A Fresh Perspective on Teaching Computing

An interview with William Lau,
author of Teaching Computing in Secondary Schools

When a full-time teacher has a young family but still manages to find time to write a book, you know he is passionate about his subject … and has an angelic spouse! In college, Will studied computing and business and then began teaching IT, video editing and graphic design. He still recalls his first computer class at the age of 10 and feeling incredibly lost. So lost, in fact, that when the teacher asked students to shut down their machines at the end of the class, Will pulled the plug out of the wall! His shame and embarrassment when he realized his mistake was so acute that he vowed to help others not get so lost when learning about the power of computers and what makes them tick.

Zulama CEO Nikki Navta loves her copy of Teaching Computing in Secondary Schools!

His approach is user-friendly and assumes no prior knowledge of hardware and software. In fact, when teaching preschoolers and kindergartners, he starts off with basics like developing fine motor skills needed to operate a mouse and keyboard. With Will’s methods, it’s possible to teach anyone who wants to learn.

Yet Will admits that when teachers are unwilling or being forced to learn about computers, it’s very difficult to help them gain the right skills, much less get their students excited about computing. He recommends that administrators make sure teachers have adequate resources, primarily time and money.

His advice for teachers who want to learn and teach computing?!

  1. Develop your own skills
  2. Focus on student thinking rather than the activities

Unpacking that second idea, he encourages teachers to study how expert computer scientists think, and understand common misconceptions people have as they learn about computing.

Computer science is an incredibly dynamic subject to teach, because it changes every day. One day a teacher may understand mobile app development, and then a new technology like augmented reality emerges. Teachers need to be given time to constantly update their own skills.

How does Will stay up to date?

He follows cognitive scientists and educators like Daniel T Willingham (@DTWillingham) like Greg Ashman (@greg_ashman ‏), Paul A. Kirschner (@P_A_Kirschner)‏, Joe Kirby (@joe__kirby), and Doug Lemov (@Doug_Lemov) on twitter, where they post their research. He recommends Python as a starter programming language, especially because there is a robust online community and resources available on pythonprogramming.net, pythonschool.net and youtube.

What’s Will currently into?

Teaching Advanced Placement Computer Science, and learning about Pygame through Al Sweigart’s books. He feels a strong responsibility to give back to the network of computer science learners by providing research-based mentorship.

His goals for the future?

Let’s develop a global network of computer science educators, rather than remaining siloed in our localized CS communities! For example, we don’t know much about how Russia teaches computer science, but they are graduating top talent into the workforce. Computers are global, why isn’t computer education global?!

You can find William Lau @MrLauLearning on Twitter!