What’s the argument for becoming a computer science teacher?

February 7, 2011 at 9:08 am 28 comments

At the CE21 community meeting, I met Aman Yadav, an assistant professor in educational studies at Purdue.  He’s actually teaching a CS methods course (how to teach CS effectively), in a program that teaches pre-service high school teachers!  How exciting!  He only has one student.  Aman says that he doesn’t know how many semester that they can afford to offer the class with so few students.  The one teacher he has is a math education major, who is taking a minor in CS education.  Nobody there is going after CS education as their main focus.

We were sitting at breakfast Tuesday morning with Wayne Summers, my collleague at Columbus State University where they have a program to give teachers an “endorsement” (a kind of certification that comes after a teacher’s initial certificate in teaching math, science, business, or whatever) to teach high school computer science.  He had one student, but she dropped out in the first semester.

I mentioned in a previous blog post that UTeach has been in existence for 14 years, but only has had 7 graduates who focused on teaching computer science.

I believe that this is our greatest challenge to CS10K, the NSF goal to have 10,000 teachers in 10,000 high schools able to teach quality computer science by 2015.  (We have about 2,000 APCS teachers today.)  Where will we get the teachers?  What’s our argument for becoming a computer science teacher in high school?  CE21 might help us create more in-service and pre-service teacher education programs, but it’s not like we are filling our current capacity.  Where are we going to get those 8,000 additional people who want to become computer science high school teachers?

Barb and I are trying to get Georgia Tech to propose a UTeach Replication site to create more CS teachers pre-service, but it’s a hard argument.  There is funding available, but it’s based on the number of students taking the program.  What if we go to all the effort to write the proposal, define the program, and create the classes…and we only get 1-2 students.  We’d get very little funding, and we’d produce very few new high school CS teachers.

Brian Dorn found in his work that graphics designers have all kinds of unfavorable opinions about computer scientists.  “They’re old and nerdy and boring,” said one study participant.  Why should high school teachers have more favorable impression of computer scientists?  Lijun has pointed out that high school teachers worry (correctly) about taking on a field that requires constant updating and new learning.  Why would they want to become one?

For me, this is the biggest challenge.  If we build it (a CS teacher development program), they likely won’t come.  How do we change the odds?

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28 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Bradley Beth  |  February 7, 2011 at 11:12 am

    IMO, the only way a replication proposal would fly is if you went for the whole shebang — and include the sciences and math certification routes through UTeach. At each replication site that has been funded, the math/sciences routes have been the focus. Even at UT, the focus has been restricted to these areas. This is largely the reason the numbers of CS certifiers have been so low.

    I don’t know what routes are available to undergrads at GA Tech to certify, but UTeach replication doesn’t require a full-blown College of Education to be successful. UTD has integrated with their Teacher Development Center in order to construct the program.

    At other sites, there has been interest in adopting CS into the UTeach program, but this is typically after establishing the program for more populous majors/certifications. Because CS is typically the odd man out, issues with state certification requirements (if any) and involving CS faculty have been the barriers after interest has been established.

    Do you imagine that other STEM disciplines at GA Tech would be interested in the proposal?

    • 2. Mark Guzdial  |  February 7, 2011 at 4:05 pm

      Bradley, our problem is that we already have a successful teacher certificate program here at Georgia Tech, for Science, Mathematics, and Engineering: http://www.cetl.gatech.edu/students/teaching.htm. The Provost is the PI for that project, and is balking at signing our letter of intent. The UTeach RFP requires an exact replication. Do we dismantle the successful existing program to replicate UTeach? (Answer: Not going to fly.) Do we just try to include computing in Tech To Teaching? Are their partnerships we can do to make UTeach work here at GT? These are the kinds of discussions we’ve been having around here.

      • 3. Bradley Beth  |  February 8, 2011 at 10:54 am

        Perhaps I’m misreading, but “Tech to Teaching” seems to farm out the certification process after graduation.

        “Although Georgia Tech does not offer any programs that provide teacher certification, a Tech education at the undergraduate or graduate level is excellent preparation for students planning on careers as K-12 educators.”>

        The ‘From Tech to Teaching’ page suggests that your program isn’t an undergraduate, pre-service program. If it’s not, it wouldn’t have to be “dismantled” but UTeach/STEM certification could sit beside that other pathway.

  • 4. gflint  |  February 7, 2011 at 11:47 am

    When is the last time you saw a school district advertise for a high school CS teacher? The demand by school districts is going to drive what the university education departments offer and what aspiring high school teachers pick as specialties. In Montana a CS certification means you took a business course specializing in Microsoft Office. It is hard to believe but this is not a really good prep for teaching high school CS. Until somebody waves a big stick and forces high schools to offer required CS courses there will be no jobs in the field.

