What Employers of Computing Professionals Want

There are lots of important reasons for teaching K-12 / pre-university students computer science.   Providing the first step towards ultimately becoming a computing professional is just one, which applies to a minority of the students; for most it is an important life skill that they will use as citizens and in whatever jobs they have.   But some – hopefully more as we teach more computer science in schools –go on to become computer professionals.  So it may be interesting to share some insights into what their prospective employers are looking for.

I’ve been fortunate to have the opportunity to interface with lots of computing employers for years, both tech companies and other companies looking for computing talent.   I’ve done this in a variety of regions of the US, primarily Indiana (where I was from 2007-15), Colorado (where I’ve been the rest of my adult life), and the Bay Area (where I go frequently for professional reasons and to keep our airlines solvent).

Regardless of the region, or the size or type of company, one hears a consistent set of desires for computing employees: 1) we need more of them; 2) we need better diversity; 3) we need them to have strong non-technical as well as technical skills.  K-12 computer science teachers can play an important role in all these regards.

The quantity need is self-explanatory.   If there is any surprise, it is that everyone says this – whether famous large companies or small ones, whether situated in a tech hotbed or not, whether tech companies or other types.  University computer science enrollments have exploded in recent years – tripled or more at many places – but it’s still not satisfying demand.   The huge increase in students taking things like CS AP hopefully points to even more growth.

Companies view diversity as a social imperative but even more as a business imperative.   It is documented that diverse teams produce greater creativity and better business results.   And products designed for a diverse market need diverse input in their creation.   We are seeing progress in the gender and ethnic diversity of students learning computer science in schools but have a long way to go to produce a computing workforce that reflects society.

Finally, managers almost always stress the non-technical skills computing professionals need beyond computing: communication, collaboration, often some business understanding, ethics, and more.   Being a computing professional has evolved to a job where one often works on professionally diverse teams, and on projects (e.g. autonomous vehicles, or social networks) that require a sensibility about people and the world.   Working practice of those skills into your computing course is a good way to reinforce their importance.   And when that student who already has taken several computing classes comes to you to ask about another, it might be good to point them to a communication class instead!

Bobby Schnabel, Partner Representative

Never too late to innovate

Last summer, after nearly 19 years as a CS teacher, I started thinking how my class has evolved exponentially over the years and how this school year I wanted more of those deeply gratifying “Aha” moments from my students. So, I started researching ways in which my Computer Science class should evolve beyond updating the content to align the new standards. I realized I was giving myself a big task, considering that I was still mapping my curriculum to the new CSTA standards which it is a lot of work by itself. My goal, my hope is that my experience is useful to other CS teachers out there looking to make some reinvigorating and refreshing changes.

So here is my journey to start the new school year. Part of my research included finding out how important Computer Science skills are in the work force. What would my kids really need once they leave our school and be prepared for both college and “real world”? There is so much information out there that is easy to become overwhelmed so I had to narrow it down to focus on my goal. What would bring those “Aha” moments to balance the covering of my content and preparing my students for when they leave High School? I remembered that when I was in High School, I was required to take a home economics and woodwork shop class. I remembered the best part about these classes was the satisfaction when I finished a project and could take it home to show off. The closest to that emotion I have seen in my students is when a program finally works and they get the result they want, or when a robot finally performs as expected due to its programming. So, I thought why not combine the CS skills and content with that satisfaction of creating something tactile that can be used in real life besides software. Basically, bring CS alive through STEM and real-world applications. I was able to pull this off with 3 simple steps that did not break my school’s budget:

Step # 1: I redesigned my computer lab. I didn’t want to be a makerspace; after all this is a Computer Science class not an engineering course but I needed some elements of the engineering process. This didn’t require a large budget so it is always good to start to look at what you have and how to use it, what your school has and how to recycle any pieces of furniture you can find. I’ve never had a class with more than 24 students as that is my school’s policy but my lab had 30 student PC computers. I took 6 student PCs out and kept 24 which left me with 3 long tables. I used two of those to create a working area, where students could 3D print and assemble robots & collaborate on other innovations. Now I had 3 main, clearly identified areas in my lab: The Research & Innovation Area, which is where the PCS are located, students can research and investigate prototypes, program and research. The Engineering Area, which is where students get their hands “dirty” building their prototypes and The Robotics Area where I have my robotics table to assemble and test robots.

