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C'est la Z

No Magic Bullets - Discovery Learning

The most recent NYC CSTA chapter meeting was "How do I assess CS?" I wanted to go but it's been such a crazy month I was just too wiped out. Fortunately, the meetup was recorded. I was able to watch the first half this morning while working out on my stationary trainer which leads me to today's rare Saturday morning blog post. The meetup consisted of two panels. The first was made up of K12 teachers who taught CS. I can't talk about the second panel yet since I'm only halfway through but there were a couple of points made by my friend Katie Jergens who teaches at Dalton that I thought were worth talking about.

The first was when Katie noted that through working with the panel, one of her takeaways was that:

Giving students an explicit strategy for solving a problem - "this is how I would do it….," - giving them an explicit strategy first and then giving them a problem for which that strategy would apply is much more effective than having them discover it on their own.

This was refreshing to hear after being beaten over the head on discovery learning and constructivism for the past five or so years as being the magic bullet for teachers. I shared more thoughts on this a few weeks ago when I wrote about a SIGCSE paper presented by Bootstrap World that I very much liked.

Katie went on to talk about how the group found that while "discovery learning" can be effective it can also be frustrating and lose kids along the way. It also takes a lot of time and preparation, something that's short on supply in most public schools.

This made me think about the recent flurry of discussion around the debunking of learning styles which had previously been the magic bullet. When I started, the secret sauce was cooperative learning.

Of course any good teacher knows there's no magic bullet. You fill your tool belt and chest with as much as you can and use what's best based on your strengths as a teacher combined with what will work best with your students.

Another point that Katie made that I found refreshing had to do with something she does with her classes. A good portion of a student's grade is based on what she calls a "booster." Each student has to work one on one with her on some project. The student either scores a 0 or a 100 - the student keeps working with the direct support of the teacher until it's perfect.

The important thing that Katie said with respect to this is "I can do this because my largest class is sixteen students." No way could this ever scale to a public school where a teacher can meet with over 150 students a day and barely has time eat lunch let alone work one on one with a student in a suitably quiet place like an office. The refreshing thing to hear was the acknowledgment of the fact that what works in a rich private school won't work in a public school.

All to often education and yes, CS Ed is driven by people who really have no clue. They're anointed as thought leaders but they don't walk the walk. Some have some knowledge and experience but many don't. Until you've gotten a few years under your belt in a strap cashed public school that takes all comers, don't tell them how they should do it. Katie didn't - she acknowledged the problem - too bad so many others don't.

I'm looking forward to watching the rest of the video during a future workout and might have more to share then. For now, take a look for yourself.

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