Posts tagged ‘teachers’

Research Questions from CS Ed Research Class


My CS Ed research class did lots of reading in the first half, and then are developing research plans in the second half.  In between, I asked the students to develop research questions (faces deliberately obscured in picture of the class above), and several colleagues asked me, “Please share what they came up with!”

  • Do we need to teach CS to everyone?
  • How do we make CS education ubiquitous, and what are the costs and benefits of doing so?
  • How effective is Media Computation (and like courses) in “tech” schools vs. liberal arts schools?
  • How do we make individualistic (contextualized, scaffolded, etc.) CS experiences for everyone?
  • What are equal vs just interventions?
  • What is the economic cost of not teaching computing to all?
  • How do we create a community of practice among non-practitioners?
  • How to make CS teachers adopt better teaching practices?
  • How we incorporate CS learning into existing engineering courses vs. create new courses for engineers?
  • How does teaching to all high school students differ from teaching undergraduates?
  • How do people learn CS? Define a CS learning progression.
  • Are those AP CS Principles skills transferable to college CS courses? Or anywhere else?
  • How does programming apply to everyone?
  • What are the enduring computer science/splinter areas?
  • How does the content and order of teaching computing concepts affect retention and transfer to other disciplines?
  • How do we scaffold from problem-based learning to culturally relevant computing projects?
  • What characteristics do successful CS teachers who transition from other disciplines exhibit?
  • Is metaphor useful in learning CS?  Which metaphors are useful?


November 20, 2015 at 8:30 am 13 comments

Preview for WiPSCE 2015: Usability and usage of interactive features in an online ebook for CS teachers

Next week in London, at WiPSCE 2015, the 10th Workshop in Primary and Secondary Computing Education, Barbara Ericson is going to present the pilot study of our teacher CSP ebook that Steven Moore (undergrad researcher here at Georgia Tech) ran last year.  This is the pilot that came before our Spring trial (see post here) and which led to our student and teacher ebooks that we recently released (see post here).  The authors of the paper are Barbara, Steven, Brianna Morrison, and me.

Steven’s study had two parts to it.  The first was a usability survey comparing three different ebook platforms: Runestone Interactive, Zyante, and CS Circles.  You may recall the post here where I invited you to participate in that survey.  Runestone did well in the survey, just beating out Zyante, and both were far ahead of CS Circles.

The meat of the paper is the study of 10 teachers who qualified for our study (got less than 40% on a pretest) and read the 8 chapters we had ready for them.  Every two chapters, there was a post-test on those two chapters.  Some of the findings:

  • 50% of the study participants finished all 8 chapters.  That’s pretty good, but isn’t directly comparable to MOOC studies because we did offer them a $50 gift card for completing.
  • As we expected and designed for, teachers read the books in chunks of time when they could fit it in.
  • Those who used the book (e.g., did the Parson’s problems, ran the code, etc.), gained confidence in teaching CS and performed well on the post-tests. This is a big deal!  The teachers are not just writing code.  They are using a variety of different kinds of learning activities (see our ICER ebook paper) — and successfully learning and gaining confidence.  Writing code is not the only way to learn CS.  This has been one of the more controversial hypotheses. Many CS teachers believe that apprenticeship is the only way to learn CS, but we believe that we can successfully use a range of pedagogical practices.

Barbara did an extensive log file analysis of the participants, and we learned a lot from that. We
learned where our books were not usable, e.g., when participants skipped over interactive features, or when they used the features wrong (e.g., clicking “Check Me” on a Parson’s problem, without ever moving pieces around). We used these findings in designing the current ebooks.

This paper is exciting for us — it’s the first where we test our design claims.


November 6, 2015 at 8:20 am Leave a comment

What does a CS methods class look like?

There are only a couple of universities in Georgia where you can get a CS teaching endorsement (a kind of credential that is an add-on to an initial certification).  In both of them, you have to have a CS methods class, where students learn how to teach CS.  One of them needed a CS methods course taught, but didn’t have anyone available to teach it.  The problem was that it was needed by a single student (these endorsement programs are woefully undersubscribed).  I offered to teach it — though not officially, since I’m a GT professor and not a professor at these other schools.  So, someone else was signed up to be the instructor-of-record, and I ran the course, all on-line with weekly Skype chats.

Folks might be interested in what’s in a Methods course, so I’m sharing my draft syllabus here. Since there was only one student, I made up a syllabus to submit to check that it met the requirements of the course, and we didn’t update it afterwards. I make no claims about quality of the course.  It was a class for one student to meet a requirement, and I wanted the experience of teaching a CS methods course.  It did meet all the requirements of the program (which were more prescribed and substantial than most CS courses I teach).  Not all the links here are live — some went to servers inside firewalls, and others were sent out via email.

