Common Core and Computer Science

Last week my district offered common core workshops for all district teachers. The administrator whose responsibility was to plan the workshop for computer science/business works on my campus. A few weeks ago we discussed topics that could be part of the workshop for the computer science and business teachers. I had suggested investigating activities for the inclusion of the ELA Common Core Standards. We agreed that this could be applicable to both computer science and business.
After our conversation I began researching topics that could be discussed during our meeting. I put a request on the CSTA List Serv for strategies for ELA in the area of vocabulary development, writing or reading. I received a few responses. One response was a suggestion to contact the former CSTA president, Michelle Friend. She is currently a doctoral student at Stanford and had recently presented to the Silicon Valley CSTA Chapter in California about Reading and Vocabulary aligned to Common Core Standards.
I contacted her and we set up a Skype call to review what she had presented. Our conversation gave me insight into some issues that my students have with reading Computer Science textbooks. We spoke about vocabulary development and the 3 Tiers of Words. I had viewed Tier 3 as the tier that I had to devote most of class time to, but Michelle explained to me that most ELL’s (my computer science class has many) struggle more with tier 2 words. Those are the words that have multiple meaning depending on their use. I also discovered that 80% of reading comprehension is understanding the vocabulary.
We also discussed reading strategies. These include Pre-reading strategies such as Anticipation Guides, during-reading strategies such as Cornell Notes, and post reading strategies which include Frayer Models and Discussion. Discussion involves productive talk using such skills a probing, re-voicing and pressing.
After our discussion, I decided to prepare a discussion about vocabulary development with activities that are tied to Marzano’s Six Step Process that the teachers could use to develop a lesson for their classes.
I began the discussion during the district Common Core Training with 2 questions:
1) Do you feel that students come to your class already trained in literacy skills?
2) How much attention have you paid to literacy in your classes?
I received answers to question 1 that I had not expected. There were six teachers in our group. Four of the teachers are on a campus that could be classified as a magnet school because 60% of their student body test into the school and do not live within the school boundaries. All four of those teachers said that they all felt that their students were already trained. The other teacher and I are from another campus in the district and we felt that many of our students were not trained.
You probably have predicted the 4 teachers’ answers to question 2. They had not paid any attention to literacy. I discussed what I saw in my computer science classes. My students turn in assignments via a Learning Management System. I assign reading questions tied to sections of the text that the students are reading. I have read through my students’ answers and some of the answers that are off-topic. This year I have had more off topic answers than ever before. That has motivated me to investigate literacy teaching strategies and to check the reading levels of my computer science students. Below is a graph showing a summary of the reading levels of my students. I grouped their reading levels by levels in school.
After the responses I received from the teachers to the 2 questions, I rushed through the presentation and we did not plan any vocabulary activities.
Prior to the A.P. Exam I plan to review both Tier 3 and Tier 2 words that I feel the students will encounter on the A.P. Exam. One technique that I am using to select the words to review is to create a Wordle from the 2013 Free Response Test and one from the 2012 Free Response Test.
I will survey the students about their understanding of the predominant words. They will rate their knowledge on a Google form with the following choices:

  • I don’t know the word
  • I have heard of the word but I don’t know what it means
  • I think I know what it means
  • I know the meaning
    I plan to have the students complete a Frayer-type chart of the words that most of the students say that they don’t know the word or not sure they know what it means. The chart will ask the students to define the word, give an example, a non-example and an illustration.
    I will also have the students use some online tools to help them review such as Shahi or VocabAhead.
    This will be my first step incorporating the ELA Common Core standards into my CS Computer Science class. I will be incorporating more literacy standards next year as I continue my research.
    What other literacy strategies have you incorporated into your computer science classes?
    Myra Deister
    CSTA At-Large Representative