NRC K-12 Science Framework ducks the question of computer science

July 25, 2011 at 11:24 am 5 comments

The new K-12 Science Framework report from the National Research Council does mention CS, but doesn’t include it as part of the core framework.  Instead, they say the below:

Computer science and statistics are other areas of science that are not addressed here, even though they have a valid presence in K-12 education. Statistics is basically a subdiscipline of mathematical sciences, and it is addressed to some extent in the common core mathematics standards. Computer science, too, can be seen as a branch of the mathematical sciences, as well as having some elements of engineering. But, again, because this area of the curriculum has a history and a teaching corps that are generally distinct from those of the sciences, the committee has not taken this domain as part of our charge. Once again, this omission should not be interpreted to mean that computer science or statistics should be excluded from the K-12 curriculum. There are aspects of computational and statistical thinking that must be understood and applied in learning about the sciences, and we identify these aspects, along with mathematical thinking, in our discussion of science practices in Chapter 3.

This is a strange argument.  They are saying that, because CS teachers are a different set of teachers from science teachers, CS doesn’t belong in a science curricular framework.  This isn’t an argument what should be.  Explicitly, they are saying that this is the historical precedent, and they’re okay with it.

The NRC report does talk about “computational thinking” for K-9, but all the high school requirements talk about using computers, especially simulations.  In reality, there’s no real computer science in the framework.  ACM is complaining through the Education Policy Committee.  Their point is well-taken — the NRC framework is pretty significantly different from the recent PCAST report on the role of computer science in K-12 STEM education.

Although the National Research Council’s newly released Framework for K-12 Science Education provides a helpful next step in revising the existing scientific ideas and practices for all U.S. students to know by the end of high school, ACM is concerned that computing and computer science are not yet  included as a core part of the framework for mathematics and science K-12 education despite substantial input from the computing community.

“Computing is by far where the greatest demand for science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) jobs is in today’s economy,” said Bobby Schnabel, Chair of  ACM’s Education Policy Committee .  ”But the major efforts by the Governors and the Academy to define what students should know for the 21st Century make little mention of the need for computer science in the core curriculum. This is a missed opportunity to expose students to a fundamental discipline that they will need for their careers as well as their lives.”

via ACM Urges Inclusion of Computer Science in K12 Core Curriculum — Association for Computing Machinery.

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5 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Garth  |  July 25, 2011 at 3:46 pm

    It seems that everyone is trying to fit CS into the traditional, 100 year old, curriculum groupings. Science, Math, English/literature, foreign language, industrial arts, Phys Ed and so on seems to have worked for so long that it is impossible for many people to imagine that something new is needed to fit CS into the system. It is really a shame that Computer Science has the word “science” attached to the end. The categorizers of the world want to make it a “science” and place it in the science department while the science departments of the world say “No way!” And then somehow CS gets tangled up in the math department. CS and math are connected but then that can be said about CS and any subject. In my school CS is categorized as a Practical Art which makes about as much sense as Math or Science but causes a lot less ruckus. The concept of a whole new curricular field has sort of boggled the minds of the so called curricular experts. All of the other curricular departments now rely heavily on computers to do their work. I do not know of any English teacher that accepts hand written assignments, most math classes revolve around a programmable graphing calculator or computer, the science classes rely on digital data equipment and statistical software so it would seem logical that CS is important enough to have its own department with its own classes. Of course I am a flaming radical, I think calculus needs to be put on the shelf with the slide rule and be replaced by statistics.

    • 2. BKM  |  July 26, 2011 at 9:12 am

      I’ve said it before and I will say it again: computer science is an engineering discipline. We design, create, and build things that solve problems: algorithms, data structures, full fledged software systems. Our field is tangled up with many other fields because we create things that solve problems in lots of fields. Think of all the computer science work that went into your basic CT scanner, back in the 80’s. People weren’t studying image processing algorithms that existed in nature, the way physicists or chemists do. They were creating the algorithms, to solve an important problem.

  • […] NRC K-12 Science Framework ducks the question of computer science ( […]

  • 4. Bri Morrison  |  July 28, 2011 at 8:35 am

    I will agree that computer science is more like engineering for those that want to major or have a career exclusively in the field. But what about for the rest of the population? They don’t need to be educated nearly to that depth and it’s a disservice to call the education they need “engineering.”
    I believe it’s much more like medicine. Just as I would say only medical practitioners need “medical school”. But everyone should have some medical training (CPR, first aid, etc.) for the good of society as well as their own lives.
    Everyone deserves some computing education, to improve their thinking skills, aide in their chosen career field (virtually all career utilize computing technology), and to improve their own lives (why am I getting *this* error?). The phrase we seem to have adopted is computational thinking. I’m not nearly as concerned with what we call it, as long as it’s in the curriculum.

  • 5. Baker Franke  |  July 30, 2011 at 5:57 pm

    “But, again, because this area of the curriculum has a history and a teaching corps that are generally distinct from those of the sciences…”

    I take this to mean that the NRC doesn’t believe CS teachers are trained, or even really “teachers” at all. Even though they recognize CS as a field, they’re thinking about teachers who teach applications. This is frustrating but perhaps understandable given the state of CS Teacher Certification. It’s going to be a long slow climb, but eventually sisyphus got that rock up to the top.


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