Step # 2: I requested the school purchase materials that I needed that were not your typical Computer Lab things like included drills, screw drivers, sand paper, tweezers, wrenches, solders, cable strippers, etc. I also got lucky when my school got two 3D printers donated so now, I had 3 at my lab. These are part of the Engineering Area.

Step # 3: I had to “spice up” my projects for the semester so they were fun, engaging and aligned with the content I needed to cover. I took some time to research many innovative projects and found some that were just right. My students are now creating digital pets with Microbits, which are cheap and simple yet very adaptable electric boards, they are making collaborative projects like designing a drone 3D model that can be printed and programmed using two Microbits, building hats that sing and even video games played with controllers that they designed. Other simple yet valuable projects include measuring the humidity in soil.  

This past December I finished the first semester and I can say that these changes have been successful. It is possible to integrate Computer Science into STEM without losing the essence of what Computer Science is. The students were very engaged, they treaded unfamiliar territory with power tools and allowed their minds to be challenged while having fun. Yes, at times the classroom was a little bit of an organized chaos, but this is exactly how learning should be; challenging and fun.

Michelle Lagos

Michelle Lagos
Representative at Large

New Year, New Ideas, New Strategies: Personalizing Learning in Computer Science Education

It’s that time of year when everyone is reflecting back on the experiences they’ve had the past year and thinking about resolutions for the upcoming year. As teachers, we usually reflect back during the summer months on how the school year went. However, teachers also use the end of a semester as a time to reflection. Often times after winter break, teachers start new classes and have new students. With the start of a new semester, teachers have the opportunity to review and build upon previous experiences from first semester, but also implement new ideas and new teaching strategies. With the second semester quickly approaching, it has me thinking of my own resolutions for second semester and what I would like to do differently. At the beginning of this school year, I attended a workshop where I learned about the five elements of personalized learning set forth by my school district. I remember walking away from this workshop with a handful of ideas and strategies that I could implement in my own classroom. However, here I am at the end of the semester, and I haven’t had the chance to fully implement the five elements. So as my second semester resolution, I am committed to personalizing the learning experience for students in my computer science courses. Below is my plan as it aligns to the five elements of personalized learning.

Element #1 – Know Your Learners:  Knowing my students’ interests is the beginning of personalizing their learning experience. By using interest inventories, I can find out what areas of computer science they’re interested in, what they already know, what they would like to learn, and how I can help them to further their overall interests in computer science.

Element #2 – Voice and Choice: I know that all students learn differently, so why should I force all my students to sit through a lecture or have them all do the same project with the same requirements? By letting go of the uniformity, I provide voice and choice for my students. Students will not only be given a choice in how they access the content, but they will also have a choice in how they demonstrate their proficiency. Ultimately, I want my students to have the opportunity to demonstrate their learning in a meaningful way and give them more ownership of their learning.

Element #3 – Flexibility:  It seems like the term “flexible classroom” is all the rage these days. Providing students an opportunity to move their desks, sit in comfy chairs, and work in all areas of the classroom is said to increase learning and engagement. I was skeptical at first, but after trying it out for one week in my classroom, I was shocked. My fears of students not getting any work done and just socializing were quickly dismissed. My students really enjoyed having the freedom to move around and collaborate with each other, allowing them to make the classroom their own personal learning space. I also feel that a flexible classroom provides my students with a more realistic view of what they will encounter when they enter the workforce, especially in the field of computer science.

