EppsNet Archive: Education

Teaching Computer Science: Inequality = Bad?

I’m volunteering a couple mornings a week in a high school computer science class . . . “Why don’t schools and classes have sponsors?” I ask one of the teachers. “When my kid was in school, they were always complaining about not having enough money. So why couldn’t you, for example, come in and say, ‘Hey kids, before you come to 1st period, make sure you have a good breakfast at McDonald’s. I’m lovin’ it!’? “And McDonald’s pays you 100 grand or whatever to say that.” “My concern,” he says, “is that would lead to more inequality in education.” I’m not sure he really thought that through. It seems more like a mechanical response to an abstract notion, i.e., “Inequality is bad.” As a parent, I always supported inequality in education. I wanted my kid to get the best possible education, better than most other kids. As a classroom volunteer,… Read more →

Teaching Computer Science: Say Your Ideas Out Loud

[I learned about Scary Ideas from Jim and Michele McCarthy — PE] I’m volunteering a couple mornings a week in a high school computer science class . . . “The main thing I wanted to tell you is that you’ve got to say your ideas out loud . . . “A scary idea is not an idea that’s going to scare people when they hear it, it’s an idea that you don’t want to say because you’re afraid of how people will react to it. Maybe they’ll think you’re crazy. “Here’s a couple examples of scary ideas. “You recognize the speaker in this video?” Everyone does. “Ok, let’s see what he has to say.” I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth. “Keep in mind that he’s… Read more →

Teaching Computer Science: All Are Welcome

I’m volunteering a couple mornings a week in a high school computer science class . . . “Computing,” I tell the class, “is like most professions in that some groups are under-represented and some groups are over-represented. You may have heard that the reason some groups are under-represented is because computing as a profession is more welcoming to some people than others. “I haven’t found that to be the case and I’ll tell you why. “My perspective on this is that if you walk through the workplace at a typical technology company, you won’t see people who look like me. I’m too old and I’ve been too old for quite a while now. At this point, I’m usually old enough to be the CEO’s father. “So to the extent that people want to work with other people who look like them and people who fit into the group, that doesn’t… Read more →

Teaching Computer Science: Don’t Worry About Spelling and Grammar?

The following is part of the Code.org online curriculum, asking students to write a brief reflection on starting a computer science class. That seems like an oddball thing to say in an educational context. “Let’s talk about the instructions here for a minute,” I said to the class. “One: it doesn’t make sense to me to compartmentalize education like this. Like spelling and grammar are only important in an English class and this is not an English class so don’t worry about it. “We’ll be taking a holistic view of education here. I hope you’ll learn some things about computer science but I hope you’ll learn some other things as well. “On a practical note, you may find yourself competing for a job someday, and if it’s a good job, there are likely to be a lot of applicants. “No one wants to read a large number of resumes, so… Read more →

Teaching Computer Science: Why Was I Not Consulted?

I’m volunteering in a high school computer science class a couple mornings a week . . . If you’re going to work with computers, you need to be able to move around between different number systems, most commonly base 10, base 2 and base 16. As a warm-up, I asked students how many ways they could represent the quantity 7. Answers included the word “seven,” roman numerals, seven dots, a septagon, a Chinese symbol, and so on. “Quantities exist naturally,” I said, “but number systems are man-made. They’re just a set of symbols along with an agreement about how to order them. Why do we use the number system that we do? Who decided that?” Because I phrased it in a provocative way, some students realized that they hadn’t been consulted. “Yeah, no one asked me,” one student said. “Raise your hand in math class,” I suggested, “and ask ‘Why… Read more →

And That’s the Truth: Held Back by History

[And That’s the Truth is a feature by our guest blogger, Sojourner Truth– PE] Black folks been treated very poorly over the years. Jews been killed and run out of almost every country on earth. Asians been slave labor, ostracized, put into prison camps. Now Jews and Asians are doing all right for theirselves. Why are black folks held back by history and other folks aren’t? Never been a Jewish president, never been an Asian president, maybe never will be. Politicians never helped nobody. They promise to give you this or that, or such and such a privilege, if you will give ’em your vote and your money, and when the time comes, they recollect nothing of the kind. Don’t wait for people to do things for you. Keep your families together and make sure your kids get a good education in school. And that’s the Truth! Read more →

A Tolerant and Diverse Society

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11,000 New Computer Science Teachers Considered Harmful?

