Tag Archives: books

Software Engineering Book Clubs and Panel Discussion

One of the units during the fall semester in my Software Engineering class focuses on technology, society, and ethics. The big idea is that “Students will research, analyze, discuss, and present contemporary issues at the intersection of technology, society, and ethics”. The guiding question is “How does technology affect change from the critical context of privacy, social justice, economics, education, politics, culture, security, or warfare?”. The rationale for this unit is that technology is having a dramatic impact on every aspect of today’s society. The scope of the impact ranges from the personal to international relations. Today’s students will be tomorrow’s digital citizens who will be designing, applying, and using technological products that will affect change. We achieve these standards through book clubs in which small groups of students (3-5) read, analyze, and discuss a text. Students participate in a panel discussion as the summative assessment for this unit.

The past couple of years, students read one of the following books:

  • Algorithms to Live By: The Computer Science of Human Decisions by Brian Christian
  • Blown to Bits: Your Life, Liberty, and Happiness After the Digital Explosion by Hal Abelson, Ken Ledeen, Harry Lewis
  • The Hacked World Order: How Nations Fight, Trade, Maneuver, and Manipulate in the Digital Age by Adam Segal
  • The Monsters of Education Technology by Audrey Watters
  • The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies by Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee
  • Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy by Cathy O’Neil

I present each of the books to the class and then have them force rank their choices. I then form the groups to reflect student preferences while balancing the size of groups. This year, I’ll use my genetic algorithm.

The book groups meet weekly for six weeks in the middle of our data structures unit. This serves as a refreshing change of pace as the data structures unit is fairly intense. In the past, we’ve met in the Learning Commons for book groups which is a great space for this activity.

Inspired by a Cult of Pedagogy article featuring Marisa Thompson, the weekly discussion is structured around Thoughts, lingering Questions, and Epiphanies (TQEs). Each week the book club group collaboratively completes a document (week #1 template) to capture their discussion. This provides some accountability and serves as a great resource for the panel discussion.

The sample prompts change from week to week:

  • Week 1
    • author’s claims
    • personal or group response to the author’s claims
    • evidence (examples) that support the author’s claims
    • aha! (striking) moments while reading or discussing
  • Week 2
    • Has anyone’s personal response or beliefs changed while reading the first third of the book? If no, why not?
    • How does your personal response or beliefs align with those of the author? If yes, how have they changed? Why did they change?
  • Week 3
    • Notes on research on the author. What is their background? What is their education and profession? For whom do they work? Do they have a personal connection to the topic? For which, if any, publications do they write?
    • What are the potential biases of the author?
    • How does awareness of these potential biases affect your perspective of the author’s claims?
  • Week 4
    • Through which of the following critical contexts does the technology highlighted in your text most affect change? (privacy, social justice, economics, education, politics, culture, security, of warfare)
    • how does the technology highlighted in your text affect change from the critical context selected above?
  • Week 5
    • What question is most important to be asked in relationship to your book that has not been asked? That is, what is the question for the answer that you are most excited to share? Why this question is so important?
  • Week 6
    • students are on their own at this point…

After these six weeks of reading, analyzing, and discussing their books, students demonstrate their understanding through their participation in a panel discussion. Originally, I planned on having students write individual essays. One of our Learning Support Coaches recommended alternative assessments and suggested a panel discussion. While I was nervous about managing a panel discussion, it worked incredibly well as a summative assessment and is so much more engaging than a bunch of essays.

The structure of the panel discussion varies somewhat based on the number of students in the class. Overall, there are four panel discussions over two days of class. I set up tables for the panel and the observers in the Learning Commons and invite teachers and administrators to watch the panel discussion. Each panel is comprised of a student from each of the book groups. At times, there may need to be two students from the same book group. This ensures a variety of perspectives as each will address the prompt through from the perspective of their book. Students are expected to address the prompt from the perspective of their book and its author and not their personal opinion. This is important in that I want them to demonstrate that they can take one of their author’s claims, support it with evidence, and connect it to a novel prompt with their reasoning. In addition, students are expected to respond to their peers on the panel as this should be a discussion and not just a round robin of responses to a question. Students are allowed to have notes but are cautioned that use of these notes shouldn’t distract from the panel discussion. I collect their notes at the end of the panel, which serves as supplemental evidence of their understanding. Each student is assessed based on this rubric.

