Posts tagged ‘computing education’

How can teachers help struggling computationalists

My Blog@CACM post for this month is about imagining the remedial teaching techniques of a school-based “Computing Lab” in the near future.

It’s becoming obvious that computing is a necessary skill for 21st Century professionals. Expressing ideas in program code, and being able to read others’ program code, is a kind of literacy. Even if not all universities are including programming as part of their general education requirements yet, our burgeoning enrollments suggest that the students see the value of computational literacy.

We also know that some students will struggle with computing classes. We do not yet have evidence of challenges in learning computation akin to dyslexia. Our research evidence so far suggests that all students are capable of learning computing, but differences in background and preparation will lead to different learning challenges.

One day, we may have “Computing Labs” where students will receive extra help on learning critical computational literacy skills. What would happen in a remedial “Computing Lab”? It’s an interesting thought experiment.

Source: Designing the Activities for a “Computing Lab” to Support Computational Literacy | blog@CACM | Communications of the ACM

I list several techniques in the article, and I’m sure that we can come up with many more.  Here’s one more each DO and DON’T for “Computer Lab” for struggling computationalists.

  • DO use languages other than industry standard languages.  As I’ve mentioned before in this blog, CS educators are far too swayed by industry fads.  I’m a big fan of Livecode, a cross-platform modern form of HyperCard. An ICER 2016 paper by Raina Mason, Simon et al. estimated Livecode to have the lowest cognitive load of several IDE’s in use by students.  If we want to help students struggling to learn computing, we have to be willing to change our tools.
  • DON’T rely on program visualizations.  The evidence that I’ve seen suggests that program visualizations can help high-ability students, and well-designed program visualizations can even help average students.  I don’t see evidence that program visualizations can help the remedial student.  Sketching and gesture are more effective for teaching and learning in STEM than diagrams and visualizations.  Sketching and gesture encourage students to develop improved spatial thinking.  Diagrams and visualizations are likely to lead remedial students into more misconceptions.


October 21, 2016 at 7:51 am 8 comments

K-12 CS Framework: Best we can expect. Maybe as good as we need.

The CS K-12 Framework was released Monday.  This has been an 11 month long process — see first blog post about the frameworkfirst 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 here:

A webinar about the Framework will be held on Wednesday, October 19, at 12 PM Pacific / 3 PM Eastern. Visit for more details and to watch the webinar on the 19th.

I believe that this framework is about as good as we can expect right now.  Pat Yongpradit did an amazing job engaging a broad range of voices in a short time.  The short time frame was forced on the process by the state policymakers who wanted a framework, something on which they could hang their state standards and curricula.  The NGSS veterans did warn us what could happen if we got it wrong, if we went too fast.  Maybe the framework process didn’t go too fast.

The framework document is impressive — comprehensive, carefully constructed, with a rich set of citations.  It’s teacher-centric, which may not be the best for a document to inform state standards, but that’s the constituency with the strongest voice in CS Ed today.  There are too few CS Ed informed policymakers or district administrators to push back on things that might not work work. The CS Ed researchers are too few and too uncertain to have a strong voice in the process.  Computer scientists (both professional and academic) generally ignored the process. The CS teachers had the greatest political influence.

I predicted in January that this would be a “safe list,” a “subset of CS that most people can agree to.”  I was wrong. There’s a lot in there that I don’t see as being about computation.  Like “Create team norms, expectations, and equitable workloads to increase efficiency and effectiveness” — that’s a high school computing recommendation?  Like “Include the unique perspectives of others and reflect on one’s own perspectives when designing and developing computational products” — you can achieve that in high school?

Those “aspirational” statements (Pat’s word) mean that the writers went beyond defining a consensus document.  They tried to push future CS education in the ways that they felt were important.  Time will tell if they got it right.  The framework fails if schools (especially under-resourced schools) decide that it’s too hard and give up, meaning that underprivileged kids will continue to get no CS education.  If teachers and administrators work harder to provide more and better CS education because of this document, then the framework writers win.

This is an important document that will have a large influence.  Literally, millions of schoolchildren in several states are going to have their CS education defined by this document.

Typing that statement gives me such a sinking feeling because we just don’t have the research evidence to support what’s in the framework.

When I went to meetings, I too often heard, “Of course, teachers and students can do this, because it works in my program.”  So few computing education programs (e.g., packages of curriculum, professional development, assessment, and all the things teachers need like pacing guides and standards crosswalks) have scaled yet in diverse populations.  Maybe it works in your program.  But will it work when it’s not your program anymore?  When it’s a national program? When states and districts take it over and make it their own?  Will it still work?

And we want schools and districts to make things their own.  That’s at the heart of the American educational system — we’re distributed and diverse, with thousands of experiments going on at once.  I worry about how little knowledge about computing and computing education is out there, as guidance when schools and districts make it their own.

So, yeah, I’m one of those uncertain researchers, mumbling in the corner of this process, worrying, “This could go so wrong.”  Maybe it won’t.  Maybe this will be the first step towards providing a computing education for everyone.

The die is cast. Let’s see what happens.


October 18, 2016 at 7:01 am 11 comments

Losing CS Teachers in Scotland: Latest report on CS teacher numbers from Computing At School Scotland

If you can forgive the bias in the graph (what looks like a 90% drop is actually a 25% drop), you will find this to be an important and interesting report. Scotland has one of the strongest computing at schools efforts in the world (see site here), with an advanced curriculum and a large and well-designed professional development effort (PLAN-C).  Why are they losing CS teachers?