Element #4 – Data Informed Decisions: Students often look to teachers to be the experts, but rarely are students given the opportunity to be called the expert. By pre-testing each student, I can get a better understanding of their skill level and use this data to provide them with a more individualized approach to learning. I can also encourage students to step forward and be content experts, allowing them to do some peer-teaching.

Element #5 – Technology Integration:  The SAMR Framework is a commonly used model for technology integration. I find myself all to often integrating technology that only enhances my content, which only reaches the first two levels of the model (Substitution and Augmentation). I would like to stretch myself and explore types of technology integration what will reach the transformation levels of the model (Modification and Redefinition). One type of technology integration that I would like to implement is student-created podcasts and videos. I want to give my students opportunities to become creators of content and share their experiences with others.

I am excited to embark on my resolution of embedding the elements of personalized learning within my computer science courses. I think by embracing the mindset of personalized learning while structuring my classroom around the five elements will lead to an increase of student engagement. I am also excited to see my students take more ownership of their learning and pursue their passions further in the field of computer science.
Resources: http://westsidepersonalized.com

Kristeen Shabram
K-8 representative

Scrum in the Computer Science Classroom


According to the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) highly recommended meta-study “21st Century Skills”, schools need to prepare students to have a “future-based mindset” with skills such as collaboration, creativity, and adaptability.  Their answer: project-based learning (PBL). While PBL is gaining much speed in schools, how to manage projects can be a challenge: who is doing most of the work? who isn’t participating fully? how do you assess who has done what?

 In the computer science field, one means of project management is the Agile software development paradigm which, among other aspects, implements Scrum, a methodology for dividing work that needs to be completed into sprints, or stories.  In the Scrum environment, the team is considered capable of completing the task on their own. While the team is self-directed and is encouraged to problem-solve independently, there are two clearly defined roles that facilitate the process.  The first is the Scrum Master (in the classroom, this is the teacher), and the Product Owner (the students). The role of the Scrum master is to help the team when there is some impediment to their completion of a task, such as a bug or a design flaw.  The product owner’s/students job (in schools) is to keep the vision of the solution and manage the daily tasks. Scrum has recently been adopted in schools as a way to manage projects in both computer science and non-computer science classrooms.

Scrum meetings, which are short meetings occurring each day the class meets, consist of asking three essential questions:  What did you accomplish since the last scrum? What do you expect to accomplish before the next? and, Is anything blocking you (blocks are solved outside the scrum meeting)?  This level of accountability for students is essential for setting goals, prioritizing project tasks, assigning roles and jobs for team members, and keeping students on track for project completion. In 2016, The University of the Pacific conducted a study on using scrum in three computer science courses.  Their conclusion was that, overall, students found the above benefits to be true and helpful, while a few found the Scrum process to be cumbersome.

I have been using Scrum in my own classroom for several years now with great success.  Students know what they are expected to do and are held accountable to not only me, but to each other.  There are two components that stand out as key to the process. The first is student articulation and presentation of their project status.  This forces them to really pay attention to what they are doing, how their code is working, and gain an understanding of what they need to do next and with what they are struggling.  These are essential skills for their future as software programmers and engineers. The second aspect is teacher feedback. The daily feedback is essential for keeping them on track for successful project completion and for addressing problems quickly.  

While there are many ways to manage project based learning in an educational setting, it makes sense that in a software development course, learning to work in an environment that mimics the “real world” teaches valuable skills, in addition to preparing students for their future.

Works Cited

“Implementing Agile and Scrum in the Classroom.” GDC Vault, www.gdcvault.com/play/1020769/Implementing-Agile-and-Scrum-in.

“Scrum in the Classroom | Time for Change (Part 1).” Agile Transformation Experts and Agile Coach in New York City, Amsterdam, Miami and Boston, www.incrementor.com/blog/2018/2/18/scrum-in-the-classroom-time-for-change.

