2016: The Year of CS Education

A Prediction Comes True…

When asked for a New Year’s prediction a few weeks ago, I responded that 2016 would be the Year of Computer Science Education.  I did not anticipate just how accurate that prediction would turn out to be just 30 days later.  And it appears that we are just getting started, thanks to the incredible support and commitment of the White House and this Administration on behalf of CS education and CS teachers.

CS education is about students.  On January 12, as he began to speak to national priorities, President Barack Obama led with CS Education.  He said that, “In the coming years, we should build on that progress, by … offering every student the hands-on computer science and math classes that make them job-ready on day one.”  As Executive Director for one of the first CS teacher member organizations, it was an exciting moment to hear the President lead off with a statement so aligned to our members’ profession.

CS education is about access.  On January 20, the White House announced the Champions of Change for Computer Science Education. I was thrilled to see recipients like Jane Margolis whose book, Stuck in the Shallow End: Education, Race and Computing, motivated me to pursue this position several months ago.  The recipients of the honor included a diverse and deserving collection of individuals working to improve access to computer science education.

CS education is about collaboration.  Then today, January 30, I was again both excited and awed, as the White House announced the Computer Science for All initiative (#CSForAll)—the President’s plan to give all students across the country the chance to learn computer science in school.  It is a plan with aggressive goals, bipartisan support, and multifaceted commitments from an amazing array of participants spanning federal and state agencies, corporations, non-profit organizations and academic institutions, school districts, and teachers.

CS education is about teachers.  It is clear that many more exciting announcements are to come.  On behalf of the Computer Science Teachers Association (CSTA) and the teachers it represents, I thank the Administration for its “above and beyond support” for CS education and recognizing that providing access to quality CS education to all students requires developing and supporting CS teachers.  I am also appreciative to the Administration for creating mechanisms to enable CSTA to actively participate and engage in the events leading up to today’s announcement.   CSTA is excited to be involved and contributing to this collaborative effort.

…And CS Education is Just Getting Started.

CSTA recently developed a new 10-year vision, supported by the first of three strategic plans.  The themes of students, access, collaboration, and teachers underpin that framework.  For the next three years our primary efforts will focus on teacher professional development, programs related to our big IDEA (Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Access), and maturing our association practices.  These three priorities are supported by a set of five strategic levers and a range of specific measures and activities.

As part of CSTA’s commitment to #CSForALL, we will pursue and implement a new professional development (PD) model for CS Teachers that includes:

  • A developmental assessment with personalized roadmap to help teachers focus PD on skill development needs and programs that could address those needs.
  • Hybrid (online + in person) PD experiences to increase access to PD for teachers.
  • A digital portfolio or digital badging model to enable competency-based micro-credentialing.  This provides a means for teachers to demonstrate CS skills and track their progress toward a master-CS teacher status.

We are on track to pilot some of the above elements as early as this spring.

This year CSTA will establish a Diversity Educational Leadership Program (DELP).  DELP will provide PD to cohorts of teacher-leaders coming from diverse and underrepresented backgrounds in CS.  The goals of DELP are to improve access to leadership and development opportunities for underrepresented teacher segments, support a growing network of effective teacher-leaders and CS advocates in their classrooms and communities, and increase the visible pool of diverse candidates for leadership positions in CSTA and other K-12 CS organizations.

CSTA is also stepping up its own capabilities, such as going live with the “alpha” version of our new member management system this past week.  In addition to a new website that is mobile-friendly, and easier to navigate and update, we will have tools to enable more members to engage and volunteer in activities of the association.  There will be new tools to support chapters.  New tools to support advocacy or outreach among segments of members. There will be new ways for members to communicate with each other and new resources to help make #CSForAll a reality.

Later this spring CSTA will unveil new branding, as we evolve into CSTeachers.org – the member organization for K-12 computer science teachers. With 22,000 members across 130 countries, with 62 local member chapters, and as founding partners of other CS educational organizations, like Code.org, NCWIT, and TeachCS, we will continue to seek out and engage in opportunities to collaborate that include CS teachers and further enable access to quality computer science education for all students.

