Sunday, December 27, 2009

Cool Geeks

From the NY Times, a great article about computer science careers that are about being a "cool geek". Basically it is saying that there are careers of all kinds based off from a degree in computer science. (And given this is true from many other degrees, it seems obvious but many people still think computer scientists sit in a basement and write code.)

It starts with a photo of Dr. John Halamka, the CIO at Harvard Medical School, with yes, the geekiest of childhood photos.

"Dr. Halamka grew up to be something of a cool nerd, with a career that combines his deep interests in medicine and computing, and downtime that involves rock climbing and kayaking.

Now 47, Dr. Halamka is the chief information officer at the Harvard Medical School, a practicing emergency-ward physician and an adviser to the Obama administration on electronic health records."

It also highlights a graduate student from the UW Department of Computer Science and Engineering, Kira Lehtomaki, who nows works for Disney Animation.

The issue is one that I find true for a lot of students; they simply don't know the diversity of work out there. I have told kids this (based on my own work experience) by holding up a book. I tell them that someone designed the cover of the book - picked the photo/drawing, picked the font and its size and placement, etc., that someone edited the book, that if it's a text book or technical book, someone designed the graphs. Meaning, there are many jobs that are not entirely visible to students and they need to know that there is a lot more out there than doctor, firefighter, lawyer (or rap star or athlete).

From the article:

"Educators and technologists say two things need to change: the image of computing work, and computer science education in high schools.

Today, introductory courses in computer science are too often focused merely on teaching students to use software like word processing and spreadsheet programs, said Janice C. Cuny, a program director at the National Science Foundation. The Advanced Placement curriculum, she added, concentrates narrowly on programming. “We’re not showing and teaching kids the magic of computing,” Ms. Cuny said.

The agency is working to change this by developing a new introductory high school course and seeking to overhaul Advanced Placement courses as well. It hopes to train 10,000 high school teachers in the modernized courses by 2015.

One goal, Ms. Cuny and others say, is to explain the steady march and broad reach of computing across the sciences, industries, culture and society. Yes, they say, the computing tools young people see and use every day — e-mail, text-messaging and Facebook — are part of the story. But so are the advances in field after field that are made possible by computing, like gene-sequencing that unlocks the mysteries of life and simulations that model climate change."

Ms. Lehtomaki explains how her degree helps her:

"Her computer science education, she said, is an asset every day in her work, less for technical skills than for what she learned about analytic thinking.

“Computer science taught me how to think about things, how to break down and solve complex problems,” Ms. Lehtomaki said.

Reformulating a seemingly difficult problem into something a person can know how to solve is “computational thinking,” which the new high school courses are intended to nurture. Some schools in Los Angeles County are experimenting with the introductory course, called “Exploring Computer Science,” including South East High School in South Gate, Calif. Last year, 35 students were in a pilot program, and this year the course is being taken by 130 students."

Robert Teich, a professor at UC, Berkeley, chimes in:

"Most new jobs in the modern economy will be heavily influenced by technology, said Robert Reich, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, and former labor secretary in the Clinton administration. And they will require education beyond high school, though often two years or less.

These workers, he said, will be needed in large numbers to install, service, upgrade and use computer technology in sectors like energy and health care.

“These are jobs for what I think of as digital technicians,” Mr. Reich said. “And they are at the core of the new middle-wage middle class.”

This all ties into the idea of the STEM program at Cleveland. It should encompass the idea of how STEM ties to jobs. Kids need to know how they will, hands on, use this knowledge and what jobs there are out there that need that knowledge.

(That said, I still have grave doubts about the STEM program, mostly around funding. I am hearing of some rumblings of needing about pushback on the program to some degree given the state of the district's budget. It's frustrating because it is difficult to know with any degree of certainty what the Board and the district will decide to do until they roll out the program.)


Stu said...

That said, I still have grave doubts about the STEM program, mostly around funding. I am hearing of some rumblings of needing about pushback on the program to some degree given the state of the district's budget. It's frustrating because it is difficult to know with any degree of certainty what the Board and the district will decide to do until they roll out the program.

This is the main reason why we're not even considering the STEM program for our son. I find it hard to believe that the district will follow through on the promises and funding. This program, if done right, could really be a feather in the district's cap and successfully draw from all over Seattle. However, it needs some sort of non-cancelable 5-10 year program and funding commitment and I don't trust that this administration won't just cut and run if things don't look good in a year or two.

I really think they showed their spots with the whole Jane Addams thing this past year. They announce a K-8 Math/Science school, with Spectrum, for the North/Northeast and then after people start getting excited, and commit to the program, pull back. I know there were other issues with capacity and funding in the cluster but those issues, regardless of whether or not the district noticed or acknowledged them, existed before making the Summit/Jane Addams changes.

