Deitel Textbook Sets The Bar!

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There are two Alberta Education authorized resources for the new Computer Science curriculum: the Deitel text and the Blue Pelican resources.

The reading level of the Deitel text is academic and, for all sorts of historical reasons, most CTS courses have not been treated academically. The Blue Pelican resources service the needs of CTS teachers in Alberta who, within a given academic year, teach courses in a variety of different disciplines. In an age of extreme specialization, Alberta’s CTS teachers may and frequently are given assignments that include disciplines as demanding and diverse as Legal Studies, Financial Management and Computer Science. The Blue Pelican resources allow students to learn independently of the expertise and available teacher time per student per discipline.

However, the Deitel text is exemplary in other ways. In my opinion, the Deitel text has a scope and way of thinking that transcends smoothly to post-secondary methodologies, whereas Blue Pelican emphasizes syntax strategies that fall lower in Bloom’s taxonomies, for example. I regard the Deitel text as a backbone for a course, a roadmap of where a professional treatment of the subject can take us. A teacher and students can use each Deitel chapter as a car on an intellectual train to carry them forward, but they must fill that car with resources and experiences that best address the background and aspirations of each individual student. That requires a rich reservoir of resources and it assumes a teacher with a commensurate level of expertise. That is why I routinely encourage our teachers to move to the same page. At this point in time we just don’t have a community large enough for everybody to run off in all directions. We need teachers actively supporting colleagues throughout the entire province.

Post-secondary institutions in Alberta will recognize Computer Science on par with Physics, Chemistry and Biology for entrance purposes. Jurisdictions and schools that pay attention to Alberta’s post-secondary institutions recognize the need to allocate enough time in student timetables so students may learn Computer Science as well as they learn these other esteemed sciences. We need appropriate standards.

We begin with an exemplar treatment of a subject. The Deitel text does fit that bill. The Deitel text assumes that teachers know how to program at the level that they are teach. If we use the Deitel text as a standard to aspire to, then we teachers will do what we must to bring student skills and abilities to that level. link check That means teaching students how to read an academic textbook. That means coming up with programming examples that bridge the gap between where the student is when they arrive in the classroom and where an exemplary resource would take that student. That means using inspired metaphors to map patterns from students’ earlier experiences onto what we are learning in the course. The Deitel text is a standard. It is up to we the teachers to implement that standard.

Sebastian Coe set world records in the marathon during the 1970’s and 1980’s. His father was his coach. In later years he attributed the lack of knowledge that his father had about what runners should be able to do, to the training objectives that his father kept setting. His father didn’t know that you couldn’t push an athlete to the times that he pushed his son. Someone forget to tell Coe’s father and Coe himself that it couldn’t be done … so he did it.

Until earlier this year I taught in an “academic” school, so it is usually assumed that I only had top academic students. I should invite one of our counsellors to set that record straight some time. I never, not once, turned away a student for academic reasons. Many of my students were “coded”, some because they were gifted, and some because they lacked life or academic skills and aptitudes. These are the kids that did my IB Higher Level Computer Science courses. Most “academic” kids did their three sciences and music and just didn’t have time for something like Computer Science. I treated every student as an academic the moment they walked into my class, and I was seldom disappointed. I taught only academic students throughout my career, not because that is all that took my courses, but because all students are academic students, and that is how I treated all of my students.

Any teacher that throws the Deitel text at students and tells them to go learn Computer Science on their own will fail both themselves and the students. But a teacher who embraces the Deitel text as the standard to be met, and then brings students along to meet that standard, will give their students a gift of a lifetime. But it takes all the resources and attention that a teacher can muster.

I have been very impressed by the really high calibre of the current generation of teachers that I have met since retiring. They are professional and caring and intelligent and dedicated. But these amazing teachers need time to focus on teaching Computer Science as a distinct discipline instead of teaching it as one of umpteen different strands of one huge pot of disparate disciplines. These teachers are great, truly extraordinary, incredibly talented!! The larger battle now is to give them the opportunity to teach Computer Science as a distinct discipline. Then the Deitel text makes imminent sense. For the teacher fighting to survive with 3 levels of 2 disciplines in a class, they need the Pelican Java resources, because Pelican Java works without a teacher. That is a sad commentary on school staff organization, but it is the reality that was addressed by the Blue Pelican Java resources. Blue Pelican is good … but it falls short compared to a master teacher delivering resources and inspiration that will draw students into the professional culture of methodology and thought and expertise so richly endowed in Computer Science.

Computer Science is a way of thinking that goes well beyond a collection of end-of-chapter exercises.

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About the Author:

Gerry Donaldson was Calgary’s first high school teacher to use a lab of personal computers. Gerry taught CSE, including CTS, AP and IB Computer Science, for 30 years before teaching and consulting to the Department of Computer Science at the University of Calgary.
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