battis.net and I'm all out of bubble gum…

One of my responsibilities at Jewish Day School is to post a monthly column on the goings-on in our media studies department (and in education technology in general) to our online parent bulletin. This is one such column.

In today’s world, where “there is an app for that” — no matter what that may be — it is easy to lose sight of the fact that, in fact, when we are dealing with real problems that involve real people and real situations and real information, there often isn’t an app for that. Nor is there a systematic, rational approach for tackling the unknown. It’s easy to find an app that tracks the balance of your checking account… but very, very hard to find an app that can tell you why your portfolio is going up (or down).

The Media Studies department is offering a new course in computer application design and computer science in the coming academic year, to complement our existing offerings in video, photography, web and game design and new media. Seth Battis, who joined the department this year, will be teaching the course, which is designed to complement the robotics learning led by [a colleague] and [Jewish Day School’s Academy of Science and Technology].

Computer science is the study of computation, using computers to process vast mountains of data into that nugget of usable, useful, valuable information. And, in the past decade, it has become the domain not just of computer geeks, but of professionals, scientists and researchers seeking to better understand the information they have and the challenges they are trying to tackle. Computational biology, statistical modeling of markets, physical simulations of wind energy are all being done by people with a foot in two worlds: the world of their chosen, beloved studies and the world of computation facilitates their studies.

Computer science has gone in and out of vogue many times over the last several decades — and with good reason. It can provide a unique perspective on creative problem-solving and ways for humans (us!) to understand vast and complicated data. But it can also be the drudgery of “pixel-stained technopeasants” sweating over line after line of arcane code.

The purpose of the Computer Application Design and Programming course is to, at the high school level, make these same skills and this same practice available to [Jewish Day School] students. Students will have the opportunity to practice their analytic and reasoning skills, while developing new practices in problem solving, using modern tools further their learning. The course will be taught using object-oriented programming practices, applicable in a broad array of modern computational environments — from the iPhone to the web to stand-alone computers to computing clusters.

Students and families interested in the Computer Application Design and Programming course are encouraged to contact their advisor or Mr. Battis or [my department chair] for more information.

May 3rd, 2010

Posted In: Parent Communication

One of my responsibilities at Jewish Day School is to post a monthly column on the goings-on in our media studies department (and in education technology in general) to our online parent bulletin. This is one such column.

In today’s world, where “there is an app for that” — no matter what that may be — it is easy to lose sight of the fact that, in fact, when we are dealing with real problems that involve real people and real situations and real information, there often isn’t an app for that. Nor is there a systematic, rational approach for tackling the unknown. It’s easy to find an app that tracks the balance of your checking account… but very, very hard to find an app that can tell you why your portfolio is going up (or down).

The Media Studies department is offering a new course in computer application design and computer science in the coming academic year, to complement our existing offerings in video, photography, web and game design and new media. Seth Battis, who joined the department this year, will be teaching the course, which is designed to complement the robotics learning led by [colleague] and [Jewish Day School Academy of Science and Technology].

Computer science is the study of computation, using computers to process vast mountains of data into that nugget of usable, useful, valuable information. And, in the past decade, it has become the domain not just of computer geeks, but of professionals, scientists and researchers seeking to better understand the information they have and the challenges they are trying to tackle. Computational biology, statistical modeling of markets, physical simulations of wind energy are all being done by people with a foot in two worlds: the world of their chosen, beloved studies and the world of computation facilitates their studies.

Computer science has gone in and out of vogue many times over the last several decades — and with good reason. It can provide a unique perspective on creative problem-solving and ways for humans (us!) to understand vast and complicated data. But it can also be the drudgery of “pixel-stained technopeasants” sweating over line after line of arcane code.

The purpose of the Computer Application Design and Programming course is to, at the high school level, make these same skills and this same practice available to [Jewish Day School] students. Students will have the opportunity to practice their analytic and reasoning skills, while developing new practices in problem solving, using modern tools further their learning. The course will be taught using object-oriented programming practices, applicable in a broad array of modern computational environments — from the iPhone to the web to stand-alone computers to computing clusters.

Students and families interested in the Computer Application Design and Programming course are encouraged to contact their advisor or Mr. Battis or [my department chair] for more information.

May 3rd, 2010

Posted In: Computer Science, Parent Communication

Tags: , , ,

One of my responsibilities at Jewish Day School is to post a monthly column on the goings-on in our media studies department (and in education technology in general) to our online parent bulletin. This is one such column.

This winter, as our students were in the throes of course selection for 2010-2011, I had a number of conversations with my students about their plans for the coming year. Of course, they are my students and I like them, and I would be delighted to see them continue in media studies (and have the opportunity to continue teaching them). Almost without exception, my students talked about how excited they were in their classes with me (which is very flattering, and taken with a grain of salt), but also about how they were concerned about fulfilling all of their graduation requirements. And when we talked about others who were planning to continue, they asked — uniformly — “why are they taking that class? Just because they like it?”

I teach in the media studies department — a department that is unusual at the secondary level, and doubly unusual at [Jewish Day School] in the richness and depth of its offerings. Of course students take our classes “just because they like them.” The prospect of getting to work on a weekly TV newscast, or of building interactive computer games or producing animated movies is, on the very face of it… pretty cool (or hot, or sick, or whatever it is that students are calling the things they like these days). But they’re also more than that: they are classes that provide authentic learning, allowing students to wrap their minds around incredibly nuanced and complex concepts in design and media and information literacy. That this happens in middle and high school, at a time when students are undergoing drastic social, moral and personal development, provides a rich and fertile environment for lasting learning.

I have taught high school students since 1998, and my classes have never been graduation requirements. The frustrations of convincing the NCAA that Advanced Placement Computer Science AB was actually an “academic” subject are best left untapped; suffice it to say that I have always taught “niche” courses. But what I have seen in my students has been astounding: the students who choose to pursue a course of study for lishma, for the joy of learning, “just because they like it” — these are the students who find success, both in high school and afterwards. I love to see what my students are doing, be they aspiring screenwriters, Ph.D.s in information management, automotive engineers, or crew coaches. In each case, having first discovered a passion and then pursued it in high school, they are now able to do the same again and again in their adult lives: they understand what it means to be lifelong learners.

The stereotype, of course, is that media studies and computer science courses are “filler classes” that are available for the especially gifted — or the especially ambitious — student to add on top of their graduation requirements; these classes are a way to impress prospective colleges. In fact, what I have found is that teaching media studies and computer science is much more about teaching students how to be effective teammates and leaders on complex projects. It is about teaching students to instinctively apply formal problem-solving techniques to difficult personal problems. And it is about teaching students to apply their critical and analytical information literacy to the world around them. In short, these are classes that focus on teaching students to think, and to think hard, about the world around them and how they live in it and communicate with others.

These are the courses that transform a high school experience from college prep to an outstanding, lasting education. At a time in their lives when they are undergoing profound social, moral and personal growth, the students in media studies classes are not taking these classes “just because they like them”, but because they recognize — or are starting to recognize — that the process of identifying, pursuing and achieving a passion is not a goal for other people “just because they like it”, but is, in fact, a key skill for living their lives. The students who take these classes are able to point proudly at them on their college applications, and on their resumes, as a signal accomplishment, and one that they can and will replicate again and again throughout their lives.

February 12th, 2010

Posted In: Parent Communication

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