I taught educational technology in the Spring, and it gave me a chance to re-read classic texts (I still love Cognitive Apprenticeship) and reflect on some of the key principles of learning sciences. One of these is that all learning is built on existing knowledge — Piaget assimilation and accommodation are still the main two learning mechanisms that we know. That’s why culture matters, and past experience matters. The piece linked below from NY Times highlights how different that prior experience can be, even with students attending the same classroom, and how those different experiences lead to different learning outcomes.
I wonder about the implications for CS Ed. What are the key experiences that lead students to have the prior knowledge to succeed in CS1? If a student has never built a spreadsheet with formulas, then that student may not have the same understanding of specifying instructions for another agent and for using a formal notation to be interpreted by machine, compared to a student who has. A student who has never used Photoshop or looked at a color chooser may have a harder time understanding hierarchy of data representations (e.g., red, green, and blue numbers inside a pixel, which is arranged in two dimensions to make up a picture). Studies in the past have looked at background experiences like how much mathematics a student has had. With the pervasiveness of computing technology today, we might be able to look at more “near transfer” kinds of activities.
- When a new shipment of books arrives, Rhonda Levy, the principal, frets. Reading with comprehension assumes a shared prior knowledge, and cars are not the only gap at P.S. 142. Many of the children have never been to a zoo or to New Jersey. Some think the emergency room of New York Downtown Hospital is the doctor’s office.
- The solution of the education establishment is to push young children to decode and read sooner, but Ms. Levy is taking a different tack. Working with Renée Dinnerstein, an early childhood specialist, she has made real life experiences the center of academic lessons, in hopes of improving reading and math skills by broadening children’s frames of reference.