    • 5. Mark Guzdial  |  February 7, 2011 at 4:11 pm

      There certainly are states where school districts advertise for high school CS teacher — in those states where CS is part of the required curriculum and/or standards. That’s what the Running on Empty report was about. St Johns is in New York, which has implemented some CS in their K-12 curriculum according to the report, Bonnie. Montana is near the bottom of the barrel. Georgia, Maryland, and Texas all have CS as part of their curriculum. Our local high school is looking for a CS teacher now.

      Jobs are certainly part of the issue, but not all of it. If one knows enough CS to be a good K-12 CS teacher, you have a choice: Be a teacher, or be a programmer or IT consultant/analyst. The latter set of options has far more perks than the former. If you are a smart undergrad who wants to be a teacher, which path offers more flexibility and greater prestige (e.g., professional organizations that are well known supporting your career): Math or Science Teacher, or CS Teacher?

      • 6. Bonnie MacKellar  |  February 7, 2011 at 5:26 pm

        My kids are in K12 here in NY, but not yet in high school. I checked our high school’s offerings, and found that the school business department offers two 1/2 credit courses on visual basic and web development. That is all we have. I don’t see much evidence of CS in our district’s curriculum. This is in a “good” school district too.

      • 7. gasstationwithoutpumps  |  February 7, 2011 at 8:08 pm

        I think jobs are a big part of it. I think that there are far more jobs for community-college CS teachers than for high-school CS teachers, and the community colleges generally have better working conditions and pay (though not always).

        There is no point to building up a supply of teachers without simultaneously building the demand. In fact, if the demand existed, the supply would catch up pretty fast.

  • 8. Bonnie MacKellar  |  February 7, 2011 at 11:50 am

    Just a basic question – what is the job market like for specialized CS teachers? Especially with the budget cuts looming in every state? In our district, I don’t think the HS would ever hire a CS specialist because the school is too small. I wouldn’t be surprised if that were a problem in lots of districts. Ultimately, people will be interested if there are jobs to be had, and the decisions on that typically boil down to individual schools.
    Do you have a sense of whether there are positions for CS specialists in K12?

    • 9. Lana  |  January 18, 2012 at 9:43 pm

      I received my teacher’s certification through Old Dominion University in Virginia, but the job market was so poor at that time I ended up going back to the private sector. I would have loved to become a High School CS teacher, but it didn’t seem like the districts were willing to pick me up even with years of credentials. They also put their few CS courses in the Business department.

  • 10. Who is a teacher? « Krazy Memoirs  |  February 7, 2011 at 1:30 pm

    […] What’s the argument for becoming a computer science teacher? (computinged.wordpress.com) […]

  • 11. Mark Guzdial  |  February 7, 2011 at 5:11 pm

    BTW, Alfred Thompson posted a thoughtful reply at http://blogs.msdn.com/b/alfredth/archive/2011/02/07/making-the-case-for-becoming-a-computer-science-teacher.aspx

  • 12. Peter Boothe  |  February 7, 2011 at 11:07 pm

    We need cross-training. At my school (Manhattan College), all math majors and all math ed majors have to take two semesters of CS. In this way, when the math teachers inevitably get called in to teach CS (because there aren’t enough CS teachers) they are better prepared, and know whether or not they possess an aptitude for the subject.

  • 13. Cynthia Lee  |  February 8, 2011 at 2:05 am

    FWIW, I personally would strongly consider teaching CS in high school (in fact I have taken concrete steps to investigate teaching credentialing programs in my area, visited local high schools, talked to friends in the field, etc), but there are no jobs. I don’t want to teach 5 sections of math so I can teach 1 section of APCS. Even in this, the best school district in our area, they cannot support a full-time CS teacher. There is a charter school in our area called “High Tech High,” and they recently laid off their APCS teacher.

    (This is in California.)

    • 14. gasstationwithoutpumps  |  February 8, 2011 at 6:57 am

      The race for the bottom in California is happening at a frightening rate. Having gutted K-12 (which was best in the country 30 years ago), the legislature and governor have set their sights on gutting the higher education system. Unless we get a state government willing to tax businesses and rich landowners and willing to find some solution to social problems other than throwing everyone in prison, California will be vying with Mississippi for the position of worst education in the country.

  • 15. Gilbert Bernstein  |  February 8, 2011 at 4:11 am

    “For me, this is the biggest challenge. If we build it (a CS teacher development program), they likely won’t come. How do we change the odds?”

    I was wondering the other day whether or not the high school CS push was premature in some ways. Particularly, what proportion of college students actually take CS service courses? Do the majority of college students see value in CS independent of becoming a software developer or working in a related field? Do professors in other departments believe that basic programming/CS knowledge is beneficial in their field?

