Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Week 12 Readings

Both of these articles talk about introducing computer programming into K-12 education as a way of helping students learn math and science.  I have some reservations, which I’ll go into in a minute, but on the surface, I think this is a great idea.  Part of my undergraduate background is in bioinformatics, which is essentially molecular biology meets computer science – gene and protein sequencing, protein structures, comparative analysis, pathway analysis – all of them fall under the bioinformatics background.  Having students use computer programming, or as the Sengupta paper called it, agent based programming, to investigate the unique challenges and phenomena observed in biological systems could be very interested.  My reservations lie in the fact that I am not a computer programmer.  We have talked quite a bit in this class about the importance of developing expert thinking in our students; however, in this regard, I would be a novice, potentially even more so than my students depending on their own experiences programming.  Also, as the Sengupta paper notes, it is very difficult to learn how to code and would tie up valuable class time if I had to teach them from my limited knowledge of Python and R.  However, the visual interface systems described in the Sengupta paper would probably be very helpful in alleviating these difficulties. 

The other thing both the Sengupta and the Grover articles discuss is the importance of Low Threshold, High Ceiling activities when using agent-based modeling.  I highly agree with their recommendations, especially in our current digital age.  It is likely that at least some of our students will come in with some prior knowledge of how to program while others will know nothing.  Activities that are able to serve both ends of the spectrum will go a long way in successfully using these strategies in our teaching.


  1. When encountering a knowledge gap in computational thinking, like the one you describe here, I think there are a couple solutions to this. First, although you do not have expert knowledge in programming, you do have expert knowledge in Biology, and surely this is an asset you can utilize--finding ways to model CT by minimizing the effect of your not-expert knowledge of programming must be possible. This is also where using the 'community' as we discussed last week can be a vital resource. Finally, if we are undertaking an integration as significant as this, then I would imagine the long-term nature of this integration will allow time to learn programming to the necessary level of teaching Secondary Ed, which I suspect is not a very high level.

  2. While I can see the potential obstacles posed by a lack of knowledge of computer programming on the part of the teacher, I don't think they are necessarily insurmountable. First off, while coding can definitely be a class in and of itself, there are many simple "drag and drop" programs that are both simple and intuitive, but still encourage the same CT thought process. Furthermore, I don't think CT necessarily requires actual knowledge of CS. While it obviously helps, Sengupta et al really discuss the characteristics of the thought process itself, which can be taught largely independently of CS.