I prepare several prompts for the panel discussion, but one is almost always sufficient for a 15-20 minute panel discussion. Here are the prompts that I’ve used in the past:

  • According the author’s claims presented in your text, through the lens of education [could also be any of the other critical contexts], how do the topics presented in your texts affect change?
  • According the author’s claims presented in your text, how do the concepts presented in your text affect our perception of self identity, control of one’s destiny, and self value?
  • The topics presented in your texts are technologically advanced. According the author’s claims presented in your text, how do they affect everyday people?
  • Many of the topics raised in your text are fairly depressing. According the author’s claims presented in your text, what did you find in your text that was hopeful for the future?
  • According the author’s claims presented in your text, to what extent would your author agree that technology is headed in a positive direction?

Here are a couple of my extra prompts in case a panel gets stalled:

  • The authors of your texts raised several concerns. How did they advise individuals to respond to these issues? What is their call to action?
  • According the author’s claims presented in your text, to what extent would your author agree that the ethical questions raised in this text are subjective?

I’ve been really impressed with students on the panels the past three years. As I mentioned previously, a single prompt almost always lasts 15-20 minutes and is all that is needed for a panel. Students exceeded my expectations. They really took care of each other; if someone was struggling to make a connection, they would prompt them with a bridge to help them make a connection and give them an opportunity to speak. Clearly our Communication Arts teachers have helped these students develop these impressive skills.

For the upcoming school year and the fourth year of my Software Engineering class, I will leave most of this unit unchanged. The one change that I will make is to have students read one of two books and narrow the focus to the critical context of social justice. The district Learning Services department has generously agreed to purchase additional copies such that every student will read either Weapons of Math Destruction or Race after Technology: Abolitionist Tools for the New Jim Code by Ruha Benjamin. While I worry a bit that the more focused lens will limit the panel discussions, both of these books are so rich that I expect the panel discussions will be just as good, if not better, than in the past.

2020 Summer Reading List

I haven’t published my summer reading list in a few years. This summer, for some reason, I seemed to have more time for reading. Most of my reading centered on potential new books for the Technology, Society, and Ethics book study unit in my Software Engineering class where students analyze these texts through a lens that combines the technological, societal, and ethical perspectives. Small groups of students explore the question “How does technology affect change from the critical context of privacy, social justice, economics, education, politics, culture, security, or warfare?”. I did read a couple of books for my awesome biweekly Zoom book club.

Army of None: Autonomous Weapons and the Future of War by Paul Scharre

I’ve been wanting to read this book and evaluate it for class for a couple of years. It will fit well in the software engineering unit and provide an easier to read and analyze alternative to The Hacked World Order. It is very balanced and does an excellent job presenting the challenge of even defining autonomous weapons. Personally, I found it a bit repetitive and long for my students; so, I will probably suggest groups read a subset of the chapters.

Algorithms of Oppression: How Search Engines Reinforce Racism by Safiya Umoja Noble

This was a powerful read. This book had also been on my list for a couple of years. I read it hoping it could complement Weapons of Math Destruction with a more direct focus on racism. Dr. Noble strongly illustrates how algorithms perpetuate racism. While I found the book excellent, I fear that that complexity of the text and concepts may be too much for my students. As a warning to others, some students and especially parents may be uncomfortable with the language of some of the search examples. My search continued with…

Race After Technology: Abolitionist Tools for the New Jim Code by Ruha Benjamin

This was the book for which I was looking. It presented diverse examples of what Dr. Benjamin has coined “the New Jim Code”. In addition, it didn’t resign us all to technology perpetuating engineered inequity as it presents “these forms of resistance are what I think of as abolitionist tools for the New Jim Code.” I had the pleasure of watching Dr. Benjamin’s keynote at this summer’s CSTA conference. After all of this, and the events of this summer, I decided to focus the critical context for this year’s Software Engineering book clubs to social justice. My school district has already approved the purchase of enough copies of Race after Technology and additional copies of Weapons of Math Destruction such that every student will read and analyze one of these two books. We will then have a more focused panel discussion focused specifically on how technology affects change through the critical context of social justice.

