Saturday, February 2, 2013

Writing in the Computer Science Classroom

So, you think you are not an English teacher? Guess again.

Disney's Paperman 
This is a good article about the new Disney short film Paperman.  We'll be using this article as a prompt in the CS Principles class this week. In making the short Disney combined traditional hand drawn animation with the CGU technology with a piece of software called Meander.

For the CS Principles Pilot this year the focus is on assessment - how will Collegeboard test the kids at the end of the year?

One major change from the existing AP Computer Science course is the addition of written portfolio items. You can preview them here under Prototype Items. Students are asked to write to demonstrate learning in the CS Principles class.

The best way to prepare for a written assessment is to write, go figure. So though out the course I have the students respond in discussion boards and journals. My goal is once a week. Just like with coding frequent practice leads to mastery.

It has been very interesting to see the student's reactions. In the pilot class I have a wide range of abilities. Some are seniors taking mostly IB and AP classes, others might not take a single advanced class while in high school. From all the computer science teachers I talk to this is pretty typical. It means that we cannot make assumptions about the students' writing levels.

One thing I learned last year was I had to be very explicit about what academic writing should look like. While they have all written English papers, it doesn't always occur to them that rules like "write in full sentences" apply in the computer science class.

We finished up the first Portfolio papers right before winter break. Since the Internet Unplugged is the second unit I cover int he course we did the Internet Portfolio paper. We'll be doing the ones on data and programming over the next two months.

I'll summarize more about the Internet Portfolio papers and the experience of working on them with the kids later. Right now I am just trying to come up with enough interesting discussion board topics to keep them writing until the next round.

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