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There is a question on the table in CSE about how to introduce ideas: abstract / high-level first, or concrete / low-level first. (Mixing them is right out.) There are several ways to address it:

  • Compromise, which pleases no one
  • Ignoring, impossible
  • Resolution, which new members will be unaware of
  • Division, have two categories of Questions, awkward

So, what should reasonable people do in this situation?

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  • $\begingroup$ I posted this when I saw 1 other person who agreed with me. Robert's Rules of Order say that there must be a second to discuss a motion. $\endgroup$
    – user737
    Jul 23 '17 at 3:03
  • $\begingroup$ Yes, we agree - mixing them is right out. $\endgroup$
    – Buffy
    Jul 23 '17 at 10:41
  • $\begingroup$ I gave my answer, I think, here. $\endgroup$
    – Ben I. Mod
    Jul 23 '17 at 19:42
  • $\begingroup$ Perhaps teaching the right concepts would make the field less gender-biased. Build on women's greater language ability, by teaching it from a 'generative' standpoint rather than one of mastering arcane knowledge? Combine the rudiments to create... anything. Like learning music. Just a thought. $\endgroup$
    – user737
    Jul 23 '17 at 23:50
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While this is certainly an important issue, I wouldn't go so far as to say it has already become or ever will become "a deepening divide and animosity". From a moderation perspective, this is a non-issue because users can have whatever opinions about how to teach they want. From the perspective of a community member, I do not see this as an issue currently and I can't see it becoming an issue. Certainly people have philosophical differences, and they can include that in their answers. If it does become a "holy war", we can address it when it happens because I don't see anything that can be done at a stage this early.

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  • $\begingroup$ "Don't say I didn't warn ya!" $\endgroup$
    – user737
    Jul 23 '17 at 3:19
  • $\begingroup$ I won't, and I'm glad that you've put this warning out here, I just don't see anything that can be done at this point. $\endgroup$
    – thesecretmaster Mod
    Jul 23 '17 at 3:19
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I don't perceive such a divide. I have seen some answers which prefer one over the other in a given context. I think that is good. In teaching many people have found one method work better for them, in their demographic, than another.

I accept that some users may be staunch supporters of one or the other of the two approaches. I expect, however, that there are more who are results driven rather than philosophy driven in their teaching methods.

A war seems unlikely without the support of an army, in both camps, and I don't believe there are sufficient purists of either version to support such an engagement.

Should, despite the lack of critical mass, some hot spots appear, the mod team has the necessary equipment to handle it. I know, I can each a set when they were appointed.

hammer fire

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  • $\begingroup$ Thank you. One of my Qs quoted research that said, students are not developing an adequate base of concepts. The quote was edited out, then the question closed. Too much moderation, I think. If research shows there is a problem, we are the infantry on the ground facing it. Some approach must be better than others or we have no purpose being here. $\endgroup$
    – user737
    Jul 23 '17 at 14:48
  • $\begingroup$ @nocomprende If you'd like I can look into what happened. Do you have a link to the question, or the title? $\endgroup$
    – thesecretmaster Mod
    Jul 23 '17 at 16:27
  • $\begingroup$ @thesecretmaster a similar question replaced it, but here, rev 3 is what I was happy with cseducators.stackexchange.com/questions/2747/… $\endgroup$
    – user737
    Jul 23 '17 at 16:46
  • $\begingroup$ @nocomprende Please join me in chat to continue this conversation. $\endgroup$
    – thesecretmaster Mod
    Jul 23 '17 at 17:01
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As one of the "generals" of the abstract-first army (hmmm. platoon?), but also someone who has thought deeply and long about teaching and teachers, let me give a perspective.

I have built up a teaching philosophy and that philosophy both informs and is informed by my (and others) teaching practice. Some of that has been captured in patterns, so I don't have much, if any doubt about the philosophy.

However, I think those occupying the "other hill" have also done the same. That is, they have built up a teaching philosophy that both informs and is informed by their practice.

I think that those practices differ between the two camps, but each of them is, I expect, a consistent and coherent whole. For this reason, the students of those of us with different philosophies will do fine. Not a problem. And that is the goal.

Far worse, I think, is to not have a philosophy at all. Then teaching can devolve into just chaos. So, having these discussions can, and I hope does, help beginning teachers adopt a consistent and coherent philosophy that both informs and is informed by their practice.

I think that as long as we (including the mods) insist on the "be nice" rule we will be fine as a community.

I have respect for anyone who commits to teaching. There is no "higher calling" in my mind.

OTOH, I'll lobby like crazy.


One of the limitations of this format for this question is just its length. It is difficult to lay out a philosophy and how (and which) practices work with it in pundit length posts. There is a lot to say and not much space to say it. Thus, the "back and forth" puts the whole thing together from pieces not unlike (specialized) lego blocks. So one post will lay out an axiom or theorem of the philosophy and another will show how some practice follows or doesn't that axiom. Books can be written. Some have.