Getting Engaged in the Future of K-12 CS Education

These and many of our other planned initiatives, such as a series of PSAs and content to promote awareness and understanding of what CS is, link back to the themes and priorities identified by the White House as part of #CSForAll:  Students, Access, Collaboration, and Teachers. Getting there will require innovation, entrepreneurship, collaboration and support from a great variety of organizations and individuals.  CSTA greatly appreciates the work of this Administration which has elevated CS education and the needs of CS teachers to a national priority.  We look forward to the great works that will come out of the current #CSForAll commitments, and for those that will follow.

2016 is going to be a great year for K-12 CS Education.  Please keep following #CSForAll and #CSTA on Twitter for more developments or reach out to CSTA if you are a CS teacher or organization who would like to be involved in our evolution.

About CSTA:  The Computer Science Teacher’s Association (CSTA) is a member-based organization founded in 2004 by ACM, the world’s largest educational and scientific computing society.  CSTA’s mission is to empower, engage, and advocate for K-12 CS teachers worldwide.

Advocating for CS Education – Strategies from Connecticut

By: Chinma Uche

The November Voice is full of great advocacy ideas that you can use in your chapter. Be sure to check it out! (csta.acm.org/Communications/sub/CSTAVoice_Files/csta_voice_11_2015.pdf)

Connecticut CSTA (CTCSTA) members work hard year-round to shine a bright light on CS across the state and to provide opportunities for students. Real progress and change requires many strategies and persistence. We hope that this list of our focus areas will inspire you to create a plan to advocate for CS education in your school, district, and state.

  • CSEdWeek Activities: CTCSTA starts planning CSEdweek activities during the first meeting of the school year. Ideas are shared and every CTCSTA member commits to plan and execute at least one activity. At the very least, all members participate in the Hour of Code.
  • Member resources: We have used the opportunities provided to two of our members as K5 Code.org Affliates to introduce CS into elementary schools.
  • Government:
    • We apply to the Governor’s Office in late October for an official statement in support of CSEdWeek. Last year, our members met with members of the Connecticut General Assembly (CGA) and were fortunate to get a bill written to support CS in Connecticut. Our members made presentations to the Education Committee of the CGA and the bill passed and was signed into law on June 23, 2015. Because of the passage of Public Act 15-94 (cga.ct.gov/2015/act/pa/pdf/2015PA-00094-R00SB-00962-PA.pdf), Connecticut schools are required to introduce CS by the next school year.
    • We also garnered support from the Connecticut State Department of Education, where five of our members serve in the newly created Computer Science Advisory Committee. This committee is exploring ways to bring CS to all Connecticut schools (sde.ct.gov/sde/cwp/view.asp?a=2618&Q=335512).
  • Curriculum: The Mobile CSP project, funded by NSF and led by Professor Ralph Morelli of Trinity College, has expanded access to CS in many high schools. The curriculum has been very widely received in Connecticut and Mobile CSP teachers are strong advocates for CS in other schools and districts.
  • Partnerships: CTCSTA has a strong relationship with the Connecticut Education Association (CEA) since many of our members belong to the CEA. CEA supports bringing CS to all Connecticut schools and blogged about Mobile CSP training (org/2014/08/25/students-teachers-and-school-districts-benefit-from-computer-science-professional-development/) to their 43,000 members. In the past, many CTCSTA members have planned activities with community organizations such as the Girl Scouts. During CSEdWeek 2014, we jointly hosted a “Women in STEM-C” event that brought together about 100 young girls to enjoy STEM activities and create apps. The Lieutenant Governor attended the event in support of increased access and diversity in computer science (https://sites.google.com/site/womeninstemc/). We continue to reach out to schools of education such as the NEAG School of Education at the University of Connecticut and hope to form a relationship that will help them include CS in their teacher education program. Other partnerships include:
  • CTCSTA supported the Connecticut Science Center in organizing #BeautyByMe Girls-Only Hackathon (ctsciencecenter.org/visit/events/).
  • CTCSTA supported the YouMedia Group at Hartford Library in the development of their CS program (hplct.org/library-services/teens/youmedia).
  • CTCSTA worked with AAUW (aauw-ct.aauw.net/) to host a CS program for girls.
  • CTCSTA is working to bring the Technovation Challenge to more Connecticut girls. (google.com/site/technovationchallengect/hartford_2015).
  • The number of girls receiving the NCWIT Aspirations Award continues to increase in Connecticut because of the work of CTCSTA members.
  • CTCSTA members support the work of Random Hacks of Kindness Jr. (rhokjr.org/).

