Biggest challenge for CS10K: Recruiting the teachers

February 9, 2012 at 10:17 am 29 comments

At the NSF CE21 meeting last week, I got a chance to catch up with Aman Yadav, who teaches Purdue’s computer science methods course — a course on how to teach computer science specifically (as opposed to general teaching methods that one would use with reading, history, science, or mathematics). He teaches what is, best as I can tell, the only regularly offered CS methods course in the country. These are necessary courses to be able to establish teacher certification programs. I met him at last year’s meeting, at which time I learned that he had all of one student. This year? One more student.

Columbus State University hosts the only high school CS teacher certification program in Georgia, for an “endorsement” in CS. An endorsement is a credential on top of an existing certification — nobody can be certified as a CS teacher in Georgia, but you can get an “endorsement” on top of a business or science or math certificate. Columbus had to have a CS methods course to meet the requirements of an endorsement in Georgia. So last summer, Wayne Summers co-taught the course with a methods instructor from their Education school. Total enrollment? One student.

CS10K: If we built it, would they come?

I know that there’s an argument that we can’t ramp up teacher production fast enough, so we should give up and develop technology to replace the teacher. However, the reality is that we don’t know how yet. We don’t know how to teach CS well enough at the high school level via technology. It’s an open, important, and interesting research question. So is how to teach high school teachers about computer science at scale, including making the learning engaging and drawing teachers in. Yes, we know a lot about adult education, but it’s in no way an answered question. We can do it better, and that’s the research question in which I’m more interested.

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New NRC Report on Pedagogical Aspects of Computational Thinking High school computing in the US is like the developing world

29 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Alan Kay  |  February 9, 2012 at 10:47 am

    Hi Mark

    It’s really a triple whammy. To the two gotchas in your last paragraph, we should add the lack of a really good “vision-based” curriculum framework to use as context for either path.

    I’ve just recently worked my way through most (I think) of the relevant recent work and documents on this subject, and cannot find one that comes close to being able to serve.

    For example, among the many shortfalls in the current literature on this subject, one finds deeply limited goals for K-6 children, despite quite a bit of solid evidence to the contrary.

    When I asked “Why?” I was told that they “had to take into account the practical realities of the state of teachers”.

    It should be obvious that this does much worse than shortchange children — because it also confuses what a reachable standard should be with the problems of reaching the standard.

    A saner course would be to understand the difference between a vision, and a short-term plan that has to deal with current states.

    This problem of lowering the standards to avoid even having to talk about the true dismal nature of the official educational processes in the US (and in the UK, I hear from my British friends), exists in many subjects than just computing (and has existed for longer).

    It’s basically a downward death spiral for any subject that starts with real content.

    Another wrong-headed process we find in these documents is the seeming assumption that “today is it”. (And this has meant for many years that “yesterday is it” — the simplest way to achieve “today is it”).

    What gets missed are goals to teach the children how to invent a better version of computing than generally pervades industry and academia today.

    The reason there needs to be triage is there is more than enough lore from the past to occupy every waking hour of a learner for their entire life without ever having a second to think about much better states of affairs.

    Finally, there is no question that things have to start where they are, and have to proceed in some form of incremental fashion. But without a vision, the increments can stay within a poor genre and, though “progress” can be noted, the pathway itself leads to no desirable goal. Our field needs much better direction to allow incremental progress to get somewhere.



    • 2. Mark Guzdial  |  February 9, 2012 at 11:10 am

      Agreed, Alan!

      One of the surveys I’ve been sent since the CE21 meeting asked (my paraphrase): “Since you’re teaching teachers, what are you teaching them? Check one: ECS (Exploring Computer Science), CS:Principles, Other (please justify)” Really? Is that it? ECS or CS:Principles, or justify yourself? That feels so narrow — as if ECS or CS:Principles is the best there is, or the best that ever could be.

      I was part of forming CS:Principles, and I know that it was a process of compromise and aggregation. There are other curricula that exist or might exist that are well worth exploring. For example, I’d love to see people figuring out how to scale up TeachScheme to thousands of high school teachers. I don’t think TeachScheme is the best possible curriculum either, but it is not CS:Principles and it is more coherent and focused. I don’t think TeachScheme should be the basis of an AP CS, but I do think that we should be exploring more ways of growing computing education.

