Archive for January 21, 2019

Frameworks and Standards can be limiting and long-lasting: Alan Kay was right

Through the K-12 CS Framework process (December 2016, see the post here), Alan Kay kept saying that we needed real computer science and that the Framework shouldn’t be about consensus (see post here). I disagreed with him. I saw it as a negotiation between academic CS and K-12 CS.

I was wrong.

Now that I can see standards efforts rolling out, and can see what’s actually going into teacher professional development, I realize that Alan was right. Standards are being written to come up to but rarely surpass the Framework. All those ideas like bits and processes that I argued about — they were not in the Framework, so they are not appearing in Standards. The Framework serves to limit what’s taught.

Teachers are experts on what is teachable, but that’s not what a Framework is supposed to be about. A Framework should be about what the field is about, about what’s important to know. Yes, it needs to be a consensus document, but not a consensus about what goes into classrooms. That’s the role of Standards. A Framework should be a consensus about what computing is.

I think what drove a lot of our thinking about the Framework is that it should be achievable.  There was a sense that states and organizations (like CSTA and ISTE) should be able to write standards that (a) meet the Framework’s goals and (b) could be measurably achieved in professional development — “Yup, the teachers understand that.” As I learn about the mathematics and science frameworks, it seems that their goal was to describe the field — they didn’t worry about achievable.  Rather, the goal was that the Framework should be aspirational. “When we get education right for all children, it should look like this.”

Standards are political documents (something Mike Lach taught me and that Joan Ferrini-Mundy told ECEP), based on Frameworks. Because the K-12 CS Framework is expected to reflect the end state goal, Standards are being written a step below those. Frameworks describe the goals, and Standards describe our current plans towards those goals. Since the Framework is not aiming to describe Computer Science, neither do the state Standards that I’m seeing.

I told Alan about this realization a few weeks ago, and then the Georgia Standards came out for review (see page here). They are a case in point. Standards are political documents. It matters who was in the room to define these documents in this way.

Here’s the exemplar standard from the Grade 6-8 band:

Use technology resources to increase self-direction and self-regulation in learning, including for problem solving and collaboration (e.g., using the Internet to access online resources, edit documents collaboratively)

Can technology resources increase self-direction and self-regulation in learning? Maybe — I don’t know of any literature that shows that. But even if it can, why are these in the Computer Science standards?

The K-2 band comparable Standard is even more vague:

Recognize that technology provides the opportunity to enhance relevance, increase confidence, offer authentic choice, and produce positive impacts in learning.

I have no idea if computers can “increase confidence,” but given what we know about self-efficacy and motivation, I don’t think that’s a common outcome. Why is this in the Computer Science Standards?

There are lots of uses of the word “information.” None of them define information. The closest is here (again, grades 6-8), which lists a bunch of big ideas (“logic, sets, and functions”) but the verb is only that students should be able to “discuss” them:

Evaluate the storage and representation of data; Analyze how data is collected with both computational and non-computational tools and processes

  1. Discuss binary numbers, logic, sets, and functions and their application to computer science
  2. Explain that searches may be enhanced by using Boolean logic (e.g., using “not”, “or”, “and”)

What’s missing in the Framework is also missing in the Georgia standards.

  • The word “bit” doesn’t appear anywhere in these standards — if there is no information, then it makes sense that students don’t need bits.
  • The word “process” does, but mostly in the phrase “design process.” Then it shows up in the Grade 6-8 band, but in highly technical forms: “process isolation” and “boot process.”
  • There are no names: No Turing, no Hopper. There is no history, so no grounding in where computer science came from and what the big and deep ideas are.

There are strange phrases like “binary language,” which I don’t understand.

This is from Georgia, where there is a strong video game development lobby. Thus, all students are expected (by Grades 6-8) to:

Develop a plan to create, design, and build a game with digital content for a specific target market.

And

Develop a visual model of a game from the Game Design Document (GDD).

And

Create a functional game, using a game development platform, based on the storyboards, wireframes, and comprehensive layout.

It’s clear that the Georgia Standards are the result of a political process.

The bottom line is that I now wish that we had made sure that the K-12 CS Framework reflected computer scientists’ understanding of Computer Science. It instead reflected K-12 classroom computer science as defined in 2016. They presume languages like Scratch and curricula like AP CS Principles.  That’s reasonable in Standards that describe what goes into the classroom tomorrow, but Frameworks should describe a broader, longer-range thinking. Our

There are no plans that I’m aware of to define a new Framework. The Standards are still just being developed for many states, so they’re going to last for years. This is what Computer Science will be in the United States for the next couple decades, at least.

January 21, 2019 at 7:00 am 42 comments


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