Our experience shows that CS advocacy benefits teachers as well as students. CTCSTA members who engage in advocacy in their districts are recognized as leaders. Jackie Corricelli (Conard High School), who led her entire school (1500 students) in the Hour of Code, received $10,000 from Code.org for her class. She also received the Presidential Award for Excellence in Math and Science Teaching. Melissa Fearrington (Simsbury High School) trained elementary school teachers in her district to introduce the Code.org curriculum (Courses 1-3) to their students and was recognized as the Teacher of the Year.

 

Spotlight on the 2015 Faces of Computing Video Contest: How Does Computing Better our World?

Once again I find myself writing a blog post in a hospital setting and I can’t help but marvel at the wonders of computing technology; over the past week my dad has undergone exhaustive pre-op screening to determine whether he will withstand the vascular surgery he needs. Many of these tests were performed using computer aided technologies such as CT scanning and ultrasonography, and so far the results are encouraging.   

The timing is also perfect to write about our exciting new video competition: last year our Faces of Computing theme brought in a wide range of multimedia productions from schools all over the world, and it was quite a task to decide on the winning entries. This year we’ve decided to narrow the theme to “Computing for the Common Good,” in an effort to illuminate aspects of computing that are often overlooked by the younger generation. Sure, gaming and social media are a big part of our lives, and they involve a great deal of coding to create and maintain; it’s time however we gave some thought to all of the benefits society and mankind are gaining from the age of computing.

Teachers, help prepare the future generation of socially aware citizens by discussing the challenges of 21st century society and inspiring your students to seek solutions. Be it the advent of computer-aided medicine and biotechnology, volunteers crowdsourcing knowledge on the Wikimedia projects or crowdfunding donations for noble causes, robotics to the aid of disabled persons… there’s a multitude of applications that illustrate how computing is used as a tool to better our world. The entries we are looking for could resonate these tools. There may be youngsters who are involved in school communities who discuss social, gender and/or racial inclusion, or who are active in helping the recent international flow of refugees from war-ridden regions. Perhaps they could brainstorm a solution in their computer science class, and even develop it into an app (like the Neverlost group project: the page is now available in English). We’d love to see your ideas!

Entries should be submitted in the form of a video with a maximum duration of three minutes: see the competition guidelines for more information. Remember that the deadline for submitting your entry is November 7, 2015. So, get your creative juices flowing and show us how computing can play an important role in making the world a better place!

Mina Theofilatou

CSTA International Representative

Athens, Greece

This post is dedicated to the memory of my mother, who was always compassionate to those in need and an ardent supporter of positive change. Special thanks again to Dr. S. Matthaiou of Hippocrateio Hospital for helping me make the right decisions on my dad’s problem, and to Dr. N. Besias of the Hellenic Red Cross Hospital for taking good care of him and expediting the procedures.

Bottom-Up Advocacy

If you look back through American history for examples of successful grassroots movements that led to policy changes you may notice a few common threads. Trade unions emerged due to the industrial revolution, urbanization, and the reduction of family farms. The civil rights movement followed occupational and geographic changes for black families. The anti-war movement rose due to the draft that affected every 18 year old male in the United States to fight in an unpopular war. In each case there was a period of growing expectations that was followed by widespread disappointment.

If there is a grassroots movement for widespread adoption of computer science education, are we in the growing expectations phase or the widespread disappointment phase?  Can we get to substantial policy changes without the disappointment phase?

