It seems that Stuart’s paper concerning the powerhouse questions brings up a salient question that has been central to our discussion over this quarter: If there are certain mental models that correlate to success in a computer science program, how do we utilize this data to help develop a working curriculum for k – 12 students so that by the time they reach an AP course or introductory college course they will be able to succeed? I think this, by and large, drives all of the discussions that we’ve had concerning current efforts to get a toe hold in Washington state schools by carving out a role for Computer Science that will, one day, change into something that would be on par with the other major disciplines (i.e. Math, English, Science, etc…).
I believe, like many in our group, that it is beneficial for anyone who studies computer science, win, lose, or draw, and by study, I mean any serious effort to understand the material and integrate it into their current understanding of the world. The abstract thinking that is required to be successful in a CS course is one that crosses the boundaries between disciplines and allows an individual to be able to understand and break down a problem into manageable bits, in order that progress can be made and eventually a solution obtained.
Now, it is given that there will be those, who don’t choose to put in the time or sadly even those who can’t put in the time, that will fail the course and find that the subject leaves a bad taste in their mouths. But there are also those who do put in the work and try to understand what is being explained to them, and yet still walk away without, in the case of UW’s 14x series, understanding the fundamentals of programming and thus, for most, close the doors on computer science as a whole. I think that these are the individuals that we should be thinking about whenever we are planning a criterion for k-12. What we ought to be asking ourselves is: how do we help students to be able to create the mental models that will allow them to be able to grasp in a reasonable amount of time an integral idea in CS such as an assignment by means of an assertion?
I think that the first step is to establish any stand-alone subjects that focus on computational thinking as early as possible. I think that the best way to see the results of training minds to thinking abstractly and algorithmically will come from beginning the process early. By, not only, utilizing some of the fun activities that we’ve seen through CS Unplugged, but also by making at clear as possible to the individuals that they are thinking and acting like computers; that they are working like a computer scientist; that they are practicing a skill that will benefit them throughout the course of their lives (note that I don’t think that I could make it as clear as possible to a kindergartener).
As they progress through their education, then they are continuously brought back to computational methods and the reasons why they are important and over time, and with clear strategies for reinforcing this thought process throughout a child’s education, I believe that we would see an uptick in the amount of individuals, who when given an expression such as b:=( b = false), they will have had sufficient experience with concepts similar to this, that will allow them to understand the concepts that underlie it. I think this should be the focus and I don’t think that implementing any methods in current AP or introductory college CS courses will change the current trends in understanding.
I know this is all a bit “hand-wavy” and it’s easy for me to expound my views when they aren’t backed up by any hard methodologies or implementations, and that’s correct, it was pretty easy. But I will say this (like the dodge?), I think that more important than any curriculum that can be set down is the teachers that impart the information to their students, using methods will be understood by as many as their students as they can manage. I don’t know if anyone will argue that there is no value high enough that can be placed upon a teacher who can get students to grasp complex ideas in a manner that allows them to understand it almost seamlessly. I can’t describe how you train someone to do this, but I know that most of us have had the benefit of being taught by such a one. So, when looking over the articles that were referenced in Stuart’s article and listed on the Educ 401 webpage, I ran into a post on secretgeek.net concerning the paper “The Camel Has Two Humps” by S. Dehnadi and R. Bornat ( in Stuart’s sources) that claims to be the response of Alan Kay in regards to this controversial paper (these are the guys who claimed that they could 100% accurately predict who would succeed at and who would fail at computer programming, using indicator questions similar to Stuart’s powerhouse questions). I was unable to verify if it truly was Alan Kay, but regardless it is a very well-thought and enlightening post and I have linked it here and I think it’s a beneficial read, so check it out! EOM.