Finding a Home for CS Ed in Schools of Ed: Priming the CS Teacher Pump Report Released

April 16, 2018 at 7:00 am 11 comments

Thursday April 12, the report on finding a home for CS Ed in Schools of Education was released at Microsoft’s Times Square offices.  Leigh Ann DeLyser and Frances Schick of “CS for All” did a great job pulling it all together.You can see the play-by-play (or tweet-by-tweet) of the event on the Twitter stream #home4CS.  The report is available on the website

Some of the points that I found particularly interesting or compelling:

  • Yasmin Kafai talking about the tension between standalone CS classes and integrating CS into other disciplines.  The latter is likely how CS is going to end up in K-8, and budget concerns may make that the most common path to giving high school students access to CS education. But our research shows that it’s really hard to make that work well.  CS will likely get little attention, if programming is just used as the tool for some STEM learning activities.  Questions from the audience were skeptical that we could get teachers to pay attention to both CS and the integrated subject well.
  • A big question was how to add something to US Schools of Education that are facing enrollment declines and budget cutbacks.  Aman Yadav addressed that point head-on, by identifying the courses that we’re already teaching in pre-service development programs where CS education could be integrated.
  • The discussion afterward was really great.  Participants stuck around for more than an hour to talk about these issues.  A common theme I heard was, “Give us the answers.  What are the best pre-service CS teacher PD programs?  What are the models we should be using?  Where are the syllabi for these courses?”  I don’t think that these are answerable questions in the US.  We don’t have one education system. We have one in each state.  Almost nothing transfers as-is from one state to another, from one university to another.  I’m more interested in the points that Joanna Goode made — how do we grow education leadership to understand the issues of CS Ed?  We need to inform the leaders who know their contexts to help them integrate CS Education.
  • I spoke about the challenges of growing a pipeline of CS Education Research PhD’s. One of the questions I got about my topic was, “What is the biggest lever for increasing the number of CS Ed PhD’s?  Is it just money?”  For my colleagues in Schools of Ed, money would really help — they don’t get enough funding.  For those of us in CS, it’s also the creation of PhD programs that meet the needs of CS Ed researchers.  Georgia Tech’s Human-Centered Computing PhD is great for that.  A traditional CS PhD is not a great fit, because it typically requires courses in systems development and theory that don’t help a CS Ed researcher and cost time and effort.

The report makes a bunch of recommendations, but doesn’t offer many answers.  It does start a conversation about how to make CS education sustainable in the US, which is a critical topic for long-term survival of the “CS for All” movement.


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11 Comments Add your own

  • 1. alanone1  |  April 16, 2018 at 8:59 am

    Pretty much in any educational milieu, but especially in the US where there are no standard curricula or syllabi, there really needs to be a document that lays out what the subject is about, and especially, what concepts of it are obligatory. A very useful one would be “by the end of the 8th grade, etc.”.

    I think this could be done for physical science “by the end of the 8th grade” — for example, we could guarantee that F = ma should be in there, and Gallilean gravity, etc.

    Computing is making a lot of interesting things from a kind of dynamic comparison “atom”, so what is tough — as in math — are the entailments, most of which are various kinds of design and construction decisions, some really ad hoc.

    In math up to 8th grade or so, the tradition has been to teach pretty much only entailments as a kind of engineering for a few different areas. I think we all agree that more foundations would help, even though they are difficult and would have be judiciously chosen and sculpted. (Computing can really help here.)

    In science, one would hope that children could actually *do* enough real science to start grokking the deep differences between science and most other ways to seek knowledge. (Computing can really help here.)

    Similarly, to math — computing is a kind of math (yep!) — there should be felicitous balances between foundational ideas and practical entailments (and yep, computing can help here).

    But if we take the previous paragraph seriously — I do — then it immediately provides a perspective for deep criticisms of what the current “CS for all” movements are trying to do. This is especially true if we can still regard school as needing to be more than simple vocational preparation.

    Trick question: why would anyone start trying do curricula and syllabi and teaching before having a deep understanding of the concepts of the subject?