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  • $\begingroup$ I don't really have a philosophy beyond determining what works. My perspective is informed by experience. You are correct when you say that pretty much all approaches will work, students will learn. But some paths up the mountain might lead to only a local maximum of understanding, and another goes right to the summit. Does the starting point matter or not? If it doesn't then there is no need to ask questions here. $\endgroup$
    – user737
    Jul 23 '17 at 14:53
  • $\begingroup$ @nocomprende All roads lead to Rome, yet no road will get you there if you do not "travel" the road. Looking at the road signs will not get one there, no matter how straight or level the road may be. $\endgroup$ Jul 23 '17 at 16:38
  • $\begingroup$ @GypsySpellweaver I usually prepare for a trip by looking at a map first. Avoids no end of trouble. Similarly, I always orient my students to what we are learning now in context to what we have covered, and what is coming up. They should never feel lost. GPS is not reliable, and you can't find your way around obstacles if you have no overall view, or map. $\endgroup$
    – user737
    Jul 23 '17 at 16:50
  • $\begingroup$ @nocomprende Yet, with all the study, preparation, planning, and tools, if one does not start moving, one will never reach the other place. $\endgroup$ Jul 23 '17 at 16:52
  • $\begingroup$ @GypsySpellweaver Zeno's first law: motion is impossible. Still, we must try, eh? $\endgroup$
    – user737
    Jul 23 '17 at 16:57
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"Please state your answer in the form of a question."
Someone pointed out to me that although I seem to be an abstract thinker, I approach CS with a very concrete / low-level view of "what is". Yes. I blame Myers-Briggs: I am an INFP, and so my thinking process is founded in Intuitive Feeling. Although computers have fascinated me since age 7, I actually find programming extremely difficult (but fun). I have struggled to get interrupt-driven programs to work, and construct a counting semaphore from just a mutex and condition variable. These are solved problems, but I re-solved them myself. Why? Why do I persist?

People say to play to your strengths, but I play to my weaknesses because that is how I grow, and how I learn to relate to others, which is my primary drive as a Hetaira Archetype person. Yet, I do learn from my struggles, how to condense what I went through, so that I can follow the command to pass on what I have learned. (And because war stories are so much fun.) I know where the potholes are, and I try to know when to speak, and when to keep silent.

We need reason and feeling to support each other. The 'noncoalescence' is destroying our world. Programmers know things, and they have intuition. But the process needs to start with the right concepts. Prigogine said, "Nature has no simple level." But it has levels, and we have long ago identified regularities, rules, at all of them. Sensible science begins with the Laws, the Big Ideas that organized discovery in the field. Faraday, Tesla, Fessenden, Armstrong, Terman. (Oops, that's my favorite field...)

From A Man For All Seasons:
"I'd cut down every law to get at the devil!"
"So Roper, and what would you do then when the Devil turned on you, all the laws being down?"

Are the basic ideas, or the abstract ones the laws in this case?

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  • $\begingroup$ Disclaimer: my father is an Attorney. $\endgroup$
    – user737
    Jul 23 '17 at 16:39
  • $\begingroup$ Q: "Are the basic ideas, or the abstract ones the laws in this case?". A: yes $\endgroup$
    – Buffy
    Jul 23 '17 at 20:39
  • $\begingroup$ @Buffy if you had to overturn a precedent, would you rather an earlier one, ora later one? Prune a tree, or take an axe to the root? If you had to teach only 10 minutes of geometry, teach the axioms, or some of the theorems? Hand some one a few basic tools, or show them how to use a power tool? I give up. $\endgroup$
    – user737
    Jul 23 '17 at 21:07
  • $\begingroup$ None of those. I'd try for insight instead. How does a geometer think? $\endgroup$
    – Buffy
    Jul 23 '17 at 21:09
  • $\begingroup$ Hmmm. Maybe insight is the power tool. $\endgroup$
    – Buffy
    Jul 23 '17 at 21:10
  • $\begingroup$ @Buffy i had a Q here about supporting the development of Insight. It was downvoted and so I deleted it. $\endgroup$
    – user737
    Jul 23 '17 at 23:03
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I want to stress the comment @Buffy made:

I think that as long as we (including the mods) insist on the "be nice" rule we will be fine as a community.

Before reading through the responses, I had formed my opening sentence as follows: When in doubt, be nice.

The diversity of views, backgrounds, experiences, expertises (word?), and passions is the strength of this community. We should celebrate the heterogeneity of this group. To be truly meta, the fact that this conversation is even going on is a testament to the commitment of all those involved to choose to discuss differences of perspective in concrete, productive ways.

I am reminded of these two famous figures from The School of Athens:

Plato and Aristotle from Raphael's The School of Athens

Some point up to the heavens; some point down to the earth. When it comes to teaching strategies (or epistemology), we can be as different as Plato from Aristotle. That is just fine. The tragedy is in not having the conversation at all.

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