Jimenez, Osvaldo, and Daniel Cliburn.  “Scrum in the Undergraduate Computer Science Curriculum.”  Journal of Computing Sciences in Colleges,  Volume 31, Issue 4, April 2016, pp. 108-114.

Amy Fox, 9 – 12 Representative

Going Beyond the Hour of Code

During CS Ed Week, countless teachers and students experienced computer science for the first time. Whether it was their first, second, or hundredth time, I hope that this taste of CS left them hungry for more. Code.org has created a great compilation of resources for how students can continue learning. In this post, I’d like to suggest some ideas for how teachers who are new(ish) to CS can go beyond the Hour of Code. 

Take an online course

There are a number of excellent online learning opportunities designed specifically for educators. Some favorites (all free!) include:

Read a book, blog, or magazine

If you prefer learning through reading, some great options are:

Connect with other teachers

Meet other teachers in person. Don’t worry if you don’t have experience! Friendly and inclusive learning communities include:

Online communities include:

  • CSforAllTeachers (a virtual community of practice, for all teachers from Pre-K through high school who are interested in teaching CS)
  • ScratchEd (online community and resource sharing for educators who use the Scratch programming language)
  • #csk8 Twitter chats (K-8 CS teachers chat about designated topics on the 1st & 3rd Wednesdays of each month at 5pm PT / 8pm ET)

Test out curriculum yourself

A great way to build your knowledge and skills is doing exactly what students would do and go through curriculum yourself. See Code.org’s comparisons of CS curricula by grade level:

 If you want to spend less time, try some different Hour of Code tutorials.

Start a club

You don’t need to know CS in order to start a club. You can simply create the time and space for students to learn before or after school, or during lunch. Plus, there are several organizations that provide curriculum, and some can even provide volunteers to teach the content! Strong options include:

Dabble in the classroom

Don’t stop at CS Ed Week. Keep going all year long! Some ways to get started with incorporating more CS in your classroom include:

Go all in!

Yay! You want to do even more. You could:

Bryan Twarek School District Representative

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By no means is this intended to be an exhaustive list; rather, it’s just a starting place. If you have a suggestion to add, tweet to @csteachersorg and @btwarek.

Bryan Twarek School District Representative

CS Ed Week Celebrations

This is my first CS Ed Week as Executive Director for CSTA and I am so excited about the progress our organization has made during my tenure. While CS Ed Week is about inspiring students to take an interest in computer science, it is also an opportunity to honor dedicated teachers fighting for all students to learn computer science.

At CSTA, we’re celebrating CS Ed Week with two very cool events — both of which are honoring dedicated educators — and by sharing some big announcements. Keep reading to learn about the big things happening at CSTA.

CS Ed Week Kickoff

I was honored to kickoff CS Ed Week at the University of Washington in Seattle to award the 2nd annual Champions of CS winners. Along with the founder and CEO of Code.org, Hadi Partovi, and Melinda Gates, we honored a student, teacher, district and an organization for their outstanding work in Computer Science. Congratulations to Jocelyn Marencik, Robert Defillippo, Chanel White, Seaside High School, Lincoln Public Schools, GirlsCodingWithGirls, and AccessCSforAll — you truly are champions of computer science.

CSTA Honors Chicago’s Computer Science Teachers

In collaboration with Chicago Public School’s CS4All, CSTA and our Chicago and Suburban Chicago chapters highlighted and honored computer science teachers in Chicago at our CSTA Night for Excellence in CS Teaching. Held at Google’s Chicago office, the event included networking opportunities and the presentation of outstanding teaching and administrator awards to deserving computer science champions.

Congratulations to Chicago Public Schools awardees, Stephen Tow from Goudy Technology Academy and Jennifer Roscoe from Lane Tech College Prep, on your achievements and your scholarships to the 2019 CSTA Annual Conference. You truly are champions for your students.

