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C'est la Z

SIGCSE 2023 Microteaching

Okay, back to SIGCSE.

Next up, a session titled Microteaching run by Colleen Lewis. Here's the paper: link.

Unfortunately, the paper doesn't do the session justice as the paper briefly describes a small amount of CS subject matter that each session presenter was going to "teach." By "teach," I mean, do a 7 minute mock version of the lesson for the attendees. That's all fine and good but the thrust wasn't really the actual CS content but how it was delivered.

Each presenter would deliver their mini lesson and then Colleen would highlight solid pedagogical practices.

This type of session is much needed and as far as I can tell, has been missing from SIGCSE.

Let me repeat: This type of session is much needed and as far as I can tell, has been missing from SIGCSE.

I'll talk more about my feelings of where this type of session should belong along with It seemed like a good idea at the time and Nifty Assignments in my final SIGCSE post but here I'll stick to this session.

As I said, after each mini lesson, Colleen shared what she saw as good practices.

  • Using manipulatives
  • give students time to process questions
  • give explicit goals
  • read what's on the board aloud
  • use activities that involve the students
  • create interesting motivations that lead to the topic
  • and more

All were good, except I have a minor quibble with one that I'll get to below. Overall this made me happy. I had never seen a SIGCSE session that highlighted basic pedagogical techniques. On the other hand, I was a bit sad. Why? Because all the techniques listed were super basic - like day 0.5 of basic pedagogy techniques.

Was it really necessary to focus on such basic introductory techniques as opposed to, say, questioning techniques - something that has a lot more depth than a lot of people realize?

I'm guessing it was. Colleen has spent a lot of time working with college faculty members and a good deal of time thinking about these things so I'm guessing that if she highlighted something as a best practice, she felt it needed to be highlighted.

So, even if the pedagogical level was rather rudimentary, I'd say that it's probably needed and that makes it even more important to have sessions like this at SIGCSE.

I'll circle back to this and teaching sessions in general in my last SIGCSE post - I still have one more to go on Nifty Assignments before that one but to close out, I'll talk about my quibble.

It was with the "best practice" of giving explicit goals. This could be like a high school teacher to have an explicit aim on the board prior to the lesson start or it could be on the side of the board "students will learn…."

This is frequently taught as a best practice but it isn't. It's often a good practice but it's not a universal best one. In fact nothing is. The trouble is, it's often taught as a must follow practice with no exceptions and unfortunately educators buy in. It's frequently taught as a must follow because it's least common denominator - you can always do it and it frequently conveys info to the students (and your supervisor observing :-) ). It's easy to do and easy to "measure."

The problem is, it's not a universal best practice. There are plenty of times when you don't want to give away the punchline or you want to set up a head fake.

My linked list motivation which I described here is one such case. I don't want to write my objective ahead of time because it would take away from the activity which would then remove it's value to make linked lists clearer and easier.

Incidentally, the one student to drop out of my Advanced Certificate teacher program in a huff got all bent out of shape because I woulnd't provide every detail of every lesson in advance because to them that was the way to do it. Everyone else got it.

As they say, you've got to know when to hold them, know when to fold them….

Other times when not giving the objective right up front might be when teaching merge or quick sorts, depending on your motivation. In math class, I'd say teaching the quadratic formula is better served by working the derivation by completing the square prior to revealing why you were doing it.

In any event, it was a minor quibble and it wasn't necessarily stated as being a best practice but a good practice for the specific mini lesson.

Bottom line this session or a session like this is a great addition to SIGCSE and hats off to Colleen and all the presenters.

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