Final Review Period for the K-12 CS Framework for K-12 Computer Science Education June 8-29

June 10, 2016 at 8:03 am 10 comments

The final review period is June 8-29. Do engage with the review.  Whatever comes out of this is likely to influence the standards for K-12 CS education in the United States for the next five to ten years.

I’m not so happy with the framework, but I recognize that it’s a collaborative process where no one is going to be completely happy (see previous post about the framework).  A source of difficulty for building the framework is that we are so early in CS Education in the United States. We are optimizing for the current state, at time when that state is rapidly changing.

Here’s an instance of the general problem. Last time I was at a framework meeting as an advisor, I pushed hard to include the concept of the word bit as a learning objective in the framework.  Even as quantum computing is developed, the Claude Shannon notion of a bit as a fundamental unit of information is still relevant and useful — it’s one of the foundational ideas of computing. The suggestion was vehemently rejected by the writers because current teachers fear binary.  I tried to argue that we can talk about bits (e.g., what is information, how we can store/represent bits, and how we can encode information in bits) without talking about binary, but the writers argued that teachers will perceive bits as being about binary and reject it.  I pointed out that the word bit did appear in the document, just not explained. It’s hard to talk about computing without talking about “bits.” In response, every instance of the word bit was removed from the framework document.

We have so few teachers today in schools (e.g., no state has high school CS teachers in more than even 30% of their high schools, we likely need ten times the number of current teachers in order to provide CS education to everyone in the United States), and we’re still just figuring out how to develop new CS teachers.  Should we really make decisions about the next 5-10 years based on what current teachers dislike? Especially when too few of those teachers have had significant teacher professional development? Maybe we do — we might need to keep those teachers engaged in order to grow the programs to create more teachers.

I argued in the past that it’s about consensus not vision.  It still is. The question is how much unpleasantness we can swallow and still agree on the framework.

The goals of the K-12 CS framework review process are to provide transparency into the development of the K-12 CS framework and include feedback from a diverse range of voices and stakeholders. If you haven’t already, please sign up for framework updates.Individuals and institutions are invited to be reviewers of the K-12 CS framework. Institutions, such as state/district departments of education and organizations (industry, companies, non-profits), are responsible for selecting an individual or a group to represent the institution.

Source: Review – A Framework for K-12 Computer Science Education

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10 Comments Add your own

  • 1. alanone1  |  June 10, 2016 at 8:24 am

    Just to play the same tune again — any “framework” that could be good for and can be readily learned by children should not be polluted by worries about what the adults around them might not know or be frightened by — that is really crazy (and downright bad). It just doesn’t help anything (just the opposite).

  • 2. gflint  |  June 10, 2016 at 11:08 am

    I hate to be a bandwagonner but I have to agree. Building a framework to satisfy the present knowledge of the CS teacher corps is silly. Most CS teachers in US schools have a pitiful background in CS, little education in CS and no chance of professional development. They are just enthusiastic. It topics like “bit” are included in the framework, most will attempt to learn the topic. “Fear binary”? Who cares if they fear binary? This fear is caused by ignorance.

    With CS we are trying to introduce a subject into schools without a system of teacher training in place. Most of the present CS teachers (myself included) are self taught and originally came from a different teaching specialty. In my state many schools have decided CS is now the business teacher’s responsibility. They can run apps all day long but know nothing about CS. But the ones I have talked to are willing to learn. They are just not sure what to learn and have no way other than on their own to learn it. This framework has to include everything needed to teach CS no matter what present teachers “fear”. It needs to be complete. Maybe schools will skip the “fearful” parts until the CS teacher can get up to speed but everything needs to be there or it is just another half a@@$d compromise that no one will take seriously.

    Every year I “fear” teaching Geometry to Sophomores. I still do it.

  • 3. Raul Miller  |  June 10, 2016 at 2:32 pm

    I do not think the issue you are fighting is fear.

    I think the issue is laziness. And, I think fear is just an excuse.

    That said, there’s a tactic that negotiators often use, which is to ask for more than they expect (with good arguments of all of it) and then to let some, but not all, of that be compromised away. This can be an ugly thing, but if you are dealing with collaborative processes you might need to be using this kind of an approach.

    (A variation on that negotiating theme involves building some consensus ahead of time.)

    That said, the phrase “binary digit” should be an acceptable alternative to the word “bit”.

