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

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

Why submit a proposal?

CSTA just announced the Call for Proposals.

Why should you considering submitting a proposal?

The most rewarding part of the process is actually not presenting at the conference (although yeah it’s pretty cool in itself)….but the best part is creating and building your application. It requires you to define exactly what you do, how you do it, and why you do it. And then it can’t just be you who think it’s awesome; you have to provide evidence that you are actually meeting the goals and results you say you are.

There is something satisfying about spending the time, and yes you will spend many hours, figuring out how to best explain and describe what you do. It forces you to ask tough questions: is what I am doing important? Will my professional peers see value in it as well? Is what I say I do really what I do? Is the impact really as powerful as I think it is? Are the results I am seeing reliable and valid? Is my innovation really an outlier? Will others appreciate my work and ideas? Will I be able to communicate what my project is really about?

It forces you to choose the project or topic you are most proud of in your work as a K-12 educator. It forces you to document the entire process–the preparation, the activity itself, and then actual results or completed work or evidence. It may involve interviewing students about their experience. It might be you have a completed paper. Maybe you just have some new ways of looking at something we all do in our classrooms. Perhaps you have figured out some new technology which you are excited about. Maybe you are passionate about a topic related to CS education, such as diversity, inclusion, the digital divide, or access. Is there some research you are proud of? Perhaps you have built something you’d like to share. Maybe you and some colleagues want to lead a panel discussion?

It forces you to create presentation ready resources and documentation so that others may find out more.

What I’ve found is that in most cases, as I am describing the project and the experience, I am also evaluating it myself and actually thinking of ways to enhance it.

And it’s a gutsy move. You are putting your everything out there for your peers to see, and you are saying this is the best I’ve got. Then your peers evaluate that and decide if it meets the criteria for the national stage. You are going to stand before tens or even hundreds of people and share your experience. What an awesome opportunity.

There is also an element of perception. While your project might be amazing, is it relevant to the state of CS Education right now? Will others see the same value that you see? Are you presenting about a tremendous success you have had and want to share so that others may benefit, or are you presenting about your struggled and even failures so that other may learn and use your experience to leap pad their own ideas? Are there others with similar proposals?

If you are selected, what’s the reward? Vindication and validation that what you are doing matters, has value, and has been worthy of your time. Other professional in CS Ed have looked at what you do, and said, “Yes, this is something others need to know about and see.” What an honor to be part of the “leadership” of the conference. Those in the audience are there because they are genuinely interested in what you have to say. In some cases, this might the first people to hear about your experience. Those folks will challenge you on your ideas and ask you to help them explore the same thing. You will meet others who have the same unique passion and now, finally, you have others to collaborate with.

Now, here is the deal, I have submitted many proposals over the years. I have been rejected as often as accepted. In fact, I was rejected by CSTA several years ago– now I am a sitting board member. Go figure. Rejection is not to be looked at as a negative. A rejection is not saying your proposal is not good or not worthy. All it is saying is that there were other proposals which made more sense this year. Perhaps that exact same proposal is accepted immediately next year. Or maybe you go back, make some enhancement to the learning experience or project, and resubmit with an even stronger application. In some cases, you’ll get feedback from the reviewers with comments on the proposal evaluation.

But the best thing is you get one of those cool colored presenter tags for your badge.

See you at the CSTA annual conference in Phoenix, either from the podium or from the audience.

Doug Bergman headshot - Gr. 9 to 12 teacher representative

Doug Bergman – 9 to 12 teacher representative

Doug Bergman
9-12 Representative

You Are NOT Alone!

You might be a specialist in your school and the only one teaching computer science. You might be one of the few classroom teachers at your school or at your grade level integrating computer science into your instruction. You might be the math or science teacher who was just asked to also teach computer science. Your school might be integrating computer science at all grade levels and you and your colleagues have questions about best practices in teaching computer science. You may have been teaching computer science for some time but feel overwhelmed by all the options we have today.

