CSEdWeek: Message from CSTA’s ED

December 7-11, 2015 is Computer Science Education Week (CSEdWeek). It began in 2009 with roughly a dozen organizations (including CSTA) joining together to raise awareness of the need for increased CS education and the importance of computational thinking across careers and disciplines.

Now in its 7th year, CSEdWeek will have more than 190,000 events world-wide, and could surpass 200 million participants this year, with participants in nearly every country on the planet. This growth and success was facilitated by the foresight of founders, the diligent work of volunteers, the ongoing support of many organizations, the media power and appeal of organizations like Code.org, and most importantly—the considerable hard work and dedication of teachers.

Around the world, CS education is getting increased attention from governments, businesses, and other organizations as a top educational priority. Access to CS skills and education will change the global landscape, affecting more than just the future access to careers. Increasingly, we see examples of using CS concepts, such as coding, to learn new things. Ultimately, access to CS education will affect equity and the ability of individuals or groups to participate in society at many levels.

CS: More than just Coding

In recent years, CSEdWeek focused heavily on the Hour of Code™. The Hour of Code™ is a nationwide initiative by Computer Science Education Week and Code.org to introduce millions of students to one hour of computer science and computer programming. This may have both positive and negative implications for CS education.

On the positive side, the simplicity of the message and the accessibility of the event have lifted interest in CS to incredible heights. The Hour of Code™ made CS fun and accessible in a new way. It introduced CS to children, parents, CS teachers’ peers and school and district leaders and many others who might otherwise have continued to think using online learning is the same as computer science, or that PowerPoint is a computer science skill crucial to the 21st Century. This is much of what we celebrate during CSEdWeek.

While coding may attract many individuals to experience CS, at some level, the simplicity of the message and the focus on “coding” has unintentionally narrowed the public discourse as to what CS really is. Coding is to CS as arithmetic is to math, or sentences are to writing. Coding is often one of the first content areas learned in CS and is fundamental to the discipline. However, like arithmetic and sentences, there is much more to CS than coding alone. Computer science embodies a wide variety of skills and practices… many of which can wrapped up into a more complete package called computational thinking. Within the K-12 CS education community, we must build upon the initial message to broaden the understanding and discourse around what students should know about CS today and in the future.

CS: The Need for Teacher PD

The global supply of people with CS skills falls short of current and projected industry demands, and the shortage of K-12 CS teachers leaves a vital part of the pipeline to fill these positions mostly empty. According to a study from Code School, interest in CS careers occurs early, with most programmers and developers showing interest before age 16.  At the same time, a recent Google and Gallup poll reported that only one in four responding schools has a CS teacher. The poll findings further indicated significant differences in access to CS education based on race, gender, and other demographic factors. Without experiences like those offered during CSEdWeek, many students might never find that interest in CS that could lead to future computing careers.

Among other needs, providing an ongoing CS educational experience for students that goes beyond what CSEdWeek can provide requires teachers trained in CS concepts, practices, and pedagogy. Closing the gaps in access to CS education for students will require a great deal of teacher professional development (PD). Currently many, if not the majority, of CS teachers come from other disciplines. It is not uncommon to hear tales from teachers who have had minimal access to CS PD. As the public continues to become more aware of the need and importance of CS skills, we must think about what is required to develop those skills in both students and teachers.

Educated citizens of the new millennium will need CS skills to ensure both economic and social prosperity. There are excellent CS teachers, but growing the supply to meet demand will take many, many more. The PD needs for CS teachers, in response to constant evolution of the field, is not just a short-term challenge. PD needs will be high and ongoing to help increase teacher capabilities and confidence with CS content and practices even as CS itself continues to evolve.

CSTA in CSEdWeek 2015 and the Future

Being new to the Executive Director role at CSTA, the breadth of organizations collaborating on activities during CSEdWeek is inspiring.  It is also interesting to note the many follow-on activities that will provide extensions to those who want to go beyond an Hour of Code™ event. There are TechJams and Hackathons. There are competitions, such as the Cutler-Bell Prize and the Congressional App Challenge. There are other immersive learning experiences, such as the NSA Day of Cyber or Oracle Academy’s JavaOne4Kids coding fair. There will be celebrations of CS happening around the world this week and through the upcoming months.

At the US-national level, CSTA will take a more low-key role in CSEdWeek this year. We are supporting numerous organizations with their initiatives, and our member chapters are participating in many ways. We selected the winners of the Faces of Computing competition, with results being publicized during CSEdWeek. We will go live with a member-based “I AM” campaign to collect pictures and perceptions of CS Teaching as a profession. We are partnering with the College Board to provide PD around the Advanced Placement (AP) CS coursework. We will be present at Hour of Code™ and White House events during the week as well.

Looking past CSEdWeek, members will soon begin to see several changes in CSTA.  Before the end of January CSTA will go live with a new website and member portal. We are working on exciting additions to the annual conference which takes place in San Diego in July 2016. Our strategic initiatives will expand PD offerings, support diversity and teachers new to CS education, increase research, strengthen chapters, and provide new services and benefits for members both in the US and internationally. We also plan to update our branding and governance models in the year ahead as part of revamping our methods of communicating with and engaging members.

Final Remarks

Please take time to explore and enjoy the many different opportunities to learn, engage and have fun during CSEdWeek 2015. Experience an Hour of Code™, and then experience one of the thousands of other events in celebration of CS education. Perhaps write a legislative representative or a school superintendent to ask them to support CS Education. We welcome the opportunity to work with new partners to support CS teacher PD. If you would like to help, please feel free to reach out to organizations like TeachCS or CSTA.

Finally, and most importantly, on behalf of CSTA, I would like to thank our more than 22,000 members across 130 countries for all of their hard work, effort, and dedication to creating a future where students have access to great CS education because of great CS teachers.

Happy CSEdWeek!

Mark R. Nelson, Ph.D., MBA, CAE
Executive Director, Computer Science Teachers Association (CSTA)

(Please note, this piece has been cross-posted within LinkedIn).