Monthly Archives: December 2014

Computer science teaching in USA

I am very surprised – nay, gobsmacked – by this stat.

"Even if students are fortunate enough to be in one of the less than 10 percent of U.S.high schools that offer computer science..."

Why there’s no such thing as an ‘F’ in computer science

How do I align this with my concept of the USA being the temple and forge of so much computer based technology?

Do they poach a lot of their computer scientists from overseas?

Is training yourself to be a “hacker” better than a formal education?

Do most computer geeks in the USA leave school with formal education and home grown programming skills and then do computer science at college?

I am so surprised by this little snippet that I stopped reading the rest of the article.

 

 

How to make teaching great.

I have made it a rule of mine to ignore internet articles that say something like “Seven reasons..” or “Five great…” or “Nine things…”.

Articles that promise short, sharp lists of things are link bait. And like most link bait tactics it works, you are tempted to click. Though when you get to taste the articles they contain slim content, are easy to read, and usually disappoint. So I generally ignore articles listing things.

Unfortunately I have to ignore my rule because I am interested in reading about teaching. So with a little trepidation I clicked on this link – Seven ‘great’ teaching methods not backed up by evidence. And as the article was on the theConversation.com website made me think it was going to better than something I found on yahoo and its paler imitators.

And it was interesting, and better still, it had a link to substantial report – What makes great teaching. There is even a summary of the report –  How to make teaching great – for those who don’t want to plough through the 57 page report.

And then I started digging around a bit more and discovered that there is a book that has a very similar title Seven Myths About Education by Daisy Christodoulou and also book review A Perspective of ‘Seven Myths’

I have not read and digested all of these resources. My quick skim reading has left me with the impression that all these writers favour direct knowledge led teaching by subject matter experts. They generally agree that there is no such thing as an abstract skill. All skill and knowledge are interwoven – though that leaves me wondering is there not such a thing as a transferable skill.

Thus far I using this post as a bookmark. I have the book on order from the library and I am going to print out the Sutton report – sometimes known as print and disregard.

My initial thoughts is that I am not experienced in the background of this debate. It is all new to me. There seems to be two broad camps in education. What I will characterise as traditional teaching and method teaching. The traditionalists prefer teacher lead teaching, explaning, testing, assessing, scaffolding etc. The method teachers prefer discover led learning, group activities, gamification etc.

Hmmm… a lot to digest.

 

 

 

 

 

A bee needs 6 grams of honey

A bee needs to eat 6 grams of honey to make 1 gram of wax or beeswax. This is the assertion made in the description of the production of beeswax at the Design Museum.

The production of beeswax and its use in efficient hexagons inspired Torsten Sherwood to choose honeycomb as their top design structure.

Personally, I find the evolutionary explanation of honeycomb to be all the more 
wondrous and inspiring. In a world limited in resources, bees that use wax most 
efficiently are more likely to survive, and given enough time this would naturally 
produce a race of bees building the optimized hexagonal design. This insight 
reveals honeycomb true designer, not God or even the bee, but the process, design 
methodology even, of Darwinian evolution.
Honeycomb of beeswax

A honeycomb made of beeswas forming a hexagonal tessellating structure.

An interesting concept of design: a blind designer, a design process is his top designer.

I wondered if this could be modeled using algorithms.

1. How many grams can each worker bee collect to feed the colony? What is the optimal ratio of collectors to hive workers?

1. Only bees sufficiently well fed could exude beeswax?  How much beeswax do you need to make a honeycomb to breed new workers and store excess honey? How do they choose between larvae or honey?

3. If we got hives to use alternative structures, which would be able to produce the most surplus and thus survive or grow bigger.

I thought it would be a nice test of efficiency in shapes within algorithms describing a similar process, but with one aspect different, the shape of the honeycomb.

Making a Mind Map at the Design Museum

I visited the Design Museum, London, on the excellently named street Shad Thames. I have never been before and I was curious to see what was on. I was also looking for a present for a friend.

Whilst I was there I started thinking about what links I could make between the concepts and ideas I saw at the museum and any future lessons plans.

In the Designers in Residence 2014: Disruption I found they had a hands on section, with pens, pencils, and paper and an open invite to respond to the exhibition.

As I had been in the museum for about 2 hours I was overloading with ideas for teaching and decided to sit down and draw a Mind Map of “Teaching Computers.” I started just playing with the colours and drawing shapes and lines and added concepts and links as they popped up.

I will write a post about each idea at a later stage.

It was a very interesting hour spent amongst all the objects and other ideas crowding round me. I need to start writing up my notes and ideas.

Mind Map - Teaching Computers

 

The growth mindset

I dislike simple ideas that promise great success.

The world is too complex for there to be simple advice that will work for all people in all situations. Except perhaps for “keep breathing.”

And so it is with a recent trend to invoke “the growth mindset” within educational circles. Take for example this recent post from Dylan Wiliams Is the Feedback You’re Giving Students Helping or Hindering?

