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I often see students at levels varying from really bad to incredibly clever. The students in the middle of the scale fit to curriculum perfectly (as it is meant to be for them). The students at either end of the scale are more difficult to teach.

Yet, it is clear that all students have another field/skill ( often not related to computers) which they are remarkably good in that field. For example one of the students has a musical understanding such as I have never seen (as an example of this, he can create piano adaptions for Green Day songs and says it was "easy").

These skills are neither a hindrance nor do they aid the students, but that doesn't have to be the case.

For the students are not too good in Computer science, their "secondary" skill might be useful for aiding them. I have not been able to think of a good way to use their secondary skills to assist them in learning computer science.

In what ways can these skills can be taken into account when dealing with such students (at either end of the scale)?

(The students are in high school and know only the basics in java, such as primitive types, arrays, loops and Scanner)

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  • $\begingroup$ I feel like several words are being used interchangeably here: field, skill, understanding, and level. To me, it's dangerous to conflate these terms. A student's skills != a student's content knowledge. I also would avoid framing students as "bad to ... clever." There's also implicitly learning modality being assumed here, e.g. the student with musical talent. I think this idea of "secondary skill" needs to be narrowed; to the student it might be their primary skill. A question just on musical learners or visual artists would more appropriate and precise. $\endgroup$ – Peter Jul 11 '17 at 5:14
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It is not clear for me what "computer science" means for you. Is it at High School level?

If that is the case, you could try to introduce some of the mechanics behind "digital music". How it is processed from analog to digital. How it is compressed, how it is reproduced, ... What does it mean to be 8bit or 16bit, the bit-rate, the sampling frequency...

If the students are more into drawing/painting, you could do the same with image formats.

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I'm assuming that you do not want an answer that says "form three groups and teach them separately." I wouldn't want that either. I particular it reinforces things that should not be reinforced - in every one of the groups you describe.

The solution depends on many things including the size of the group and your own "power" within the educational system. In the best of all worlds you don't have to have a solution that scales, but you do have sufficient freedom to do non-standard things. A novice teacher needs to justify everything. A tenured full professor can do as s/he pleases in many places. But with 40+ students, there are limits.

  • One thing I would think about trying is to turn the class into a science fair with students or groups of students proposing projects that fit their interest but also require learning what you have on the syllabus, say programming, data structures, etc. There might be few lectures. A "flipped classroom".

  • A milder proposal is to have the course closer to whatever your standard is, but include a project (maybe individual, maybe team) that the students propose. Students propose a project, you negotiate the boundaries and eventually approve. If you can make this a large part of the grading/marking system, all the better.

  • If you are really constrained, however, just force teamwork on them so that people with different interests and different skill levels must work together. Here your job may be the wise overseer who keeps things going forward if there are conflicts or imbalance.

Notice that all of the suggestions here include teamwork, at least potentially. Students need to learn things but at this age they also need to learn, and have reinforced, appropriately positive things about themselves. With older students socialization becomes, perhaps, less important, but as they get closer to the working world, teamwork becomes more important. < opinion >

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