The Computer Science for High School two-day workshop was held at McKendree University and sponsored by a grant from Google. The workshop focused on defining computer science, distinguishing it from technology applications (such as Web 2.0), reviewing the need for computer science in the workforce, and the importance of introducing students to computer science while in high school. Several impressive guest speakers presented on a wide range of topics, and multiple breakout sessions were available.
One of the biggest things that I learned was the computer science is not the same thing as using tech tools in the classroom. Computer science deals more with the creative, problem-solving skills necessary for things like computer programming. It requires logic skills, and logical thinking, as well as creative problem-solving are two skills that I think every teacher should value, regardless of discipline.
One of the breakout sessions that I saw as having the most direct connection to English (my forte) was a session on using Scratch, a computer program developed by MIT that builds basic computer programming skills. For me, the most obvious connection was that Scratch applies to narrative writing. You program "sprites" (characters and objects) to perform certain actions when the "story" is launched. For me, I translate this into constructing a narrative; I see it as building a story with code. Creating the code requires brainstorming, revision, and--after some time and careful attention to detail--there is publishing. I also thought about having students document their experiences. What worked? What didn't work? When something didn't work, what did you do differently? What types of thinking were activated by this project? How was working with Scratch similar to writing an essay? etc.
As part of the CS4HS workshop, participants are required to create a computer science-related lesson or project as part of their curriculum for the upcoming school year. My hope is to work in partnership with the freshman math teacher at my school in order to create a cross-curricular assignment (that would earn students both math and English credit). I'm looking forward to collaborating with my colleague, and also to seeing in what ways students are challenged, and grow in meaningful ways, as a result of the incorporation of computer science in the curriculum.
Note: As part of what I like to refer to as "education workshop swag" (stuff we all get), every participant received a copy of Scratch Programming for Teens, which seems to contain a wealth of information. And while I'm slightly intimidated by its depth, I'm simultaneously excited to learn what Scratch has to offer.
Note: As a participant in the CS4HS workshop, I will be creating a computer science-related activity for use in my classroom, documenting the experience, and reporting my findings at a later date. At this time, the follow-up workshop is scheduled for November 3, 2011.
Jessica Pilgreen is a high school English teacher, a Piasa Bluffs Writing Project fellow, and a technology enthusiast. The main purpose of this blog is to help her keep track of all of the fabulous tools out there that she has encountered, but if she can help a few others along the way, that's good, too.