How Do You Help Struggling CS Students?

This question has plagued me for the last few years, but more so this school year. In order to offer computer science courses and to make the course open access, some students enroll in the courses that don’t fully understand what computer science is and may not have the prerequisite problem solving skills. They do know that they want an AP course.

There is no prerequisite computer science course for AP Computer Science at my campus. The students would not enroll in a prerequisite unless it was an honors or AP, and we don’t offer one that is. To ease the students into computer science, I use Alice3 at the beginning of the school year then move into programming turtles and then Media Comp Lessons that are in Exploring Wonderland by Dann, Cooper and Ericson. I have been successful with this approach the last few years until this year.

This year I have tried several new strategies. I began using paired programming so each student would have someone to turn to for help. I would be free to help the students that are really struggling. Additionally, I have assigned fewer labs to give the students more time to work out solutions together. I have also assigned scenarios similar to the labs for the students to construct pseudocode prior to writing the program. I select random student papers, project them and we discuss the student written pseudocode. I also have assigned videos to do some flipping of lessons and the students take Cornell Notes while viewing the videos. I am available at lunch and after school for additional help. The students are writing reflections at the end of each unit discussing a lab that they have completed.

Even with all of that, I have students that are so lost they are not completing labs and are scoring low on tests. This semester the counselling department has resurrected a course title, “Fundamental of Programming” and has transferred a few of the students into that class. I have altered the assignments and tests to better meet their needs.

As I work to make my computer science course more diverse, I know that I will need to include additional teaching strategies to help all students. On Wednesday, March 11, I will be participating in the CSTA K-8 Task Force Twitter Chat #CSK8 from 5-6 pm PDT about Pedagogy: How to teach CS to 5 – 14 year olds. I am looking forward to hearing what K – 8 teachers are doing and tweaking their ideas to use with the high school students. I am also attending the CSTA Conference in July. One session that interests me is “Teaching CS to Students with Learning Differences”.

I will be piloting a Computer Science Principles course next school year and offer it as an AP course the following school year. Adding CS Principles may encourage some students to enroll in that course rather than AP Computer Science to help build their confidence.

I am continuing to look for additional resources and strategies. If you have any suggestions, resources or strategies please post them.

Myra Deister
CSTA Board At-Large Representative

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About Myra Deister

Myra Deister earned a bachelors degree from Cal State Long Beach with a major in mathematics and a minor in business education. Additionally, she has earned masters degrees in Software Engineering from National University and education and mathematics from Cal State Fullerton. She has taught junior high, high school and community college mathematics and computer science in both the Garden Grove, Fullerton Joint Union High School Districts and North Orange County Community College District. Her course load includes AP Computer Science A, Computer Science AB, Fundamentals of Programming and Pre-Calculus. She is actively involved with Computer Science Teachers Association (CSTA) and serves on their Board of Directors. She also serves as a member of the board of directors for Orange County Computer Using Educators (OCCUE). Currently she is serving as the adviser for Sunny Hills High School Orange County Academic Decathlon team.