Teaching and Teaching Computer Science

Via Audrey Watters, I found this EdWeek article about Code.org’s professional development workshops, designed, in theory to teach teachers Computer Science.  I wanted to dislike it.  I wanted to find fault with it, and I do, but not as much as I thought I would.  Basically, the workshop puts the teachers in the shoes of the students.  They’re given an assignment to work on with a partner. They’re not told exactly how to complete the assignment. They have to figure it out on their own.  Inevitably, many of the teachers as students get frustrated.  The workshop facilitator helps them work through the frustration, and points out that students feel this, too, and they need to appreciate that.  Eventually, everyone completes the assignment, and the key, here, is they debrief not the content of the assignment but their experience, their frustration, and how they as teachers can help their students.  As one teacher says: “‘I think we have to reframe what success means in our classes. . . . We have to tell students, ‘If you’re not struggling, if you didn’t have any issues, you probably didn’t learn anything today.'”

I like that.  I know many teachers who understand and appreciate that struggle is part of the game, but many don’t have the opportunity to really figure out how to address this, and how to get students, who often want to get to the right answer, to get past the struggle, to really understand that this is what learning is.  It’s not getting the right answer.  I like that the workshop seems to provide a space to have that conversation and come up with strategies, and I’d like to see that happen across many disciplines.

On the other hand, I recognize that some of the teachers in the room are being asked to teach Computer Science in a few weeks, and this is the extent of their training.  Mike Zamansky writes about this a lot.  I was one of those teachers when I started, though as my husband likes to remind me, I had a lot more on the ground experience than most of those teachers, but still, I had no formal training.  I get it.  Sometimes that’s where a school has to start.  Take a math teacher or English teacher who’s tech savvy and excited to learn new things, and get a CS course off the ground.  And I know, from having to hire three teachers in my CS department over the years, how hard it is to find people with CS degrees willing to teach.  Or find those with CS degrees who have the skill to teach.  My approach has been to balance the two.  Both CS and teaching can be taught, but you need people willing to learn.

Most people in the CS Ed world agree that getting enough teachers is one of our biggest challenges.  This type of professional development can be valuable as a way to get started.  One thing I tried to do, and that I would like to see more of, is Colleges and Universities willing to let teachers into CS classes without having to jump through a million hoops.  I’m lucky to have a college across the street and I’ve sat in on classes there when I can, but it’s a challenge because of schedule.  They don’t offer night classes or weekend classes.  I talked to someone at an online CS Master’s program who said I probably wouldn’t be admitted, despite my Ph.D. and 4 years of experience teaching CS.  I was looking to take one class at a time, willing to do my own catchup.  There are PostBac programs to go to med school, but not for teaching a subject you may not have majored in.  CS may be what’s on my mind, but I suspect that other subjects–math and science come to mind–might benefit from such a program.

2 Replies to “Teaching and Teaching Computer Science”

  1. Seems to me they could have spent less time just telling teachers about that. I certainly address it on my first day with my stata classes (I write on the board that a secret goal is to get them used to dealing with frustration. And I explain thats part of why we have a dirty data assignment that everyone hates at times instead of just using clean textbook data.)

  2. We have to support newcomers who are either new to teaching or to CS. When I started, I hadn’t ever taken an ed course. I did a lot of cross observations, many teachers mentored and helped me and if it wasn’t for their support I wouldn’t have made it.

    I came in with a strong CS background but I know soooo much more know than then.

    It’s fine to start raw but it’s important not to stay that way.

    I too wish it was easier for teachers to get into college classrooms for content.

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