Posts tagged ‘teachers’

Study finds increased STEM enrollment: Taking from education and business

First the good news: STEM enrollment is up.  Then the surprising news: Humanities are not losing students to STEM.  Rather, it’s the professional fields like education that are losing enrollment.  That makes CS Ed (and other STEM discipline-based education research (DBER) fields) the odd winner-losers.  Yay, there are more students, but there will be fewer STEM teachers in the future to teach them.

Policy makers regularly talk about the need to encourage more undergraduates to pursue science and technology fields. New data suggest that undergraduates at four-year institutions in fact have become much more likely to study those fields, especially engineering and biology.

And while much of the public discussion of STEM enrollments has suggested a STEM vs. liberal arts dichotomy (even though some STEM fields are in fact liberal arts disciplines), the new study suggests that this is not the dynamic truly at play. Rather, STEM enrollments are growing while professional field enrollments (especially business and education) are shrinking.

via Study finds increased STEM enrollment since the recession | Inside Higher Ed.

The ComputerWorldK agrees. They claim that the smart students were going into business, then Wall Street collapsed, and now they’re going into CS and that’s why we’re having sky-rocketing enrollments.

The number of computer science graduates will continue to increase. Computer science enrollments rose by nearly 30% in the 2011-12 academic year, and they increased 23% the year before that.

The trend of enrollment increases since 2010 bodes well for a “future increase in undergraduate computing production,” according to the report.

The recession that hit in 2008 sent IT unemployment soaring, but it may have done more damage to the finance sector, especially in terms of reputation. That prompted some educators at the time to predict that the recession might send math-inclined students from the world of hedge funds to computer science.

via Wall Street’s collapse was computer science’s gain – Computerworld.

August 10, 2014 at 9:34 am 3 comments

New ExploringCS Working Paper: How do we avoid CS10K going to CS5K only five years later?

An important new working paper from the ExploringCS group asks the question: If we achieve CS10K, how do we avoid only having CS5K left after only five years?  This is exactly the question that Lijun Ni was exploring in her dissertation on CS teacher identity.

Of the 81 teachers who have participated in the ECS program over the last
five years, 40 are currently teaching ECS in LAUSD. These numbers reveal that we
have “lost” more teachers than we have “retained.” Of the 40 teachers who are
currently teaching the ECS course, 5 of them had a 1-2 year interval in which they
did not teach the course. This means that fully 45 of the 81 teachers who have
participated in the ECS program have experienced a teaching “disruption” which has
ended their participation in the ECS teacher community for a year or longer.

In particular, they ask us to consider the dangers of short-term fixes to long-term problems, which is a point I was trying to make when arguing that we may be 100 years behind other STEM subjects in terms of making our discipline-based education available to all.

In response to scaling up challenges, we can expect a rise of “quick-fix”
solutions that have a potential to undercut progress. One quick-fix “solution” to
address CS teacher shortage or the need for deepened teacher content knowledge
are programs that bring industry professionals to assist teachers in CS classrooms.
While we are interested in learning more about the outcomes of these programs,
because there can be value in students hearing from experts in the field, there are
also risks to having industry professionals take on a teaching role in the classroom
without professional development in effective and relevant pedagogy and belief
systems and equitable practices. Will industry professionals deliver content
knowledge the way they were taught, not having had experience working with the
novice learner? Will they focus on working with the students who think more like
they do, to the neglect of the other students? In short quick fixes like these may
inadvertently perpetuate the persistent divides in the field.

I add to their list of questions: Does bringing in IT professionals reduce the administrative pressure that pushes teachers out of CS?  Does it help to create the context and environment that supports CS teachers?

I used this working paper in my post this month for Blog@CACM.  Vint Cerf recently gave testimony in the Senate recommending a requirement for CS in all primary and secondary schools.  The ECS experience (and Lijun Ni’s work) point toward the need to create a supportive environment for CS teaching if we want to achieve Vint’s recommendation.

Highly recommended read.

July 27, 2014 at 9:35 am 1 comment

We need computing in schools, in whatever category will work

At the NCWIT Summit this year, I heard an interesting concern.  If CS counts as a mathematics or science course towards high school graduation requirements, will that make CS even less diverse?  Should we keep CS as a business topic (elective) where the women and under-represented minorities are?

