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#CSHinterland Book Update

I’ve been lucky enough to get some time to write the book this summer. Thanks in part to the fact that I’ve pretty much planned the curriculum over the last two years, and I know that there is a whole set of new resources available from the NCCE and as we speak they are being recorded as narrated lessons for the Oak National Academy, I don’t feel under pressure to plan extensively for September.

So here I am in France, having driven straight here, we stayed in our car as much as possible, taking a picnic for the journey and drove all the way in one day, just stopping for fuel and coffee from a machine.

I have the best view of any office, and in a break from the book I daubed the attached picture of my view. Trust me, the real view is even better than this:

In author world, I have written about 3.5 chapters of a planned 13, if you want a word count I am up to 15,000 and I have to say I’m really excited and pretty proud of the way it is shaping up.

As discussed in the previous post, the target audience is teachers of Computer Science, the subject matter is centred around the typical GCSE specification, and each chapter follows a similar pattern. I cover some of the hinterland of the subject: stories that link the topic to world events, to other topics in our subject and to other subjects in the curriculum, illuminating our beautiful subject and bringing it to life. Then I discuss some of the current research in Computer Science Education and how it informs CS-specific Pedagogical Content Knowledge: that secret garden of teaching know-how, PCK of which teachers of other subjects have a vast store they can draw upon, but is still immature and sparsely known by many Computer Science teachers, because our subject is so young and we must rely so heavily on non-specialists. Those teaching techniques that work and make us effective CS teachers, from post-it packet switching to pair programming. Finally each chapter covers some common misconceptions, so we can head them off before they take hold.

It should be an enjoyable read and although aimed at UK’s Computer Science GCSE teachers, it should be very useful to CS educators at all levels, but also accessible to students at KS4 (US 9th & 10th grade) up to undergraduates on a computing-related degree course.

Here is a sample from the chapter on Programming PCK.

When Peter Samson wrote his music player program for the TX-0 in 1959 (see Languages chapter), his “mind had merged into the environment of the computer”. With the advent of high-level languages, however, the capabilities of the computer have been extended far beyond basic arithmetic and logic, to include abstract data structures and complex algorithms to process them. It is no longer possible to hold in one’s head the entire computer. But to interpret, correct and write programs in a given language we must have a good understanding of the capabilities of that language, running on the machine in front of us. We say that learners must construct in their heads a notional machine.

A notional machine is the set of capabilities that a programming environment affords to the programmer. Understanding a notional machine enables a programmer to answer questions such as: What can this programming system do for me? What are the things it can’t or won’t do? […] What changes in the system does each of my instructions bring about as my program runs? How do I reason about what my program does?” – Sorva 2018

Without a notional machine in the mind of the learner, they don’t have a viable model of program execution. They can’t reliably predict what the computer will do with their code. This leads to misconceptions.

table of misconceptions

I’m really enjoying authorship, and there has been lots of interest from colleagues who want a copy of the book, from other educational content creators wishing to collaborate, and offers of proofreading, so thank you all.

All I need now is a name. The working title is CS Hinterland, but covering the PCK means it needs a new one, perhaps one of these? Feedback welcome here via comments on WordPress or on Twitter @mraharrisoncs, thank you. Publication is likely to be December, but who knows, it’s my first book so anything could happen!

By mraharrisoncs

Head of Computing, Manchester.

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