Contextualized computing ed works — it’s just not there
CS Ed folk are mailing each other about the Washington Post article on CS Education (just in time for SIGCSE this week!). Eli’s class at Virginia Tech sounds great, and the project is an excellent example of how context can help to highlight the relevance of computing education — what we’ve been saying with Media Computation and IPRE for years. Jan Cuny’s comment is highlighting the more significant bit. Sarita Yardi highlighted in her email to Georgia Tech’s CSEd mailing list that the reporters missed Jan’s bigger issue, and I think Sarita is right.
We do know how to engage kids now. We have NCWIT Best and Promising Practices, and we have contextualized computing education. The real problem is that, when it comes to high school CS, we’re just not there. If you choose a high school at random, you are ten times more likely to find one that offers no CS than to find one offering AP CS. That’s a big reason why the AP numbers are so bad. It’s not that the current AP CS is such an awful class. It can be taught well. It’s just not available to everyone! The AP CS teachers we’re working with are turning kids away because their classes are full. Most kids just don’t have access.
“The sky is falling in a sense that we’re not engaging kids that we could be engaging,” said Jan Cuny of the National Science Foundation, who is helping to formulate a new AP course. While the current program focuses mostly on Java programming, a new class being piloted at several colleges would focus on problem-solving and creating technology instead of just using it.
“We’ll have no problem interesting kids in doing these things,” Cuny said. “The tough part is getting into the schools.”