Computer science is being taught in all kinds of classrooms across the country, not just in computer labs. As more schools increase their computer science offerings and look to dedicate space to those classes, teachers are faced with the question: What should a computer science classroom look like?
In CS teacher professional development, we discuss how to make sure that all students feel welcome in the classroom, including the physical environment itself. NCWIT has a great resource, How Does the Physical Environment Affect Women’s Entry and Persistence in Computing?, that identifies how underrepresented students are impacted by posters and other images that reinforce stereotypes about computing. For example, images that associate “geek” with CS (Star Trek, a lone coder in the dark, etc.) or that call attention to the need for more women, can have a negative impact. Instead, consider using imagery like the new set of posters from NCWIT and Careers With Code, which show a variety of role models using computer science to pursue a personal passion or change their world. The goal should be to select images that appeal to all students and showcase a variety of people.
Working with K-12 teachers, I’ve had the opportunity to see many different types of CS classrooms. Sometimes the computers line the perimeter of the room, facing the wall but making it difficult for some students to see the teacher and their computer at the same time. Some rooms have rows of computers where it’s easier to see the teacher but often difficult to walk around easily. And some are regular classrooms that rely on a laptop cart. All of them have their advantages and disadvantages; the goal is to have a physical space that supports effective teaching.
The college I teach at is also looking to redesign one of our computer labs dedicated to CS courses, with a focus on supporting student collaboration. As more and more of our teaching relies on collaborative and cooperative learning activities such as pair programming, POGIL, debate team carousels, etc. the traditional classroom with rows of computers does not work well. So, we are examining ways to implement flexible classroom arrangements with tables and chairs on wheels that can be easily switched into another configuration. With these types of activities we move from a “guide on the side” model of teaching to more of a “sage of the stage” model and have less need for a large, central area with whiteboards and projection screen.
These types of considerations for the physical design of CS classrooms also directly support practices described in the CSTA K-12 CS Standards, specifically the practices of Collaborating Around Computing and Fostering an Inclusive Computing Culture. So, what would your ideal classroom to teach computer science in look like? How will it support collaboration and make sure that all students feel like they belong?
Teacher Education Representative