I took up that question for my Blog@CACM post for this month: Why Counting CS as Science or Math is Not Considered Harmful. I argue that our goal is universal computational literacy, with everyone using computing in every class and everyone taking CS.  I don’t really care how it gets a foothold in schools.  It was fun to write about Alan Kay, Adele Goldberg, and Andy diSessa, pointing out that they were talking about these ideas long time before computational thinking.


June 24, 2014 at 8:48 am 8 comments

Teaching programming could be made easier

Gas station without pump’s post on Garth’s complaint “Teaching programming is not getting easier” intrigued me.  Garth does a good job of pulling together a lot of the themes of what makes teaching CS hard today.  I think that we can improve the situation.  I’m particularly interested in learning how to scaffold the development of programming knowledge, and we have to find ways to create professional communities of CS teachers.  There are techniques to share (worked examples, peer instruction, pair programming, Parson’s problems, audio tours), and we’re clearly not doing a good job of it yet.

In programming there are 4 homework problems over the period of a week, none of which are “easy”, and all require some problem solving and thinking.  There is somewhat of an incremental progression to the problems but that step from written problem to code is always a big one.  It is somewhat similar to solving word problems in math, every student’s favorite task.  For programming there are no colleagues available that have as much or more experience to pull teaching ideas from, if there are any other programming teachers at all.  There are no pedagogical resources anywhere online for teaching strategies.  After watching a number (3) of programming teachers teach it seems the teaching strategy is pretty consistent; show and tell and hope.

via Teaching programming is not getting easier. | Garth’s CS Education Blog.

June 17, 2014 at 8:55 am 12 comments

A flawed case against teaching: Scaffolding, direct instruction, and learner-centered classrooms

Premise 1: Teaching is a human endeavor that does not and cannot improve over time.

Premise 2: Human beings are fantastic learners.

Premise 3: Humans don’t learn well in the teaching-focused classroom.

Conclusion: We won’t meet the needs for more and better higher education until professors become designers of learning experiences and not teachers.

at Change | The Case Against Teaching


Interesting argument linked above, but wrong.


June 10, 2014 at 9:57 am 5 comments

High school CS teachers need to read and trace code, not develop software

My May 2014 Blog@CACM post, “What it takes to be a successful high school computer science teacher” sneaks up on a radical suggestion, that I’ll make explicitly here.  High school computer science teachers need to be able to read and trace code.  They don’t necessarily need to know much about writing code, and they certainly don’t need to know how to be software developers.

As we are developing our CSLearning4u ebook, we’re reviewing a lot of our prior research on the practices of successful CS teachers.  What do we need to be teaching teachers so that they are successful?  We don’t hear successful CS teachers talking much about writing code.  However, the successful ones read code a lot, while the less-successful ones do not.  Raymond Lister has been giving us evidence for years that there’s a developmental path from reading and tracing code that precedes writing code.

Yes, I’m talking about taking a short-cut here.  I’m suggesting that our worldwide professional development efforts for high school teachers should emphasize reading and tracing code, not writing code.  Our computer science classes do the reverse of that.  We get students writing code as soon as possible.  I’m suggesting that that is not useful or necessary for high school teachers.  It is easier for them to read and trace code first (Lister’s studies) and it’s what they will need to do most often (our studies).  We can reduce costs (in time and effort) of this huge teacher development effort by shuffling our priorities and focusing on reading.

(We do know from studies of real software engineers that they read and debug more than they write code. Maybe it would be better for everyone to read before writing, but I’m focusing on the high school teachers right now.)

May 30, 2014 at 8:23 am 31 comments

Constructionism for Adults

Constructionism–the N word as opposed to the V word–shares constructivism’s connotation of learning as “building knowledge structures” irrespective of the circumstances of the learning. It then adds the idea that this happens especially felicitously in a context where the learner is consciously engaged in constructing a public entity, whether it’s a sand castle on the beach or a theory of the universe.

Most researchers exploring constructionism study children. Mitchel Resnick, Yasmin Kafai, Uri Wilensky, Amy Bruckman, Idit Harel, and other academic offspring of Seymour Papert have studied how children learn through construction in a variety of media, from Scratch to e-textiles. The semi-annual Constructionism and Creativity Conference talks about “students” not “children” on the Constructionism history page, but the proceedings from the 2012 conference show that it’s about children’s learning, both formal and informal.