Computer Science in K-12: An A-To-Z Handbook on Teaching Programming by Shuchi Grover

This was my surprise read of the summer. I noticed a lot of discussion about this book in my Twitter. Checking the table of contents, I was surprised how many of the authors were familiar. (Grover is the editor and author or co-author of several chapters.) This book should be required reading for all computer science education programs. As I shared on Twitter:

I started with Ch 14: Naive Conceptions of Novice Programmers by Juha Sorva in @shuchig’s book Computer Science in K-12. It captured and distilled misconceptions (preconceptions per #modphys) that I have been struggling to identify. I wish I had this book 8 years ago!

I truly wish I had this book eight years ago when I started teaching computer science. I hope to convince my computer science PLC to make this book part of our work this fall semester.

Braided Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants by Robin Wall Kimmerer

I’ve started reading this book before the start of summer. It was the book that I selected for our book club. It is a book best read one chapter at a time with sufficient time between chapters to savor each. Dr. Kimmerer’s words heal you as you read them. This book connected my childhood home (near where Dr. Kimmerer lives), science, spirituality, and my love and respect of nature. My mom gifted me a signed copy of this book with the inscription “for Geoffrey, in honor of our teachers, the plants”.

The Dispossessed by Ursula Le Guin

Since we didn’t take a long road trip this summer, which is when I usually get in a Stephenson audiobook, I was pleased when another member of our book club selected a science fiction book. A classic that is as relevant now as ever.

2015 Summer Reading List

As I was preparing my stack of books for this summer, I realized that I never published my summer 2015 books read. It wasn’t a great summer of reading, but there are a several good books that I want to share.

what if? Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions by Randall Munroe

This should be required reading for science teachers. It is an inspiring example of how to present science in incredibly engaging, although absurd, contexts. I love xkcd and had the pleasure of hearing Munroe talk on his book tour for Thing Explainer which I hope to finish this summer. I include xkcd comics in my slide notes and link to the what if? blog as extension readings in each unit. Sometimes when an AP Physics 2 student is stuck thinking about capstone ideas, I encourage them to create their own “what if?” capstone.

9 Algorithms that Changed the Future by John McCormick

This was a very accessible book. It would be a good summer read for incoming AP Computer Science students. If I ever have to assign summer work, I would consider assigning this book. I may draw from it for the new Software Engineering course that I’m designing this summer.

The Code Book – The Science of Secrecy from Ancient Egypt to Quantum Cryptogrpahy by Simon Singh

This book was fantastic – computer science, history of science, spy craft. I’ve gifted this book at least three times in the past year to family and students, and I’ve recommended it to several others. Singh includes enough mathematics to make it interesting but complete understanding is not required to appreciate the book.

The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yōko Ogawa

A beautiful book. While there is some math, it should be read for the incredible relationship between the professor and his housekeeper. I recommended this book be added to my school’s library.

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

My mom gave me this book and encouraged me to enjoy reading something not related to teaching, physics, or computer science. I’m glad I did. You all are probably familiar with this book; it did win the Pulitzer Prize after all.

Anathem by Neal Stephenson

I am a huge fan of Stephenson. While Snow Crash and The Diamond Age are monumental works because they defined the cyberpunk genre, and the Baroque Cycle is my favorite collection of historical fiction, Anathem is Stephenson’s greatest work. I actually listened to this entire book on CDs (28 of them while driving all over!). Afterward, I bought the book to share with my son and re-read various sections.

[Update 29/6/2016, 11:50 AM] I forgot a book!

A More Beautiful Question: The Power of Inquiry to Spark Breakthrough Ideas by Warren Berger.

I agree with the premise behind this book: questioning is powerful. For me, many of the examples cited were familiar, and, therefore, I found the book not as groundbreaking as I had hoped. However, I know of others who read it and found it quite insightful. If you are a parent, teacher, or business person, I would recommend checking it out from your local library.