    If the answers to those questions are negative, then it stands to reason that we wouldn’t see natural demand for high school CS. By contrast, many other high school academic electives, like psychology or statistics are widely considered to be generally useful. In college, many students across disciplines are advised to bone up on some statistics.

    So, maybe one way to change the odds is to simultaneously work on tailoring and marketing service classes to college students (undergrad or grad) in other disciplines. Of course, that’s probably not going to help meet any 2015 goals, but given the long lead time on seeing a return from a shift in culture, it might be good to get started sooner rather than later.

    • 16. Mark Guzdial  |  February 8, 2011 at 10:22 am

      It’s an excellent point, Gilbert, and is certainly something we’ve been thinking about as we rolled out MediaComp. Georgia Tech has a requirement that everyone must take a significant course in computing, and our explicit goal with MediaComp was to use that first course to draw more students into more computing. It is now the case at Georgia Tech that more of our credit hours in CS after the Freshman year (that is, after the required course) are taken by NON-Computing majors than Computing majors. I do believe that this an important direction for us to pursue. We need more than our STEM professionals to know about computing — we need our education administrators, legislators, and policy-makers to know why computing is important.

      • 17. Evelyn Faix  |  January 14, 2015 at 8:44 pm

        I would like to become a computer teacher for blind students But I can not find anyone to help me in this.

  • 18. Briana Morrison  |  February 8, 2011 at 10:35 am

    Of course, the other part of building demand is if the *colleges* would require a CS course in their gen ed. If more colleges required a CS course (something the new AP CS Principles course would map to) then more kids would be interested in taking the AP CS class in high school, which would also build demand for CS high school teachers.

  • 19. gflint  |  February 8, 2011 at 11:31 am

    One thing to think about is the number of CS jobs compared to something like Math jobs. There may be lots of math job openings but there are usually a lot of applicants. CS teaching job openings are much rarer and there are usually very few qualified applicants. If CS is a teacher’s only endorsement and is job hunting they had better live in a well populated state and be willing to move. CS is an excellent second endorsement simply because it is rare and it offers a school district some options they may not have had. The trick is finding a way of getting the endorsement without having to go through a complete CS BS degree program (time and money) and yet still have enough CS knowledge to be a good CS teacher.

  • […] is a place to play with new and incomplete ideas.  I’m planning to talk about the challenge of producing more high school CS teachers, including alternatives like Dave Patterson’s proposal.  I’ve been thinking a lot […]

  • 21. David  |  April 2, 2011 at 11:24 pm

    I would like to nod in agreement with those who say that the market for CS teachers is entirely too small. I was a CS major in college who decided to pursue teacher certification. After, 4 years of teaching HS math and CS, I find myself back on the look for a new job. Unfortunately, I have yet to find a single opening for a computer science teacher. Ironically, I may be forced back into programming and away from education. I live just outside of Chicago, and computer science does not seem to be gaining much traction. I would happily be one of 10,000 teachers…but where are the 10,000 high schools?

  • […] of the story: The best teacher preparation doesn’t help if there are no teaching jobs), Lijun Ni’s study of DCCE teachers (following the Disciplinary Commons of Josh Tenenberg and Sally Fincher, led by Ria […]

  • […] story, talk about Brian Dorn’s work with graphics designers, and with Klara Benda’s and Lijun Ni’s work that tells us about teachers’ needs to learn computer science. Advertisement […]

  • […] Here’s a more specific question that leads to this blog post: Are the on-line Stanford CS classes a good example to talk about?  Clearly, they are a highly innovative example of distance education for computer science.  But is it relevant for teaching high school teachers for the CS10K effort? […]

  • […] existing CS teaching programs in the United States are woefully undersubscribed, e.g., Purdue’s CS methods course has never had more than one student enrolled each term that it is offered. What will drive more […]

  • […] real CS, but not knowing something isn’t the same as “refusing to teach” it.  Professional development to prepare high school teachers in computer science is a huge international problem.  Absolutely, applications and keyboarding skills often get […]

  • […] I haven’t read the new framework myself yet, but the press coverage suggests that this is really something noteworthy.  I do hope that there is some serious assessment going on with this new curriculum.  I’m curious about what happens when five year olds start programming.  How far can they get?  In Yasmin Kafai’s studies of Scratch and in Amy Bruckman’s studies of MOOSE Crossing, almost none of the younger students ever used conditionals or loops.  But those were small compared studies compared to a national curriculum.  How much transfers forward?  If you do an abstract activity (programming) so early, does it lead to concrete operational reasoning earlier?  Or does it get re-interpreted by the student when she reaches concrete operational?  And, of course, the biggest question right now is: how can they get enough teachers quickly enough? […]

  • […] Although CS teaching programs currently exist (e.g., Purdue, Georgia Tech), they currently suffer from under-enrollment. Is it a lack of undergraduate’s interest or confidence in computer science, and is this due to a […]


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