      If CS10K is only about establishing CS:Principles as an AP course and exam, then it is an opportunity lost. An audacious goal is a terrific driver, and the goal of having 10,000 high school CS teachers in 10,000 high schools is important and audacious. But we should also be worrying about what we teach. Surely, ECS and CS:Principles isn’t all there is. We need 10,000 high school teachers of Computer Science, who can easily teach CS:Principles but who can also teach other significant computing curricula.

      • 3. Alan Kay  |  February 9, 2012 at 11:58 am

        I’m not a big fan of goals like “10,000 teachers” (or “n million computers in schools or 3rd world countries”) because regardless of their difficulty, they are still all too easily done without any content. They can start something, but in the directions needed?

        Just to pick on two of the many annoying sentences in “Principles” … if “an algorithm is a precise -sequence- of instructions …” and “programs are written to execute algorithms”, then this leaves out an enormous amount of good computing, good thinking about computing, and blanks out large parts of possible good futures for computing.

        (Not to mention that “computing itself” is a much larger idea than “digital” or “binary sequences”.)

        As you know George Miller (one of the founders of cognitive psychology, along with Jerome Bruner) could sum up the prime principle of teaching, learning, user interface, programming language design, etc., etc., by just saying 7±2!

        In other words nothing will happen if the learner gets overloaded before getting to a valuable point to hang onto that can help form a bigger chunk for the 7±2.

        I really think that what is needed first is an as yet unwritten “Computing: A Vision”.



  • 4. LJRL  |  February 9, 2012 at 11:13 am

    I also think there’s an issue of interest/ability.

    HS teachers have a pretty strong interest in what they want to teach. My experience as a HS teacher is that for most teachers, this interest does not change much. I believe that CS teacher recruitment is best done at the pre-service level, and that pre-service recruitment will only be successful if CS teachers make a competitive salary. It is true that you don’t have to have a CS degree to be a great CS teacher (though I think it helps) but you don’t have to have a CS degree to be come a middle of the line developer – and those people make more money than the average CS teacher in the states.

    • 5. Mark Guzdial  |  February 9, 2012 at 11:20 am

      Under No Child Left Behind, we can’t grow CS pre-service. For a teacher to teach in a field, they must be “highly-qualified.” Pre-service teachers can only become “highly-qualified” by doing student teaching in that subject. There are not enough existing CS teachers to grow the field substantially. Consider Alabama, with only 14 AP CS teachers in the whole state (population ~4.7M). Those teachers could (if there were enough CS pre-service teachers in line) take on 14 student-teachers. You can’t host a student teacher your first year in the field, so we can only get another 14 the next year. That process will take a long time to get to 10,000 teachers. On the other hand, you can become qualified in-service (as I understand) with education and an endorsement. There are lots of certified teachers who are either out-of-work or interested in changing fields.

      • 6. LJRL  |  February 9, 2012 at 11:41 am

        “There are lots of certified teachers who are either out-of-work or interested in changing fields.”

        If there are lots of teachers, why did the methods courses you describe only have one student?

      • 7. Cecily  |  February 9, 2012 at 11:54 am

        I do not doubt that there are certified teachers who are out-of-work or interested in changing jobs, but I am somewhat skeptical that they are interested in changing geographic location or field to the geographic location and field where the jobs are. For example, my impression is that there are lots of certified teachers who would love to teach in PA, but there don’t seem to be many jobs there. The low-income, charter schools here in UT seem to have lots of jobs, but I don’t know a ton of certified teachers who want to move here to take them. A significant number of the teachers at the school where I got my license were alternative route to licensure.

  • 8. Bri Morrison  |  February 9, 2012 at 11:35 am

    In the end it boils down to economics and the “why would anyone want to become a HS CS teacher” (as explored previously in this blog). Even if they go pre-service, what kind of job will they be offered? For current teachers, what’s the incentive for learning a new subject matter? In the current fiscal climate, when computing knowledge is not required for graduation, what reason do students have to take the class and what assurance do teachers have that the class won’t be cut? I think it would be extremely demoralizing to go through training to learn a new discipline only to be told, “Sorry, no room in the budget for you to teach this.” And, oh by the way, before you can teach it in the future you’ll need to relearn more material because things will have changed by then.

    We need the underlying political / economic cultures to change to be successful.

  • 9. Bonnie  |  February 9, 2012 at 12:05 pm

    I am wondering who is going to hire all these teachers. I live in Westchester County NY, and my kids are in a good school district. We don’t have any computer science in any school in our district. I went to a truly depressing meeting last night and learned that they are eliminating elementary orchestra and band, as well as a whole host of other specialized programs. They are telling us that next year will be worse and we many lose middle school languages and music. In a climate like that, they are not going to be adding computer science any time soon. I suspect this is being replicated all across the country. This is a bad time to try to recruit people into any kind of specialized teaching area.