Summer Reading

A good summer of reading. I didn’t read quite as much as I had hoped, but more than I feared I would. My focus this summer was influenced by my work on my district’s Science Curriculum Team who is incorporating the Next Generation Science Standards into our science curriculum. As part of my contribution to this team, I want to promote the development of a continuous narrative that students will find engaging throughout primary and secondary school. I’ll write more about this later, but I believe the history of science plays a crucial role in this endeavor.

Quantum Man by Lawrence Krauss

I find Lawrence Krauss’ writing and speaking engaging. This biography of Richard Feyman focuses more on his pursuit of understanding through science than on his infamous antics.

Creating Innovators: The Making of Young People Who Will Change the World by Tony Wagner

A committee I was on started reading this book last year. It was good and the case studies were interesting. I think it could have been condensed quite a bit without losing too much.

The Edge of Physics: A Journey to Earth’s Extremes to Unlock the Secrets of the Universe by Anil Ananthaswamy

This book is amazing. Ananthaswamy travels around the world to explore the most interesting experiments in the field of cosmology. Reading how these scientists actually go about their experiments and the challenges they face due to their environment is fascinating. These are the types of stories that need to be shared with students.

Trinity: A Graphic History of the First Atomic Bomb by Jonathan Fetter-Vorm

An excellent graphic novel that captures the start of the Atomic Age. This book is a fantastic resource for students research the development of the atomic bomb.

The Ten Most Beautiful Experiments by George Johnson

This was my least favorite book of the summer. I just didn’t find the stories as engaging as others that capture the history of science.

A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson

I read this book years ago, but read it again this summer in order to make annotations that can be incorporated in this narrative of science in which I’m interested. Bryson is an incredibly engaging writer and truly captures the wonder of how little we understand about the world (and beyond) in which we live.

I’m in the midst of two other books and hope to continue to make progress as the school year starts.

Summer Reading

I have a theory that how much I enjoy the summer is directly proportional to how much I read during it. This may be because I make little time to read anything of significant length during the school year. However, during the summer, I find it easier to make time. This summer was a good one for reading!

Mindstorms: Children, Computers, And Powerful Ideas by Seymour Papert

I had been meaning to read this for a while and received a copy as a Christmas gift. I found it so enlightening and surprising that I previous wrote about it.

The Quantum Story: A history in 40 moments by Jim Baggott

I don’t remember how this book ended up on my reading list, but I’m glad it did. I find the history of modern physics fascinating and my students appreciate learning about the historical context in which scientific advancements were made. I found Quantum Story riveting. I flagged dozens of pages to reference in class when we study modern physics.

Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Dr. Carol Dweck

Several teachers that I respect have strongly recommended this book and Dweck’s research on fixed vs. growth mindsets. AFter last year, I was concerned about many of my students’ mindsets. I found this book helpful in that it provided a good foundation for understanding mindsets from a cognitive psychology perspective. I’m working on a future post on how I’ll introduce students to fixed vs. growth mindsets.

The Talent Code: Greatness Isn’t Born. It’s Grown. Here’s How by Daniel Coyle

This book was a great pairing to Mindset. Coyle focused on very similar ideas from the perspective of neuroscience. I flagged a couple of the examples in this book to use as activities with my students. I hope that the combination of the ideas of mindset with that of deep practice will have a powerful impact on my students.

National Geographic Angry Birds Furious Forces: The Physics at Play in the World’s Most Popular Game by Rhett Allain

It took me longer than expected to read this book because my son took it before I got started. It is a wonderful, accessible, fun, and engaging introduction to the world of physics through the lens of Angry Birds. Rhett’s casual writing style is a perfect fit for this book. I plan to keep it out in my classroom for students to browse and enjoy.

The Einstein Theory of Relativity: A Trip to the Fourth Dimension by Lillian R. Lieber

I believe I learned of this book in The Physics Teacher and was intrigued by the reviewer who claimed this was the best explanation of tensors, ever. I ordered a couple of copies: one to gift to a student who was graduating and one for myself. I was wonderfully surprised by the writing style and the illustrations throughout the book. I must admit that I’m still in the middle of the book, but I hope that my reading won’t be interrupted now that school has started!