    • 2. Mark Guzdial  |  April 17, 2018 at 8:17 am

      Hi Alan,

      I started a reply to you, and realized that it was going to be longer than the original post, so I’m going to turn it into a blog post. Please excuse me for a couple days while I put it together. The short version is that there are 50+ answers to the issues you raise because Thomas Jefferson won on education. We have an anti-federalist K-12 education system, so issues of content knowledge, frameworks, curricula and syllabi, and teacher preparation are resolved in so many ways — more ways than I realized before we started ECEP.

      • 3. alanone1  |  April 17, 2018 at 9:54 am

        Hi Mark

        Don’t worry about the distributed nature of the US education and what states think about this and that.

        My suggestion was — for this exercise — just to think about the subjects themselves: what is basic and fundamental to “physical science from K to 8, by 8”, “mathematics from K to 8, by 8”, and “computing from K to 8, by 8” (here we are looking at rough ages but not worrying about local ideas about he subjects). And, for that matter, “reading & writing from K-8, by 8”.

        In other words, these are the thoughts educators need to have down as clearly and independently as possible before worrying about local views and politics, etc. Or conclusions such as “We can’t teach X because the teachers can’t learn it, even if the children can”.

        Computing is a lot larger than programming — and these larger areas are of great interest to nail down. But, with all the foorah about “teaching programming” — or worse — “teaching coding”, I’ve seen no document that comes close to what fundamental ideas about programming should be obligatory in presenting the subject — whether up to 8th grade, or beyond.

        What follows might be unfair, but I don’t have any sense — in the main documents of “the movement” — of any “elevated views” of programming, and I don’t see any names I recognize of great systems and programming language designers.

        One of the ways the NCTM have deflected criticism over the years is by saying “professional mathematicians are terrible at teaching math, especially to children”. I don’t know how to argue one way or another. But there are important differences between how to teach and what to teach. The latter has to be identified before the former can be worked on, and that is not generally been the case for math.

        I will readily agree to the idea that “professional computerists” are likely to be poor teachers of computing — I can certainly think of some exceptions — but in any case, this doesn’t mean that teachers of X should be the definers of X. The definers have to be invited to the table, and the real difficulties of communication between the very two different and important types of people has to be dealt with.

        A start would be to take important ideas one by one, and ask is there a way to help children of some age learn and do with this, or is this something that is better left to 9-12 or beyond? I think this is especially important with regard to the “attitudinal ideas” in any subject: the ones that carry the intellectual basis and weight of the subject.

        • 4. Mark Guzdial  |  April 17, 2018 at 11:43 am

          Hi Alan,

          I think about politics as the process of making decisions. The distributed nature describes the decision-making process, which include defining what CS means. Pat Yongpradit’s K-12 CS Framework process was about doing what you describe — getting the definers and others to say what are the fundamental issues of CS at different age levels. Curricula and courses are about enacting the framework, and deciding which parts of the framework the state decides is about CS.

          In Massachusetts, they decided that CS is part of digital literacy, about getting everyone able to use computation effectively. In Indiana, they decided that CS is part of science. Indiana and Massachusetts are defining CS in K-12 in different ways. They’re choosing different parts to teach. Both states drew on the same framework, but came up with different decisions.

          South Carolina defined CS back in the 1980’s. It’s hard for them to re-define it now. I take that as an example of what you called “the weight of the normal,” and what Milton Friedman called “the tyranny of the status quo.” This isn’t about what is CS, but how to get around 30 years of entrenched definition.

          The group you left out of your definition is the learning scientists. Learning scientists like Phil Bell sit between the teachers and the content matter experts, to talk about what we know how to teach and about how students learn. Teachers don’t necessarily know the state of the research in either of these, and content matter experts tend not to know (and in CS, actively ignore) both of these.

          • 5. alanone1  |  April 17, 2018 at 12:27 pm

            The infamous attempt by Goodwin in Bill #246 of the 1897 sitting of the Indiana General Assembly to have “squaring the circle” as law (with pi redefined as about 3.2) was narrowly headed off. What math is actually about is quite different, and independent of politics.