Here’s the start of an email I got from Code.org: We’re kicking off our summer workshops to prepare 11,000 new CS teachers. Last month we welcomed over 600 teachers, facilitators, and Regional Partners to Atlanta, GA for our largest TeacherCon ever. On top of TeacherCon, we also have 350 K-5 workshops and 167 workshops for middle and high school teachers planned this summer, where we expect an additional 10,000 teachers who plan to begin teaching computer science for the first time this fall! This is heralded with an exclamation point, like it’s exciting news, but as a computer science person, I can’t get excited about it. Why do we want kids to be taught computer science by 11,000 teachers who know little or nothing about computer science? How can someone teach something that they themselves don’t do? See if you can get excited about any of the following possibilities: 11,000… Read more →

Philip Roth, 1933-2018

The final question assigned to the class was “What is life?” Merry’s answer was something her father and mother chuckled over together that night. According to Merry, while the other students labored busily away with their phony deep thoughts, she — after an hour of thinking at her desk — wrote a single, unplatitudinous declarative sentence: “Life is just a short period of time in which you are alive.” “You know,” said the Swede, “it’s smarter then it sounds. She’s a kid — how has she figured out that life is short? She is somethin’, our precocious daughter. This girl is going to Harvard.” But once again the teacher didn’t agree, and she wrote beside Merry’s answer, “Is that all?” Yes, the Swede thought now, that is all. Thank God, that is all; even that is unendurable. — American Pastoral RIP Philip Roth Read more →

Women in STEM: It’s Ambiguous but You’re Still Wrong

The Dartmouth student newspaper reports on a study finding that gender affects an individual’s perception of women’s anxiety in STEM disciplines. Men are more likely than women to attribute this anxiety and self-doubt to internal factors, while women usually attribute such emotions to external factors. Participants in the study read one story, among a selection, about an undergraduate woman taking a STEM class. In the stories, based on the experiences of actual undergraduate women in STEM, the female main character expressed having anxiety or self-doubt. It was ambiguous whether the instructor in the stories harbored any biases against women. According to research team leader Mary Flanagan, “Women identify the problem as something that is familiar and men identify the problem as something that is a particular student’s problem. Men are not seeing the systemic biases as much as the women are. That is something that we need to address in deeper… Read more →

Teaching Computer Science: How to Get Top-Notch Teachers in the Classroom

I read something every day where educators and/or elected officials are talking about the importance for our kids, our country, our future, etc., of teaching computer science, the sticking point being an extreme shortage of qualified teachers. A person entering the workforce with a computer science degree is unlikely to go into teaching because of the opportunity cost: they can earn a lot more money as a software engineer. The likelihood of getting a mid-career tech industry professional to switch into teaching is even lower. Teacher salaries are based in large part on years of service. A mid-career person switching into teaching is not going to get a mid-career teacher’s salary, they are going to get a first-year teacher’s salary. So here’s the idea: Give CS professionals the opportunity to apply their years in industry to years of service as a teacher. It’s still a pay cut going from software… Read more →

Two Reasons For the Low Number of Women in Computer Jobs

I saw this chart on LinkedIn with the heading “Chart: Women in tech continue to face uphill battle” and the hashtag #STEMSexism. The first reason for the low number of women in computer jobs is that we rarely hear about women in computing except in the context of pay gaps, harassment, discrimination, “uphill battles” and #STEMSexism. It’s self-perpetuating. “Computing is a terrible profession for women in so many ways.” Followed by “Why aren’t there more women in computing?” You’ve answered your own question. If you think computing is a hostile profession (I do not, btw), why do you want more women to go into it?   The second reason for the low number of women in computer jobs — sometimes the simplest explanations are the best — is that women prefer to do other things. Men and women are different and make different choices about their lives, as a result… Read more →

Teaching Computer Science: Asking for Help

I’m volunteering a couple mornings a week at a local high school, helping out with computer science classes. This morning, in AP Computer Science Principles, the teacher went through an explanation of the hexadecimal number system, then gave an in-class assignment for students to convert their cell phone number to hexadecimal. Not in two parts, 3 digits and 4 digits, but as a 7-digit number. It seemed pretty obvious from the interaction and the body language and the looks on their faces that a lot of students didn’t get it, but in a class of 25 students, only one student asked for help. Until the teacher finished with that student and asked “Does anyone else need help?” and eight more students immediately raised their hand. I asked the teacher, “Can I address the class for a minute?”   “First off, doing a 7-digit hex conversion is not easy. I know… Read more →

