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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

A fourth “r” for 21st century literacy- How do we give teachers professional development for it?

A fourth “r” for 21st century literacy- How do we give teachers professional development for it?

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http://thepowerofus.org/2012/01/05/a-fourth-r-for-21st-century-literacy-... A student today needs a fourth R: Reading, ‘riting, ’rithmetic and ’rithms, as in algorithms, or basic computational skills. From the floor of the Supercomputing Conference where teachers go to learn, and take courses Immersion into Supercomputing So my question is, how do we expect this to happen if the only outreach is to the teachers who are being wonderfully made a part of outreach who have PHD’s? There are ways to infuse interest, information and create the steps to the fourth “r” but for many students who are taught by teachers with little or no science training. Remember, with NCLB( No Child Left Behind) science was really neglected. Within the supercomputing community, some of us have started to push the envelope. Here is a paper that we wrote to open the challenge to other teachers. Computational Thinking, Computational Science and High Performance Computing in K-12 Education: White Paper on 21st Century Education We are a small group seeking change and inclusion. Do you have to be a PhD to understand the new literacy? I don’t think so. If that is the passport to computational learning there are groups with so little membership that they will never catch up. Look at this data. nsf.gov – Women, Minorities, and Persons with Disabilities in Science and Engineering www.nsf.gov This report continues a series of Congressionally-mandated biennial reports, providing data on the participation of women, minorities, and persons with disabilities in science and engineering education and employment. SOME CORPORATE VISIONS OF WHAT HAS TO HAPPEN The Power of US is an ambitious, nationwide initiative that aims to transform K-12 education, and provide a customized learning experience for every child in America. This is a call for a major effort, similar to a ‘NASA moon shot’, with every student, teacher, school, and community involved in lift-off! Our founder, Jack Taub had an interest in infusing the curriculum into schools K-12 so that computational science would be a natural part of the teaching learning process. Academics seem to push away the classroom teachers, and there will be more PhD’s ,but who of them will serve the minority , urban, distant and poor communities, the ones who need resources the most? There have been countless commission and organizational reports validating the WSJ CEO Council’s conclusion and describing the extent and impact of the lagging quality of America’s K-12 public education system. The following are excerpts from a few current ones. In April of 2009 McKinsey & Company took a close look at the impact of the education deficit between the U. S. and leading foreign countries. They concluded: “If the United States had in recent years closed the gap between its educational achievement levels and those of better-performing nations such as Finland and Korea, GDP in 2008 could have been $1.3 trillion to $2.3 trillion higher. This represents 9 to 16 percent of GDP. … Put differently, the persistence of these educational achievement gaps imposes on the United States the economic equivalent of a permanent national recession. The recurring annual economic cost of the international achievement gap is substantially larger than the deep recession the United States is currently experiencing. (Based on GDP decline in the fourth quarter of 2008 of minus 6.3 percent.)” [1] The Partnership for 21st Century Skills (P21) recognized and addressed another major issue. Without belittling the need for students to have a solid understanding of the content represented by the academic standards, P21 advocates the inclusion of another essential body of knowledge and/or skills as illustrated in the following quote from their website: “to help the U.S. education system keep up by fusing the traditional 3 Rs with the essential 4 Cs (critical thinking and problem solving, communication and collaboration, and creativity and innovation).” (http://www.21stcenturyskills.org/) The problem is, in many of today’s classrooms students are passive, dependent listeners, not active, engaged learners. As a result, they do not have an opportunity to learn or use critical 21st century skills. America’s leaders frequently bemoan the dropout problem, and rightly so. However, we also have a diploma problem – people who graduate from high school without actually receiving an education. To quote a recent study called “Diploma to Nowhere: “A hoax is being played on America. The public believes that a high school diploma shows that a student is ready for college-level academics. Parents believe it too. So do students. But when high school graduates enroll in college as many as one million students fail placement exams every year. Well over one third of all college students need remedial courses in order to acquire basic academic skills. This is a way of looking into the future. Future Work Skills. You will note the computational sciences here. http://cdn.theatlantic.com/static/front/docs/sponsored/phoenix/future_wo... TEACHER SPECIALISTS Say….. Linda Darling Hammond and Tom Carroll do understand the ebb and flow of teacher candidates and the fact that there should be support , infrastructure and community to make significant changes. If you are really interested in change view this video by Linda Darling Hammond. Is there a level of understanding in the academic higher ideational scaffolding about how to broaden engagement and make this new literacy available to all teachers by inclusion? Surely we are not going to go back to the old model of teaching just the eleventh gaders and above who have managed to enter a career path that has been inclusive of computational thinking. The problem there is that there are teachers who have not been exposed to the computational resources to use to develop the skills. Ok let’s tell the truth.Math is not the strongest academic area for most teachers. So how can we make this tremendous change. There are groups working to make this change. But we need the teachers in the classroom to be educated. There are few PhD’s in the minority communities and even those are not in the areas where we need them to teach to create the kind of change that is needed. If you read how people get hired in the essay /interview from Linda Darling Hammond, minority students will hardly get a chance to be taught by someone who is skilled in the computational sciences, or math, or science. We have to change that. Pat Phillips has a wonderful powerpoint that shares the ideas. FROM THOSE ACTUALLY INVOLVED IN TEACHING? Diane Baxter and Mano Talaiver who work with K-12 teachers These two women know to link with the teachers in the classroom and to provide outreach to the teachers , to the learning community and link to the universities. Mano is at Longwood University in Virginia , and Diane Baxter is at the San Diego Supercomputing Center.They have been funded to create change and to help teachers make the neccesary transistions.’ Here is a reason for the immediacy of the change to curriculum.This is long. As a minority , as a woman we are always running to catch up. Technology is ever evolving, Vint Cerf says, this in a wonderful essay. “What about the claim that Internet access is or should be a civil right? The same reasoning above can be applied here — Internet access is always just a tool for obtaining something else more important — though the argument that it is a civil right is, I concede, a stronger one than that it is a human right. Civil rights, after all, are different from human rights because they are conferred upon us by law, not intrinsic to us as human beings.”he says. “While the United States has never decreed that everyone has a “right” to a telephone, we have come close to this with the notion of “universal service” — the idea that telephone service (and electricity, and now broadband Internet) must be available even in the most remote regions of the country. When we accept this idea, we are edging into the idea of Internet access as a civil right, because ensuring access is a policy made by the government.” “Yet all these philosophical arguments overlook a more fundamental issue: the responsibility of technology creators themselves to support human and civil rights. The Internet has introduced an enormously accessible and egalitarian platform for creating, sharing and obtaining information on a global scale. As a result, we have new ways to allow people to exercise their human and civil rights.” In this context, engineers have not only a tremendous obligation to empower users, but also an obligation to ensure the safety of users online. That means, for example, protecting users from specific harms like viruses and worms that silently invade their computers. Technologists should work toward this end.” The Answer Sheet By Valerie Strauss This was written by Cathy N. Davidson, a Duke University professor, self-described “technopragmatist,” and author of Now You See It: How the Brain Science of Attention Will Transform the Way We Live, Work, and Learn. By Cathy N. Davidson What basic skills do kids today need to thrive in the 21st century digital age? The 3 R’s of “reading, ‘riting, and ‘rithmetic” were deemed essentials of mandatory public schooling in the 19th century Industrial Age where mass printing and machine-made paper and ink made books available to just about everyone for the first time in history. A student today needs a fourth R: Reading, ‘riting, ’rithmetic and ’rithms, as in algorithms, or basic computational skills. By getting the youngest kids started on algorithmic or computational thinking, we give them the same tool of agency and being able to make (not just receive) digital content that the 3 R’s gave to Industrial Age learners. Here’s a definition of algorithm adapted from the Wikipedia dictionary. “Algorithm: A process or set of rules to be followed in calculations or other problem-solving operations, esp. by a computer.” Algorithms are the basis for computational thinking, programming, writing code, and webcraft. Just as the last century saw a major educational initiative aimed at basic literacy and numeracy for the masses, the 21st century should be pushing for basic computational literacy for everyone, starting with kids and, of course, with adult and lifelong learning possibilities for all of us. Before mass printing, universal literacy and numeracy were not considered important because the division of those who ruled and those who were ruled was skewed radically, so a small aristocracy controlled the majority of people. With the rise of the middle class in industrialism came compulsory schooling and a push towards universal literacy. Simple access to print doesn’t mean much unless you can read and write. You can’t be middle class without some control over your own budgets, income, earnings, spending, and savings so elementary numeracy is crucial. Algorithms are as basic to the way the 21st century digital age works as reading, writing, and arithmetic were to the late 18th century Industrial era. Here’s some of what the fourth “R” of “algorithms” adds to the standard syllabus of 21st century learning: *Algorithms and algorithmic thinking give kids of the 21st century the ability to write software and change programs to suit themselves, their own creativity, and their desire to self-publish their own multimedia work. Wonderful open source, nonprofit (free!) multimedia programs like Scratch , designed by the MIT Media Lab, inspire kids to “create and share your own interactive stories, games, music, and art.” Or kids can take advantage of the free online web remixing programHackasaurus , created by the nonprofit Mozilla Corporation that develops the Firefox browser. *Learning basic algorithms allows them to create not just content but the actual structures of Webcraft that govern their lives today, including interaction with other kids learning the same skills they are. *It allows for more diverse participation in the creation (not just the consumption) of the digital cultural, as well as the economic, educational, and business products of the 21st century. *It helps to end the false “two cultures” binary of the arts, humanities and social sciences on the one side, and technology and science on the other. Algorithmic thinking is scientific but also operational and instrumental — it does stuff, makes stuff, allows for creativity, multimedia and narrative expression — all worked out within code that has been generated by these larger human and social and aesthetic priorities. *By making computational literacy one of the basics, it could help redress the skewed gender balance of learning right now, with an increasingly high proportion of boys failing and then dropping out of the educational system, a disproportionate number of women going into teaching as a profession, and an abominably low percentage of women going into technology and multimedia careers. Starting early might help level the playing field in several directions at once. *If we don’t teach kids how to control this dynamic means of production, we will lose it. Computational literacy should be a human right in the 21st century but, to access that right, kids need to learn its power, in the same way that the earlier literacies are also powerful if you master them. *For those kids not destined to be programmers when they grow up, this Fourth R gives them access to computational thinking, it shows them what webcraft is and does, and it shows them how the World Wide Web was originally designed; that is, with algorithms that allow as many people to participate as possible, allowing as much access and as little regulation, hierarchy, and central control as possible. *For the Fourth R to catch on, we’d also have to invest in teacher training. That might include scholarships for college students who wanted to go on to be teachers of basic computing skills. Think about the range of societal impacts this would have. It may be true that simple code writing today can be outsourced and off-shored — but teaching the building blocks of literacy for a digital age is an important skill and requires good teachers. *Unlike math, which can often be difficult to teach because of its abstractness, teaching basic programming skills allows kids to actually do and make things on line, that can be shared within the various educational communities supported by programs like Scratch or Hackasaurus. Grade school kids can very soon manipulate, create, and remix, in their very own and special way, with unique sounds and colors and animation and all the things that make learning fun and the Internet so vital. Some have argued that the most important 3 R’s in education are really rigor, relevance, and relationships. Adding “Algorithms” to reading, writing, and arithmetic also helps with that goal. The rigor is not only inherent, but it is observable. You get your program right, and it works. No end-of-grade testing required. Algorithms only when you make them right, so you don’t need external measures. Your progress is charted, tracked, and can be measured against that of others every time you solve a problem on line. What could be more relevant to the always-on student of today than to learn how to make apps and programs and films and journalism and multimedia productions and art for the mobile devices that, we know, are now almost ubiquitous in the United States, if not by ownership then by availability in town libraries, schools, and elsewhere? Finally, relationships: teaching algorithms is hands-on, even when it is done digitally. You correct on a minute level, you learn, you go to the next level. Someone guiding you can make all the difference. If every child began to learn programming along with basic reading, writing, and arithmetic, the world of computer scientists and software entrepreneurs would be far more diverse — in gender, educational background, income level, race and ethnicity, and region. How would our world change if we had something closer to universal computer literacy equal to the old forms of literacy and numeracy which were the object of 19th and 20th century public schooling? What could our world look like if it were being designed by a more egalitarian, publicly educated cadre of citizens, whose literacies were a right not a privilege mastered in expensive higher education, at the end of a process that tends to weed out those of lower income? The 4 R’s. Reading, writing, arithmetic, algorithms. Think about it!