I have seen no evidence that this district learns from it's mistakes nor do I see any proof that they have any idea how to get a handle on the maintenance and budget problems. Though it's always tempting to be one of the first in an exciting new program -- small classes sizes, excitement, funding -- knowing that this district could simply change it's mind at a moment's notice means we would never take the risk. Our son deserves the best we can give him but part of that is predictability and stability.


reader said...

If they decide NOT to do the STEM program, then what options does the district have for Cleveland? Are they just going to leave the whole building empty? Obviously not. It isn't a neighborhood school any more, it would still need to be some sort of OPTION school. Since it is going to be an option school no matter what... what else could they choose? An arts magnet? Got that already at Center School. A "social justice" theme? That doesn't sound broad enough for high school. It seems clear that they will have to do some version of STEM.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Oh, don't get me wrong; I do believe they will do something at Cleveland with STEM. They don't really have a choice now. How wide-ranging or how quick the roll-out remains to be seen.

I'm with Stu. If I saw that someone like Paul Allen or Bill Gates were to commit to a $1M a year for 10 years for this program (a la New School Foundation and South Shore school), I'd believe it had a firm foundation. If you couple that $1M with the opening money of around $3M from various sources (BTA III, donations, etc), it would be a great start for the program.

But Betty Patu is right; no new money means the money comes from somewhere else. Who loses so Cleveland can have some success? And, cobbling together money to start a program with no real foundation to continue it is not the road to success.

Maybe they are working on something like this. It's probably likely that they are. But the shortness of planning for this program and the quick roll-out don't bode well for success. I truly hope some benefactor steps forward to give the program the foundation it needs.

Stu said...

Don't get me wrong, reader. I actually think that the STEM idea is a good one. What concerns me is that they're trying to do SO many different things, all of which need money, that I don't see how they're going to support the program AND do anything else.

It greatly concerns me that they've already gone on record as saying that some of the newly-opened schools will have to wait for a year or two for their programs because of a lack of funding. What does that say about excellence for all? How can they expect families to commit to programs that are GUARANTEED not to have direction or funds?


Jet City mom said...

I really think they showed their spots with the whole Jane Addams thing this past year. They announce a K-8 Math/Science school, with Spectrum, for the North/Northeast and then after people start getting excited, and commit to the program, pull back.

So was it worth it to casually dismantle a school community that is not replicated elsewhere in the district that has been in existence for almost thirty years.
Was the objective to get the " building away" from Summit or was it to take the heat off Eckstein?
It accomplished one objective- but not the other.

reader said...

Summit/Addams things isn't exactly equivalent to the new Cleveland. The district had a program that people didn't really want in Summit. Let's get real, 6 families selected it for K. 6. That's a non-starter, no matter how great it used to be 30 years ago. It had fallen out of favor.... and was lingering on. And busing people from everywhere... for a dying program, without some measure of generally accepted merit... didn't seem worth it to the district. Lots of people probably agree. They also had to take the pressure off Eckstein, and the other middle schools, not to mention elementaries. Even if it wasn't the perfect start to a school, Addams will succeed one way or the other... and will accomplish both goals. (killing a program nobody was choosing, providing space where needed)

Cleveland on the other hand was a school few selected... but some were forced into. Now it will be all voluntary... (except for maybe some disabled kids who may still be sent there, who knows). Why should it cost a lot? Why should it be appreciably more expensive than anywhere else? If it is, why do it? Having a voluntary program, dedicated to high interest fields seems pretty good to me... especially since the busing costs are now gone.

Stu said...

The funny thing is that, for years, we were hoping that the district would turn Jane Addams into a K-8 for the Northeast Cluster. Years back, when they were talking about closing Sacajawea (for political reasons only . . . school was full with a waiting list . . . we couldn't get in) many people were trying to float the idea of taking the whole Sacajawea community, perhaps combined with John Rogers, and moving them to Jane Addams.

Had the district committed to the Jane Addams K-8, with the math and science AND language immersion, they would have attracted a lot of families. The sin isn't that they closed Summit, though many would argue your points, it's that they didn't support the new Jane Addams BEFORE it even opened. Why would any family commit to 8 years at a school when the district is only committing to 3?

THAT'S the parallel with Cleveland. STEM might be the program we've been waiting for but, regardless of how much I think my son might thrive there, I would personally never choose a program without some sort of guaranteed commitment of support from the district.


dan dempsey said...