What has to happen in order for the average parent to demand rigorous computer science education in the K-12 public school system? If parents were to persist in demanding it, it would happen within a short span of years in most school systems. Looking back through history for how the average citizen was moved to act, we see that a few impassioned people at the local level have had an amazing impact, most notably in developing and inspiring local leaders. Trade unions, civil rights, the anti-war movement, all started with local leaders who inspired others to demand change.

Make it a point to attend your local CSTA chapter meetings this year, or if there is no chapter near you, start one.

Study Confirms Critical Need for Computer Science Evaluation Tools

A recent study released by the Computer Science Teachers Association (CSTA) highlights the need for valid and reliable source assessment of student learning and calls upon the computer science education community to assist in the development of more and better assessment tools and strategies.

Sowing the Seeds of Assessment Literacy in Secondary Computer Science Education details the results of a landscape study aimed at determining the challenges US high school teachers face when examining student understanding of computing concepts and to identify current models for computer science (CS) assessment. The study, supported by Google, was conducted by the CSTA Assessment Task Force chaired by Aman Yadav, Associate Professor of Educational Psychology and Educational Technology at Michigan State University. The study took place over a year and involved in-depth interviews with computer science practitioners with a wide range of teaching experience.

The study concluded that while computer science teachers use a variety of formative and summative assessment techniques and rely on an assortment of sources (test banks, colleagues, even their own undergraduate CS courses), they face a number of challenges finding valid and reliable assessments to use in their classrooms.  Many participants also noted that the potential for variability in how students approach and develop algorithms makes assessment especially challenging and time-consuming.

Among the report’s recommendations, the CSTA Assessment Task Force suggests the following next steps for the CS Ed community:

  • Develop valid and reliable assessments aligned to the CSTA K–12 Computer Science Standards.
  • Develop valid and reliable formative and summative assessments for programming languages beyond Java, such as Python, C#, etc.
  • Develop an online repository of assessment items for K–12 computer science teachers.
  • Develop a community of practice surrounding the use of assessment in computer science classrooms.
  • Design and deliver professional development to increase K–12 computer science teachers’ assessment literacy.

The chair of the CSTA Assessment Task Force, Aman Yadav, highlighted the importance of the study, stating: “During our in-depth interviews with the teachers, we found that teachers are very resourceful in using a hodgepodge of resources (test-banks, rubrics, etc.) and lean on their peers to come up with assessments that examine student understanding in their classrooms. But, there is a dearth of formative and summative assessments, especially for non-AP courses, that are easy accessible and categorized by grade level, concept, difficulty, programming language, etc. The Task Force is now working with the CSTA Board to launch a new project to create a repository of assessment resources that teachers can access to meet their needs.”

CSTA hopes that this study will focus the computer science education community’s attention on the importance of valid assessment of student learning and the pressing need for better and more computer science assessment tools and strategies.

Download the official press release here. 

Download the PDF of the study here. 

Computer Science in Other Disciplines

Many people argue against the teaching of Computer Science by saying that we shouldn’t create a bunch of programmers/computer scientists. I find this argument frustrating because we still teach Math, English, and even Biology even though we know that not all students will pursue these fields. Why do we teach different disciplines? Sometimes, it’s to expose students to career possibilities and sometimes it’s to provide them with skills for any career. CS is about both. It’s important to expose students to the field of CS itself, and let them see the many different forms it can take, but perhaps more importantly, the skills that one learns in CS apply everywhere.

We argue that CS teaches problem solving, logic, and more, and it’s true, and those skills are useful in many contexts. There are always problems to solve, no matter what career you choose, and increasingly, there are programming or technical needs in any career you choose. But don’t take it from me. Take it from one of my former students, Rebecca, now studying Biomedical Engineering at Case Western Reserve:

Even though I am not planning on going in a strictly Computer Science direction (I am currently studying Biomedical Engineering with a Biomaterials concentration), my experience with programming has taught me how to approach problems, and has given me enough background experience to apply to Biomedical Imaging labs- where computers are taught to distinguish cancerous tissue from healthy tissue in MRI images by searching for specific attributes and patterns in the image. Even in the medical field in widespread projects like cancer research, people with programming backgrounds are needed. Some are needed to actually write code, but many more are needed to understand how the data is being created and used so that they know how to implement it in future experiments.

