Five fellow educators from the Cranbrook Institute of Science and I had the opportunity to attend the Institute of Inquiry at the Exploratorium in San Francisco. A series of posts will document our thoughts as we progressed through the week-long workshops.
Many of us had been hoping to attend this professional development opportunity for some time, so to touch down in California and look forward to a week of not only learning but a chance to reflect and discuss out work with each other arrive was certainly exciting. Yet we also shared uncertainty about what each of us will take away from it: How it will connect to the different types of work we do? What we can transfer this knowledge to the educators and students we serve? I think the first day put some of those concerns to rest, even as the complete picture on inquiry was not yet revealed.
We joined about twenty-five other teachers, principals, professors, and informal educators in a conference room around 9 in the morning. Some worked at the Exploratorium, others worked elsewhere in the state, but they were in the minority. Most had travelled from elsewhere in the U.S. and Canada, and a few had traveled as far as from Japan, Hong Kong, and Spain. This would allow for rich conversations with the various perspectives and experiences in the room, which is often just as valuable as the content being presented.
Forty years ago, Donald Knuth argued that computer programming is both an art and a science, with the two aspects not at odds but complementary to each other. Writing a program “can be like composing poetry or music…programming can give us both intellectual and emotional satisfaction” (Knuth, 1974, p. 670). He perceived that it is not only the result of an algorithm that can demonstrate creativity, but the act of creating the algorithm as well. This is akin to recognizing that the techniques of a painter can be as creative as the painting itself, as the process and product are intrinsically linked. Creativity in programming has long been accepted in the computer science community, but not necessarily with the general public. One contributing factor is that the algorithms and code that implements them have often been obscured from the end user, or to borrow an art term, viewer.
A new museum exhibit, The Art of Algorithms, will pull back the curtain to reveal the spectrum of creativity used in creating and implementing algorithms and demonstrate applications of computational thinking in the arts. By participating in this interactive museum exhibit, visitors will not only be able to experience examples of digital art, but also create works to be displayed within the gallery. Museums play an important role in communities by not only elucidating difficult concepts but nurturing passions in different fields of study and showing connections across disciplines.