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, Code.org, 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

The What, When & Where to Implement a CS course

Great things are happening for Computer Science (CS) education these days. It is exciting to see news and posts about more schools & districts incorporating CS courses. However, with the increasing speed that technology is changing and the more embedded it becomes in our everyday life, the conversation now derives on when and what to teach. The conversation also includes what knowledge or profile should a CS teacher have. There is no magic formula to incorporate CS into a school.  Every school is different, every group of students is different, and every teacher is different.

The whole idea of CS education is to introduce our students to the wonderful world of being creators of technology. Most of us are avid technology users and especially our students which are digital natives. So, what should a school or teacher take into consideration to begin their CS courses. Where does it fit in the curriculum? Are the credits part of math, science, STEM? What background should the teacher have? Should CS courses begin in elementary, middle school or high school or even younger?

So, what should we teach? Should we implement an introductory CS course? A programming, engineering, robotics, or a web and game design course? Should digital citizenship be part of it? Well, there is no curriculum in a box that would fill everybody’s needs, although there are organizations such as Code.org, CS for All, Oracle, to name a few that are producing and publishing material and provide professional development doing an amazing job orienting teachers, schools and districts on how to successfully implement CS.  It is also important to know that there is a huge community going through the same process and there are organizations such as CSTA that also support teachers in this endeavor.  Another option is to develop their own curriculum taking into consideration the school’s budget, student’s needs and teacher’s experience, but to be able to do that there will usually be the need to have an expert in curriculum development that can analyze all these needs and customize how a CS course will be implemented. There is not a standardized profile for a CS teacher, some won’t even have a CS background, which is not a requirement, but it is important to have a notion on teaching critical and computational thinking.

Before starting is important to know the school, district, students and teachers.  Once there is a clear picture, identifying if there is already a faculty member familiar with the school culture and environment who can fit into the profile of CS teacher the school needs. Determining standards, content and scheduling will come next. Some schools start CS as an elective course until they are ready to embed it into their regular course load, which is a good option. The ideal is to introduce CS on the lower grades, so the expectation and content to be taught in the upper grades can become either a college preparatory course or fulfilling the skills to be able to work developing different kinds of technology while still in high school or while in college, allowing them to start having an income at this age. Some schools have a one to one program established, some have computer labs, and some have devices that can be reserved and checked out from a media room or library. Depending on the type of devices that the school or district counts with is where the decision to what kind of software or online product can be used for the course. Fortunately, more and more there are products and resources available on a browser version and can be used with most devices that have an Internet connection and can be opened with most common web browsers.

In the end, each school or district must create its own customized blueprint that will work for taking advantage of all the resources and communities out there to help.


Michelle Lagos
Representative at Large

The role CSTA has played in my professional life

This month the announcement for nominations for the board of directors made me think about my path through CSTA. The first time I heard of CSTA was in 2008; starting a new job in a new school having been teaching CS to High School students and was embarking on a new adventure of teaching K-5 Computer Science. It was the first time I was teaching Computer Science to that age group and I was apprehensive about some of the content and available resources. I teach at the American School of Tegucigalpa in Honduras, a small under-developed country in the heart of Central America. AST is a N-12 non-profit bilingual school, so we are an English spoken campus. Even though most schools offer computer classes, my school has always strived to give the best college preparation possible. So the expectations for me as a teacher were high. Being part of the smallest department in my school, it can be a challenge getting PD and resources. Luckily, I found the CSTA website and went directly to their resources and curriculum sections. As I explored the page I got interested and decided to become a member. As a new member of a community of teachers I now know we share similar challenges when teaching CS.

In 2012 CSTA was calling for nominations for the board’s upcoming elections. I was hesitant, thought the odds were not good for a Latin-American teacher. Turns out I got elected as the International Representative. I got to be part of their meetings which dealt with important topics, looking to improve and support K-12 CS education. I worked with the curriculum committee, alongside Deborah Seehorn and Tammy Pirmann reviewing the published CSTA K-12 Standards. Later I collaborated on my favorite project translating the Standards to Spanish which have been helpful for those teachers teaching CS in Spanish.  CSTA is not only meetings, it is also a place to grow and share, like the Annual CSTA conference which I always attend and volunteer to help out. It takes a lot of people and work to put it together. There are many ways to volunteer at the conference and it is a wonderful way to get involved and advocate for CSTA as well as make connections.

In 2016 I ran for a second term on the board, this time as Representative at Large and once again was elected to serve. This time around the experience was different as I was able to be part of different committees and meet more of the active, engaged and passionate members. I now know more about all the resources, workshops, scholarship, keynotes, PD opportunities CSTA brings to the K-12 CS teachers and how much heart is put into these. We hope that these efforts will improve CS education around the world. Family. My best advice as a CSTA member? Get involved, be an advocate, join a chapter or collaborate with other members. I guarantee that it will be worth it.


Michelle Lagos, Representative at Large