Where can you go to feel supported and ask those questions that come up? Questions like:

How can I fit computer science into the already overcrowded school day? What is the best way to teach 1st graders about networks and the Internet? When should my students be moving from block-based coding to a text-based language? How can I meet the needs of my class when I have students who have never coded and students who are already programming proficiently in one or more languages? And so many more…

In my opinion nothing can beat face-to-face connections and CSTA provides some exceptional options for this. You really must plan to attend the annual CSTA Conference. It is an amazing experience, and the perfect place to meet and make connections with others who are doing exactly what you are. The next conference is scheduled for July 7-10, 2019 in Phoenix, AZ. This conference is only once a year, but you can keep those face-to-face connections going by getting involved with your local CSTA chapter and some regions are starting to hold regional conferences as well!

What about those times between chapter meetings and conferences? If you have questions today, you don’t want to have to wait until your next CSTA chapter meeting or the next conference to get them answered. I have never met some of amazing CS teachers who I consider mentors, colleagues, and friends. Most of my connections with other computer science teachers have been made online even if I have, subsequently, met them at a conference or other event.

Where can you go online to add to your community of computer science teachers? I recommend both Twitter and Facebook.

Twitter was the first place that I made connections with other K-8 teachers of computer science and you can, too! The K-8 Teacher Representatives from the CSTA Board of Directors moderate regularly scheduled chats on Twitter on the 1st and 3rd Wednesdays of most months during the school year. You can follow along or join using the #csk8 hashtag! Each chat has a specific topic, and the chats are archived if you happen to miss one. The best thing is that the hashtag is used by K-8 CS teachers to share about what they are doing, and to ask questions of other K-8 CS teachers all the time, not just during the chat.

Twitter is awesome, but it is also very public, the length of a post is limited, and it can be difficult to follow ongoing conversations depending on how people reply. We, the K-8 reps on the CSTA Board, wanted a place for an inclusive, online community of K-8 teachers of CS – a place where teachers could share the amazing things they are doing in their classrooms, ask for and give help, and keep conversations going all year. At the CSTA Conference in July 2018, we asked some of the K-8 teachers who were in attendance where they thought this community should be. For most, this was Facebook. In August 2018, the CSTAK8 Group was launched! We would love to have you join us there to help build our community.

You don’t have to be or feel alone. Make some connections online and offline!

Vicky Sedgwick
K-8 Teacher Representative

How old is computer science (and why does it matter)?

The field of mathematics is at least 5,000 years old; we can trace its origins to Mesopotamia [1].

Physics is at least 2,500 years old; in classical Greece, scholars knew the Earth was round [2].

Chemistry dates from about 250 years ago, to the late 1700s. Some consider the work of Antoine Lavoisier, “who developed a law of conservation of mass that demanded careful measurement and quantitative observations of chemical phenomena,” as marking the beginning of modern chemistry [3].

What about computer science?

We can go back to Charles Babbage, and his work on the Difference Engine and the Analytical Engine, beginning in the 1820s. That’s about 200 years ago [4].

The theoretical foundations for computing date from the early 1900s. These were established by the invention of the lambda calculus, by Alonzo Church in the 1930s, and the Turing machine formalism, by Alan Turing in 1936.

Fun facts: (a) Lambda calculus is a way of describing computations via compositions of mathematical functions. Understanding it provides an incredible insight into recursion, but doesn’t help you understand how to build a computer. (b) The Turing machine abstraction, on the other hand, describes a “tape” which has a linear series of memory cells, a “head” for reading and writing data to the cell underneath the head, and a set of rules for deciding what to do at each step and which way the head should move next. It’s a lot more like an actual machine (and hence its name). (c) Also, Alonzo Church (inventor of the lambda calculus) was the doctoral adviser of Alan Turing!

It was a decade after this work, in the late 1940s, that the idea of a stored-program computer was introduced, by John von Neumann [5].

I’d say these are the key moments in the history of the ideas behind computing.

When did computer science professionalize?

Another way of marking history is to look at professional organizations.

The Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) was founded in 1947 [6], and SIGCSE, the Special Interest Group for Computer Science Education, held its first annual Symposium in 1970 (next year in 2019 will be its 50th meeting!) [7].

