Culturally relevant Computer Science

Culturally relevant Computer Science

What can schools do to connect culture to their curriculum; and in doing do so encourage all learners; regardless of their background; to pursue a rich and exciting career in technology?

I was mildly annoyed by a prominent clip in a recent video that is intended to have a national audience where a trainee teacher stated “I can’t believe how many times I’ve been in [computer science?] lessons and all they’ve done is talk about old white men”. Firstly, I struggle to believe it is true. If it was then I’d want to have words. Secondly, the tone suggested contributions by “old white men” are not worth mentioning which given my near mile-stone age I find slightly offensive(!). And thirdly, because the key point was not explicitly made in the video. The point is that the National Computer Science Curriculum inherently lacks the requirement to teach students about the rich tapestry of technology innovators from all ethnic & social backgrounds. The very mention of ‘culture’ can end up being an afterthought because of its absence from the curriculum. I’d argue that it is communicating the fascinating cultural stories of computer science innovators that makes the subject come alive.

Here are some clearly explained and accessible tips (in no particular order) to get you thinking…

  1. Make/use diverse and inclusive lesson materials
    1. Feature people/ideas/media from a range of cultures/backgrounds.
    2. Make the language easy to understand and translate. Use a consistent style, bullet points, boxes and diagrams to improve clarity.
    3. Show subtitles when playing videos
  2. Tell stories about amazing people. Read up on Innovators from varied backgrounds. Learn their interesting stories and mention them in lessons. Not just historic figures but present innovators too. Here’s a few to get you started…
    1. Hedy Lemarr (WiFi)
    2. Ada Lovelace (The concept of programming general purpose computers)
    3. Grace Hopper (high-level standardised programming)
    4. Elon Musk
    5. Meredith Whittaker (AI)
  3. Get inspiring people into school. Engage with local business/universities and get in visitors to inspire students from varied backgrounds. Never underestimate the the power of positive role models!
  4. Give everyone a voice
    1. Have students work in pairs/small groups so they listen/help each other/have their voice heard. ‘Paired programming’ activities work well.
    2. Call on every student to contribute to discussion, not just your “regulars”.
  5. Connect to culture – 3 ideas.
    1. When studying ethics, consider the culture and lives of all those involved in the supply chain of a mobile phone. From production to the dumping of e-waste, it is eye-opening. Find supporting videos and images.
    2. When students are learning HTML/Javascript, encourage them to make and share a webpage about their culture
    3. Use programming constructs to generate the lyrics for a “popular culture” repetitive pop song.

Over at Clickschool I aim to…

  1. Use accessible language. It is not about writing less which can result in losing the meaning, but about writing in a way that is easy for the audience to understand. I am forever redrafting the content!
  2. Incorporate varied videos featuring people from diverse backgrounds
  3. Gradually add ‘culture’ boxes to highlight important people from the history of Computer Science.
An example of a ‘culture’ box on Clickschool to highlight important people from the history of Computer Science.

What can you do this week to add a little more culture into your lessons?

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