Teaching Computer Science

Image result for computer scienceIt has been slow realization that as a technology educator, part of the difficulty in communicating with parents, students, administrators and the community at large about what we do and why it is important is because we don’t have a coherent message that people can quickly grasp and understand.

When you say “Math, Science, Language Arts or Social Studies” everyone knows what those mean because they have an understanding based on their own experience with school. But when we just say “computers” or “business”, we sell ourselves short because those terms can mean almost anything. When I tell some people that I teach computers, I sometimes get “do we really NEED to do that anymore?” or “programming?” at which point I then need to go into a lengthy description about how computers are much more than just checking email or Facebook or playing games. If we called it Computer Science, we could give our subject area more legitimacy and send a message that this subject is more than just these basic typing or web surfing skills. It would also gets us closer to being the fifth core class, along with Math, English, Science and Social Studies, which is something that this nation sorely needs.

Right now this country is technologically advanced but computer illiterate. We depend on that one person in our family who is “good with computers” to keep us safe, up-to-date and everything running. And while these individuals are probably enthusiastic about technology, they have probably been self-taught and have gaps in their knowledge. These times are very similar to the late 19th, early 20th century when a large portion of the population had no formal education and had to depend on others to read, write and do arithmetic for them, typically a family member who was either self taught or could afford the time and effort to go to school. But right now we still have the ability to start the process of educating the next generation with the knowledge and skills needed to become technologically literate and allow this generation to not be fooled or taken advantage of by those who are more technologically savvy.

So what should Computer Science include? For me the list would include:

  • Basic understanding of Hardware, Software and Internet communication
  • Cyber Safety and Digital Citizenship
  • Coding and Programming
  • Basic knowledge of HTML and CSS
  • Basic knowledge of cloud apps and collaboration

Within these five categories we can explore a multitude of skills, such as keyboarding, 3D modeling, problem solving, and critical thinking. Then like the other disciplines of Math, Science, Language Arts and Social Studies, we can branch out into specialty areas.

Digital Photography

Image result for nikon d3400While I’ve always been interested in taking photographs, I’ve never had any driving interest in being any good at it. I’ve always wanted to take a good photo of something that I was experiencing but I’ve always felt that going too much into the details of things like ISO or focal length was too much to bother with.

Then I became the Yearbook teacher at school and so I HAD to learn how to take better photos, just so I could teach the students. Thanks to hours on YouTube, I put together some of the basic skills of photography but I also realized how much more I needed to learn. I used some of the budget money from the Yearbook fund to purchase a DSLR camera (the best purchase I could have made for the Yearbook) and just started practicing.

Things have been going pretty well for a couple of years but now I’m ready to step up my game. So this past Christmas I purchased my own personal DSLR which I’ve also been using off-and-on for the past several months. But now I plan on taking the next few months, mainly summer break to start really learning all of the ins and outs of photography and becoming better at it.

This will also help me in my other endeavor of digital animation which I’ve been playing with in Blender.

Bluetooth Earbuds

For Christmas I purchased a pair of Bluetooth earbuds since most new phones are coming out with no headphone jack. Also, I think that the technology is finally getting good enough so that they are something that might be worth it. So I was watching the reviews for a few months to see which ones would be a good buy. I didn’t want to spend too much since I’ve purchased Bluetooth headphones and earbuds in the past (the kind that are wired together) and they worked for a while but eventually their batteries gave out. So I settled on some Losei earbuds for about $30.

I’ve been using them on and off for a few months now and they have worked out pretty well. There are a couple problems but nothing that has kept me from liking them. The first thing is that they don’t stay in my ear very well. The piece that goes into the ear cavity is a little too large to fit in there but this is a problem that many people have with most Bluetooth earbuds. They come with a very comfortable, rubberized, over the ear adapter that holds them in pretty well. I still need to be careful because they will fall out if I’m not careful, so how well they would work if I was running I’m not to sure about. But since I don’t do much running, they have worked pretty well.

The other thing that I had a problem with is that one of the buds failed after a few uses. I contacted the company and they were great about replacing just that earbud. You can use both earbuds together, although it is a little tricky to get them both working at the same time, But the way I use them is that I have one in while the second one is charging, then after about four hours, the battery on the first one runs out, so I just swap them and keep going. I was worried about how they would charge, but the charger has a built in magnet that holds the earbuds on the charging contacts and actually hold them on the base pretty well. I’ve taken them with me in my coat pocket and they have stayed connected to their charger despite being bumped around. The base has it’s own battery and help to charge them when not plugged in.

So overall they have worked out pretty well and I’ve very happy with them.

Computers in the Public Schools

After meeting today with my other computer teachers, also known in my district as business teachers, I am more convinced than ever that Computer Science needs to be its own subject. By making computer class part of the business curriculum we severely limit the possibilities what we can do in our classes. We have a classroom full of humanity’s greatest invention for creativity and communication and we are constrained to teach students how to type business letters and make business cards. Don’t get me wrong, it’s important to have some knowledge of business skills because our students will all be in the business world at some point, but to limit ourselves to only teaching business skills really limits the possibilities of our students. Computers can do so much more, from writing the next great novel, to composing the next great symphony, to modeling the next great building, there is so much we could letting our students explore, that we are sadly missing this opportunity.

That’s why we need to split Computer Science out and make it the next core class, alongside math, language arts, science and social studies. This is what Chicago Public Schools is doing, and they are also making Computer Science a graduation requirement to make sure that all students are getting the exposure to this set of knowledge. Image if all public schools did this in some form! I realize that school districts would need to provide computers or computer access to all of their students and would need to build the infrastructure to support all of these computers, but many have figured out ways to do this. Earlier this year the BBC in Great Britian was able to give every 11-12 year old a micro:bit so that they could explore coding and be makers. If we did those kinds of things here in the US, image the possibilities.

Computer Science as 21st Century Literacy

Much like reading and writing was the literacy for the 20th century, I firmly believe that computer science will be the literacy for the 21st century. Throughout the 20th century, people knew that to get ahead in life you needed to be able to read, write and do arithmetic. It became a staple in our public schools and it became the literacy that we measured everyone against. And now at the beginning of the 21st century we can look around and see that we have done a pretty good job of getting everyone at least the basics of these three skills. But for the next century we need to go to the next level.

Some, like Elon Musk and Ray Kutzweil believe that within this next century, there will be a merging of humanity with our technology. Some of us already believe this is happening today. How many of us would be totally lost without our phones? Without our laptops? Without the Internet? We depend on computer technology for almost everything today, and without computers we wouldn’t be awoken in the morning, we would be able to make our breakfast, we wouldn’t be able to take any transportation to work and we wouldn’t be able to do our job.

This is why we need to have a computer literacy that we start teaching in the 1st grade and we steadily add to it throughout our schooling so that we have a literacy for our technology like we has a literacy for our society.