Syllabus for CS Methods Course

Learning objectives:

  • Be able to describe use and when one should use different CS teaching approaches like live coding, peer instruction, pair programming, worked examples, and kinesthetic learning activities.
  • Be able to describe and diagnose common student misconceptions, e.g., with assignments, with while vs. if, and so on.
  • Be able to describe approaches to teaching computer science, including constructionist, objects-first, functions-first, media computation.
  • Write a lesson plan to teach a CS topic for a specific grade level, including assessments.

Assignments (and distribution for final grade):

  • Reading reflections (4): 25% of grade
  • Lesson plan: 25%
  • Exam and grading rubric: 15%
  • HW assignment design and grading rubric: 15%
  • Project: Create all the teaching material for a single unit within a Computing Pathway class, including lessons plans, homework assignments, grading rubrics, and tests: 30%

Course Outline:

Week 1

Week 2

  • Write Reading Reflection #1: Do you agree with the challenges to learning programming that you read there? What additional challenges have you seen?

Week 3

  • Read Juha Sorva appendix A. Link to whole thing.
  • Discuss: How would you identify these misconceptions? How would correct them?

Week 4

  • Read a paper on Pair Programming (probably this one).
  • Write Reading Reflection #2: Why do you think Pair Programming works as well as it does in this study? Do you think it would work as well in a high school setting?

Week 5

  • Read a paper on Peer Instruction: Pick any one that you like on this site.
  • Review KLA website.
  • Read four blog posts on worked examples in classroom from this site.
  • Discuss: Peer instruction, KLA, worked examples, gesture: When are they useful and when aren’t they?

Week 6

  • Two readings on CS assessment: On concept inventories, and how do we assess CS.
  • Write Reading Reflection #3: These papers are both undergraduate computer science. How would it be different when accessing computer science at the high school level? Would the issues be the same or different?

Week 7

  • How we design CS curricula.
  • Discuss: Which of these approaches would work best for high school students and why? When would one work better than another?

Week 8

  • Write Reading Reflection #4: Based on all of these readings, come up with a philosophy of teaching K-12 computer science. Pick a grade range you prefer (elementary, middle school, secondary), and describe: What do you think ought to be taught? How do you think it ought to be taught? How do you think it ought to be assessed?
  • Discuss the reflection, and pick a topic to write a lesson plan on

Week 9

  • Write a lesson plan: How would you teach the CS topic?
  • Discuss afterwards.

Week 10

  • Write a homework description and grading rubric: What would you want students to do, to learn this topic? What misconceptions would you expect? How would you assure yourself they got it right?
  • Discuss afterwards.

Week 11

  • Write an exam to test knowledge of that topic and the grading rubric for that exam.
  • Discuss afterwards

Week 12

  • Discuss Planning for project. What worked, and what didn’t work? Are there additional things you need to know?

Week 13

  • Week to do additional reading, or to identify a topic for the project.

Week 14

  • Work week on Project

Week 15: Project completed

  • Project: Create all the teaching material for a single unit within a Computing Pathway class, including lessons plans, homework assignments, grading rubrics, and tests

November 4, 2015 at 8:13 am 10 comments

Are there some students who can’t learn how to code? Teachers must always answer “No!”

The below-linked article does a good job of considering the argument about whether everyone can learn to program, and comes to the same conclusion that I do — a CS teacher must always believe that everyone can learn to program.

Indeed, one can find a good number of opinionators weighing in on the subject. In “Separating Programming Sheep from Non-Programming Goats,” Stack Exchange co-founder Jeff Atwood cites Bornat’s initial paper and concludes, “the act of programming seems literally unteachable to a sizable subset of incoming computer science students.” Linux creator Linus Torvalds has been quoted as saying, “I actually don’t believe that everybody should necessarily try to learn to code” — although, he does propose that people be exposed to it to see if they have “the aptitude.” Clayton Lewis of the University of Colorado at Boulder conducted a survey in which 77% of responding computer science faculty strongly disagreed with the statement “Nearly everyone is capable of succeeding in the computer science curriculum if they work at it.” As a “bright-eyed beginner” (with a scant 15 years of introductory programming teaching under my belt), it’s hard for me to accept the assertion that there are “some who can’t.” Such reasoning smacks of elitism and prejudice, even if such attitudes aren’t expressed consciously.