  • 10. Baker  |  February 9, 2012 at 12:38 pm

    Mark, this is what we’re doing in Chicago with our CE21 grant. We’re converting tech ed teachers into CS teachers. 75 of them. We’re training them not just what to teach but HOW using Gail Chapman’s professional development program for “Exploring Computer Science.” It’s working. You should talk to her about it. We’ll have data, too.

    • 11. Laura  |  February 10, 2012 at 12:29 pm

      @Baker–yes, converting tech teachers is the way to go. Most schools have them and most schools have required tech classes at some level. The tech teachers can then argue to get programming in at whatever level seems appropriate. I start in 7th grade.

      @Bonnie–what you say is true and depressing. While I hate to see music and languages go, it seems like if our concern is practicality, CS would be the perfect thing to add. Music and languages are important and enriching, but not many will go on to careers that involve those subjects in a meaningful way, whereas I think one can make an argument that many, if not most, careers will involve CS.

      • 12. gasstationwithoutpumps  |  February 11, 2012 at 3:06 am

        “Most schools have tech teachers”??? Dream on! The high school my son went to had one class in web design, taught by someone who barely knew HTML (they used consumer-grade WYSIWYG tools). No programming, and no one on staff who could program. (The IT staff was incompetent also, but that was a separate problem.)

        You’re more likely to be able to retrain math teachers.

        • 13. Mark Guzdial  |  February 11, 2012 at 10:00 am

          I agree that it’s easier to retrain math teachers. However, in most states, CS is classified as career and technical, so only career and tech teachers are in the right department to teach in CS. Here in Georgia, we had to fight to let math teachers teach CS — by default, only teachers in the same department/division can teach those classes.

  • 14. Mike  |  February 9, 2012 at 1:55 pm

    Give that the teacher-training courses/programs you mention are getting, er, less than stellar enrollment, I wonder if one possible solution would be to put the courses online? Even if there’s just 1 person in each state that would at least be a class of 50 🙂

  • […] program!  That makes two in the state, the other being the original at Columbus State.  This doesn’t fix the problem of getting teachers into these programs. Maybe a program in the Atlanta area may draw a different audience than an […]

  • […] this.  She suggested that it’s probably because the UK doesn’t gave an effort like NSF’s CS10K, so Google is trying to play that role.  (Maybe the UK should try to clone Jan Cuny, who has done […]

  • […] and better curriculum, because that does have an achievement impact, but we have a greater need to produce more and better teachers. Share this:EmailDiggRedditFacebookPrintStumbleUponTwitterLike this:LikeBe the first to like this […]

  • […] news that the UK is putting up cash incentives to draw in CS teachers! This move addresses the biggest concern that I have for the CS10K project — where are we going to get the teachers? What will motivate them to study CS? A cash reward […]

  • 19. Don Davis (@gnu_don)  |  October 26, 2012 at 9:22 am

    A non-rhetorical question:
    • What are the goals of increasing students’ exposure to computer science in the early years?
    • Is the intent to develop computational thinking skills that will support their learning of complex content through K-12 (and beyond) [3, 11]?
    • Is the intent to develop students’ interest in CS so that they might later be drawn to careers in such or bolster their success in other careers by incorporating CS skills?
    • In increasing CS exposure / training in the lower grades are we actively trying to recruit underrepresented students?
    • Is CS the new Latin [6]?

    My concern is that sometimes CS in K12 is sometimes detracted because it does not present enough ‘rigor’. Is this true? Certainly, but do we agree upon what ‘rigor’ is in this context? Is CS the new Latin? It may be. But what does that mean? Does this signify a content whereby students train useful skills with broader applicability? Or does it signify such a course only benefiting students of a specific background?

    Low-SES schools are particularly susceptible to focusing on drill and skill activities, whereby more affluent schools often allow more creative, ‘higher level’ activities [9]. Drafting a list of content items that have to be covered in a CS course will most negatively impact students typically underrepresented in CS programs – it may turn in to a check list of items with little motivating impact (as with technology classes in many such schools).

    There has been much work in making CS more accessible to a broader base of students [1, 2, 5], but there are still significant elements within the CSE community for whom “cultural relevance” and “background knowledge” mean little in regards to students. Also many educators and researchers may fail to take into account difficulties caused by poverty – which are more substantive in negatively impacting students’ K12 success than deficits in student motivation or pedagogy [4]. If the goal is to recruit a future generation of CS students, then students need exposure to role models and an understanding of how CS can benefit their lives [7, 10, 12] – this needs to be explicitly planned in or it will not happen [8].

