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C'est la Z

Sigcse 2023 Pedagogical Innovations

Next up was a session called Pedagogical Innovations. Good stuff but not really pedagogy. Maybe curricular innovations would have been a better title.

The third session was about virtual summer camps - I had to skip out for that but here's what went on in the first two sessions.

The first session involved professors from Oregon State working with middle school teachers teaching CS through the use of classic physical games. Specifically tic tac toe (paper here). I've used games like tic tac toe and connect 4 in high school classes but never younger. You can read the paper for details but there were some ups and downs. Students made progress but had trouble with the algorithm and conditionals. I wonder if it was too much too soon. I'm always skeptical when I hear classes of really young kids doing work that my Stuy HS kids had trouble with. Sometimes it's too young or too much and there's nothing wrong with that. In fact, we'd be better off if more people recognized that.

It was nice to see that acknowledgment here.

One other point of note, and one I'm super glad they brought up was the acknowledgment that even with training and extreme support, teachers that didn't come in with a strong programming background had a very hard time.

So nice for people other than me to say that publicly.

We've been hearing CS is so easy - anyone can do it, anyone can teach it but it's just not so. It takes time and effort just like anything else and every time or some other flavour of the month says you can teach CS without really learning CS devalues the subject and the teaching profession.

So, that was presentation one and I encourage you to read the paper linked above.

The second presentation was by Dan Garcia and the BJC crew on a new class - BJC Sparks. Again, not pedagogy but curriculum. The idea was middle school functional first programming course in Scratch.

I'm a big functional programming guy so I love this.

I've frequently come out against drag and drop languages but that's in later grades and this is middle school so I'm fine with it here. I do have some questions relating to drag and drop in general:

  • how do you deal with large programs on small screens?
  • Is there a difference in learning by dragging blocks vs say typing words, vs even writing words?
  • Jigsaw puzzle programming

but those are questions for another time.

Here the BJC crew start with a functional approach to programming but then add imperative constructs. I was curious about two things. One was when was the optimal time to do that switch - they weren't sure. I think that's a worthwhile question to explore.

The other question was how to keep students from using the imperative blocks until they're introduced and this is the cool part - they can disable those blocks from the language until needed. Something like the different levels of language with Dr.Racket but apparently with finer grain control.

This course looks pretty exciting and if I do stay in the game and want to look more at the middle school level, I'll be sure to look at it more carefully.

So that's it for today.

Still to come?

  • Microteaching
  • Nifty Assignments
  • And also some closing thoughts
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