Archive for the ‘Pedagogy’ Category

References and Resources

This morning the SIGCSE list shifted to a positive light with folks thinking about how to reflect on practice. I offered the following as some references and resources that I thought would be great to share here. From my email:

Thanks for shifting this to a positive frame! I’d also like to contribute some resources to folks who are thinking about questioning their practice and looking for references.

While we know about some CS specific pedagogical approaches (through SIGCSE publications, ICER, and Mark Guzdial’s blog) there are also some more general resources people may not be aware of.

The Institute for Education Sciences (IES), which is the US DOE research division, has a couple of practice guides that may be of interest to this community.

Organizing Instruction and Study to Improve Student Learning

Encouraging Girls in Math and Science

In addition to those two guides, you may also be interested in applying some of the research-backed recommendations from these guides as well:

Using Student Achievement Data to Support Instructional Decision Making

Improving Mathematical Problem Solving Grades 4-8

Teaching Strategies for Improving Algebra Knowledge for Middle and High School Students

Although the last two are specific to mathematics, the struggles students have with abstraction and algebraic representation are mirrored in novices attempts to learn to program.  Substitute code problems and worked examples for the algebraic ones discussed and you have some interesting pedagogical practices that may impact your students.  Much of the research indicates the more students are able to discuss with each other (similar to the Peer Instruction work in CS, or the Think-Pair-Share protocol) the more they will learn and retain.

A quick note: even though some recommendations are marked with “low” evidence, I can assure you that does not mean “low” in the way you are thinking. Low indicates quasi-experimental design with results for a few studies. Few SIGCSE studies would meet IES’s standard for review, let alone be qualified as any level of evidence (as most lack a control group). This statement is not made to judge SIGCSE work, but instead communicate the rigor IES is using for evaluation.

I would also recommend the Teach Like a Champion series.  It is a great collection of pedagogical approaches that help clarify the power moves a teacher can make in real-time in a classroom to engage students in deeper learning. Not all of the suggestions are for everyone, but choosing a few can start you thinking about pedagogy in your class in a way that doesn’t feel like “more work” or taking time away from your research (except for the initial reading).

Without the option to have a faculty specific methods course for all – these resources (and recommending them to grad students and new faculty) can also be impactful. At CMU I taught a course – Introduction to CS Education which involved opportunities for microteaching, as well as readings from the practice guides above.  Grad students who took the course shared with me that they wrote better teaching statements, and made better research presentations after completing the course.

Thank you all for hanging in through this long message.

Tuesday, February 9th, 2016

Tolerating “poor” teaching

I participate in a few list-servs around CS Education, and over the past 24 hours a thread on one of them has asked the question “Faculty who are poor teachers – why do we tolerate them?”

I responded to one of the posts, and I’d like to share that response here as well. Its going to start with a quote from a message to the list.

… my friends and relatives and neighbors who have
children in high school who are considering where to go to college often ask
me for my advice.  My answer is that one has to know one’s child.  Poor
students who need hand-holding should go to colleges (and some universities)
where teaching is a central focus and graduate and research programs are
either small or non-existent.  That is where they will find “teachers.”

Good students will learn despite everything that may get in their way.
Those students will do well at research universities even as undergraduates
if they realize that education will not be *given* to them at the
university, but it is there for them to *take*.  Such students get involved
with the professors, work in their labs, and learn as much or more from
other students as they do from any professors.  What do you get at name
schools such Harvard and MIT and Stanford and Carnegie Mellon and the like?
Great teaching by the professors?  Sometimes.  Great teaching by fellow
students?  Virtually always.

My response:

I have to admit I’m struggling with how to respond to this.

Over the past four years I have been working with the amazing teachers and students in NYC to help launch CSNYC and the CS4All movement. I have also been a faculty member at Carnegie Mellon University.  I taught high school for 8 years in one of the most competitive districts in the nation (constantly in US News top 50) and have taught CS at the local community college. I began my teaching career in a drop-out factory in South Florida, teaching 16 year old students who could not sound out the word “who” in 9th grade. I have experienced the broad range of students and classroom environments in my career.

Many of the statements in the above quote troubled me, and my struggles stem purely from a belief that the author does not see the micro-aggressions embedded in the statements made.

Please take a second and recognize your defenses probably just jumped up.

The first reaction I had was to the phrase “poor students who need hand holding”. I am shocked that in 2016 good pedagogy could still be referred to as ‘hand holding’, let alone be relegated to “poor” students.

Secondly, the implication that students who don’t succeed in poor pedagogical environments are just not working “hard enough” to seek out extra learning experiences reminds me of the Lean In argument. In my own experience, I had to work through undergrad – my father was unemployed, and I took a placement by Work Study as a way to help pay my tuition. I could not have worked in someone’s lab, and actually turned down offers, because I would have lost a significant part of my financial aid package.