At the university level, “departments of computer science” didn’t become widespread until the 1980s—about 35 years ago! [8]

Our own Computer Science Teachers Association was founded in 2004—meaning next year will be our fifteen year [9]. By comparison, the US-based National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) inaugurated its first president in 1920—it’s nearly 100 years old! [10].

What about computing in K–12 schools?

Seymour Papert, with Cynthia Solomon, and others, did their foundational work on Logo beginning in the late 1960s.

In the United States, it wasn’t until computers like the Texas Instruments TI-99/4 (1981), the Apple IIe (1983) and the IBM PCjr (1984) shipped that computers started to enter schools in large numbers.

That’s also about 35 years ago.

Why does this history matter?

We need to remember that we all are the pioneers at the beginning of a vast intellectual and cultural journey.

At the higher ed level, what’s remarkable about computer science curricula is that smart minds don’t agree! Some CS departments start with Java and teach the machine late. Others start with C, introduce the machine early, and teach abstract principles late.

That’s just one example of the diversity in university CS curricula. There are many others.

Compare this to mathematics and physics. In those disciplines, everyone knows that the “correct answer” is to teach differentiation followed by integration (Calculus I and II) and mechanics followed by electromagnetism (Physics I and II). Practically every first year science and engineering student across the United States will take courses in that sequence.

Our field is nothing like this. We are still figuring out what works. (Probably, lots of sequences will work, and I personally hope that we never arrive at a “best” answer.)

In K–12, we are exploring integrating computer science into other subjects—for example, using modeling and simulation in understanding science.

Ours is the really exciting time. We should revel in being the pioneers—our work has the chance to set the direction in our field for a long time to come.

head shot of Fred Martin, chair of board of directors

Fred Martin, Chair of Board of Directors



Did you know? NSF programs for K-12 CS Education

It was my first CSTA conference(Omaha, NB: so all was new and exciting. I did peruse the exhibit hall when I first got there but didn’t spend much time. I went back the second day and wow! really glad I did. I spent a lot more time looking at each booth and talking with the people at places of interest. I learned A LOT!
While I don’t have the space to articulate everything I learned, I want to share one in particular that we might not think too seriously about.
The National Science Foundation booth was a natural for me to stop at – I was fortunate to have done 2 sabbaticals there during my career. It was great to visit with a former colleague and catch up on what’s new. I learned about 2 programs that I had not realized were applicable to the K-12 audience.

They are (quoting from the official NSF website):
STEM + Computing K-12 Education (STEM+C)
The STEM+C Program focuses on research and development of interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary approaches to the integration of computing within STEM teaching and learning for preK-12 students in both formal and informal settings. The STEM+C program supports research on how students learn to think computationally to solve interdisciplinary problems in science and mathematics. The program supports research and development that builds on evidence-based teacher preparation or professional development activities that enable teachers to provide excellent instruction on the integration of computation and STEM disciplines.

Innovative Technology Experiences for Students and Teachers (ITEST)
ITEST is a research and development program that supports projects to promote PreK-12 student interests and capacities to participate in the STEM and information and communications technology (ICT) workforce of the future.
The ITEST program supports research on the design, development, implementation, and selective spread of innovative strategies for engaging students in technology-rich experiences that: (1) increase student awareness of STEM occupations; (2) motivate students to pursue appropriate education pathways to STEM occupations; or (3) develop disciplinary-based knowledge and practices, or promote critical thinking, reasoning skills, or communication skills needed for entering STEM workforce sectors.
ITEST projects may adopt an interdisciplinary focus that includes multiple STEM disciplines, focus on a single discipline, or focus on one or more sub-disciplines. The ITEST program supports projects that provide evidence for factors, instructional designs, and practices in formal and informal learning environments that broaden participation of students from underrepresented groups in STEM fields and related education and workforce domains.
Why should we care about these programs? While you currently may not have time to write or participate in one of these projects, please to keep your eyes open for the projects that do get funded to see what interesting new ideas and activities are being developed. We’re part of an important emerging core area in K-12 education. These NSF-funded projects should give us much to think about. And you never know when you might be able to contribute.
Hurray for all of the things we can learn from the Exhibit Hall!!

