What are the Barriers and Supports to Intro CS in school? BASICS – The Center for Elementary Mathematics and Science Education

January 23, 2015 at 8:52 am 3 comments

I’m an advisor on the BASICS project at U. Chicago — the Barriers and Supports to Introductory CS in schools. I visited them in December after our semester ended. The link below goes to a page with some of the first results of the project.

Computer Science teachers in Chicago and Washington, DC completed a questionnaire in Spring 2014 that, among other things, asked them to identify the three biggest supports for and barriers to their computer science classes. All of the teachers were using Exploring Computer Science (ECS) instructional materials.

via BASICS – The Center for Elementary Mathematics and Science Education.

They have links on the page referenced above to the top barriers and supports that they heard from ECS teachers in those districts.  Top barrier for teachers: their own lack of self-efficacy.  Top support for teachers: professional development.

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3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. alanone1  |  January 23, 2015 at 9:23 am

    I just downloaded version 5, so I’ll restrict comments to my reading of previous versions.

    My main comment doesn’t need the details: the most telling omission from the summary of teacher’s answers to the questionnaire is that we see no criticism of “the curriculum as a main barrier”.

    I believe there is a lot to criticize about many parts of this curriculum, and (given that I might be right about this), the rest of what we see is “the usual suspects” — but all is pretty moot until something good is being prevented from happening.

    Arguments about “this is at least a start” don’t have much force given that e.g. both math and science have had bad curricula, both have used the excuse of “it’s a start” and both are still in really terrible shape after many decades, with almost no understanding of either carried by more than a tiny percentage into the adult world, and some surveys have shown that those who do carry science and math as adults, learned elsewhere, not in school.

    Lack of teacher knowledge has always been a bit of a problem, but it seems to me that we should at least have great curriculum as an anchor to try to improve other aspects of the education process.

    • 2. Mark Guzdial  |  January 26, 2015 at 11:10 am

      Exploring Computer Science (ECS) is going into schools that have never had computer science before. The teachers who are learning ECS are most likely Business teachers — they’ve taught keyboarding, Microsoft Office, and maybe accounting. They have had relatively few math or science courses, and very few of the teachers will have ever had computer science in any course. Given that background, I’d be surprised if the teachers complained about the curriculum. The computer science in ECS is new to them. They’ve never seen it before, as well as never taught it before. They’re unlikely to be the ones to identify problems with the curriculum.

      • 3. alanone1  |  January 26, 2015 at 11:34 am

        Hi Mark

        I realize this, and this is precisely why the curriculum has to be really really good. As Jerry Bruner pointed out about MACOS — and despite the special training they did do — “curriculum is really for the teachers”.

        The current education system has some trappings of the military, with the teachers having some parallels with soldiers and duty.

        The biggest difference seems to be that — when I was in the Air Force — the training was absolutely superb. (Much of this was Navigation.) It was definitely not education, and the instructors did not have any deep understanding of why this and that worked, but what they did have — courtesy of the Air Force — was really great curriculum and process to making the training happen.

        I believe it is a kind of social crime that children are not receiving the whole deal that combines real education with real training. But it is really appalling that the system is terrible at even delivering the subset of knowledge that the system chose after throwing out most of what constitutes education.

        The current curriculum under question is one of many in which one would not be very wrong to guess that a lot of what is left out has to do with a combination of what the curriculum designers don’t really understand about the subject, plus leaving out still more important things because they don’t think the teachers will learn them (see above again).

        The idea of shorthchanging children (who can actually learn much more) because the adults are not up to snuff in the system that is supposed to be helping children is really repugnant.


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