I’ve grown up constructionist-by-association, rather than by training. I got to work with Seymour and with Mitchel for a short time on the design for LCSI Microworlds. Yasmin is one of my oldest friends, from even before she went to work with Idit and Seymour. I worked from a constructionist perspective here at Georgia Tech with Amy Bruckman and Janet Kolodner.

Nowadays, I work mostly with adult learners — undergraduates, end-user programmers, and high school teachers. There’s nothing in Seymour’s definition that prohibits applying constructionism to adults. Their learning should be “especially felicitous” when they are “constructing a public entity.” But I don’t think that constructionism for adults is the same as constructionism for children.

I can identify examples (as an existence proof) that constructionism can work for adults as well as children.

  • Teachers know that if you want to learn a new subject, sign up to teach the new subject. Constructing the course and teaching it to others is a great way of developing that knowledge.
  • Programmers take on new projects to learn a new method, language, context, or community. My former PhD student, Mike Hewner, wanted to know what professional game development was like. Because he’s an exceptional software engineer, he was able to land himself an internship with a game company one summer (with no prior game experience), explicitly to learn game development.

I see three big differences in adult constructionism from child constructionism, and they’re related.


(1) Saving Face I’m learning to play the ukulele. I bought it about a few months ago, and am playing it daily. I’m learning a huge amount, both in terms of the skill and concepts needed to play, but also at a meta level about music. The ukulele makes me think about timing, strumming, and chord patterns in a different way, and now I listen to all kinds of stringed instruments in a different way. It’s helping me to sing better, since I can more easily hear when I’m at the wrong pitch and I hear rhythm differently when I’m strumming.

But I am not learning to play ukulele as a public artifact. I’m frightened by the thought of playing in public. Only my family has ever heard me play.

Adele Goldberg worked on one of the iterations of the UK Open University’s introductory computing course, and she told me that distance learning opportunities were most important for adults. She pointed out that adults work for decades to develop their careers and their prestige. It’s really hard for them to then put their hands up in a physical classroom to ask a question and risk being found out as not knowing.  There’s a recent Freakonomics podcast that claims that the three hardest words to say in the English language are: “I don’t know.”

Constructionism for kids is all about the public aspect. The Scratch website plays a role in students sharing their work, downloading others’ projects, remixing and sharing back what they found. Collaboration and public sharing has always played a big role in stories of constructionist learning.  Maybe this is why work in Constructionism tends to focus at the youngest children, because the social standing and peer pressure issues increase as the kids get older.

Adults have face in a different way than children. We can still learn from construction, but we might not want it to be as public in the same way as children. We might not want to even publicly remix, or others might learn what we’re doing.

(2) Presumption of Expertise I’ve mentioned before in this blog that I’ve been singing in my church choir. I often feel ignorant — and embarrassed at my ignorance. There is so much about singing in a choir that is assumed when you are an adult, from how to sing into a microphone to how to harmonize by hearing the melody. We teach these things to children, because we know that they don’t have the basics.  We expect them to be novices at most things.

As an adult engaging in an activity, we are presumed not to be novices. If you sing in a choir, the assumption is that you must have sung in choirs before –“You all know the basics.” But if you’re starting out in a new domain, you may not. Even when I admit my ignorance (hard to do because of the issue of face) and ask questions, the director quickly forgets my lack of background — a couple things get explained, and then the presumption of expertise comes back. I look like all the other adults there. It’s not like a classroom of similarly-aged students where the teacher can assume a similar background. Adults have radically different backgrounds. I recently served on the advisory board for a science and engineering learning project that used Lego robotics context.  The most common teacher professional development question was about the Lego.  These teachers had not played with Lego as children, were uncomfortable with it, and had to spend extra (unexpected from the researchers’ perspective) time to learn to use Lego.

Constructionism depends on learning in the context of construction.  The goal of the learning isn’t the construction itself.  It’s construction as something to think with.  As Seymour put it, you can’t think about thinking without thinking about something.  But if you don’t know how to construct, then most of the activities of construction don’t fall into the background, and then it’s hard to think about the artifact being constructed and to learn from that process.  Children learn through Lego and Scratch after they get the basics of how to put blocks together (in both physical and virtual forms).  Adult teachers who learn from constructing lectures and adult programmers who learn from constructing software only learn after they’re comfortable with course design and programming.  When you first design a course, you’re learning about course design, and less about the content.  Few people will learn to program by joining an open source development effort.