CSTA’s 2018 Administrator Impact Award Winner

Each year, CSTA opens nominations for our Administrator Impact Award to honor an educator who has made a significant impact to improve access to and the quality of computer science education.

I am so excited to announce the winner of CSTA’s 2018 Administrator Impact Award Winner — Barb Schwamman, Superintendent of Osage Community School District, and Superintendent of Riceville Community School District, in Osage and Riceville, Iowa.

In Osage, Superintendent Schwamman started the 2017–18 school year with zero computer science opportunities. Recognizing the importance of computer science, she added courses at both the middle and high school levels and supported the CS Fundamentals training of about 40 K-5 teachers. Schawmman is working to add new options in game development and cybersecurity. In Riceville, she is working toward the same successes she had in Osage. Schwamman proves that rural students can benefit, sustain and grow computer science opportunities.

Congratulations to Superintendent Schwamman! The CSTA family wishes her much success as she continues to expand computer science in her districts.

Infosys Grant

To commemorate this year’s CSEdWeek, Infosys Foundation USA is announcing several grants to support thousands of underrepresented and underprivileged students, young adults, and educators to learn about computer science through a combination of long-term programs as well as one-time coding events across the US.

I’m excited to announce CSTA as one of those grant recipients. This generous grant, in the amount of $150,000 will help support our initiative to grow CSTA+ membership, and more importantly, help support our 75 chapters.

Chapter Grants

From my first day at CSTA, I’ve told everyone who will listen that our chapters are the heart of our organization. I’m proud to announce the launch of CSTA’s chapter grant fund, which will make over $130,000 available to chapters interested in bringing professional development and programming to their regions. This more than meets our goal of putting 50% of CSTA+ dues back into supporting local CSTA chapters. Chapters leaders will receive more details later this week.

CSTA to take the CS Honor Society National

CSTA will be taking the CS Honor Society national for the 2019-20 school year! Launched by CodeVA, the CS Honor Society acknowledges academic excellence in CS disciplines — and the enthusiasm that surrounds it. Originally designed for Virginia high schools — with a growing number of out of state chapters — students must not only meet academic requirements but also must complete service hours in support of CS education. I am very excited about the expansion of this initiative and cannot wait to see its growth on the national level. Stay tuned for more information about getting involved.

2019 is shaping up to be a great year for CSTA. Thank you for all you do for your students, computer science education sphere and for your continued support of CSTA. I hope to see you all at the annual conference in Phoenix.


Jake Baskin
Executive Director CSTA

Celebrating CS Ed Week

This is my first CS Ed Week as Executive Director for CSTA and I am so excited about the progress our organization has made during my tenure. While CS Ed Week is about inspiring students to take an interest in computer science, it is also an opportunity to honor dedicated teachers fighting for all students to learn computer science.

At CSTA, we’re celebrating CS Ed Week with two very cool events — both of which are honoring dedicated educators — and by sharing some big announcements. Keep reading to learn about the big things happening at CSTA.

CS Ed Week Kickoff

I was honored to kickoff CS Ed Week at the University of Washington in Seattle to award the 2nd annual Champions of CS winners. Along with the founder and CEO of Code.org, Hadi Partovi, and Melinda Gates, we honored a student, teacher, district and an organization for their outstanding work in Computer Science. Congratulations to Jocelyn Marencik, Robert Defillippo, Chanel White, Seaside High School, Lincoln Public Schools, GirlsCodingWithGirls, and AccessCSforAll — you truly are champions of computer science.

CSTA Honors Chicago’s Computer Science Teachers

In collaboration with Chicago Public School’s CS4All, CSTA and our Chicago and Suburban Chicago chapters highlighted and honored computer science teachers in Chicago at our CSTA Night for Excellence in CS Teaching. Held at Google’s Chicago office, the event included networking opportunities and the presentation of outstanding teaching and administrator awards to deserving computer science champions.