Jane Prey
ACM Representative

Jane Prey, ACM Representative


This past week I was asked to fill in for a speaker, at the NGA 2018 Governors’ Education Policy Advisors Institute, that was not able to make it due to Hurricane Florence. First, let me extend my sympathies to those on the East Coast that were affected by the storm and resulting floods; my thoughts and prayers are with you and your families.

During the short time, approximately 23 hours, I had to prepare for my speech, I thought about “what do I want to discuss.” Of course, I could have presented the same “Computer Science in Arkansas” discussion that I have given so often that I recite it in my sleep, but I decided since I had gubernatorial policy advisors in the room, that I would issue a challenge, or what turned into a series of challenges. I will share some of those challenges and thoughts here.

While a good portion of the speech focused on the technological displacement, or in a positive light “emerging jobs creation,” I also reminded the group of the following:

“Exposed deficiencies in our educational system come at a time when the demand for highly skilled workers in new fields is accelerating rapidly. For example: Computers and computer-controlled equipment are penetrating every aspect of our lives–homes, factories, and offices.
We must emphasize that the variety of student aspirations, abilities, and preparation requires that appropriate content be available to satisfy diverse needs. Attention must be directed to both the nature of the content available and to the needs of particular learners. The most gifted students, for example, may need a curriculum enriched and accelerated beyond even the needs of other students of high ability. Similarly, educationally disadvantaged students may require special curriculum materials, smaller classes, or individual tutoring to help them master the material presented. Nevertheless, there remains a common expectation: We must demand the best effort and performance from all students, whether they are gifted or less able, affluent or disadvantaged, whether destined for college, the farm, or industry.
The teaching of computer science in high school should equip graduates to: (a) understand the computer as an information, computation, and communication device; (b) use the computer in the study of the other Basics and for personal and work-related purposes; and (c) understand the world of computers, electronics, and related technologies.”

When I informed the group that this was from A Nation at Risk published in April of 1983, I noted quite a few shocked faces. Then I asked the real questions. What has changed in education over the past 35 years? Has the role of teachers changed to better utilize the technology that is becoming not only more prevalent within our classrooms, but also increasingly crucial for students to learn before they are sent into a job market that demands they have an appropriate amount of digital literacy mixed with problem solving skills?

Many industry leaders I interact with say that the K-12, or even the K-16, system is not providing the workers with the skills they need. The current workforce has more computing power and digital resources at their disposal than at any time in history, yet we find that some just cannot or choose not to “get the job done.” Our industries do their best to provide the latest technology, a safe and comfortable work environment, and on-the-job training. They encourage, correct, direct, and support their employees, yet they still are often left with producers of subpar work. Why is this? Is it because we at the K-16 space have in many ways failed? I do believe that the fault has to partially lie at the feet of educators, and I include myself in that fault group. We are failing to produce more problem solvers than brain flushers.

What is the solution? It is to not teach (or at least teach as it is currently understood). A big part of the solution will be educators who become facilitators of learning. They will allow our kids to grapple and struggle with real problems on a daily basis; allow them to get frustrated occasionally and find a solution to that frustration on their own; and stop rewarding bad practices and mediocre effort in order to not hurt someone’s feelings. Industry doesn’t reward poor performance, so why should education establish this as an expectation within our students?

One of the reasons I love technology and computer science is because it doesn’t care about feelings. It expects and demands perfection because it knows nothing different. Students and adults who are programming computers have to be precise. They have to work out a way to a solution that works all the time. They have to try to break their own product through testing. These are all actions that develop communication, problem solving, self-reflection, and personal growth. Teachers moving to a facilitator mode, can leverage technology to meet the needs of our high performers, main stream students, and those that need additional support. This type of approach is what will produce a workforce that better meets the soft skill and technological prowess needs of our industries.

If we want the excitement and movement that is happening in the computer science education community to continue and have a positive long-lasting impact, we must each ask ourselves on a daily basis, “what am I going to do to ensure that the educational system undergoes radical positive change that will prepare our students to meet the needs of industry?” In short, what are we doing to make sure that in another 35 years, we are not still a nation at risk.

