Sunday 24 June 2012

Computer Science – the fourth science by Simon Humphreys

Simon is the co-ordinator of CAS . He likens computer science to music. Just because we know how to code, it does not mean we can teach computer science. In the same way that just because you can play the piano well, it does not mean that you can teach music. He outlined a very shocking statistic that 34% of ICT teachers have no post A-Level qualification in ICT. This simply would not happen in any other subject.

He also clarified a point made earlier by Peter Twining that Computer Science != Programming. i.e. The two are not the same thing and programming will not solve our future problems in computer science or indeed ICT. He fears that what students currently suffer from on regular occasions (Death by Powerpoint) will merely be replaced by Death by Scratch or Kodu, Java, Python. In many cases ICT is taught better in other subjects than it is in ICT lessons. Many ICT teachers have forgotten the purpose/motivation behind teaching skills and merely teach skills arbitrarily to tick boxes/pass exams. Simon states that the point of a lesson should be about abstraction of a concept or key skill and then decomposition of that skill so that it can be applied in different scenarios.

He argues that Computer Science is discipline, like Medicine it has a body of knowledge, school techniques, it is a subject it is economically important and educationally important. And the most empowering thing is, that in the same way that anyone can learn to play a musical instrument, anyone can learn programming and the skills required to teach computer science. We are all teachers and indeed, there are very few teachers like the media make out-who are lazy and just work for their long holidays. In the same way that our student can learn new skills so can we. If you don’t believe Simon, I can give you a quick case study.

Four years ago, I was told I would need to learn Photoshop. I asked for CPD through a course, but department budget was tight, so my head of deptartment bought me a book. I later found online tutorials and I documented my skills in this album. One year later, I was teaching Photoshop skills to A-level Media Studies students and one year after that I became the Head of Media Studies. This is a showcase ofstudent work, many had no exposure to Photoshop prior to the course.

Independent tasks can also be seen here:

So it is possible to learn as both a teacher and a student.

Going back to how we can avoid “Death by Scratch”, Simon says that we have ask students to explain their code. Not in the Death by Printscreen fashion, but rather through peer-to-peer and student-teacher dialogue. Students can also use free screencapture software.

Echoing Peter Twining’s message once again, Simon stated that although ICT is a damaged brand. Changing its name won’t change anything. Like formerly failed brands such as Cadbury’s, Kate Moss and Primark. A genuine change (and seriously clever marketing) can easily sway public opinion!

There are CAS hubs all over the UK. CAS is in 500 schools and there is bound to be events at a hub near you. So what are you waiting for? We have to make this change happen and we have to act together.

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