Making it Through High School Alive

Baltimore schools spend a staggering $16,000 per student – the fourth-highest rate in the nation – and still an investigation by Fox45’s Project Baltimore revealed that at six city schools, not one student scored proficient on the statewide tests for English and math. At West Baltimore’s Frederick Douglass High, one of five high schools and one middle school where not one student scored a four or a five on the state test, only one out of 185 students who took the test last year scored a three, while 165 students scored a one, the lowest possible score. — Zero Hedge The schools are: Booker T. Washington Middle School Frederick Douglass High School Achievement Academy at Harbor City New Era Academy Excel Academy at Francis M. Wood High New Hope Academy It looks like if you live in Baltimore, you want to avoid sending your child to a school whose name… Read more →

To Young Women Considering a Career in Technology

You’ve probably read a lot of articles about how sexist and awful the culture is for women in technology. I think if anything deters young women from technology careers, it’s this glut of articles saying how sexist and awful the culture is. I’ve worked in software development for 30 years. In my experience — and feel free to discount this because I’m not a woman — the culture is not tough for women. If anything, men give women the benefit of the doubt because they’d like to have more women around. As Holden Caulfield used to say, “I like to be somewhere at least where you can see a few girls around once in a while, even if they’re only scratching their arms or blowing their noses or even just giggling or something.” Yes, I have seen bad things happen to women in tech, but I’ve seen bad things happen… Read more →

10 Reasons That NY Times Chart Might Not Mean What You Think It Means

From the New York Times: Money is not the only metric for measuring life outcomes. Charts and articles like this seem to reflect an inappropriate obsession with narrowly materialist values. If you do want to measure your life with money, it looks like the 99th percentile is where you want to be. Why aren’t you there? Why aren’t you a CEO? Why aren’t you making a million a year? If you can’t figure out how to get there, don’t begrudge the people who did figure it out. If you don’t have the education, motivation, intelligence or skills to get there, don’t begrudge those who do. The amount of wealth is not a fixed amount. It’s not a zero-sum game. If it were, it would be concerning that a few people are very wealthy. But it isn’t. The distribution of income has to be skewed to the right because income is… Read more →

Why Are Black Americans Against School Choice?

Most or all of the people booing Betsy DeVos know little or nothing about her except that they’re expected to dislike her for reasons that they may know are related to her views on public schools and school choice. But why are black Americans against school choice? I don’t want to overgeneralize — my son went to public schools and got a good education — but it’s all on the kids and their families to make it happen. Without school choice, public schools don’t have the right incentives. People running public schools aren’t paid by customers who voluntarily send their kids to those schools and who could choose to send their kids to another school if they wanted to. Public schools are paid for by taxing citizens who may or may not have kids in the schools and regardless of how well the schools actually perform. The funding is independent… Read more →

Strong Opinions on Betsy DeVos

I’m seeing on Facebook that a lot of people have strong (negative) opinions today about Betsy DeVos, who has been nominated as Secretary of Education, despite the fact that 99.9 percent of them had never heard of Betsy DeVos until about five minutes ago. Why do people suddenly have a strong opinion about someone they’ve never heard of? How is this possible? Because they’ve been instructed to have a strong opinion about Betsy DeVos in order to be consistent with the image that they have of themselves and the groups they want to fit in with. BTW I have no opinion about Betsy DeVos at the moment because I had never heard of her until about five minutes ago . . . Read more →

It Never Ends

I just received an email alerting me that the Irvine Public Schools Foundation’s annual fundraising campaign ends December 31. Let me guess, the next annual fundraising campaign starts on January 1. Read more →

Shake it Off (aka Haters Gonna Hate)

A Chinese woman tells me that being around white guys inhibits her ability to make edgy (i.e., racist) comments about white guys . . . I reply, “White guys didn’t get to be what we are by peeing in our pants and crying for our mamas every time someone calls us a name. Haters gonna hate. That has been amply demonstrated. We’re just gonna shake, shake, shake, shake it off.”   Some people are offended by absolutely everything, some people are offended by nothing, and everyone else is somewhere in between. The people at the easily offended end of the spectrum get most of the attention. People who hear a trigger word or a dog whistle that wouldn’t bother a normal person and they’re bleeding out all over the place like hemophiliacs. That’s where most of the focus is, it seems to me. It’s a distorted view of reality. My… Read more →

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