Most of my CS students are not going to be computer scientists, but most of them will pursue careers where their CS experience will help them.  We need to keep reminding people that CS is not just for computer scientists and programmers, but for everyone!

On Our Way with CS Education Today

For various reasons I shall not discuss, this Advocate Blog post has been a very long time coming. And, of course, I have changed the topic of the post since my first thoughts of it. It is all good, however.

It would be pretty much impossible for one to miss all the press (mostly good and positive) surrounding computer science, specifically computer science education. Perhaps the interest in that press was sparked during CS Education week, the Hour of Code, the CS Day at the White House, or President Obama urging students, “Don’t just play games on your phone; program it!” Or perhaps it was the relentless diligence and hard work of many of our CSTA members advocating to “Make CS Count” in their own states. In any case, the press is bringing a great deal of attention to CS education and then naturally to CSTA. And this is a good thing.

In my role as CSTA Board Chair, I have been contacted by several reporters recently for a phone interview for an article they are writing about CS education. It is pure delight to talk with the reporters and help enlighten them about CS education. One of my favorite reporter questions was about the one thing that would really help to promote K-12 CS education in the United States. Really? Just ONE thing? Would that it were so simple! With the help of CSTA and our wonderful sponsors, supporters, and partners, we would have the K-12 CS education dilemma all resolved immediately! We need teachers, who need CS licensure/certification, oh and CS pedagogy courses to help them learn how to teach CS. We need standards-based rigorous curriculum for our K-12 students. We need for CS to Count—preferably as a math or science credit towards high school graduation. We need administrators, school boards, legislators, and parents who understand the critical need to teach computer science in the K-12 space. We need time in the school day/schedule for another course offering (that rigorous CS course). We need computer equipment and other technology resources for the classrooms. And I have probably omitted some critical need, but you get the gist of the needs we have for K-12 computer science education.

The very good news is that we are making progress. We are not there yet, but we know where we are going, and we are on our way. We know that the CS community has to work together to solve this seemingly insurmountable task. And we are doing just that. Our good friends and supporters (far too many to mention—but you know who they are) are working to provide standards-based curriculum for teachers. Several states are working with CSTA members and other CS advocates to create a path to licensure/certification if one does not already exist. Some of those same CSTA members and CS advocates are working state by state to make CS count in each state. CSTA members advocate on an almost daily basis to enlighten administrators, school boards, legislators, and parents about the crucial need for computer science education in the K-12 classroom. And administrators are collaborating with teachers to find room in the school day/schedule to offer CS courses or integrate CS into existing courses. We are not there yet, but we are on our way.

I am so heartened to read news stories about how students are using computer science in the K-12 classroom—and what awesome projects they have developed, or what pressing problems they have solved. I am thrilled to read about all the support that business and industry friends are affording our K-12 CS educators. And, I was particularly encouraged by the caliber of applicants we had for the three open CSTA board positions. We had an incredibly talented and highly qualified pool of applicants—so many that selecting the top two candidates was a definite challenge for the CSTA Elections Committee. What a good challenge to have!

We are not there yet, but we are well on our way, and we are keeping up our momentum! It is all good.

Deborah Seehorn, CSTA Board of Directors Chair

L’Oréal For Women in Science Program

I don’t hear often enough about the accomplishments of young women in professional or near-professional accomplishments in CS, so I was excited to learn about the annual L’Oréal For Women in Science program that recognizes and rewards the contributions women make in STEM fields and identifies exceptional women researchers committed to serving as role models for younger generations.  More than 2,000 women scientists in over 100 countries have been recognized since the program began in 1998.

