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

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