When I wrote about this in 2014 (the trend has only continued), I pointed out that part of the problem is teachers refusing to shift from teaching Office applications to computer science.  The current report doesn’t give us much more insight into why. The point I found most interesting was that Scottish student numbers dropped 11%, and teacher numbers in the other disciplines are also declining (e.g., mathematics teachers are declining by 6% over the same period), but at a much slower rate than the CS decline of 25%. That makes sense too — if you’re a teacher and things are getting tough, stick with the “core” subjects, not the “new” one.  It’s worth asking, “How do we avoid this in the US?” and “Can we avoid it?”

We know too little about what happens to CS teachers in the US after professional development. I know of only one study of CS teacher retention in the US, and the observed attrition rate in that study was far worse than 25%. Do we know what US retention rate is for CS teachers? Maybe Scotland is actually doing better than the US?

Today we launch our latest report into the numbers of Computing Science teacher numbers across Scotland.  We have carried out this survey in 2012, 2014 and now 2016 as we are concerned about the decreasing number in Computing teachers in Scottish schools.  Nationally we now have 17% of schools with no computing specialist and a quarter of Secondary schools have only one CS teacher.

Source: Latest report on CS teacher numbers | Computing At School Scotland

September 12, 2016 at 7:26 am 1 comment

Survey for Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) Instructors

From Lauren Wilcox:

Betsy DiSalvo, Dick Henneman and I have designed a survey about a topic that is near and dear to us as HCI faculty:  topics, learning goals, and learning activities in HCI classrooms!

We hope to do an annual “pulse” of HCI instructors across the globe.

The survey takes about 15 minutes. We plan to share the results with the broader academic HCI community.

We are hoping that you can take the survey, and also please share with your colleagues who teach HCI-related classes.

September 5, 2016 at 7:55 am 4 comments

White House Call to Action: Incorporating Active STEM Learning Strategies into K-12 and Higher Education

I’m so happy to see this!  I’ve received significant pushback on adopting active learning among CS faculty. Maybe a White House call can convince CS higher education faculty to adopt active learning strategies?

Active learning strategies include experiences such as:

  • Authentic scientific research or engineering or software design in the classroom to help students understand the practice of science, technology, and engineering and promote deep learning of the subject matter;
  • Interactive computer activities to support students’ exposure to trial-and-error and promote deep learning;Discussions to encourage collaboration and idea exchange among students; and
  • Writing to generate original ideas and solidify knowledge.

Today, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy is issuing a call to action to educators in K-12 and higher education, professional development providers, non-profit organizations, Federal agencies, private industry, and members of the public to participate in a nationwide effort to meet the goals of STEM for All through the use of active learning at all grade levels and in higher education.

Source: A Call to Action: Incorporating Active STEM Learning Strategies into K-12 and Higher Education |

August 26, 2016 at 7:48 am Leave a comment

New ISTE Standards emphasize computational thinking with a better definition

ISTE has just released their ed-tech-influenced standards for students for 2016, and they include computational thinking — with a better definition than the more traditional ones.  It’s not about changing how students think.  It’s about giving students the tools to solve problems with technology.  I liked the frequent use of the term “algorithmic thinking” to emphasize the connections to the history of the ideas.  This definition doesn’t get to systems and processes (for example), but it’s more realistic than the broad transferable thinking skills claim.


Students develop and employ strategies for understanding and solving problems in ways that leverage the power of technological methods to develop and test solutions.

Source: For Students 2016

August 12, 2016 at 7:53 am 4 comments

US States Move toward CS Ed: MA, CA, and the challenge of local control

I review for the WIPSCE conference (an international conference on K-12 computing), and found a phrase in one of the papers I was reviewing about computing education now being mandatory in the United States.  Well, not really — kinda, sorta, in someplaces.  It may be hard for educators outside the US to understand the decentralized nature of computing education in the US.  The individual 50 states control primary and secondary school education by law, and some of those states (notably, California, Massachusetts, and Nebraska) are “local-control” — the state itself decides to shift almost all of the education decision-making to the individual school districts (easily a hundred in a small state, multiple hundreds in large ones).

Recently the National Association of State Boards of Education has come out with a policy update about CS education in the states.  Useful — except for the local control states, where the state boards of education don’t really have that much power.

While educators and parents recognize computer science as a key skill for career readiness, only five states have adopted learning standards in this area. Tides are changing, however, as the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) recognizes with its call on states to provide a “well-rounded education” for students, to include computer science standards. This NASBE Policy Update outlines what states need to consider as they develop computer science standards and improve instruction, highlighting several promising state efforts already under way.

Source: NASBE – States Move toward Computer Science Standards

How do local control states implement reforms like computing education? In California, they’re trying to pass legislation to create an advisory board about integrating CS into education. It’s all about advice and recommendation — the state can’t make the districts do much.

California legislators are reviewing a bill that would create an advisory board to integrate computer science into education.The Assembly legislation would create a 23-person panel overseen by the state Superintendent that would deliver recommendations by September 2017 on how to improve computer science education, and establish curriculum standards for grades K-12.The panel would comprise teachers, administrators and professors across K-12 and higher education, as well as representatives from government, parent associations and student advocacy organizations. The bill is backed by Microsoft and

Source: California legislators push computer science education bill

Massachusetts has just come out with their new state standards. I haven’t gone through them all, but from what I’ve seen (and knowing people who helped build it), I believe that they’re really high-quality. But they’re just voluntary. The districts have to be coaxed into adopting them.

Massachusetts public schools may start using new digital literacy and computer science standards as soon as this fall. The state board of elementary and secondary education unanimously approved the standards, which are voluntary, at its monthly meeting Tuesday.”Today’s vote recognizes the importance of digital literacy and computer science to modern life, work and learning,” board chairman Paul Sagan said in a statement. “These standards will help our students think about problem solving in new ways and introduce them to valuable skills they will need in today’s economy.”

Source: Mass. Has New K-12 Standards For Digital Literacy, Computer Science | WBUR News

August 1, 2016 at 7:57 am Leave a comment

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