Anthony A. Owen
State Department Representative

Call for Input: K-12 Content on Computing, Ethics and Social Responsibility

I’ll start with the punch line: I’m starting to get involved with understanding what innovative approaches are appearing in higher education throughout the world in educating students about the intersection of computing with ethics and social responsibility. I’m sure there are some equally innovative things going on at the K-12/pre-university level. If you’re involved with education in this area, or if you know of interesting work that others are doing, I’d love to hear from you – just email me at In subsequent blog posts I will share things that I’ve learned, from you and from the higher education community.

I doubt one needs to say why this topic is important. Once upon a time, computer science was far removed from societal implications. We worked on writing operating systems and compilers – the things that go on inside the computer – or applications in business data processing and scientific computing. When computers impacted society, that impact was fairly far removed from what the computer scientist had worked on directly.

How times have changed! Computing professionals often now work on applications that directly impact the basic fabric of our society. This can be social network software that for many of us has become a dominant form of human interaction; or robotic systems that are or will be used as substitutes for human interaction in eldercare and maybe even childcare; or artificial intelligence systems that are used as the basis for making judgments in situations ranging from loan applications to judicial sentencing; and dozens more that you can readily add to this list.

The implication is that not only do computing professionals need to be taught, as a topic just as fundamental as programming or machine learning, to think in terms of the ethics and social implications of what they do – but that every citizen needs to have this perspective as well as they deal with computing systems that are ubiquitous in our society. Creators of computing systems need to apply high moral and ethical standards to their work and learn to think about the consequences, intended or not, of the systems they create; users need to realize that computing tools may have biases or harmful consequences, and aren’t necessarily perfectly trustworthy just because they come from a “machine”. This means that all students need to be exposed to these perspectives, beginning when they start learning computing in schools. I look forward to learning what you may be doing in this regard or just hearing your thoughts on this topic!

Bobby Schnabel, Partner Representative

What does it mean to be a Computer Science Teacher?

Two weeks ago, I had the opportunity to attend a robotics competition with a team of students that I coached through the summer, and I was amazed by the feeling I got being in the same room as many other CS teachers. This got me thinking about the CS teacher profession. I believe that CS teachers are a unique breed. I’ve read so many articles, seen so many posts from other CS teacher friends and all have something in common, one way or another at some point the fact that it can be a “lonely” position is brought up.

Indeed, almost everywhere CS teachers may be the only one within their departments, their school or even their district. Honestly, CS is an amazing, beautiful and engaging subject but none the less not an easy subject to teach. Many of us who have embarked in this adventure for a while now know that being a CS teacher means you become a life time learner and that mapping a curriculum every 3 to 4 years is just part of the main to do list. Other subjects have many years’ worth of curricula with minor changes happening through the years, but computer science is constantly on the move and the content becomes obsolete fast. So, a lesson plan that might have worked wonderfully 5 years ago might not be useful now. Of course, there are the basics that are modified but not vastly changed. So, creating a curriculum is just part of our daily tasks.

A computer science teacher may have different backgrounds. Some come from the CS industry and have a CS background, others are “imported” from teaching other subjects such as science or math and some have a technology education degree. I was searching online for a specific degree in Computer Science education and although you can easily find a master’s degree with a CS education concentration, I had a hard time finding a CS education bachelor’s degree. What most colleges or universities recommend is getting an education degree to later get a CS education master’s degree or have a CS degree and get a teaching license. All that is perfect, but I think that CS teachers need better training and just as I mentioned before it can become hard to teach a subject you are not properly trained for. I read this past week a post from a CS friend on Facebook that was asking mostly himself if he knew “too much” about CS to teach a beginner’s class, and I thought that this is the kind of things that make us unique. A math teacher will probably never ask themselves if they know too much math, or maybe they do, and I just don’t know.

A Computer Science teacher also becomes a “fix it all” individual, the teacher that quite possibly has a charging cable in their labs, knows the basics of fixing a computer and has students going into their class asking if you how to fix theirs.

