Computer Science Beyond Just Programming

These days I have a lot of my conversations with teachers via MSN Messenger. It’s pretty easy to notice that someone is online and send a quick hello to see if they can talk. I try to keep my outgoing pings to when I really have something to say because I know that teachers are busy during the school day. And I’ve had the experience of a chat window opening during a demo and kids wanting to know “who is Roseann and does Mrs. Thompson know about her?” But honestly I love getting distracted from my own work. Working out of my home office I don’t get a lot of social time during the day where I can just chat with anyone. So when a teacher friend sends a “hello do you have a minute to chat” I generally am ready to chat.

Yesterday one chat with a teacher friend for Texas developed into a discussion about wanting to teach more than programming in a computer science course. There is a of course a lot more than just programming in computer science. While there isn’t a lot of time to cover as much as we’d like it would be nice to at least introduce some of the big issues that are not programming. Some of these are as much ethical and political as they are technical.  Pat Phillips introduces one such topic in her blog this week.

The issue in question is the recent news about the NSA setting up a huge data mining operation to study phone calls made by Americans. This involves important technical issues to be sure. How do you set up a database like that? How do you search it and what sort of things do you look for? But there are clear ethical and political questions around privacy and Constitutionality as well.

Reality Check is a service at MainFunction that helps to facilitate this sort of big picture discussion. Each edition of Reality Check includes a topic, references to online news about the topic and questions that can be used in class or out of class to get students to think about important computer science issues of the day. If you want to take your students beyond programming I urge you to check it out.

BTW if you are a teacher who would like to chat via MSN Messenger my account there is Be sure to introduce yourself the first time you “call.”

Comments (4)

  1. orcmid says:

    Your title threw me.  I thought we were going to look for the science in computer science, and not programming.

    I concur on the broader issues about the context in which computer science is done (I always fancied the term "computer milieux").

    And, as I have been gathering up materials on Visual C++ 2005 Express Edition for beginners and students, I have begun to wonder how to segue into where enthusiasts can find computer science content, some related to programming and also related to the science of it all as well as the setting of it all.

    Have you had to deal with that?  (I suppose I should look at the AP curriculum, but what else?)

  2. Well which I talk about in the post is one place to look. Especially look at Reality Check but there are a lot of good articles in the archive. There is also the Computer Science Teachers Association web site ( that has a lot of good links and growing all the time. I am hoping to learn more about a workshop at Carnegie Mellon call CH 4 HS that looks like it will cover the science in computer science. ( So people are looking at the right things I think.

  3. orcmid says:

    Thanks.  I’m interested in this and will dig deeper.

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