"Students must understand that they are not born with talent (or lack of it) and that
their personalities do not determine whether or not they are “good at math” or 
“good at writing.” Rather, ability is incremental. The harder you work, the smarter you get. Once students begin to understand this “growth mindset” as Carol Dweck calls it, 
students are much more likely to embrace feedback from their teachers."

So that’s simple then. You will get better if you only you work harder AND if you understand that only hard work works.  It’s all down to blood, sweat and tears and a little gritty determination then.  Or as Carol Dweck has it:

Talent = Hard work + Persistence (A Growth Mindset)

I am a little wary of these sort of simple statements. People do seem better able at somethings than others: playing the piano, dancing, maths, or spelling. It seems to be innate.

And is there not a role for the environment, your cultural background, the wealth or lack of it you have to call on? Are there not a lot of studies that show that one of the biggest determinants of your exam achievements is your socio-economic status? Here is a great take down of Dylan and the Growth Mindset – The Growth Mindset : Telling Penguins to Flap Harder?

I do wonder if this Samuel Smiles “boot lace pulling” methodology to success is a variant of your political viewpoint. The upside, poverty will not grind you down if you work hard. The downside, if you are still poor then it is because you have not worked hard enough. Your choice. Now stop whining about inequality.

Anyways. And then I saw this study Understanding the success of London’s schools. This study has gone into a detailed statistical analysis of the UK’s exam and Ofsted results and finds that after correcting for all kinds of categories, like ethnicity, background, etc:

"More broadly, my interpretation of this leads to a focus on pupil aspiration, ambition and engagement. There is nothing inherently different in the educational performance 
of pupils from different ethnic backgrounds, but the children of relatively recent 
immigrants typically have greater hopes and expectations of education, and are, on 
average, consequently likely to be more engaged with their school work. These results 
help to explain the ‘London Effect’; they do not explain it away. My argument is that 
the London effect is a very positive thing, but much of the praise for this should be 
allocated to the pupils and parents of London for creating a successful multi-ethnic 
school system. By the same token, there is less evidence that education policies and 
practices had a large part to play in terms of innovative policies."

Interesting. So the role of effort is demonstrable here. Why? Are there special circumstances at work here? Is the Growth Mindset not so bad after all?

I need to read this 35 page report in detail and see what I think. But I find it a challenge to my above dislike of the Growth Mindset.

 

Some references

I have been reading “Independent Thinking” by Ian Gilbert and got a little annoyed by one bit of his otherwise interesting book. My review is here.

Anyways, here are two references to other books from his book.

And two quotes from the books.

1, “The highest goal of education is to teach people to ‘read and write the word’ so they can come to ‘re-read and re-write the world’.”
P Freire “Pedagogy of hope” 

This resonates. In an earlier post I was asking what the purpose of teaching was. Gilbert quoted the above as the summation of his philosophy of teaching. At the moment it works for me too. I will come back to it and expand on this.

2. “Before you build a boat you have to need a boat”
Zoe Elder “Full on learning: involve me and I’ll understand”

This is appropriate to me. I started a website to learn how to make websites. I started blogs for the same reason. I have never written a computer program because I have never had to to achieve something with a computer that I could not do with somebody else’s program. I have tinkered with other people’s scripts and I have made some basic “hello world” programs as part of a class room exercise, but I have never thought of myself as a programmer.

 

What is education for?

I am beginning to read about education theories, education policy and chalk-face teaching stories.

Yes, I am preparing myself to train as a teacher. Hopefully I will be starting a course in September 2015, training to teach 11-18 year old children, specialising in Computer Science.

I am picking up lots of swipes about educational “fads”: e.g. “learning styles”, or “growth mindsets”.

And I was reminded of something David Hume nearly said: most arguments are about the definitions of the concepts used.* Once the concepts, the words, and their underlying ambiguities have been exposed, the debate can then agree on what they mean and don’t mean and the proceed to talk about what the real issue is.

I was reminded of that when I read this in the comments section of a blog post – The Growth Mindset.

“I believe the purpose of the education system should be to prepare all children for a life as independent adults, and to offer academic or vocational opportunities which suit their interests and abilities.”


So before getting involved in an argument about whether this research demonstrates this or that, we should always have in front of us an agreed principle of what education is for. And no doubt we will have a lot of definitions.

And this is where I come up short. I mostly agree with the statement above, but worry that in practice education is about work: getting qualifications that will get jobs, or at least the first step on the rung of the career ladder. After that we all know it’s about hard knocks.

And this is where I get flumoxed. There is yet a bigger issue, an assumption, behind the definition above. What traits, what qualifications, what skills, what experience leads to success and what is success anyway?

I ought to lie down.

My way of coping with this is to come back to this question about what is education for. For in that definition are the crooked timbers I can use as cudgels against the sea of fads.

I hope.


….
* What Hume said was “the chief obstacle … to our improvement in the moral or metaphysical sciences is the obscurity of the ideas, and ambiguity of the terms.” (EHU 7.1.2/61)