Dordt College News

De Jong sees growth of computer science

June 24, 2014

When Dennis De Jong began teaching high school mathematics and physics, he and his students didn’t even have access to calculators to help them solve complicated problems.

Using calculators really made a difference in the kind of problems I could include on tests,” he recalls. He no longer had to avoid using problems that required lengthy calculations and worry about having enough time for students to show whether they had learned the concepts behind the new material.

Then, in 1980, Southwest Christian High School in Edgerton, Minnesota, where he then taught, purchased its first computers. De Jong took two computer programming courses and began teaching basic programming to high school students. The more he got into it, the more he liked it.

In the summer of 1983, he participated in an intensive program in computer science. Both high schools and colleges were looking for people to teach computer science—including Dordt. His new expertise in computer programming, combined with his background in mathematics education, made him a good candidate for a position in Dordt’s mathematics and growing computer science department. He came to Dordt in 1985 and has taught both future math teachers and computer science majors ever since.

Technology has changed teaching for De Jong, but it has also changed learning for students. Today’s future teachers use Smartboards and PowerPoints easily and naturally.

“Technology certainly does not solve all problems but it allows students to dig deeper and often better understand concepts because they can be so easily visualized,” he says.

Technology also allows professors to build real problems from news or data. Access to census and population data,
for example, can serve as a rich source of information for engaging teachers and students in mathematics that
relates to the world around them.

Today technology is as integral a part of mathematics education as it is of computer science, and sometimes the challenge is more about mastering communication between people who need to work together than it is on mastering the technology they work with. As a computer science instructor, De Jong knows that in today’s world most problems are approached by teams of people—individuals who know how to use technology, but who also can collaborate in ways that bring better solutions to the problems they are trying to solve. He encourages such collaboration in his classes.

De Jong has worked with nearly 100 mathematics teachers over the past 29 years.

“I’ve been blessed to work with many good students who are now good teachers,” he says. In the past few years, he has been joined at Dordt by faculty that include one of his mathematics education students and with one of his computer science students.

“I’ve appreciated being able to work with colleagues who share a similar goal,” he says. He still will. De Jong expects to continue teaching parttime next year.

Sally Jongsma

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