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Brian Scarbeau Insights from a seasoned Computer Science Trainer


I read with great interest in the ACM Communication magazine, a letter from the President David A. Patterson. The article is entitled “Computer Science Education in the 21st Century.”


His letter is based on his position statement for a workshop on the preparation of IT graduates for 2010 and beyond. His opening paragraph starts off by admitting that in the past we created obstacles to reduce the number of CS majors and he states” we should take advantage of reduced pressures from the dip in enrollments to revamp our curriculum.”


The we that President Patterson is referring to are all colleges and universities. In my opinion, I think high school computer science curriculum should also be addressed during this period.  Our school for example like all schools in the US has a computer literacy graduation requirement. Because we are a k-12 school we were able to accept the middle school computer literacy course to meet this graduation requirement and we require our upper school students to take any computer science course which includes: Honors Programming, Digital Design, Web Design and Video Production.


In the past, students could not take these courses because their schedule was filled with graduation required courses, AP courses and no time to take more courses. This change has allowed these students to learn something knew with technology and our students have benefited a great deal.


We also made changes in our Web Design class to include dynamic page development with ASP.NET. I created some curriculum for Microsoft in Web Matrix that I used several years ago and now I use Visual Web Development with them.   Students learn how to work with database applications and are doing web programming in this non-programming class. Many students have no clue what it takes to write a program and they learn that it’s really not that hard and they find it’s quite challenging and they have fun!


The honors programming class introduces JAVA and Visual Basic.NET programming.

In my honors programming advanced class I have made this class to be a games programming class where we have used Blitz Basic and Gamemaker to create games. Microsoft has some nice C# game curriculum that I’ll use next year with my students.


The changes we made in our high school curriculum were needed and as I meet computer science teachers across the country they too realize that it’s time to change the curriculum where they teach.


President Patterson makes a good point in his article by saying that a dramatic change would simply be if students first wrote clear specification and then built software using modern tools and software components. He embraces the open source movement and outlines several assignments that would be interesting to students like have a team of students help debug a large system by using documentation that other students have written.  Also, have a team of student’s list improvements to open source software.


Getting back to my high school curriculum at Lake Highland Preparatory School in Orlando, FL, we are using dotnetnuke open source software written in Visual Basic.NET and training our advanced web design students on how to use this web portal in a working environment and how to write their own modules and skins as well.


There are some things on President Patterson’s list like having college students build a supercomputer which is something I can’t do at my high school but his vision is one that other college professors would benefit from by getting together and talking about what they should teach. They should also invite industry professionals to discuss their programming needs so that everyone is on the same page.


The article ends by saying “Let’s learn and try creating CS courses that we’d love to take and teach, and that will capture the exciting opportunities and challenges of our field and of our students.”  Needless to say, I love to teach and I love to learn as well. Sometimes my students are the best teachers.


There are plenty of resources for teachers to use to get started.

Posted on Thursday, March 2, 2006 12:15 PM | Back to top

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