D. Lessner

Charles University in Prague, Faculty of Mathematics and Physics (CZECH REPUBLIC)
In this paper we share the first findings of teaching computer science (CS) on Czech grammar schools (GS). We first describe the basic situation and goals of our research. Then we describe briefly the goals, content and methods of the developed CS program. Afterwards we proceed to the first results, as we are reaching the end of the first school year of experimental education.
Czech GS (students aged 15-19) aim to provide classical education and general knowledge as a basis for further university studies of nearly any field. However, CS is mentioned only briefly in curricular documents, and often completely missing in real classes (unlike ICT literacy related education). Most pupils leave GS not aware even of the existence of CS. We see this as a mistake, considering the role of CS in our lives and its potential to develop higher cognitive skills and key competencies (mostly problem and communication related).

The goal of our research is therefore to find a way of introducing CS into our GS. This requires determining the goals and establishing the necessary core of the subject, both in relation to other GS subjects. Then we need a teaching methodology, as the goals and topics may be rather uncommon. This basic combination of content and methods is to be tested in practice and evaluated against the original goals. Acquired results can then serve as a base for thinking of introducing CS into our GS system wide.

CS program for GS can not be developed by adjusting university or foreign programs. The first differ vastly in goals, the latter in context. CS on GS shall widen general knowledge and improve cognitive skills for everyone, not only future computer scientists. We also need to stay in accord and connection with other GS subjects. Traditional approaches to basic CS topics must therefore be reworked. We have created a CS program proposal for one school year, 90 minutes a week. It covers the chosen main topics and concepts, which include information, graphs, problems, state space, algorithm, recursion, efficiency, Turing test and determinism.

Tested teaching methods are based strongly on didactics of mathematics, which is perhaps the closest subject to CS. However, CS seems to be more abstract. We need to work with realistic sample situations and enable students to truly experience them themselves. When it is possible, we prefer constructivist approaches. This is time consuming, thus requires extra care when distributing content into the program.
The outcome of the first year of CS teaching consists mostly of individual findings related to each topic. They serve as a valuable feedback. We have now an idea about the limits of CS education in the given context (including timeframe, method and knowledge from other subjects).

One of the main objections we face is as follows: CS is too abstract and theoretical to be understood and effectively employed by GS students. Summarizing all the experiences gained so far, we may conclude: teaching CS on Czech GS is possible. Students are able to enjoy and master the matter and achieve the educational goals on a similar level as with other subjects. It is possible despite the fact that lot of useful mathematics is traditionally placed only into the last year of GS.
Based on these results, we can adjust the program during the summer holidays. Then during the next year we will examine higher and more general effects of CS education, including problem solving and communication skills.