If students are struggling to pay tuition, or placing themselves in lifelong debt to attend our institutions, and have cleared the hurdles we put in place for them to get there, should it not be our responsibility to TEACH them? I’m not asking you to change your assessments. Give the same homework, the same tests, just change your delivery.

If two students get the same score on the final exam, do they not have the same knowledge? Does it matter that one teacher used peer instruction? Perhaps engaged in some active learning techniques during lecture? Encouraged students to annotate in their notes and asked them to self explain code?

I hope this message opens a dialog. The poor students who have earned the right to attend institutions like CMU, MIT, and others should not have to forgo those experiences because we “tolerate” poor teachers.

Tuesday, February 2nd, 2016

Do Different Teaching Methods Change Rigor?

Consider this:

Imagine I could create a ‘perfect’ assessment for whatever content knowledge you care about. Two students took the test and both achieved the same score under the same conditions. If the assessment is not flawed, is could one student be more ‘rigorous’ than the other?

When we talk about the increase in diversity in educational settings, we often jump to the conclusion that a lack of rigor is what opens the door for new populations to attain graduation, entrance, and prior success that differs from historical data.

I can tell you that here in NYC, some of the ways the numbers are changing is not from a decrease in rigor, but an improvement in instruction.  Teachers are using more active learning techniques, and as we understand the mechanisms of student learning and cognition better, they are using teaching strategies that take advantage of student strengths, as opposed to drilling them to correct for weakness.

I’ve heard college faculty discussing how they are afraid they will have to “water down” or reduce the rigor of courses to prepare for this flood of diverse students.

Mark Guzdial recently has been discussing the reform of teaching practices at the college level. Is a class with reformed teaching practices less rigorous?

Maybe, but maybe not for the rigor of the content we actually care about. If you are measuring whether students can learn on their own, or absorb material from a lecture – then yes, traditional college instructional practice is more rigorous.  But in terms of the CS content?

We need to be careful that our self reflection of our learning process does not conflate good (r bad) instructional practice with rigor.

Inspired by: “Professors Shouldn’t Teach to Younger Versions of Themselves

Monday, October 26th, 2015

Assumptions and Best Intentions

The computer science education landscape is changing.

When discussing the need for the Running on Empty report, I used to say that CS Education was like champagne. A number of little bubbles of excellence, but those bubbles were not coming together to form a coherent movement.  As late as 2012, the most widely implemented form of computer science in the K12 space was the AP Computer Science A courses. And even today, it is the metric we use to define the pervasiveness of computer science at the HS level. (Despite the fact that by definition AP is supposed to represent post-secondary level work.)

But that is changing.

Programs are now growing beyond NSF funded pilots in a few schools or cities, to national operations with many schools and many more students.  Two great examples of this are the Bootstrap program and Exploring Computer Science. (By no means are they the only programs, but just two I’ve worked closely with over the last few years)

And yet, I am still astounded by the research funding and efforts put into developing “new” curricula and implementations to be used with high school students.  I’m focusing specifically in HS because I believe our MS and Elementary school space is still emerging and growing (there are some great programs out there for both, just not as well adopted yet).

Our problem is no longer a lack of curriculum.

On the contrary, there are a number of curriculum available, with materials, tools, and even lessons pre-created for teachers.  Yet, I still hear “I have a new idea for a program” far too often.

One of the most exciting things I get to work on is #CS4All.  While curriculum is a question for the project, we are no longer in a desert of options.  Instead what I need are pedagogy and methods to help reach the diverse learners in the schools.  Yes – I am aware of the body of research that includes peer instruction, active learning, and the wonderful resource that is CS Teaching Tips. But we need more – and we need a feedback loop between those pedagogical findings and the programs/curriculum that are available.

What prompted this post was a report about NYC’s department of education entitled “Redesigning the District Operating System”. The report was describing how bringing together teachers, designers, parents and students for the GapApp Challenge yielded a redefinition of the needs of teachers.

In the NYCDOE GapApp Challenge for middle school math, the central office assumption was that the most pressing classroom problems were curricular. When we interviewed and held design sessions with teachers, however, none of them mentioned curriculum. What surfaced for all of them was the difficulty in dealing with the range of abilities within a single classroom, something that was not even on the radar at the central Office of Teaching and Learning.”

Sometimes I feel like the CSED community falls prey to the same problem as the ‘central office’ did.  Assuming teachers’ problems are curricular (content) and not pedagogical.  Let’s think as a community about how we can explore pedagogy within our curricular implementations and partner with content providers to explore the implications of those interventions

Monday, October 19th, 2015