Congratulations to Chicago Public Schools awardees, Stephen Tow from Goudy Technology Academy and Jennifer Roscoe from Lane Tech College Prep, on your achievements and your scholarships to the 2019 CSTA Annual Conference. You truly are champions for your students.

Congratulations to CSTA’s 2018 Administrator Impact Award Winner

Each year, CSTA opens nominations for our Administrator Impact Award to honor an educator who has made a significant impact to improve access to and the quality of computer science education.

I am so excited to announce the winner of CSTA’s 2018 Administrator Impact Award Winner — Barb Schwamman, Superintendent of Osage Community School District, and Superintendent of Riceville Community School District, in Osage and Riceville, Iowa.

In Osage, Superintendent Schwamman started the 2017–18 school year with zero computer science opportunities. Recognizing the importance of computer science, she added courses at both the middle and high school levels and supported the CS Fundamentals training of about 40 K-5 teachers. Schawmman is working to add new options in game development and cybersecurity. In Riceville, she is working toward the same successes she had in Osage. Schwamman proves that rural students can benefit, sustain and grow computer science opportunities.

Congratulations to Superintendent Schwamman! The CSTA family wishes her much success as she continues to expand computer science in her districts.

Infosys Grant

To commemorate this year’s CSEdWeek, Infosys Foundation USA is announcing several grants to support thousands of underrepresented and underprivileged students, young adults, and educators to learn about computer science through a combination of long-term programs as well as one-time coding events across the US.

I’m excited to announce CSTA as one of those grant recipients. This generous grant, in the amount of $150,000 will help support our initiative to grow CSTA+ membership, and more importantly, help support our 75 chapters.

Chapter Grants

From my first day at CSTA, I’ve told everyone who will listen that our chapters are the heart of our organization. I’m proud to announce the launch of CSTA’s chapter grant fund, which will make over $130,000 available to chapters interested in bringing professional development and programming to their regions. This more than meets our goal of putting 50% of CSTA+ dues back into supporting local CSTA chapters. Chapters leaders will receive more details later this week.

CSTA to take the CS Honor Society National

CSTA will be taking the CS Honor Society national for the 2019-20 school year! Launched by CodeVA, the CS Honor Society acknowledges academic excellence in CS disciplines — and the enthusiasm that surrounds it. Originally designed for Virginia high schools — with a growing number of out of state chapters — students must not only meet academic requirements but also must complete service hours in support of CS education. I am very excited about the expansion of this initiative and cannot wait to see its growth on the national level. Stay tuned for more information about getting involved.

2019 is shaping up to be a great year for CSTA. Thank you for all you do for your students, computer science education sphere and for your continued support of CSTA. I hope to see you all at the annual conference in Phoenix.


Jake Baskin
Executive Director CSTA

The First Next Step

As we round the corner to the end of November and head into computer science education week, we know millions of students and teachers will try computer science for the first time. I am continually amazed how Computer Science Education Week drives so much action and awareness in such a short amount of time.

As critical as computer science education week is for the initial exposure to computer science, what might be even more important is the first next step.

The momentum from campaigns like those around Computer Science Education Week and the hard work of people and organizations around the world to create equitable access to computer science education has created a wide variety of resources that make access to information, training, curriculum, content, activities and planning tools accessible and suited for a range of learner outcomes, teacher readiness and school and community needs.

So whether you’re already implementing computer science in your classroom or school or you’ve just completed your first Hour of Code and you’re ready for the next steps, here are some no cost and low cost resources available nearly anywhere you are to get you started, and help you keep going!

Code.org
Get to know Code.org beyond an Hour of Code with the wide variety of resources available to support teachers, students, administrators and communities to bring computer science to every student. Check out the Teacher Resources and the Student Resources.

TEALS
Microsoft Philanthropies TEALS pairs technology industry professionals with classroom teachers to team-teach computer science education. School applications are open now!

