The research in our National Science Foundation funded project, Building Capacity for Computer Science Teaching in a Rural State, centers on the development of five lessons meant to supplement the Exploring Computer Science (ECS) curriculum. These five lessons attempt to link ECS curriculum objectives to real-life applications of them in Maine businesses.
Using activity stems from tryengineering.com combined with computational thinking concepts used by Maine businesses, we created and piloted our first draft documents. We learned three things from this first attempt:
- The activity stems were not well-grounded in pedagogy and needed improvements that did not fit within the timeline of the grant;
- Maine students did not identify with some of the iconic businesses such as LL Bean and The Jackson Laboratory because they either had little knowledge of them or felt intimidated by their institutional feel; and
- Teachers did not have enough time in their curricula to do an additional major activity.
With this feedback from our first cohort of teachers, we shifted to a more local and organic model. We have created five very short (3-5 minute) videos of people who use computers in ways consistent with the ECS curriculum. Each video comes with a lesson plan and pairs with one ECS unit. For example, one video features a dental hygienist who describes using the web to determine potential drug interactions and to verify the authenticity of that information (Unit 1: Human-Computer Interaction). In another, an automobile technician walks the interviewer through a flow chart, or algorithm, as a means to diagnose and solve car troubles (Unit 2: Problem Solving).
These new lessons have proven popular with teachers and students due to their local nature; almost every town has a dental hygienist or auto mechanic. An unexpected benefit of these fast and cheap videos (which were made using smartphones) is that teachers can challenge their students to make better videos using similar types of interview questions.