TITLE: Looking Forward to Time Working
AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford
DATE: March 29, 2009 11:39 AM
In real life there is no such thing as algebra.
At this time next week, I will be on my way to
for a working session. Readers here know how much I
enjoy my annual sojourn to this working conference,
but this year I look forward to it with special fervor.
First, my day job the last few months -- the last
year, really -- has been heavier than usual with
administrative activities: IT task force, program
review, budget concerns. These are all important
tasks, with large potential effects on my university,
my department, and our curriculum and faculty. But
they are not computer science, and I need to do some
Second, I am still in a state of hopeful optimism that
my year-long Running Winter is coming to an end. I
put in five runs this week and reached 20 miles for
the first time since October. The week culminated
this morning in a chilly, hilly 8 miles on a fresh
dusting of snow and under a crystal clear blue sky.
ChiliPLoP is my
favorite place to run
away from home. I never leave Carefree without being
inspired, unless I am sick and unable to run. Even
if I manage only two short runs around town, which is
what I figure is in store, I think that the location
will do a little more magic for me.
Our hot topic group will be working at the intersection
of computer science and other disciplines, stepping a
bit farther from mainstream CS than it has in recent
years. We all see the need to seek something more
transformative than incremental, and I'd like to put
into practice some of the mindset I've been exploring
in my blog the last year or so.
The other group will again be led by Dave West and
Dick Gabriel, and they, too, are thinking about how
we might re-imagine computer science and software
development around Peter Naur's notion of programming
as theory building. Ironically, I
mentioned that work recently
in a context that crosses into my hot topic's focus.
This could lead to some interesting dinner conversation.
Both hot topics' work will have implications for how
we present programming, software development, and computer
science to others, whether CS students are professionals
in other disciplines. Michael Berman (who recently
sent a comment on my
Sweating the Small Stuff
that we need to keep in mind whenever we want people to
learn how to do something:
-- Fran Lebowitz
I think that's an essential observation, and one that
needs to be designed into the curriculum. Most people
don't learn something until they need it.
So trying to get students to learn syntax by teaching
them syntax and having them solve toy problems doesn't
teach them syntax. It's a mistake to think that there's
something wrong with the students or the intro class --
the problem is in the curriculum design.
I learned algebra when I took trig, and trig when I
took calculus, and I learned calculus in my physics
class and later in queueing theory and probability. (I
never really learned queueing theory.)
One of the great hopes of teaching computation to
physicists, economists, sociologists, and anyone else
is that they have real problems to solve and so might
learn the tool they need to solve them. Might --
because we need to tell them a story that compels
them to want to solve them with computation. Putting
programming into the context of building theories in
an applied discipline is a first step.
(Then we need to figure out the context and curriculum
that helps CS students learn to program
without getting angry...)