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Phil's picture
Phil
Teacher and Ed-Tech Blogger at BrokenAirplane.com

Great post Bonnie, as you mention there is some inertia to overcome before computational thinking/algorithm design can become the 4th "R". In the past, literacy was one of the primary jobs of the teacher. A teacher was already able to read well and so this skill was relatively easy to teach.

Unfortunately, many teachers do not learn to program themselves before entering the classroom and their training does not include it either. This is a unique situation where we have a critical need but difficulty finding those who are able and willing to teach it.

You mention in your white paper Google's Exploring Computational Thinking site. This is a great resource for teachers and students to start with. It uses Python ( a free, popular, and relatively easy to learn programming language) to help students develop algorithms. At the same time, it demonstrates how computational thinking is present in the curriculum we already use and provides lessons and examples that teachers can start using tomorrow.

While the amount of knowledge to learn has increased exponentially, thankfully the barriers have been dramatically reduced. There are more free resources out there than ever before to learn these skills.

Teacher and Students can start using these free resources right away. There are so many out there to help students learn. Scratch, App Inventor, Alice, Gamestar Mechanic, for example are fun ways to learn while empowering students to create. That's the real joy of learning how to use computational thinking, it allows you to implement your ideas in a powerful way similar to writing and art.

Even though we use computational thinking all of the time, it can be difficult to wrap our heads around the idea so I have highlighted some TED talks involving computational thinking to help educators see the pattern. It truly is the scientific method we are familiar with but optimized for the 21st century with large amount of data and big problems to solve.

Once again thanks for bringing up this vital topic! Let me know if there is anything I can do to help.

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