Marketing the CT Cafe: Need Delicious Entrees on this Menu

Our marketing plan may be as important as our topical interests. I confess I am somewhat challenged by the difficulty of explaining the big computational thinking concepts to regular folks...people who have not invested themselves in the mission. How to get from where we've been to a more enlightened future is highly dependent on our ability to explain the mission and component concepts. So when Jeannette Wing asks with a straight face why we don't teach the concept "algorithm" in grade school, I immediately cringe and ask myself how many K-8 teachers does she actually know? I don't fault her, I just have reservations about the capacity of the educational pipeline to embrace and deliver new, and in particular, abstract curricular components. We need to concern ourselves with how to make our little cafe appealing. If we want SRO crowds, that menu posted by the door and the accompanying smells wafting out onto the street better be seductive.

It's not exactly as if we haven't been there before. When I was younger, the New Math initiative (interestingly, another NSF project) attempted to deploy widespread understanding of some of the more conceptual domains that academic mathematics employs. Great idea with mixed results. I happened to have New Math delivered by a real mathematics instructor (with a genuine math background...not a PE or History degree) and maybe I was predisposed to math, technology and the AV squad, so it worked for me. But the New Math program large part because the people in charge of delivery were ill-prepared to convey the subject matter, at least using the packages delivered by the visionaries. Whether teachers were excited, intimidated or ambivalent may not really matter, but the program was eventually reeled in after years of parental confusion and complaints. (Lesson: If the parents are not "getting it" through osmosis and fail to "see the point," resistance will be encountered). So, we need to think long and hard about how to go about this business of "getting the words right" or spicing up the menu as it were.

After listening to Jon Udell's interview of Joan Peckham, I reviewed the Computer Science Unplugged curriculum generated by a team in New Zealand. I like the way they've named their units and lessons. We would do well to learn from their example and, perhaps, use some of their ideas to build a strategy or help explain our quest. I recommend you take a look and start stewing on how we make our mission palatable, even delicious to the customers and the serving staff we will be trying to influence.

Excerpt from Table of Contents of the Computer Science Unplugged curriculum
Data: the raw material—Representing information

  • Count the Dots—Binary Numbers
  • Colour by Numbers—Image Representation
  • etc.
Putting Computers to Work—Algorithms
  • Battleships—Searching Algorithms
  • Lightest and Heaviest—Sorting Algorithms
  • etc
Telling Computers What To Do—Representing Procedures
  • Treasure Hunt—Finite-State Automata
  • Marching Orders—Programming Languages

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