Today was the final day of AP CS50 bootcamp at Microsoft. The amazing staffs of Harvard and Microsoft taught us about all of the tools that are already embedded into the course as resources for student learning. The vast array (pardon the pun) of lecture videos and online resources will be amazingly useful for my students and I, as we work through this material. I also feel relieved to know that if I am less familiar with particular quirks of C or the other languages in the course, I can quickly find a short video to play for my students that will easily explain the idea. Additionally, there are HUGE social networks of people working on problems sets all over the world through the edX course. I personally submitted a question about a particular problem set and got a useful and correct answer in under five minutes through slack from a woman in New Zealand that was moderating the forum. It was quite incredible. New computer science teachers and veterans alike will also benefit from the ability to direct students to a walk-through video of a problem set so that students can move forward without individual help from the teacher, and without being handed a solution. This will also teach our students how to use resources to learn CS independently, which is a necessary skill for a Computer Scientist.
As an aside, I was totally fascinated by the thoughtful process Harvard used to create the mini-tutorials. Apparently, each script is passed through the department and vetted by experienced Harvard Computer Scientists for accuracy before being recorded. The staff writes them to be as short, interactive, and efficient as possible so that students get the nugget they need without extra information. It is very effective.
The pieces of the course that are not yet developed are those for high school teachers like me, who are obviously not at Harvard. For example, a tool to help with teacher pacing is being created so that we can adapt this twelve week course to the number of weeks that we have in our school year with recommendations regarding essential topics and those that can be optional. They are also working to break up the problem sets into more bite-sized chunks for high school students with some possible smaller assignments. Harvard and Microsoft are also working out the process through which teachers might more efficiently grade student work and possibly utilize automated problem set checkers. We were told that we would also have access to Harvard rubrics for grading the more subjective elements of students’ code. Finally, a set of videos for teachers about pedagogy are being developed. Harvard and Microsoft have been incredibly forthcoming about the fact that each of these plans will be adapted based on our feedback and needs. We will not have all of these in some neat little bundle this year, but that is OK with me. I think it is actually pretty phenomenal to be trusted with this process, and told that my feedback might influence how this course for high school might finally be built. Not many folks in this world are willing to share their work before they have fully tweaked it, much less open it up for critique and criticism. I see it as a sign of boldness and confidence on the part of this Harvard team.
The best thing that Harvard and Microsoft did, however, was to put this highly motivated and brave group of educators together in the same room. It was INVALUABLE to have face to face interaction with these folks and know that I am part of a tribe. After just two days, I can tell how thoughtful these educators are and how much they take risks and innovate in order to make great things happen in their classrooms. We were told that an online forum for teacher communication will be created for all of us to participate, and I truly hope to hear from all of the voices that I met this week through that forum. Together, we will be unstoppable, and we will be able to create resources that other high school teachers can use in their own classrooms. I hope to let someone stand on my shoulders, just as I am standing on CS50’s.
Finally, I am excited to see where this journey will take all of us. None of us know how students will respond to this amazing and rigorous opportunity, yet I feel certain that this innovative group of educators from Harvard, Microsoft and high schools across the country and in Canada will adapt and adjust as needed and pass on their lessons learned. Harvard has entrusted us with their curriculum and invited us to innovate for our particular environment. It is a gift that I take very seriously, and I will try to carry out with joy!
More to come as I share how that goes…