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Discussion on: Nevertheless, she questioned

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jcolag profile image
John Colagioia

This story may or may not be helpful, but...

When I was in college, I used to complain about this sort of thing a lot, because it's a lot easier to learn (and teach!) the material when there's some context to it. There was some pushback, because undergraduate degree accreditation is a big deal and the guidelines for what courses cover which material are fussy. After I graduated, though, a couple of the professors tried launching a similar initiative that were "disguising" as an open project course.

Unfortunately, it bombed, because the students (I should mention that this was still in the late '90s) were very resistant to the prep work involved in a large project, like setting up version control, so they never quite got to the point of building a series of courses that would use the pretext of the project to justify introducing (or reviewing, as the case may be) theoretical concepts that "just happen" to be useful.

So, the disappointing story out of the way, I've often thought that each class should have a sort of canonical project attached. Sometimes I start drafting something like that (I taught graduate courses for years), but have always ended up struggling with being specific enough that the project can guide the student even without an instructor, but not being so specific that students aren't in a position where they feel like they should just download the source code to a completed version of the project, since that just lands us back in the traditional class.

The best story I've heard along these lines is about a junior high school math class, I think it was. Rather than jump into elementary algebra, the teacher rolled an empty aquarium into the room, snaked a hose through the window, and sat down to read. Eventually, a student tried to be a wise-ass and asked, "how long do we need to keep watching this?" And there's the lesson in a nutshell: Height, width, depth, flow rate, and time as variables...

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karenkathryn profile image
Karen Kathryn Author

Yes! show more direct examples - like with the aquarium story. I guess with some university courses, the math is to be learned before the applied class (like Quantum Mechanics).
I see the struggle with the project (your second paragraph). I don't have any advice - be it good or bad!
Thank you for your reply-it gave me some extra things to think about!