The L’Oréal USA For Women In Science fellowship program will award five postdoctoral women scientists in the United States this year with grants of up to $60,000 each. Applicants are welcome from a variety of fields, including the life and physical/material sciences, technology (including computer science), engineering, and mathematics.

Do you know someone who qualifies? Do you have acquaintances in universities who might know candidates? Please send them the information.

Applications opened on February 2, 2015 and are due on March 20, 2015.

The application and more information on the L’Oréal USA For Women in Science program can be found at www.lorealusa.com/forwomeninscience.

Should you have any questions or require additional information, please e‐mail rpacifico@us.loreal.com.

10 Lessons Learned from Developing a PK-12 Computer Science Program in SFUSD

by Bryan Twarek
Division of Curriculum & Instruction, San Francisco Unified School District

Computer science (CS) is becoming increasingly critical to a student’s success in preparing for college and career. In today’s digital age, all students must develop a foundational knowledge to understand how computers works and the skills required to creatively solve real-world problems. However, the vast majority of schools do not yet offer computer science instruction. In fact, in San Francisco public high schools, only 5% of students are enrolled in a computer science class, and only half of the schools offer a single course. Even at the schools that do offer computer science, the students in these classes are generally unrepresentative of the schools’ population as a whole, with far fewer females and students of color.

It is critical that we address this need with an equity mindset and ensure that all students have access to computer science, beginning in the earliest grades. With this in mind, the San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) has committed to expanding its computer science programming to ensure that all students at all schools have experience with high-quality computer science instruction throughout their PK-12 educational career.

Currently, we are developing a policy and implementation plan for integrating computer science into our core curriculum. As part of this work, we are crafting a PK-12 scope and sequence of essential knowledge and skills to be taught at each grade level. We will pilot at select schools next school year, with fuller implementation in 2016-2017.

I would love to share 10 lessons that I have learned through my experience with this initiative:

  1. There is a lot of excitement around computer science.
    Many schools had a taste during the Hour of Code and are now asking for more. Through surveys and interviews, we have determined that the vast majority of teachers, administrators, students, and families support expanding computer science instruction. In fact, 100% of surveyed teachers responded that it is important for their students to learn computer science.
  2. Most adults don’t have prior experience with computer science.
    It is challenging to begin teaching a subject that most never learned themselves in school. While most of our current high school computer science teachers have a degree in CS or relevant industry experience, this is not a scalable practice. We will have to develop teachers from within the district, and they will need to learn the content before learning how to teach it to their students. For this reason, we plan to utilize dedicated computer science teachers at all grade levels, rather than have all multiple subjects teachers to integrate a new discipline into their classes.
  3. Defining computer science is tricky.
    Many people mistake computer science as educational technology (i.e., integrating computing into teaching and learning). Others believe that computer science is just programming. Developing a thorough, yet concise definition of computer science is challenging even for experts. It’s been helpful to present the five strands in CSTA’s K-12 Standards as a way to simple way to articulate the various aspects of computer science. 
  4. We must begin teaching computer science at younger ages.
    Unfortunately, we have noted that females and students of color are underrepresented in computer science classes, even as young as sixth grade. Therefore, we must reach children before they develop constructs of who pursues and excels in STEM fields. We plan to normalize computer science education by guaranteeing access to all students when they first enter our schools in kindergarten or pre-kindergarten. 
  5. Little academic research and few curricula exist.
    There has been little academic research on K-12 computer science education since the days of Seymour Papert, which makes it difficult to know exactly what to teach and how to teach it. Additionally, there are very few cohesive computer science curricula targeted for elementary and middle school students. Only within the last one to two years have organizations like Code.org and Project Lead the Way created K-5 CS curricula, and it will likely be several more years before we have a clear picture of what works well.
  6. Great things are happening outside of the classroom.
    While few of our students currently take computer science classes, some excellent nonprofits, community-based organizations, and individual teachers have worked to fill in these gaps. Clubs, after school activities, one-time events, and summer programs offer additional opportunities to engage with CS. Some try to reach all students, including: Mission Bit, FIRST Robotics League, CS First, and Coder Dojo. Others target underrepresented populations, including: Girls Who Code, Black Girls Code, Chick Tech, and Hack the Hood.
  7. We must attack this issue from multiple angles.
    Developing a plan to go from 5% of students to 100% takes time, but we recognize that if we wait for our plan to be fully implemented, we will miss many students. We can start providing computer science education even before we create new classes by advocating for and supporting clubs, after school activities, and informal opportunities outside of the classroom. We can also quickly start trying ideas out with interested schools and teachers who already have the technology and time for instruction or space for integration. Additionally, we are also working to bring CS classes to more schools by leveraging industry professionals to volunteer and develop our teachers through the TEALS program.
  8. It is important to leverage successes.
    It is easier to gain traction when there are successes to point to. We already have strong three-course computer science sequences at two high schools, so we are using these as models for expanding to other high schools. Plus, pilot programs will allow us to learn from their trials, successes, and struggles as we develop our plans for scaling to all schools in the district.
  9. Competing priorities make it hard to fit in.
    Even when various stakeholders agree to the value of providing computer science education to all students, it still leaves the contentious questions of where and how this fits into the schedule. That is, how many hours do we devote to CS, and do we integrate into existing classes or create new ones? if we have dedicated CS teachers at all levels, we have to hire more staff, but we gain better quality control and more effective teacher development. On the other hand, if our science, math, and multiple subjects teachers teach CS, they can leverage their strong relationships with students and more seamlessly integrate with other content areas, but the majority don’t have background experience and are already working to transition to the Common Core, alongside many other important school and district initiatives. Since few K-12 models exist, it’s even more difficult to come to a consensus.
  10. Our plan will have to be continuously updated.
    The field of computer science is still relatively new, and technologies quickly become outdated. We must acknowledge that the field will continue to rapidly evolve in sometimes unpredictable ways, and as such, our plan for teaching computer science will also need the flexibility to continuously adapt.

