Ben Chun asks, “What is the CS Education ask?”

June 25, 2012 at 1:06 am 7 comments

Ben Chun posts an interesting article critiquing the NSF CS10K project, which is worth reading. (Thanks to “Gas stations without pumps” through which I first heard about Ben’s post.) i don’t agree with all of it — I’m not sure that it’s such a significant concern that the papers describing the CS10K project are “behind a paywall.” — most of the information is readily available at the CS:Principles site (and I believe that the articles from the recent InRoads will be made available soon).

But his main point is a valid one: This is a huge project, and it’s not obvious that it’s even possible, let alone whether it’ll be successful. He asks what specific policy changes are necessary. I don’t think anybody knows, because it’s not knowable in a general sense. Policy changes that impact high schools have to be made on a state-by-state basis. I know what we have done and would like to do in Georgia, and I know what’s going in Massachusetts, South Carolina, and California, but all four of those are completely different. Ben calls the desired policy changes “a unicorn,” but I think it’s closer to “that animal I can hear in the other room, thumping around, but can’t tell what it is yet.” I also agree that we need to figure out how to engage the whole community. I believe that that is happening, through CSTA Chapters and efforts like the AP attestation. I don’t know how to make it happen faster or more broadly, but I do believe that NSF is bringing together a team of people who do.

I say that because if you’re actually putting together a “large-scale, collaborative project bringing together stakeholders from wide-ranging constituencies”, you don’t bury all the information about it behind a paywall. I happen to be teaching at UC Berkeley this summer, but otherwise I wouldn’t even have access to the paper that describes the CS10K project. And I think I’m the kind of person that might be able to help. I actually teach high school computer science! I want more colleagues! I believe CS education is vitally important for young people! The fact that the first result for “cs10k” in Google takes you nowhere is a problem. The lack of open, public discussion of the issues and plans is a problem. The lack of savvy about engaging the whole community — including high school teachers and administrators — is a problem.

But dire as it is, that’s not the biggest problem. The biggest problem is that we don’t agree on what we’re asking for. It’s not that we disagree. We just have no idea. But at least the goal has been made clear, even if not effectively publicized: A new AP course in 10,000 high schools by 2015. (Or maybe 2016 or 2017, I now hear.) In 2011, there were only 2,667 high schools in the world with students taking the AP Computer Science A exam. Today, I think there are about 2,100 high schools authorized to offer the course in the US (not that all of them actually do). There are about 40k total public and private high schools in the US.

via What is the CS Education ask? « And Yet It Moves.

P.S. I’m in Oxford now, and start my classes this afternoon (early this morning for East-coasters, VERY early for West).

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7 Comments Add your own

  • 1. alanone1  |  June 25, 2012 at 11:24 am

    I think what we are seeing here is a large and general failure of imagination about computing, and pretty much on most if not all sides of the question.

    Among the numerous (probably unintended) ironies in Ben Chun’s post is a complaint about “how can we go from ~2500 high schools to add another ~7500 high schools in such a short time?” A very similar kind of bubble from 1977 to 1983 inflated university computer science departments from just a few to almost 4000, when I could only count about 500 good computer scientists in the world.

    The curriculum choices were mostly abysmal, and led to disastrously weak notions of what computing, and especially “computer science” might be about. These are the thrombotic heart of a dangerously ill field.

    Most of the people contending the various sides of this issue today are products of that inflation in size and deflation in content.

    I think there are really good reasons for learning real computing in K-12, but these reasons are so far on the margins of the current aims and goals that they are effectively invisible.

    Is getting more organized and scaled up about teaching bad versions of a subject something to be encouraged?



  • 2. Stephen Gilbert  |  June 25, 2012 at 4:38 pm

    Do you have an Oxford blog, like the one you did in 2004? My wife and I really enjoyed reading that when we visited England and Paris last summer.

  • 3. Cecily  |  June 26, 2012 at 2:07 am

    Two thoughts:

    1) Is AP CS really the best bar for CS in HS? When I taught CS in HS, I think I was a pretty good teacher with a few pretty good students– a couple of them participated in the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair(ISEF) and placed and won tens of thousands of dollars. My students learned to be REALLY good programmers in high school. They felt no need to take the AP test- they were already so far beyond that level, it was kind of irrelevant by the end of the year and they could get much more scholarship money by doing ISEF(during the same week as the AP test). Also, at least in Utah, IF you do get credit, it usually does not help you graduate any faster– it doesn’t fill a college graduation requirement. I didn’t do AP CS either(even though I knew I wanted to CS as a major AND I took 7 AP classes and 3 college classes, including a CS college class that didn’t fulfull a college graduation requirement).

