I am still learning

Originally uploaded by mimax

NB: Although this post refers to a specific example of the GCSE Computing specification, it’s relevant to everyone in education. Trust me.

As a teacher there are few things I enjoy more than when a student tries to outfox me with something I don’t know – only to find that I’m quite happy to admit that I don’t know it, but I know where to look for the answer.

While I’m happy to admit that colleague x knows more than me about databases and colleague y knows more than me about graphic design, I’ve kind of carved a niche out for myself as a Computing expert. I’m one of (seemingly) very few ICT teachers who have a Computing degree, I’m the only teacher teaching GCSE Computing and one of only two prepared to tackle AS computing.

It worried me, therefore, when I was looking through part of the GCSE Computing specification and came across the phrase “Candidates should be able to … explain how the computer distinguishes between instructions and data”.

The reason this worried me is that in my understanding, the computer doesn’t distinguish between the two.

I don’t want to turn this into a detailed technical discussion, because as I said at the top of the post, I think the lessons here apply to all educators.

When faced with this problem I had a number of options.
1. Ignore it, tell the kids what I think is the right answer. No embarrassment.
2. Email the board for clarification. In private. No embarrassment.
3. Start a public discussion about it. Risk embarrassment.

You can hopefully tell which way I jumped. I started a public discussion – in fact more than one. First I tweeted about it, to say what some of the great people I connect with on Twitter had to say. Neil Adam, Matt Smart and Shalim Khan in particular had some interesting thoughts.

Not entirely satisfied I also posted to the Computing At School Google Group as well. Much discussion has passed back and forth over the day and, while the answer to the question isn’t simple, my initial understanding was, it seems, largely correct.

What’s the point? It’s easy to admit I don’t know the answer when it’s not something I’m that likely to know. It’s much harder to admit when it’s something within my specialism. But by taking a risk and having the discussion I hopefully help others to find similar answers, I make sure that I do get the right answer and I remind myself that I am a lifelong learner.

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