The Cross-Curricular Power of Computer Science – USA

Douglas Bergman, Head of Computer Science - USA
Mar 15

Doug Bergman, a first-place winner in the 2011 Partners in Learning Global Forum, believes that the study of computer science is as integral to basic education as reading and math. According to Bergman, “Computer  science is one of the most fundamentally cross-curricular and 21st  century subject areas in education. Everything that Aristotle, Bloome, Pink, Gardner, Wagner, and Friedman suggest is important in life and in education is part of a strong computer science program.” We asked Bergman to expand on that idea, and to share his thoughts on what it takes for students to be successful in today’s (and tomorrow’s) economy.

You believe there’s fundamental confusion about the meaning of “computer science” – how do  you define it?

Computer science is using technology (hardware and  software), imagination, logic, and critical thinking to solve problems that  cross lines of all disciplines. It requires a step-by-step break down of not  only the problem, but also the solution. In the dynamic digital world we live in, how can we possibly prepare the students for the real world when the types  of problems they will face and the tools they will use to face those problems are unknowns? Computer science allows the students to create new digital tools to solve these new problems.

Why has the study of computer science blossomed at your school?

Our computer science program is something that we are very proud of and while we are seeing some wonderful successes, it is a living curriculum, which means it continues to evolve as we identify what works well and where we can improve. The goal of our whole program is to give students an engaging exploration of computer science through a variety of media, contexts, and technologies.

Over the course of four years, students will experience problem solving through hardware, software, design, and programming.  Projects include making their own 2D and 3D games, taking apart and rebuilding a computer, programming a robot and its sensors to interact with the environment, 3D modeling, and designing the front and back ends of an e-commerce website. The students also program mobile phone apps for Windows Phone and Android, learn the business side of computer science by presenting business plans to a venture capitalist panel, communicate their passions by making an Xbox game, and explore concepts of Object Oriented Programming through business simulations.

The leaders of the next generation will be the ones who are in command of the tools of the day, which are digital. The goal of our program, while we love to produce future Computer Scientists, is equally to find students who are our future politicians, business leaders, researchers, scientists, and doctors and give them the skills and confidence to be able to create new tools in their field using skills they learned in our program.

What is your country doing right to support education?

We are starting to ask lots of questions. We are starting to realize that the status quo in our schools, while it may have been sufficient to get us through the last few decades, is increasingly disconnected with the world. We are seeing traditionally non-core subject areas, such as Computer Science, play more of a core role in education because it makes sense in our world around us. Parents are starting to demand that schools offer classes which are not rote memorization. Students are signing up for courses they are interested in… not because they are easy, but because they are hard.  And while we are not there yet, our leaders are starting to understand that education cannot be a one-size-fits-all model. But it will not be politicians who raise the bar on education; it will be the partnerships of teachers, students, parents, business leaders, and entire communities that simply demand, in their own backyard, that there are better ways forward.

What conditions must change in your country to better support education?

Many of our educational policies, procedures, methodologies, and beliefs are based on outdated and obsolete ideas.  The world has changed dramatically in the last few decades yet our educational model, in many areas, is basically the same. Colleges must allow greater freedom in what they demand in their incoming freshman.  The standard set of graduation requirements for high schools, which is based on what colleges and universities require for entrance, is so restrictive and rigid, that there is no room to expand or grow. We are bursting at the seams. We say we need students who are passionate about learning and who can think, but schools are hesitant to offer classes that allow the experience of high school to be like that. Colleges must support schools which are innovative, out of the box, and that challenge students to follow their passions.

What advice would you give a new teacher (or to anyone wanting to make a difference in education)?

Don’t let your classroom be the exact opposite of the world outside the campus. Let it be multi-media, multi-sensory, and cross-curricular. Let your students experience your class…don’t just tell them about it. Let your students see it, feel it, think about it, create something in class related to it, and learn to love it.  You’ve got to find ways to bring in their imagination, the skills and concepts from your subject area, and find a hands-on experience they can bite into. They don’t mind hard work if they connect with it.

If you could give one educational tool to every child in the world, what would it be?

A netbook, tablet, or laptop with nothing on it except game design programming languages. Let the kids learn to figure out how to express, right in front of their eyes, their wildest imagination, and create their own game. There is tremendous energy around games. There is tremendous energy that goes into making things. And there is tremendous energy and eagerness around technology.  Bringing those things together allows for unlimited new kinds of learning.

Doug Bergman believes that the study of computer science is critical in developing tomorrow’s leaders. What do you think?

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About Doug Bergman

Porter-Gaud School teacher Doug Bergman overhauled his school’s computer science program three years ago to make it more hands-on and more appealing to a broader group of students. In the process, he’s won numerous awards and has become a vocal advocate of the benefits of a computer science education.

Birthplace: Cincinnati, Ohio, USA
Current residence: Charleston, South Carolina, USA
Education: B.S. Computer Information System  from Clemson University,  M.A. Education Administration at the University of South Carolina
Websites I check every day: www.edudemic.com, www.edutopia.com
Person who inspires me most: Stephen Hawking. I think it is amazing that 20 some years ago, they gave him a few years left to live. Not only is he alive and kicking today, he has proven to be one of the most thoughtful, insightful, courageous, intelligent, and dedicated scientists in human history.
Favorite childhood memory: I was fortunate to live overseas when I was in elementary school, in a small town in central France. I remember going into town and it feeling like I was suddenly 300 years in the past. I’d buy homemade bread just baked fresh in a stone oven in a small shop.  I’d see ladies doing their laundry on a washboard in the fountain. On weekends, we’d explore old castle ruins and go to antique flea markets. That wanderlust has never left me.
Next travel destination (work or pleasure): The next place we have plans to go: Alaska. The place we hope to go someday:  anywhere on the African continent
Favorite book: Reality is Broken by Jane McGonigal and Good to Great by Jim Collins
Favorite music: Any song from Les Miserables, The High Kings, Guns n’ Roses
Favorite Podcast: Dave Ramsey
Favorite TV shows:
Pawn Stars, Oddities, and Monster Bug Wars

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One Response to The Cross-Curricular Power of Computer Science – USA

  1. OllieBray says:

    I met Doug in Washington DC in November – a great guy with a real passion for education and computer science.

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