Computer Science As Cross Curricula

gflogoInitially I was going to write about how well computer science related projects did at the recent Microsoft Partners in Learning Global Forum. After all Louis Zulli won a first prize for Cutting-Edge Use of Microsoft Technology for Learning. And the “When Fish Fly” project won for Collaboration. And those are computer science related projects. And Doug Bergman’s computer science was another of the US based projects that was there. (Note I wrote about CS at the Global Forum last week). But then I read Doug Peterson’s excellent recap of his experiences and observations from the Global Forum (My Takeaways from the Partners in Learning Global Summit – go read the whole thing) and read this paragraph.

* Computer Science seemed to be the black sheep of the family. There were a couple of examples of programming like one project that connected SharePoint to Moodle and a few examples of using Kinect but I didn’t see anything that I would consider hardcore computer programming. Perhaps I need to challenge my own definition of what Computer Science is.

Now when Doug writes something I pay attention. He’s a sharp guy and the fact that we look at things a little differently from time to time is one of the reasons I value his opinion so much. His background is different from mine and he brings good stuff to the conversation because of it. So this paragraph has had me thinking for a couple of days. Now if you read though the lists of the 2011 Global Innovative Educator Award winners you will see some programming involved in some of them. There are several Kinect related projects and at least one Kodu project as well. But hard core computer science or computer programming? Really not so much. Why?

Well I don’t think that is because Microsoft considers computer science to be “the black sheep of the family.” I do see two other causes though. One is that there are just not enough computer science teachers who are doing innovative “hard” computer science entering. This seems, though I could be wrong, to be more the case outside the US than inside the US. But even still there must be more going on everywhere. Perhaps we have a problem where the Global Forum and other Microsoft Partners in Learning programs are not as well known to computer science educators. In spite of me trying to fix that with my blog. Apparently there are computer science teachers who do not read my blog. Yes, hard to believe I know. Smile

The other factor though is more positive at least in my opinion. Generally the computer science efforts at the Global Forum were cross curricular projects. The “When Fish Fly” project was created by a team that consisted of several CS teachers, a math teacher and a Media Arts teacher. It was designed to incorporate aspects of “computer science, fine arts, business and economics ” In short it is more than a computer science project and at the same time less OF a computer science project depending on your point of view.

The second runner up project in the Cutting-Edge Use of Microsoft Technology for Learning category is a similar story. They used Kodu which is at it’s heart of programming tool for younger children. But if you read the description (below) you will see that it is much more than programming.

Second Runner-Up: Zainuddin Zakaria (Malaysia): “Kodu in Classrooms Around the World”: Students create games using Microsoft Kodu Game Lab that teach environmental lessons. Students learn cooperation, logic and creativity in addition to programming, and share the games with students around the world.

There is that whole wonderful environmental lesson (science) piece involved in an integral way. I see this as a good thing.

Now don’t get me wrong I love real computer science – what ever that means – but it seems that making computer science – even if just programming – a tool for learning more than just computer science is a net positive thing. We use math to help learn physics. In fact we can’t study physics without math. We use reading and writing to help us learn history and geography and even “hard” sciences. Why not use computer science to help learn other subjects.

Mark Guzdial has been writing a lot about “context” in computer science is posts such as “We’ve got to teach kids to program, but not as a subject in isolation.” and Fixing Our Math Education with Context and I tend to agree – students need context. They need an answer to “when will I ever use this stuff?”  There is another great value into making computer science more multi-disciplinary though. Finding room in the curriculum in the first place.

I would argue that involving computer science in multi-disciplinary projects helps to move computer science more into the core of the educational process. It helps show the value to administrators as much as it does to students and parents. He helps create a better more rounded learning experience. It helps to in effect justify the existence of CS in the core to those people who for some reason don’t already buy into the idea.

So while I truly would like to see more serious, focused computer science or computer programming projects at next year’s Global Forum (it will be in Athens Greece BTW) I am pretty happy to see cross disciplinary projects that include some computer science, a little Kinect programming, perhaps some Windows Phone development or SharePoint integration along with math, science, history, social studies, current events, environmental awareness or what ever else teachers are looking for innovative ways to teach.

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