More Teachers, Fewer 3D Printers: How to Improve K–12 Computer Science Education 

October 18, 2017 at 7:00 am 8 comments

A nice summary of where we’re at with CS Ed in the United States, where additional funding and effort should go, and where it shouldn’t.

Addressing the teacher shortage should be the number one use for the new funds allocated by the Trump administration, says Mark Stehlik, a computer science professor at Carnegie Mellon University. A lack of qualified teachers is the biggest barrier to CS education in the U.S., he says, and he thinks the problem is going to get worse. An earlier generation of CS educators has started to retire, and he says younger CS graduates “aren’t going into education because they can make twice or more working in the software industry.”

One solution could be to expand the reach of each CS educator through online classes. But “online curricula aren’t going to save the day, especially for elementary and high school,” Stehlik says. “A motivated teacher who can inspire students and provide tailored feedback to them is the coin of the realm here.”

Where the money should not be spent? On hardware and equipment. Laptops, robots, and 3D printers are important, says Code.org’s Yongpradit, “but they don’t make a CS class. A trained teacher makes a CS class. So money should be focused on training teachers and offering robust curriculum.”

Source: More Teachers, Fewer 3D Printers: How to Improve K–12 Computer Science Education – IEEE Spectrum

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Start from where they are: Rochester Institute of Tech Opens Center Focused on ‘Computing Science for All’  Why should we teach programming (Hint: It’s not to learn problem-solving)

8 Comments Add your own

  • 1. rademi  |  October 18, 2017 at 7:45 am

    One possible resource here might be seasoned CS professionals who are looking for a change of pace.

    The industry has been moving fast, which can mean a fair bit of job mobility. To some degree, this means that people get snapped up as fast as they move out of old jobs. But, also, some might be thinking of longer term issues instead of just their next paycheck.

    The problems here, of course, include a lack of educational experience, curriculum and student rapport issues. But if the priority is teachers expanding the pool of candidates seems essential, which implies these secondary priorities will also need attention.

    Reply
    • 2. Mark Guzdial  |  October 18, 2017 at 7:48 am

      Seasoned professionals in the classroom tend to depress rather than increase interest in STEM without training on how to interact with kids. It’s also not a general solution. Much of the US is rural without IT professionals nearby.

      Reply
      • 3. rademi  |  October 18, 2017 at 7:59 am

        Two problems you identified here: one is lack of availability, the other is lack of ability.

        I think the lack of ability problem should be solvable (but, yes, I suppose you would have to have to reject some candidates also), but I must admit that I do not actually know how severe that problem tends to be.

        The availability problem of course, is a different matter.

        That said… personally, I grew up in a rural area, and “computer science” in high school consisted of a computer terminal tucked away in a small alcove behind a math class. Literally, no curriculum, and just occasional suggestions about what to do. (So I wound up ordering a lot of stuff, including a several foot high stack of free papers, from MIT LCS.) I expect that that experience won’t scale (it might have helped, in my case, that both of my parents were teachers), but I guess I am also a bit optimistic about the possibilities.

        Reply
      • 4. Bonnie  |  October 18, 2017 at 10:06 am

        Landwise, much of the US is rural, but the big student populations are in urban areas, where there are plenty of IT people around. When I was working in industry, a number of women I worked with were interested in taking time out to teach (they had school age kids, so teaching is a good way to align your schedule with your kids), but couldn’t see a path to do so. Many feared that they wouldn’t be able to get back into IT when their kids were grown. Perhaps that is a population to target with “teaching leave” progams.

        I agree with your title, though! I don’t get why we need all these 3D printers.

        Reply
  • 5. zamanskym  |  October 18, 2017 at 8:00 am

    Mark (Stehlik)’s comment about better pay in industry is a common refrain but I think it’s a premature notion. At least it’s no more of a problem than in other subject areas – public school teachers have been very much under fire over he past couple of decades (at least) and it’s becoming harder and harder to have a financially viable career as a teacher.

    Until we have proper pathways to bring in CS teachers we won’t know if industry draw is a problem — that is pre-service programs and CS teaching jobs waiting.

    Nowadays you can get certification to teach math without knowing much math but if you go through a good program you’ll know enough math to be employable in business — finance in particular in NY and that pays much better than teaching. Likewise chemistry teachers in the NY region could go to the pharmaceutical industry for greater pay.

    While math and science teachers are harder to find than English teachers there isn’t really a problem with industry pull.

    I’m guessing that it will be the same for CS.

    Reply
  • 6. alanone1  |  October 18, 2017 at 8:06 am

    I agree that the lack of good teachers is the top need.

    It is also extremely disappointing and the simplest indication of “what’s wrong” (or perhaps “the most important thing that didn’t happen”) with US education, that “good books” read by “fluent readers” can’t fill the gap.

    One of the operative theories of K-8 education in the 19th century was to teach children not just to read, but how to “learn from reading”. The reasons given for this included (a) too much knowledge (b) too few teachers, and occasionally that (c) much of the new knowledge is not primarily oral in form.

    This was in bad shape before TV and then computing, but even the idea of it has now vanished from American schooling.

    When I say this, I’m also pointing out that the existing teachers today have not learned how to learn from reading! They don’t do it, and most can’t do it.

    Reply
  • 7. gflint  |  October 18, 2017 at 10:39 am

    We do not need CS majors teaching K-12 CS any more than we need chemists teaching chemistry or physicists teaching physics. We need teachers teaching CS. I have BAs in General Science and Math Ed. Both are more than enough to teach Math and the sciences but neither would have gotten me a job working in industry as a mathematician or scientist. As a beginning teacher both are a bit sketchy starting out but experience fills in the gaps. We need to stop looking at CS departments for CS teachers and look at schools of Education to start offering CS Ed degrees. A CS teacher needs to know how to deal with confused high school sophomores, not the ins and outs of an operating system or data base management. A broad based CS Ed program based on solid methods courses is what is needed. That CS major is going to have no idea what to do with 2nd graders while a CS Ed program should include this bit of knowledge. Remember, that Elementary Ed teacher is going to have no background in CS so the CS Ed degree is going to end up being the resources for maybe a whole school, K – 12, especially in small schools.

    Reply
  • 8. teknobilly  |  October 23, 2017 at 4:33 pm

    While I love programming teaching aids like Scratch by MIT. I learned on a c64 in Basic, then Pascal on a 286 AT. I wonder about the emphasis of the Drag and Drop educational environments, and if they really do engage that part of the brain for these learners. Are they enough, or can we get back to basics with a language like Javascript and HTML5.

    Reply

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