Professional Development Resources
This Computer Science Professional Development Guide was built with input from experts from TEALS, CS for All, CSTA, Code.org, NCWIT and Microsoft. It’s intended to help education leaders build teacher, school counselor and administrator capacity to support equitable computer science education for all students.

CSTA
CSTA has a wide variety of supports available to computer science teachers. A CSTA+ Membership offers additional benefits, discounts and access to resources specially for CSTA+ Members.

ISTE
ISTE’s tools and resources are designed for teachers who bring computer science education into a wide variety of subjects across K-12.

This is just the start of a list and definitely not exhaustive. Share the resources you love with the CSTA community! Post them on Twitter, tagging @csteachersorg with the hashtag #CSforAll so others can see them too. You can view all posts that use these two tags here.

Yvonne Thomas
Partner Representative CSTA Board

Direct Instruction and Discovery – Why Pick Sides?

I recently read a post by Mark Guzdial on the CACM blog entitled “Direct Instruction is Better than Discovery, but What Should We be Directly Instructing?”  (link).  

This led me down the rabbit hole to:

  • Felienne Hermans’ blog post , “Programming and direct instruction” (link)
  • NY Times article “Why Are we Teaching Reading the Wrong Way.”  (link)
  • Kirschner, Sweller, Clark paper “Why Minimal Guidance During Instruction Does Not Work: An Analysis of the Failure of Constructivist, Discovery, Problem-Based, Experiential, and Inquiry-Based Teaching” (link) (I’ll call this the KSC paper)

Felienne’s post doesn’t seem to make as strong a claim as Mark’s headline, but does make the point that, “[C]hildren need help with learning to program because they will get stuck otherwise, drop out and decide programming ‘is not for them’.”  She concludes with the idea that we have to “embrace direct instruction,” and to “rote memorize the ifs and loops, if we want all children to learn well.”

The NY Times article was a nice interlude, which made the following point:

  • “[W]hile learning to talk is a natural process that occurs when children are surrounded by spoken language, learning to read is not. To become readers, kids need [..] explicit, systematic phonics instruction.”

Okay, so kids need systematic instruction for basic building blocks that are not naturally learned.  I’ve seen this before, and I buy it. But does that mean, categorically, that, “Direct instruction is better than discovery”?

Well, from the links above, we have a picture of direct instruction (DI): explicit systematic instruction; rote memorization.  What about the “other side.” The KSC paper wastes no time in painting this as a simple dichotomy:

  • “On one side of this argument are those advocating the hypothesis that people learn best in an unguided or minimally guided environment [and] must discover or construct essential information for themselves.”
  • “On the other side are those suggesting that novice learners should be provided with direct instructional guidance on the concepts and procedures [..]”

The paper goes on to lump together, “Constructivist, Discovery, Problem-Based, Experiential, and Inquiry-Based” and consider them all to be equivalent to the most extreme version of a single ideology: students must figure everything out for themselves.

Before I go on, I will say that I make no claims to any special expertise here.  I’m basing my points on: (A) my past experience as a HS math and CS teacher, and as a state STEM education director; and (B) my current studies of STEM education research at a university, in the department of education, where constructivism is the dominant theoretical perspective.  This is not a research paper – I’m not going to cite sources. I’m not going to rigorously argue my points.

I also recognize that science, math, engineering, and CS are unique disciplines that require different pedagogical approaches.  That said, I will try to keep things general rather than referring to any particular discipline.

Here are my points:

  1. DI vs. Discovery is a false dichotomy
  2. “Constructivist, Discovery, Problem-Based, Experiential, and Inquiry-Based” learning are not identical, and are not equal to “just figure it out.”
  3. Inquiry-based learning has benefits that go beyond mastery of basic skills
  4. Rote learning has risks

DI vs. Discovery is a false dichotomy.  If anything, it’s more like a spectrum, but this is probably oversimplifying it too.  Educators can and should use a variety of strategies.

