Computer Science: A Scientific Discipline, Not Technology Content


Computer Science (CS) education is receiving an increasing amount of attention from the business community, educators, and policy makers. These advocates have worked for years to rally the public to support CS education in our elementary and secondary schools. And, the public is listening. Several states  have developed policies to include CS as part of the core curriculum in their school districts. Proponents of CS consider this a huge victory. But for those that are working at the school level, we still have a ways to go in helping parents and school staff understand the field of CS.

Defining Computer Science

Generally,  parents community advocates, and educators define CS as computer literacy or programming code. CS is neither. Computer Science is the study of computers and algorithmic processes, including their principles, their hardware and software designs (Tucker, 2003).  In simple terms, computer science investigate how to solve problems or develop a solution using a procedure or a formula.

Because CS is offend defined incorrectly or confused with its many subbranches,  school systems make the mistake of teaching computer science as part of their technology curriculum. “Computer science is a scientific discipline and not a ‘technology’ that simply supports learning in other curriculum areas. Computer science is not about point and click skills. It is a discipline with a core set of scientific principles that can be applied to solve complex, real-world problems and promote higher-order thinking” (Gal-Ezer, Haberman, Stephenson and Verno, 2005).

Teaching CS  as a Discipline

Since Computer Science is part of the scientific field, districts should not include it as a technology elective. Most schools are moving away from this practice. However, they are limiting the study of CS  to focus solely  on programming (coding).  Yes, coding is an important part of computer science, but it is only one aspect of the discipline.  There are other concepts in CS that need to be taught in addition to coding. Instruction should focus on problem solving, algorithmic thinking, computer architecture, and computation. By not teaching all of CS scientific concepts, students get a false sense of this discipline.

School systems ought to consider teaching CS in a tier approach. (Just like they teach math, science  and reading). Every grade-level focuses on a scientific principle; each concept is built upon each year.  This will allow students to build their intellectual understanding of CS. It will also allow their parents to become familiar with the content area as their child progresses in school.

Helping Parents and Students Embrace CS

Most parents and students perceive computers as mechanical devises that support learning in school. It is difficult for families and kids to shift this perception and embrace CS as a science. For decades, parents have been taught to associate computers as educational tools, not as  a scientific process to solve computing problems or devise new ways to use computers.

School systems have to educate their families that CS is a mathematical science, which stems from engineering design and mathematical analysis.  I would even recommend referring to CS as “Computational Mathematics.” The name change allows families and students to visually connect this disciple with a traditional subject. Another option is to make CS a graduation requirement  in addition to the academic core (Math, Science, and Language Arts). This would make sure that all students have access to CS,  and it informs the school community that it is a vital area of study.

Source:

  • CSTA (2005). The New Educational Imperative: Improving High School Computer Science Education Using worldwide research and professional experience to improve U. S. Schools. Available at: http://csta.acm.org/Communications/sub/DocsPresentationFiles/White_Paper07_06.pdf
  • Image courtesy of KROMKRATHOG / FreeDigitalPhotos.net



Categories: Instruction, Science, Teaching & Learning

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