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efficient way to learn for Simon, and his
concern was for motivation:
When, for whatever reason, students
cannot construct the knowledge for themselves, they need some instruction. The
argument that knowledge must be constructed is very similar to the earlier arguments that discovery learning is superior
to direct instruction. In point of fact, there
is very little positive evidence for discovery
learning and it is often inferior ... Because
most of the learning in discovery learning
only takes place after the construct has
been found, when the search is lengthy or
unsuccessful, motivation commonly flags.
A teacher of introductory computer
science faces the tension between let-
ting students figure out complex situ-
ations and telling students the answer.
I’m going to describe the tension using
a generalized, perhaps even stereotypi-
cal description of what students want.
As Valerie Barr has pointed out (http://
bit.ly/2nFRSFx), teachers need to un-
derstand the students who are in their
classes, not generalizations. While the
generalization I’m using doesn’t ac-
curately describe all students, the gen-
eralization matches how CS teachers
think about their students (http://bit.
ly/2nYA3nE), which does explain what
we do in our classes.
A student who takes an introductory computer science course wants to
make something. Even if the student
doesn’t want to become a professional
software developer, they want to
create software, to design something digital. We want to go from where they are
to producing something interesting.
The challenge (as Briana Morrison
and I describe in the November 2016
is that students enter CS class with less
background in the discipline than any
other STEM field. It’s difficult to design
when you don’t understand the medium that you’re designing with.
We know students need to develop
an understanding of what the computer
does when it executes programs. Computing education researchers call that
the notional machine (see the report
from a Dagstuhl Seminar group on student learning about notional machines
at http://bit.ly/2oy1KoO). To design and
‘Figure It Out’ Isn’t
Enough: Striking a New
Design in Introductory CS Classes
January 9, 2017
A computing educator has to balance
teaching efficiently and motivating the
student. Efficient teaching means teaching abstractly, emphasizing practice,
and preferring direct instruction over
having students “figure it out.” Motivating the student means giving the students authentic situations, real-world
complexity, and reasons to practice.
I recently wrote an essay describing
this tension ( http://bit.ly/2nFRuGZ).
Herbert Simon (one of the three authors
of the Science article first answering the
question “What is Computer Science?”;
http://bit.ly/2nFIzpf) strongly believed
in direct instruction, rather than problem-solving. Having students “figure
out” the solution for themselves, to discover solutions to problems, was an in-
CS Efficiently with
Mark Guzdial suggests a new balance is needed in computer science
education between discovery learning and direct instruction.