    • 4. Raul Miller  |  June 10, 2016 at 2:34 pm

      “with good arguments *for* all of it” – and I apologize for my sloppy proofreading.

  • 5. Leigh Ann DeLyser  |  June 10, 2016 at 6:01 pm

    Mark – I wanted to weigh in because I was a part of the discussion we had at the last framework writers meeting. The data strand is mostly about “Big D” data, and so many of the choices we have made were through the lens of how data could be integrated with mathematics, especially in the early grades.

    During the conversation, and correct me if I misunderstood, we worked on modifying the 3-5 concept statement that was meant to engage students in the big idea of ‘representation’ of data. We wanted to leave the door open for binary (and bits) but not limit it to that to exclude programs that focused more on the higher level creation work.

    You expressed a strong opinion that binary wasn’t actually the important concept, but instead the idea of ‘electrical impulses’ which could be connected to science was the most important big idea. So we edited the descriptive material to explicitly use the language you typed into the document. The descriptive material now says:

    “The storage as numbers can be used to motivate lessons in text (character representations), RGB values, images, audio files, etc. At the most basic level, information in computers is represented as electric impulses. These impulses are often represented as numbers (binary values). The numeric form is translated upon retrieval into the represented form (image, letter, sound, etc.)
    Files can be copied and stored in multiple geographic locations.”

    If you think bits would be clearer here, we can consider it as an edit to the text at the end of the review period. It is unfortunate you feel unhappy that bits weren’t mentioned, but hopefully the essence was captured. Thanks for calling this out and keeping discussion going on the framework. This is why there are so many review processes, and the writers are trying to respond to multiple sources of feedback to make the framework appropriate for ALL students.

    • 6. Mark Guzdial  |  June 11, 2016 at 8:18 am

      I was explicitly arguing that students should know that the most fundamental unit of information is the bit which is only a choice: on/off, 1/0, true/false, voltage/no-voltage. Everything in a computer is using a set of bit patterns to represent something else. Interpreting the bits as numeric is a choice. We did start from Grades 3-5, but I was pushing for that idea to appear anywhere, somewhere.

      The current descriptive text is still wrong — it’s not that computer memories are in “numbers.” They are in bits, and bits can be interpreted as numbers, but they don’t have to be.

      That “information in computers is represented as electric impulses” is again too limited. There are places where that’s true. Sometimes, information in computers is represented as patterns in magnets, or even optical impulses.

      The fundamental idea is that all information in a computer is stored as bits, and bits can be represented in many ways (e.g., with dots on a wall, with electric voltage, with magnetic particles) and interpreted in many ways (including numbers). This is a fundamental idea, not a description of something else.

  • 7. Bonnie  |  June 13, 2016 at 9:54 am

    How can it be that teachers fear binary? That used to be a standard topic in math class when I went through school. I have talked to many others of my age who remember learning binary. It wasn’t taught because of computers, but instead as a way to understand number systems. I had it in 5th grade – others remember 6th or 7th. What has happened?

  • 8. Tim Bell  |  June 15, 2016 at 4:40 pm

    The fear of binary seems to be widespread (dare we give it a name?), but we can use it to our advantage… when training up new teachers much of the job is to build their confidence, and I’ve found myself gravitating towards starting early on with the CS Unplugged activity on binary (which requires the ability to distinguish black from white, and count up to 31 dots). If taught in a constructivist manner, teachers soon find themselves explaining the patterns in binary to me, including working out how it extends to text and images. They have often remarked along the lines of “Is that all it is?”. I’ve taught it to senior citizens, and they seem to feel very empowered that they understand something fundamental about computers that their grandkids don’t. It’s not good that it’s like this and we have to be careful not to turn it into a geekfest, but binary seems to be “the secret code”, and showing how it works in a 10 minute demo deflates much of the fear and mystery, and makes the audience feel like they’re on the inside.

    I also like to ask audiences what’s different about digital technology compared with other technology. Ummm… digits! And fun fact: there are no zeroes or ones in a computer; they’re an abstract representation used by humans.

  • […] the education canon, what everyone is taught in schools.  It’s a huge effort, involving standards and frameworks, convincing principals and legislators, and developing teachers and […]

  • […] see first blog post about the framework, first blog post on the process, and the post after my last meeting with the writers as an advisor.  The whole framework can be found here and a video about the framework can be found […]


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