Computer Science is NOT Boring!

Posted by Jai Halford on Aug 17, 2010 0 comments

Well I guess a lot of people, especially students thing computer science is boring. According to a recent article (Steve Furber: why kids are turned off computing) the UK’s Royal Society is trying to understand why students are not interested in studying computing. One conclusion they have come to early on is that “something was happening with the way ICT and computing was presented at schools that was turning the kids off.” IN short, computing is taught in a boring way. Digging deeper into the article we find that people are confusing ICT (information and computer technology – think Office applications) is computing. Well of course it is not. Worse still those classes are boring as can be so there is less incentive for students to do real computing.

Of course there are some boring “real” computer science courses out there as well which doesn’t help. In the article, Steve Furber is quoted as saying “the curriculum may actually allow everything that’s necessary, but it’s simply that the materials aren’t there to support the interesting bits.”. That’s a little scary because we really DO have to tools to make it interesting. For example:

  • Kodu – for young people
  • Small Basic – Includes turtle graphics and a really simple IDE
  • Scratch
  • Alice
  • Visual Basic – you know you can get the Express edition for free right?
  • Greenfoot
  • XNA Game Studio – develop games for Windows, Xbox 360, Zune and Windows Phone 7

And the list goes on and on. These are tools that make program development fun and interesting. And dare I see even exciting! The two problems I see are that not enough people are trained and ready to teach using these tools and secondly that many people, especially some administrators, are too afraid of things looking like too much fun. After all school is serious business and shouldn’t learning be painful? The answer to the second problem is to point out that most people learn more when they are enjoying the process. Don’t most teachers love their subject and strive to make it fun? Teachers of all subjects create and use learning games so let’s get serious about adding some fun to computer science.

The first problem is harder and in the long run we need more computer science teachers who know what they are doing enough to enjoy the classes themselves. I think administrators need to commit some money (yes, even in this economy) to invest in training opportunities for computer science teachers. There are workshop out there. CSTA supports Teacher Enrichment in Computer Science (TECS) events and the annual Computer Science and Information Technology symposium (THE must attend CS education event of the year in my opinion) which are great. There are many more great training events around the country. Yes I know that school is starting and many of these events are in the summer. But many of the TECS events are both local and during the school year. Plus I think administrators should be thinking now about asking for more training money for next calendar year.

What ever it takes let’s show kids that computer science is anything but boring. It is a way to change the world for the better.

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