Introducing “Seeing in Patterns, Thinking in Code”
“We are trying to create new types of courses that you can’t do just online and you can’t do just in a traditional setting. Fostering a sense of community is vital.”– David Rea, Visiting Scholar in Connected Learning
A new hybrid course, “Seeing in Patterns, Thinking in Code,” will debut as a five-week Summer Session Pilot course for rising 8th grade students during Summer 2016. Taught by the Tang Institute’s Visiting Scholar in Connected Learning, David Rea, the course will explore computational thinking and computer programming through a variety of disciplines, including art, biology, music, and even cooking. The first part takes place on the Phillips Academy campus, and the second part is completed online (at home), with students working both independently and collaboratively with peers and instructors. The pilot stems from Hybrid Andover, which encompasses an array of faculty-led ventures to test, assess, and share hybrid learning content and practices not only within Phillips Academy, but also across the broader educational community. Following is a post by Rea, who worked in collaboration with colleagues from the Institute, Summer Session, and Educational Initiatives to design and develop the course. For more information, visit the Summer Session pilot page.
by David Rea
When I started trying to fit the pieces together for the course that would become “Seeing in Patterns, Thinking in Code” I knew two features of the experience would be non-negotiable: it must be amazing for students with diverse interests, and it must be genuinely Andover.
Both objectives are challenging given the format and topic. Teaching programming to beginners in five weeks, of which only two are face-to-face, risks being nothing but programming. And a brand new course, not grounded in any Andover-specific curriculum or pedagogy, risks being “Andover” in name only.
A computer programming boot camp did not seem like it would meet either objective.
Andover students having fun learning in the new Makerspace, “The Nest,” at the Oliver Wendell Holmes Library (OWHL).
We found inspiration for our solution in a uniquely Andover resource: the Addison Gallery of American Art. If an art museum seems an unlikely setting for learning about coding it is only because of the common misconception about computer science that it is “like math”. (Even math isn’t “like math” in the way most people mean, but that’s another story.)
Syntax and semicolons are to computer science what pigments and palettes are to oil painting: tools of the trade that require mastery, but not to be confused with the art itself. Programming is a form of creative expression, a way of exploring ideas and following intellectual whims. And there is no better way of learning that art that looking at and thinking about…art.
With a starting point in artwork in the Addison, including works by Josef Albers and Sol Lewitt, students in “Seeing in Patterns, Thinking in Code” will learn to identify pattern and repetition in complex images. We will look at the self-imposed rules, the algorithms, that some artists use, and see how they are analogous to the rules and repetition in computer software.
We call this way of looking at the world computational thinking. It is the practice of breaking down processes into small steps, and seeing how complexity emerges from simplicity.
Of course, we will also be writing some code. Taking a cue from the Hour of Code movement, students will spend one hour each class day honing their coding skills, working on challenging puzzles. This part of the curriculum is parallel to but independent from the rest of the course: some students simply take to programming more quickly than others, and we don’t want success in this class to be contingent on mastery of a specific programming language. We want it to be clear that coding is just one particular expression of computational thinking.
About David Rea
David Rea joined Phillips Academy in March 2015 as the Tang Institute’s Scholar in Connected Learning. Prior to that he founded, advised, and invested in a variety of technology startups from his home in Boulder, CO, in areas including retail, manufacturing, broadcasting, robotics, and education. Previously he had worked at General Atlantic, a global private equity firm, advising investment teams and portfolio companies on technology.
He also has extensive experience in software development, including authoring award-winning educational physics simulations at the University of Colorado, and he taught computer science at Phillips Exeter Academy.
Rea earned his B.A. from Wesleyan University, and an Ed.M from the Harvard Graduate School of Education.
Read more about “Seeing in Patterns, Thinking in Code” in the winter 2016 issue of Andover Magazine