SE

I am a part of the Software Engineering Pilot, a Department of Education program designed to “address the shortage of high school graduates ready to enter new and emerging interdisciplinary high-tech fields.”

I was recently interviewed for a teacher newsletter, and decided to post a few of my answers.

Software Engineering & Special Education

I teach an 11-person, self-contained special education class.

These are students who struggle with the conventional and mandated subjects.

These are also students who fly, who can’t wait to get their hands on robots, who will sit with an Arduino and a patience that they never knew they had, who accidentally discover that an autistic student can be a great teammate if he or she is writing the script for a comic book about electricity. A student who can’t read is a Scratch master, able to bring life to his classmates words and stories by his mastery of the interface, knowing each block by sight and slowly learning to communicate them to his classmates by doing something that is so hard, and so often hated: reading out loud to others.

I have students who will score higher and I have students who can code faster, but when I got to take 25 of my best female students to Google, four students from that self-contained class came with me. I dare any engineer at Google — anyone who listened to their questions, who watched them see a world they had never seen — I dare them to pick out the four “special ed” girls. Many days, the content challenges my students, but on the best days, it challenges me: to be the best teacher, to find a way for all of my students who succeed, and to see their own potential in ways they cannot in any other class.

Cartographic Gifs for Social Equality

I made this to illustrate the newly independent United States’ continuing culpability in the Triangle Trade, an unforgivable sin in our history that is too often overlooked in favor of textbook bunk American Exceptionalism.

Cartographic Gifs for Social Equality

I made this to illustrate the newly independent United States’ continuing culpability in the Triangle Trade, an unforgivable sin in our history that is too often overlooked in favor of textbook bunk American Exceptionalism.

Software Engineering Pilot

I am a part of the Software Engineering Pilot, a Department of Education program designed to “address the shortage of high school graduates ready to enter new and emerging interdisciplinary high-tech fields.”

I was recently interviewed for a teacher newsletter, and decided to post a few of my answers.


What got you interested in the Software Engineering Pilot program initially?

There is a largely facetious debate about whether children growing up today are learning to be makers and creators, or just consumers. This debate is mirrored by the equally facetious one over whether new computer platforms like iPad are devices for creation or purely for consumption. The reasoning is something like this- as technology becomes more widely adopted, easier to use, and consumer friendly, the consumers will be of lesser “stock” than the archetypical tinkerer.

This is totally backwards.

The great and growing trend of technology advancement is part and parcel with the mission of the Software Engineering Pilot: the democratization of technology, the leveling of the playing field of access and exposure. There are many exceptional things about Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, and Mark Zuckerberg, and their educational history as incredibly successful college dropouts is well known. What is less well known is that before they dropped out of college, they got into excellent middle schools. They had exposure to the best technology of their time from an early age, and exposure to educational opportunities that, augmented by their natural intellect, put them on a trajectory of success.

I was recently asked by a news crew that visited my classroom if I think I’m making the next Mark Zuckerberg. I don’t want my students to view educational attainment and technological success as separate paths, but rather find inspiration and success in Technology class that emboldens them to face the challenges that await their academic careers and invent the solutions of tomorrow.

Why do you think computer science/software engineering/computational thinking is important for young people?

I think thinking is important for young people. I think it’s important for old people too, but it’s for some it’s too late. We talk about science thinking and engineering thinking, but most young people are natural scientists, and are at least naturally curious about engineering and the way things are put together. This is often manifested by students who are eager to take things apart but frustrated by the difficulty of constructing an item in the first place. I do think it’s important to give these thought processes a name, and a vaunted place in our school day. There are a lot of classes where failing 37 times in a period is a troubling occurrence, but in my SEP class, every failure is just useful data, feedback from the problem we are tackling.

“I have not read most of the big 19th-century novels that people consider “essential,” nor most of the 20th-century ones for that matter. But this does not embarrass me. There are many films to see, many friends to visit, many walks to take, many playlists to assemble and many favorite books to reread. Life’s too short for anxious score-keeping. Also, my grandmother is illiterate, and she’s one of the best people I know. Reading is a deep personal consolation for me, but other things console, too.”
Teju Cole

My favorite slide from tomorrow’s lesson.

Possibly my favorite slide from any lesson.

We’ve spent a lot of time in class emphasizing the difference between moving electrons (electricity, yay!) and moving atoms (boom).

Tomorrow is our first day hands on with Arduino’s, and I’m really excited.

Lesson planning.

Lesson planning.

Both of the books pictured were required reading my first year of college. UChicago’s Core1 is fantastic.


  1. An Uncommon Core, one might say… 

(via theatlantic)

"Who farted?"

- Sir Ian McKellen

This is from a lesson on “thinking like an economist” and using modeling and critical thought to approach problems and avoid logical fallacies or errors.

We’re going to talk about correlation and causation, and Ceteris paribus, and how studying economics is really about a way of thinking rather than memorizing and regurgitating facts.

So, yes, this is pedagogically sound, except maybe the hashtag.

New classroom poster?

"To everything, there is a season And a time to every purpose, under Heaven

A time to gain, a time to lose A time to rend, a time to sew A time for love, a time for hate A time for peace, I swear it’s not too late.”

Pete Seeger

"The New York Times Publishes .gif, Accidentally Reveals It Has Jumped the Shark."

Public radio!

Everything you ever wanted to know about pig rectum, and more.

The second story on this show is one of the best pieces of journalism I’ve ever heard, from one of my favorite writers- Alex Kotlowitz.

I made this for my classroom website. It makes me happy.

I made this for my classroom website. It makes me happy.

That 1887 rigor