Going beyond coding puzzles

Moving a robot through a maze or drawing a pre-defined shape are examples of well known coding puzzles available in every tool or curriculum. As a K-8 computer science teacher, I know we love handing out these structured exercises to our students. They are a perfect way to introduce programming concepts, and because they only have one solution, they provide a clear and definitive end to the lesson. It makes assessment easy, it takes away the stress of “what should I make” and it makes both teacher and student feel successful. It simplifies PD for new CS teachers and ensures that all students will learn the basics.

But K-8 computer science teachers need to go beyond these coding puzzles. We must show students that programming offers much more than a ‘one solution’ answer to a pre-defined problem. This can be messy, uncomfortable and it is not easy.  However, we also know it can be fun and deliver the “fall in love with coding” moment we hope to provide in these early CS classes.

When do we show our students that they can make anything with code?  Should we use K-8 as a time to focus on creative computing and make the first few projects completely exploratory?

I believe CS teachers must strike a delicate balance here.  While showing the students that there is so much more than mazes and shapes, we also want to give them constraints to ensure that they are still successful. In my own classroom, I see both excitement and fear when I tell  students they can make anything they want. Some students rush in – “I know exactly the kind of game I want to create.” However there are others who are frozen – they want suggestions, they want to look around for inspiration, they prefer to remix an existing project. To these students, the open ended project is a source of stress and can scare them away from coding. As teachers, our challenge is to find ways to be helpful but not limiting to these students, allowing them to explore their creative potential without fear.

During my days as an art student, I remember being given a blank white canvas and found myself in my own “make anything you want” moment. I felt that same fear many of my students have until my instructor gave me a wonderful tip – just paint a Burnt Sienna (brown) wash on it. Simply turning the canvas into something non-white made a difference. It gave me the courage to start, to experiment, and to make mistakes.

Writing code for a new project is a lot like starting a new painting. As a CS teacher, we have to be ready to give our students the help they need: a gentle suggestion, the first few lines of code, an exercise that could be extended. We must find the Sienna brown wash that will get them going.