a specific new technique and that it was "cool." She asked me "why is it cool?" and more importantly "why should it be cool for them?" That got me thinking. It was cool to me for a variety of reasons but the truth was that in a class of 30 high school students, what's cool for one person is probably not cool for everyone.

That observation stuck with me. Something that's cool for some of us isn't for others. A teacher and some students might love making games but it does nothing for me and for many students. Same thing for the general building stuff or solving problems. The set of things that will and won't motivate students in a CS class is a large one indeed. Now, this doesn't mean don't do, for instance, games but rather understand that your students will have a wide range of interests so if you do a unit that focuses on games, maybe do other things in your other units.

A second issue I have with the "CS is fun" thing is that it implies that it's all fun and games and not work. This is particularly a problem transitioning from a CS0 to a CS1 class. If you don't set up the transition correctly students will find CS1 much more challenging and harder and if it's too hard or too challenging that's not fun. Besides, even if the class is fun, which should include being challenging at the right level there will be times where things are just not fun and that's even with the best teacher.

The final thing that I find off putting about all the "computer science is fun" posts. I think it's unfair to other teachers and other subjects. History can be tremendous fun - stories, adventures, mysteries, predictions and more. It can be taught through traditional lessons, role play, art music and the list goes on. English? That's also stories, adventures, mysteries etc.. Physics? How about show and tell how the world works? To say we have the monopoly on fun is not true and unfair. We currently don't have the burden history which strictly dictates what, how, and when we teach but we're getting there quickly.

The truth is that CS will be inherently fun for some just like any other subject and the specifics of what and how a class is taught and to whom can greatly influence the level of fun. A strong teacher who's passionate about games teaching a game development elective will probably be fun for most or all participants but if it were a required course, not so much.

CS is our field, we find it fun and interesting and we want to bring our passion to our students. That's all good but let's remember that it's not special and we're not special. The same can be said for other subjects and other teachers and we have to remember that it's not about our passions but rather those of our students.

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