The problem of expecting expertise shows up often in undergraduate education. In undergraduate computer science courses, we expect students to know about mathematic concepts from algebra, trigonometry, geometry, and even calculus. If students don’t know those concepts, we expect them to “pick them up” on their own, and their grades suffer. When they fail, we complain that “these students don’t have the right background.” If they don’t have the basic background, it’s hard to move forward. Think about it from a developmental perspective, instead of our more common judgmental “hold the standard” perspective. Where does the student get the knowledge that we expect but they “missed”? If an adult misses the basics, is that it? They’ve simply missed out for this lifetime? How does an adult fit in learning Algebra 1 (for example) if he missed out earlier?

Because of the presumption of expertise, we adult learners tend to gravitate to constructionist learning opportunities where we do know the basics. Teachers have taught before, so they can learn by teaching something new. Mike Hewner is an excellent software engineer, so simply shifting to a new domain was an enjoyable challenge.

Or, we tackle project where adults with no expertise are expected, like learning a foreign language or introductory web design. But if I as an adult decided to learn how to build a bookcase from lumber, it’s not clear where I’d go to get the basic knowledge of carpentry that I lack. Go to the local DIY store and there’s an assumption that you did shop as a kid and that you know how to hammer and saw efficiently.

Maybe this is why it’s so hard for adults to jump into a new career, to start over, to construct new prestige. We lose face because we give up our former prestige. But as we live longer, there is time enough to develop new prestige, a new face.

(3) Time and Responsibility. I saved the most obvious difference for last. In our modern society, we do the majority of formal education before our citizens develop responsibilities around home, family, and career, when they can devote time to learning. Adults are swamped with responsibilities and do not have much time to devote to learning.

Constructionism is not an efficient form of learning. Learning can happen “irrespective of the circumstances of the learning” (as Seymour says). One can learn from reading a book or attending a lecture. Building through construction can be a motivating context for learning, and it can lead to deep learning. But there are more efficient forms of learning, like individual tutoring and guided instruction. We can get better learning from mastery learning.

Adults need efficient learning. Efficient learning fits better into the time available. Learning occurs more efficiently with a teacher or mentor, who can design learning, guide learning, provide useful feedback, and cut-off dead-ends and wasted time. But the first two differences make it more difficult for adults to get the guidance that a good teacher can provide. Adult learners are less likely to seek out a teacher and ask their questions. It’s hard for teachers to recognize adult learner’s needs, because they presume expertise.

Sure, some adults will spend lots of time in “inefficient” constructionist learning activities, like model railroads, recreational mathematics, and the Society for Creative Anachronism.  What are the conditions under which that happens?  Obviously, leisure time is necessary — time that the adult feels can be spared from other responsibilities.  What if the adult wants to learn something “real” (e.g., something that aids in meeting responsibilities, like perhaps skills towards a new job or promotion), then they are unlikely to choose a constructionist route.  They might choose a MOOC, or some vocational form of learning that is more authentic.

Conclusion: I do believe that constructionism is an “especially felicitous” way to learn.  It’s fun to learn through constructionism.  Constructionist learning tends to be deep learning.  We do want adults to be able to use constructionist learning.

Constructionism can work for adults, but it’s more challenging. There are different issues than with children. Adults have less time to spend on learning and more responsibilities. They may not have the basic construction skills and knowledge in the medium of choice for constructionist learning, which is necessary to learn through construction.  They are less likely to ask for and receive the help that makes learning for effective and efficient. They are less likely to share, if that sharing might expose their lack of understanding. Constructionism is a particularly fun way to learn, but the costs of constructionism may be greater for adults than the utility provided.

As we live longer, the challenges of learning as adults becomes more of a problem.  If people are going to live to 80 or 90, it’s less believable that you will learn all the basics you will ever need for whatever career(s) you might be interested in by the time you are 21.  There’s time enough for a second career.  We need to make opportunities sufficient to learn for that career, too.

May 23, 2014 at 8:43 am 11 comments

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