Throughout the years organizations such as CSTA, ISTE,, Oracle, and the College Board among others have taken big steps to support CS teachers and making our jobs easier in the planning phase, prepping and the dreaded paper work part. Still, in our own hometown, there is yet a very small number of Computer Science teachers and that needs to change. Every time I have the chance to attend a conference, event, competition or workshop that is specifically for CS, that is when I feel I am home. I know that the people around me have the same challenges and successes, have the same feeling of sometimes teaching a lonely subject. So, getting this sense of community goes along way. I hope that at the rate CS education is growing around the world, that sense or community remains.

Michelle Lagos
Representative at Large

Using Genius Time/Passion Projects to Encourage Exploration of Computer Science

Genius Hour is a movement that allows students to explore their own passions and encourages creativity in the classroom. It provides students a choice in what they learn during a set period of time during school. The Genius Hour movement has been around for years and has been used by some of the world’s leading innovative companies. One of those companies, Google, allowed their engineers to spend 20% of their time to work on any project that they’re passionate about. The philosophy behind this movement is that when people are given the opportunity to work on something of personal interest, productivity goes up. Well, they were right. Since Google’s implementation of Genius Hour, fifty percent of their projects, including Gmail and Google News, have been created during this exploration time. Who would have thought that allowing employees the freedom to explore their own interests during work time would contribute to the company’s success?

Since its inception, Genius Hour has made its way into the world of education and is transforming the way students learn and take ownership of their learning. There have been many educators leading the way with Genius Hour in their classrooms and most of their inspiration has come from Angela Maiers and Amy Sandoval’s book The Passion-Driven Classroom: A Framework for Teaching & Learning. Recently, I have become inspired by this Genius Hour movement as well, and I have started to explore how I could apply it in my own classroom. More specifically, I have thought about how could I use Genius Hour to encourage my students to further explore the field of Computer Science. There are so many areas of study in Computer Science and I often find myself just providing a brief summary for my students to spark their interest. But what if I could ignite that spark, and then provide an opportunity for my students to keep the flame going?

Recently, my school district made a commitment to personalized learning for all students and invested in personalized learning coaches that will help with implementation in the classroom. When it comes to personalized learning in the classroom, no single thing is more powerful than Genius Hour. One of the coaches loaned me Andi McNair’s book Genius Hour: Passion Projects that Ignite Innovation and Student Inquiry. After reading this book, I definitely feel prepared to ignite that spark and implement a Computer Science Genius Hour in my classroom. McNair say, “Genius Hour provides students with opportunities to discover what it means to think for themselves, to really pursue something that is meaningful to them.” She also goes on to say that, “It’s time to realize that in our classrooms sit the world changers, inventors, and innovators of tomorrow. Our students are the future.”

This school year, I have decided to embark on a Computer Science Genius Hour Journey with my students. I am so excited to give my students the opportunity to further research Computer Science as a field, explore related topics, and potentially collaborate with outside experts in the field. Ultimately, I want to encourage my students to make a personal connection with Computer Science. Through those personal connections, my hope is that they discover their own passion in computer science and find ways to impact their world through their discoveries.

If you’ve implemented Genius Hour in your Computer Science classroom, I would like to hear from you. If you’re interested in taking this journey, below are some additional resources that I have found to be helpful:

  • AJ Juliani’s “The Research Behind Genius Hour” provided insight on connecting standards to inquiry-based learning.
  • Chris Kesler’s Science Blog provides “10 Reasons to do Genius Hour with your Students” –
  • Chris Kesler and AJ Juliani’s website (, provides a free webinar called “Getting Started With Genius Hour: The Step-by-Step Guide to Structuring Genius Hour.” They also offer a Genius Hour Master Course, which is a comprehensive course that walks you step-by-step through Genius Hour and how to implement it in the classroom.
  • Westside Community Schools Personalized Learning website ( provides a wealth of resources, as well as podcasts that highlight how teachers in my school district are implementing personalized learning.
  • Westside Community Schools EY (Gifted) Website ( Follow the “Enrichment” tab to “Passion Projects” to find templates and suggestions for Passion Projects

Kristeen Shabram
K-8 representative