“People are kids. We don’t want to sit there in a lecture, we want to understand, and we want to experience.”
Professor Lenny Pitt has spent most of his career investigating the foundations of computer science and machine learning. Recently, he has been examining computer science education in K-12 classrooms.
“I think computer science education is really important,” Pitt says. “There is so much computer science has to offer in terms of problem solving and the way to decompose problems.”
Pitt is developing activities and methods for teaching computer science at the K-12 level, including lesson planning and teacher education workshops. As his outreach work expands, he has found that much of his work for younger students can contribute to his undergraduate classes.
“People are kids,” Pitt says. “We don’t want to sit there in a lecture, we want to understand and we want to experience.”
Pitt likes to have his undergraduate classes play Dr. Nim, a marble game he got in fourth grade. As marbles fall through various paths in the plastic frame, he explains that the game is really a simple computer. The game illustrates the important point that the particular mechanism is not what defines a computer; the computation does.
“I’m learning that by trying to explain things at a simple level you really start to crystallize many of the ideas,” he says. “That helps you explain things to a more sophisticated audience as well.”
As one of Illinois’s Distinguished Teacher/Scholars, Pitt is recognized as a wonderful instructor and a skilled researcher. Those honored with this recognition are required to undertake a year-long project that can improve instruction by other faculty members. Pitt is examining the way outreach education works throughout the University of Illinois community. He wants to understand the motivations, experiences, rewards and obstacles of faculty and staff members who are engaged in K-12 outreach education.
The Distinguished Teacher/Scholar Program is one of the campus resources (along with the Center for Teaching Excellence and the Center for Educational Technologies) that enhance the quality education for every Illinois student.
Illinois faculty members have been recognized with Nobel and Pulitzer Prizes. Lenny Pitt is just one of more than 2,000 current Illinois faculty members at Illinois who continue that tradition of excellent research and teaching.