            Unless I’m somehow missing something by a mile, the Framework process didn’t involve any deep computerists that I recognized. And it was still very curricular. And it quite missed an enormous number of important ideas about computing that are well within the understanding of up through 8th grade. As you remember, I was quite critical of this (and still am). I think this is way off in many important ways.

            It is dangerous to e.g conflate “what physics is about” with “what state X is going to try to teach in grade Y”. These are two completely different things — and basically what I’m complaining about.

            A state can decide that “CS means X” but that has nothing to do with what CS may or may not be about.

            It’s the latter that I think needs to be delineated. Without it, many people will have the illusion that they are actually dealing with the real subject. This has happened to both math and science* in school — why let it also happen to computing?

            * E.g. see Bruce Alberts’ deep criticisms of the current Biology curricula, etc.

            • 6. Mark Guzdial  |  April 17, 2018 at 12:35 pm

              It will happen the same with computing because Jefferson won. We have anti-federalist K-12 education, so that’s how CS (all of science, mathematics, and other subjects) gets defined. It’s too hard to get deep computerists involved at the state level (the density of computerists per state is too small), and the Federal level has no teeth at the state K-12 level. The Framework was the chance to get real CS at the table, and the fact that there were too few computer scientists involved was one of my critiques of the process, too. We need to start the revision of the Framework.

              I don’t think we as computer scientists can do much to head off the process. What we can do is keep talking about what belongs in real CS, and keep trying to explain our field. We can get involved in the next level Frameworks, and maybe even in standards, curricula, and courses. But I don’t think we can get a different process than what the rest of STEM got. States rule.

              • 7. alanone1  |  April 17, 2018 at 1:19 pm

                Hi Mark

                I don’t think we can do much about how the states choose what they’d like to call “CS in schools”.

                What I’m complaining about is the lack of a politically independent (as much as possible) “from the field” notion of what is obligatory in a definition of computing.

                This would be a strong way to use as a comparison and critique for what states choose and don’t choose.

                I advocated this years ago when it was clear that the “CS AP” was a complete mess re computing. That was more complicated in that it was the express desire to try to draw AP content from colleges (and the colleges were very much in thrall to business computing).

                Here what I’m advocating is to lay out something definitive about the subject that is also short enough to be contemplated and pondered. The Framework wasn’t remotely close.

                The National Academies used to be able to do things like this (under “the good old days” when Bruce Alberts was the head of NAS and Bill Wulf was the head of NAE). These two guys got along, and a lot of progress was made at many levels and with interacademy cooperation during these 12 years.

  • 8. gflint  |  April 16, 2018 at 9:58 am

    Alan’s last sentence says it all. CS teachers cannot agree on what CS entails. We all sort of agree programming is in there but how much? Programming seems to have become the primary focus of a high school CS curriculum. I see programming as a trade skill, sort of like wood shop and welding. If that is to be the focus then so be it, I like programming (but then I like welding too), but CS is more than programming. Until we can sort of agree on what else CS is coming up with a standard curriculum is a bit tricky.

    “Integrating CS into other disciplines.” For example integrating CS into a math class means something in that tried and true math syllabus has to go. Good luck with that.

    I hate pointing out issues without having solutions but I just do not see any. Perhaps the first thing is to define “CS” in the “CS for All”. Too many teachers see this as “Programming for All” which I (and I have been teaching CS for 30 years) do not agree with.

    • 9. Mark Guzdial  |  April 17, 2018 at 8:13 am

      The trick is not to remove something from the math syllabus. Have you checked out Bootstrap, or Uri Wilensky’s work where he uses NetLogo to achieve NGSS standards? If you’re providing tools to help teachers achieve their existing goals, it’s a win.

  • 10. The Field of CS Ed – Teaching is STEM  |  April 17, 2018 at 2:08 pm

    […] what CS Ed can become and what it could look like from preschool through advanced scholarship. As folks are stating, there is a lot of work to get it […]

  • […] there are principals that don’t buy it, and the classes in the schools are few and tiny.  Most Schools of Education are still not players in promoting CS education. I predict over 85% of kids in Georgia (at least) are not getting a single experience with CS.  […]


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