“Constructivist, Discovery, Problem-Based, Experiential, and Inquiry-Based” learning may all share a constructivist foundation (or maybe not necessarily), but they emphasize different strategies, or aspects of teaching.  Constructivism might hold that we construct knowledge and meaning from experience, but that does not imply that we need to “just figure it out.”

Benefits of constructivist learning include development of:

  • Autonomy / agency / critical thinking
  • Communication / collaboration
  • Creativity / divergent thinking

Although these benefits are more difficult to measure than basic skills, evidence has been described in a number of empirical studies.  These skills are generally useful, and highly valued by employers.

Risks of rote learning include:

  • False impression of what “doing science / math / engineering / CS” is really about.  
  • Students may not have opportunities to have a voice in the class, or may not feel like their prior experiences are valued.
  • Whole-class direct instruction assumes that all students require the same instruction at the same time.  This can lead to frustration (and disengagement) for students who are not ready, or boredom (and disengagement) for students who have already advanced beyond the skills being instructed.

In closing, I encourage the reader to consider the pros and cons of different pedagogical strategies and draw their own conclusions.  

David Benedetto

David Benedetto, At-Large Representative

Tips for countering the November Blues

Tips for countering the November Blues

November was always a tricky month for me as a teacher — the weather turns towards winter, the clocks fall back so it’s dark before leaving school, and there were just enough random days off that it was impossible to get a rhythm going. Here are a few tricks I used to keep the energy through November and the end of the year:

Get away from the computers

By November patterns were set, students walked into class generally knowing what to expect, with a structure to class, and projects to work on. In general this sense of routine was great, all the administrative stuff could happen quickly, but that energy from the beginning of the school year was gone. To counteract this I’d always find time in November to do some work away from the computers. This was great for two reasons, first it would break that monotony in the classroom, and lessons like the CS unplugged curriculum forced everyone to approach computer science from a different lens, and ensure that the collaboration and communication strands of the CSTA standards were being hit. Second (and maybe more importantly) it was an opportunity to swap classrooms with another teacher in my school. I got to teach every day in a computer lab and there was always a colleague who was looking for computer time. With one creative lesson plan I’d shake things up in my class and make someone else’s day! When class registration time came around, these teachers were always willing to help promote my computer science classes :).

Coach a team or after school club

For me, November meant the start of a new high school basketball season, and a new opportunity to see my students in a different light. I’m not saying that everyone reading this should immediately start coaching, but we all can find ways to see our students engaging in a passion outside of the classroom. The hours we spent in practice, on the bus to away games or waiting on bleachers during tournaments gave me a chance to see my students in a more relaxed setting, and learn more about them as people. These stronger relationships payed huge dividends on those days when I felt especially exhausted and everything I had planned for class just didn’t work out.

Dedicate some time to real professional development

First quarter grades were due in November for me, and assigning grades was always my least favorite part of teaching. I think mostly because it made me confront all the things I had hoped to teach, but clearly had not succeeded at actually teaching to my classes. It also meant a “professional development” day dedicated to fighting the online grading system that ran slowest when every teacher in the district was using it at the same time. In order to keep from going insane, I’d make sure to dedicate some time on those days, even if it was just an hour, for some real, self directed, professional development. It could be reading an article, taking an online course, or reaching out to my PLN (in my case the local CSTA chapter) to see what cool new things they were trying in their classrooms.

If you’re a CSTA+ member, there are some amazing free resources included in your membership to take advantage of on this front — try a online course from Pluralisght, get professional development on using robots, or read the latest issue of Inroads magazine to see what’s new in CS education research. Plus, you’ll be able to secure your spot at the 20th anniversary of the CSTA conference before anyone else (and at last year’s early bird registration price!) Join or upgrade today at http://csta.plus.

So, what are your tricks for combating the November blues? Let me know on twitter @jakebask or @csteachersorg using #csta


Jake Baskin
Executive Director CSTA