28 October 2010

Google Code-in and Exploring Computational Thinking

I run across a large number of education links that talk about how to use a particular computer program or website to create lesson plans or other classroom materials. For example, there are pages like:
I suppose that I run across these a lot because they (on the surface) seem to apply to the topic of 'teaching' and 'computers'. As someone who teaches how to program computers, it can be frustrating that these 'how to teach using computers' pages seem to drown out the content that is of real interest to me.

I can accept the fact that there are more educators out there trying to use computers than there are trying to teach computers and so, Yes I can see how these pages are serving a useful purpose. But No, I still don't find them particularly interesting.

The reason I bring this up is because I've recently come across not one, but two interesting links to Google projects that I think are interesting for people teaching computer science in 6th through 12th grade. Since I work for Google, I was hesitant because I tend to be suspicious of other people who push their employer's projects on their blogs, so I was starting to get suspicious of myself. I don't want this blog to start linking to every 'How to use Google product X in your classroom' document on the web.

But having thought about it a bit, I really think that these projects are both interesting and relevant to K-12 Computer Science educators.

Google Code-in 2010

The first one is Google Code-in 2010, announced back on 7 October 2010. As I read the description, it sounds like Google's Summer of Code (SoC) but for pre-university students.

If you're unfamiliar with SoC, it is basically a summer job for college students where they are paid by Google to work (from home) on a selected set of open source projects. The open source projects act as 'mentor organizations' for the students as they work on their assigned summer task.

For the Code-in, each open source project will propose a set of tasks and students will claim tasks to work on. When the task is done, the mentor organization will evaluate the work and accept the task as done (assuming the work was done properly). For every three tasks, the student gets $100, up to a max of $500.

As is stated in the Code-in FAQ:
It is Google's not so secret hope that the student contestants of today will be long-term contributors to these and other open source projects in the future.
In other words, they hope that students participating in this contest will become computer scientists and programmers.

This is open to students between the ages of 13 and 18 (as of 22 November 2010) and runs from 22 November 2010 until 10 January 2011. The list of mentor organizations hasn't been announced yet, but the list will be posted on the Code-in site on 5 November 2010.

If you're interested, be sure to check out main Code-in site. There are many more details than I can give here, and any updates or changes will be posted there.

Exploring Computational Thinking

The second link of interest is to Exploring Computational Thinking. This site contains a set of lessons created by teachers that can be used to demonstrate computational thinking in a variety of math and science topics, such as:
  • Calculating percent change
  • Determining the distance between 2 points
  • Finding the roots of an equation
  • Understanding Filters (in Cellular Biology)

The site was announced earlier this week so it's still fairly new, but it already contains over 60 different lessons for grades ranging from 6th through 12th.

It will be interesting to see how people make use of these materials since it seems (to me) that they might be most useful for non-CS teachers interested in including some CS material. Although CS teachers should also find the material useful since the lessons make a nice summary of how CS ('computational thinking') can be relevant to math and science education.

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