    [1] Beheshti, M., Alo, R.A., Fernandez, J., Gates, A.Q., Ranjan, D., Boadi, A., Villaverde, K., Hug, S., Thiry, H. and Barker, L. 2008. Work in progress – CS0 course implementation in Computer Science. Frontiers in Education Conference, 2008. FIE 2008. 38th Annual (2008), F4A–7–F4A–9.
    [2] Goode, J. 2008. Increasing diversity in K-12 computer science: Strategies from the field. SIGCSE Bulletin. 40, 1 (2008), 362–366.
    [3] Guzdial, M. 2008. Education Paving the way for computational thinking. Communications of the ACM. 51, 8 (2008), 25–27.
    [4] Krashen, S. 2005. The hard work hypothesis: Is doing your homework enough to overcome the effects of poverty. Multicultural Education. 12, 4 (2005), 16–19.
    [5] Rich, L., Perry, H. and Guzdial, M. 2004. A CS1 course designed to address interests of women. SIGCSE Bulletin. 36, (2004), 190–194.
    [6] Soloway, E. 1993. Should we teach students to program? Communications of the ACM. 36, (Oct. 1993), 21–24.
    [7] Suárez-Orozco, M.M., Darbes, T., Dias, S.I. and Sutin, M. 2011. Migrations and Schooling. Annual Review of Anthropology. 40, 1 (Sep. 2011), 311–328.
    [8] Taub, R., Armoni, M. and Ben-Ari, M. 2012. CS unplugged and middle-school students’ views, attitudes, and intentions regarding CS. Trans. Comput. Educ. 12, 2 (2012), 1–29.
    [9] Warschauer, M. and Matuchniak, T. 2010. New technology and digital worlds: Analyzing evidence of the equity in access, use and outcomes. Review of Research in Education. 34, 1 (2010), 179–225.
    [10] Wilkins, N.J. and Kuperminc, G.P. 2010. Why try? Achievement motivation and perceived academic climate among Latino youth. The Journal of Early Adolescence. 30, 2 (2010), 246–276.
    [11] Wing, J. 2006. Computational thinking and thinking about computing. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society. 366, (2006), 3717–3725.
    [12] Zambrana, R. and Zoppi, I.M. 2002. Latina students: Translating cultural wealth into social capital to improve academic success. Journal of Ethnic & Cultural Diversity in Social Work. 11, 1/2 (2002), 33–53.

    • 20. Mark Guzdial  |  October 28, 2012 at 8:36 pm

      To whom is your non-rhetorical question posed? I have written on my answer to why we might teach computing to everyone (for example, here and here and here), but that’s just one person’s take. The Computing in the Core Coalition has their answers, and the Computing at Schools effort has their arguments, too. Who did you want to answer these questions?

  • […] There is a flip side to Matt’s question which is even more disappointing — the programs that exist are woefully undersubscribed. […]

  • […] desperately need more high school teachers, but if a high school teacher learns enough computer science to teach it well, she also knows […]

  • […] everyone in the STEM education community has been).  K-12 belongs in the Department of Education (what does this mean for CS10K?), undergrad and grad in NSF, and informal ed in the Smithsonian (the […]

  • […] caught my eye as something that we really need to push computing education.  For CS10K to be successful, we need a mesh of education research with public policy work.  That’s what ECEP is about. […]

  • […] opposite of software engineering. Our biggest challenges in CS Ed are about getting students and teachers to even consider computer science. Could live coding get teachers to see computing as something beyond dry and engineering-ish?  Who […]

  • […] when seeing this article was, “Well, I’m glad it’s not just CS.”  (See my post about how recruiting teachers is our biggest challenge in CS10K.) And my second thought was, “WHERE are we going to get all the teachers we need, across […]

  • […] match for the student audience to the affordances of the medium. Trying to draw in new CS teachers (when they are so hard to recruit) via MOOCs makes little sense to […]

  • 28. - Tech in America  |  February 8, 2016 at 8:33 am

    […] well with the training: the project has not ascertained how many of the trained teachers are still teaching CS. We do know that the trainee population has shifted from mostly senior teachers to mostly younger […]

  • […] well with the training: the project has not ascertained how many of the trained teachers are still teaching CS. We do know that the trainee population has shifted from mostly senior teachers to mostly younger […]


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