Insufficient supporting documentation for the card sorting exercise

csd-unit-1
csd-unit-1-lesson-6

#1

TLDR:

  1. Let the kids use computers frequently and early on.
  2. Provide better explanatory information for teachers of CS Discoveries.

I taught CS Fundamentals last year and I thought the supporting materials were excellent.

By contrast I think the documentation that accompanies the current version of CS Discoveries is insufficient.

I also think that far too much time is spent in this first unit without letting the kids get their hands on an actual computer. No one is excited about programming on paper. It’s great to do off-line activities, but to have all of these lessons and expect the kids to remain motivated without doing stuff with an actual computer is foolish. I understand that having a grasp of the abstract notions that underpin programming is helpful long-term, but you need to mix in actual examples with a computer.

This card-sorting exercise is an example of how limited the teacher documentation is for CS Discoveries. The roles of the student participants are only explained vaguely. Here’s the best Youtube has to offer about how to show the process.

Shout out to Jill Jones. We watched this and my kids were still perplexed about why it all mattered.

Why is processing important? Why should anyone care about this? What are the names of some different sorting algorithms? What is this whole activity demonstrating?

Code.org has provided a by-engineers/for-engineers solution here and you are going to lose your audience. If you want to convince kids that computer science is exciting and fun, you need to give teachers more and to help communicate.


#3

I hear your frustration, but Code.org’s CSD curriculum is more than just teaching coding to students. The first unit is unplugged with a purpose. Many of the teachers using this curriculum are new to computer science. With one of the goals of getting computer science into the curriculum for all students, many students are approaching computer science for the first time as well. By creating an entry level environment in the classroom, every student and every teacher has a reliable starting point. Students work together to develop understanding about basic computer science concepts in an environment they already understand.

Lesson 1.6 is working to help students develop their own understanding of what an algorithm is and what processing really means. Students may not walk away with specific sorting algorithms, but they do walk away understanding that an algorithm is necessary for a computer to process (turn input into output).

When students work together in the processing activity, one student is the pointer and one is the sorter. The sorter cannot see the cards, but they can touch the cards. He/she can only hold two cards at a time. The pointer can see the cards, but not touch them. The pointer selects the higher of the two cards and the sorter decides how to place them with the goal of getting them in numerical order. The sorter is the only one who can decide when to flip the cards. The pointer cannot provide any other information, but which card is higher. Once students successfully order the cards, they discuss what process they used to make it happen. They write up this process. This is completed a couple of times. It’s not until the reflection that students learn that they were writing algorithms. It takes the fear out of the vocabulary and makes it accessible to all. I’d be happy to film a video of my students if it would be helpful. I hope this is helpful.


#4

We disagree.

I think code.org is supposed to be about teaching kids to code, and not more. The curriculum is simply laid out in a way that makes the process boring and needlessly pedantic.

Computers are awesome. Kids know that. Don’t bog them down with weeks of paper and pencil lessons before they get to use a keyboard.

You feel compelled to explain the exercise. You shouldn’t have to. The supporting documentation should make it abundantly clear what the lesson is and how it should be conveyed in the classroom, and why it is valuable. If you want to make a video as a professional development help, I am sure you would find an eager audience.

I recommend teachers skip Unit 1 Lesson 6 as it is currently designed.


#8

Thanks. That was helpful.


#9

I am a little lost on the first activity. I did it this summer but just don’t remember. The warm-up doesn’t explain how the kids sort the cards. Do they flip them all over at once, one at a time, etc? The warm-up instructions could be a little more detailed.

THANKS


#10

Hi Michelle,

The warm-up has “few constraints and is used to introduce a high-level definition of processing.” The purpose of this warm-up is to have students think about the input, output and processing in this activity and to consider that a computer’s approach to solving this problem might be very different from theirs.


#11

I understand that, but do you just let them flip the cards over and put them in order?


#12

When I do this warm up activity, I leave the directions very open. I hand them the cards & say, “put them in order”. When they ask questions, I smile and say, “What a good question!”, but I don’t answer them. The whole idea is to point out that there are tons of ways to sort the cards. Some students will put them in numerical order, some will put them in black/red order, some will leave them in a stack and say they are in order because they are not messy and all over the desk. It just gets them talking about the need for specific instruction which eventually leads to the discussion of algorithms. I hope I’m answering the right question here. Let me know if I’m off base.


#13

That’s exactly the information I was needing. THANKS!!!


#14

I tried this today- really interesting! I even had them figure out a way to combine two stacks afterward- so I could discuss algorithm patterns more.


#15

I appreciate your response and also the OP’s frustrations. Where I would request more support from Code.org is in elaborating more about the need for unplugged lessons. I need this in a format I can show to my students such as interviews and videos from people who have had to work in the field of computer science in environments of varying skill levels and personality traits. When I try to justify this to kids, they don’t listen to me and don’t find my argument compelling (kind of like only wanting to take the advice of a peer even though they’re saying the same thing your parents have told you for years). I have some students who are so much more skilled than I am, and they tell me they want to work at big tech companies. Many of Code.org’s personnel have worked in those environments, and yet I haven’t seen very much so far that explains the importance of cooperation, being able to elaborate verbally, self-reflection, frustration tolerance, and humility. I wish it started there with a more explicit focus on team-building as part of this initial unplugged unit. Hearing the importance of these things from me is not enough during this many unplugged lessons in a row. They need to hear it from you, and they need to maybe see examples of code you have written that got poor feedback, or hear about performance reviews where you were compelled to work on interpersonal skills - things that justify some of the frustrations they go through with these lessons (which to me are more like growing pains, but that doesn’t matter if the kids don’t learn to see them that way).


#16

Allison,

Thank you for taking the time to share this detailed explanation of your concerns and the tips for addressing them. We will not be making major changes to the curriculum for 19-20, other than better support for assessment, but there will be changes in 20-21 that address many of these concerns. We’ll share more about these changes as we look for teachers to try them out during the 19-20 school year, and we will be incorporating feedback such as yours as we develop and improve these updates. (I’ve already logged it in our system.) Please keep an eye out on the forum for more details, especially in regards to whether you’d like to preview some of these changes. Also, please feel free to contact me directly through our support system by labelling your concern as about the CSD curriculum.

Elizabeth