    2) The issue of involvement it a big one. I am one of the very few people(maybe only person) I know who is fully qualified to teach both secondary(licensed and endorsed) and university level(PhD completed) computer science. Not only that, I do CS Ed type research, AND I have actual, real teaching experience (as teacher of record)in both secondary and at the university. I also understand the political side better than most because I have been CTE director for a year and attended a year’s worth of those meetings at the state level, and I understand the educational side better than most because I took the time to earn a license. In spite of this, I seem to be having a hard time getting people’s attention and getting involved in this discussion! I have sent at least two e-mails to people at NSF and gotten no response. It would be great to see the people trying to lead this initiative be a little more transparent and responsive.

    • 4. Mark Guzdial  |  June 26, 2012 at 4:58 am

      Being time-shifted (I’m on British Summer Time, five hours ahead of Eastern time, eight hours ahead of Pacific), and swamped during the afternoon with teaching and meetings, my responses and posts will be out of real-time.

      To Alan: A very similar kind of bubble from 1977 to 1983 inflated university computer science departments from just a few to almost 4000, when I could only count about 500 good computer scientists in the world. But if we hadn’t grown when and as we did, would we have the rich ecology of computational devices and technologies that we’d have today? “No, but we’d have better!” you might reply. Maybe — or maybe we’d not have a critical mass of people to get anything done at all.

      All the existing standards for computing education feel more incremental and pragmatic, rather than a set of statements about what is important to know about computer science as a rigorous discipline. For example, the CS2013 has “Turing machines” and “lambda” as elective topics, and nothing on incompleteness. I’m not a theory guy (barely passed all my theory courses), but it seems to me that these are fundamental ideas of computing. On the other hand, those topics not at all pragmatic (e.g., you won’t get a job because you know how to construct Turing machines, or can use lambda well), and it would be hard to get all CS departments to a place where they could teach these subjects. In our discussion at the ACM Education Council, we explicitly talked about how CS departments that only teach Java or C++ could work within these standards. In my opinion, that’s a mistake to only teach C-based languages to CS majors, but such departments really exist. Is it better to get rid of all those departments, or to accept their reasons for teaching what they do, and helping them teach the best that they can within their scope? Similarly, the CSTA Standards are about what we could get high school classes to teach in the next five years, not what we’d like high schools to be teaching if we could work from a clean slate. But we don’t work from a clean state. Cognitive science says that you have to start from a students’ existing knowledge. Education reform works the same.

      To Cecily: Few CS teachers are as effective or well-trained as you. Several US states have single digit numbers of AP CS test-takers. There’s simply no CS education there. AP CS has several advantages: It has national reach, there is the College Board audit which serves as a way of ensuring some measure of quality, and there is a value to AP exams which encourages their adoption. It is a good leverage point for change in computing education in high school.

      If you want to get involved in CS10K, NSF isn’t the starting point. Talk to the organizations that NSF has funded. Owen Astrachan and Amy Briggs are the co-PIs of the CS:Principles project, which is really the umbrella organization for CS10K. Alternatively, get involved in one of the CS10K pilot and professional development efforts, like Dan Garcia’s at Berkeley, or Beth Simon’s at UCSD. Or join (or start!) a CSTA Chapter, which is another outreach effort for CS10K. If we get ECEP funding, we’ll be working on train-the-trainers workshops and funding national meetings of CSTA chapter leaders and members of the Leadership Cohort. But we won’t know about that for a couple months.

    • 5. Hélène Martin  |  June 28, 2012 at 11:11 pm

      Cecily, you’re likely in touch with these folks who are making great stuff happen in K-12 CS in Utah but if not, you should reach out!

      Cody Hendrichsen –
      David Johnson –
      Utah CSTA –

      (sorry, would normally private message if I had poster’s contact)

  • […] Zealand, Denmark, Israel, Computing at Schools England, and CS10K here in the US — there is a growing movement to improve computing education at the national level. Wales […]

  • […] in the 21st Century (CE21, like our CSLearning4U project), and all the funded projects related to CS10K, sponsored by […]


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