The Cleveland problem exemplifies the district's refusal to design an effective k-12 math program for educationally disadvantaged learners (and lots of others).

Take This Paradigm and Shove It
explains how a narrow group of ideologues has seized control of math/science and discarded rational decision making.

Here is how and where a $7.1 million National Science Foundation grant was spent.
This produced the incredibly bad results at Cleveland on the math WASL for Black students.

Dr. James King of UW and Art Mabbott SPS math coach have a great deal of power and little contact with the objective reality known as results. These two do seem to have a good knowledge of grant procurement and how to steer programs in the way described by "Take This Paradigm and Shove It"

Seattle PD^3 began in fall 2004 and centered on 3 high schools Cleveland, Garfield, and West Seattle. In the fall of 2006 Cleveland and Garfield had decided on identical school based projects that used a small group (usually 4 students)discovery inquiry approach to instruction and textbooks from the Interactive Mathematics Program (IMP).

I spent the 2006-2007 school year at WSHS and attended monthly Video Club meetings at UW, where a video of "IMP" in action in one teacher's classroom was usually shown and discussed each month.

In the Spring of 2007, Dr. King came to WSHS and addressed the math faculty and said that even though WSHS had not begun a project we could still begin one.

He stressed that PD^3 would support any project of our choosing or WSHS could have no project at all. A few weeks later after some discussion it was decided to approach Dr. King with a project proposal. Given the poor arithmetic skills and lack of prerequisite skills for HS math of some many students coming to WSHS and currently enrolled there, it was decided to create an intervention program using "Singapore Math" books to remediate designed around skill levels of groups of students.

This idea of explicit instruction based on the skill levels of struggling students would have been a significant departure from the projects underway at Cleveland and Garfield. In which whole group IMP activity of students in a much more heterogeneous setting was being used.

WSHS Math Department head Mark Drost directed me to propose the WSHS plan to Dr. King at the next monthly PD^3 video club meeting at the UW, which I did.

I made the proposal to Dr. King in Art Mabbott's presence and was immediately told by Dr. King that given the effort that had gone into the Garfield and Cleveland projects "This is not a direction we wish to go".

WSHS had no school based project in PD^3. Despite what Dr. King had publicly announced about it being a WSHS choice ... the choice was IMP or nothing ... and WSHS chose nothing.

Greta Bornemann of OSPI has repeatedly presented Dr. King's opinions as those of an independent Mathematician. He and George Bright authored an incomplete analysis of "The Discovering Series" from Key Curriculum Press in which they found it mathematically sound. Ms. Bornemann has used this in an attempt to nullify both Wilson's and Harel's extensive analytic reports funded by the SBE that found "Discovering" mathematically unsound.


dan dempsey said...


As I have said often: Math decisions in Seattle are made by the "Club Ed" math elite to be inline with a failed ideology. These folks continually refuse to intelligently apply relevant data.

Ms. de la Fuente chose to look at a carefully selected piece of data from Madison WI in making an argument for "Discovering", while ignoring WASL data from Everett SD in regard to students from low income families and several ethnic minorities.

I saw the same type of neglect of relevant data in regard to minority students in the Everyday Math adoption. It came as no surprise to me that achievement gaps increased during the first two years of EDM.

In a nutshell the original IMP plan was an utter disaster so the elites went for the next closest selection they could push through.

HS math adoption legal appeal will be heard in King County Superior court before Judge Julie Spector on Jan 11.

dan dempsey said...

OSPI update....

Randy Dorn has recently redirected OSPI math along much more sane lines than where Bergeson and Bornemann were going.

From OSPI resources

Superintendent Dorn has directed the Assessment department to design questions that assess the standard algorithm in order to more explicitly address Senate Bill 6534 that states “the revised mathematics standards should restructure the standards to make clear the importance of all aspects of mathematics: Mathematics content including the standard algorithms, conceptual understanding of the content, and the application of mathematical processes within the content.” Revisions are being made to the Test and Item Specifications documents to reflect this change.

On Dec 11, 2009 the Test and item specifications were revised at OSPI.

Everyday Math places little emphasis on standard algorithms rather it emphasizes its own focus algorithms.

The SPS is now miles off the mark for k-12 math. Instead of fixing this problem, they will spend on STEM leaving little time or money for correcting the current math mess.

Few resources are available to fix anything because its off to the next big thing. The buildings are not the only infrastructure that is crumbling and neglected.

Projected deficit is $49 million for next school year.

If your roof is leaking, you need to fix it and NOT take out a loan for a new addition until the current inadequacy is dealt with.

Stu said...

If your roof is leaking . . .

Leaking? This district needs lifeguards.