Of course, I’ll be the first to admit that my own opinion rests heavily on my own preconceptions: I’ve always had that “Montessori feeling” — every interested student should be given a chance to try, and sometimes fail, in a supportive environment.So, rather than give up on some, shouldn’t educators themselves keep trying? The inverse to the question “are there some students who can’t learn?” is this question, “are there some students whom our (current) teaching methods can’t reach?” The first question by itself implies a “yes,” and thus closes a door on some students. The second question opens up a world of inquiry: if basic coding concepts are truly so simple (as they truly are once the abstraction is understood), what do we need to do to bring the hard cases home?

Source: Are there some students who can’t learn how to code? – O’Reilly Radar

November 2, 2015 at 8:03 am 14 comments

Professor wants to double the number of computer science teachers in Wisconsin: Color me jealous

The headline that a professor wants to double the number of CS teachers is cool, but as I dug into the piece, I grew jealous.  Wisconsin has CS teacher certification! (Even if “confused, disparate, and sometimes absurd.”)  They have pre-service teacher programs!  They need more CS Teaching Methods classes — I’ve taught CS teaching methods!  Are they hiring?  (Oh, wait — I’ve heard about what’s happening to Wisconsin state universities.)  Except for that university part, Wisconsin sounds like it has it good!

The second piece of the plan consists of easing the process for computer science teachers to receive their license. Getting certified is difficult, according to Brylow. According to one report from the Computer Science Teachers Association, the process is described as “confused, disparate, and sometimes absurd.”UW-La Crosse and UW-Whitewater are the only universities left in the state that offer programs to get certified, after many universities began dropping the program in the 1990s. “Whitewater has graduated three computer science teachers in the past five years and La Crosse has graduated zero in the past five years,” Brylow said. “So we identified that one of the problems is nobody knows how to teach this one critical course called the Computer Science Teaching Methods course.

Source: Professor wants to double the number of computer science teachers in Wisconsin | Local Education |

October 28, 2015 at 7:04 am 4 comments

Jeff Atwood says “Learning to code is overrated” but means “We need good CS teachers”

I’ve written responses to comments like Atwood’s before.  His perspective on “coding” is too limited, and he isn’t realizing that being a user and being a programmer is where most people will be (see the “fat line” blog post here).  That “provide them plenty of structured opportunities to play with hardware and software” is a pretty good definition of one kind of “teaching kids ‘computer science.'”  We need that.  But the kids who only need opportunities to “play” in order to learn tend to be highly privileged (see the “rich boys” blog post here).  Nobody wants kids to just “type in pedantic command words in a programming environment.” That’s a good definition of poor computing teaching.  We need good teachers who know how to support a range of students with different kinds of scaffolding.

So what Atwood is really saying that we need good CS teaching.  Yup, you need a lot of that in NYC — I agree.

If you want your kids to have a solid computer science education, encourage them to go build something cool. Not by typing in pedantic command words in a programming environment, but by learning just enough about how that peculiar little blocky world inside their computer works to discover what they and their friends can make with it together. We shouldn’t be teaching kids “computer science.” Instead, we should provide them plenty of structured opportunities to play with hardware and software. There’s a whole world waiting to be unlocked.

Source: Jeff Atwood: Learning to code is overrated – NY Daily News

October 26, 2015 at 7:55 am 9 comments

Teachers Aren’t Dumb: The importance of improved teacher development

A highly recommended piece in the New York Times is linked below.  I learned a lot from it.  I didn’t know that college graduates who teach are comparable in SAT averages to other college graduates.  The information about teacher preparation programs and about how little new graduates know about teaching was surprising and fascinating.  We’re not yet at the point where we can decry CS teacher pre-service development yet (because for the most part, it exists in only a few places in the world, and almost none in the US), but these are important points to keep in mind when we do have it.

It’s true that the average SAT score of high school students who plan to become teachers is below the national average. But planning to teach doesn’t guarantee that you’ll succeed in college, pass the certification test and be hired. The median SAT score for those who actually do end up teaching is about the national mean for other college graduates. (There is some variation, depending on teaching specialty.) Teachers are smart enough, but you need more than smarts to teach well. You need to know your subject and you need to know how to help children learn it. That’s where research on American teachers raises concerns.

Source: Teachers Aren’t Dumb – The New York Times

October 23, 2015 at 7:01 am 6 comments

Older Posts

Recent Posts

November 2015
« Oct    


Blog Stats

  • 1,155,890 hits

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 3,668 other followers

CS Teaching Tips


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 3,668 other followers