Ethics in K-8 Computer Science

I’m sure you’ve seen them. New headlines related to ethics and computer science seem to appear daily.

What does all this have to do with teaching computer science to 5-14 year-olds? Ethics should be integral to teaching computer science, regardless of the age of students.

With great power comes great responsibility

Our students are creating with computer science which gives them great power. We need to make sure that they also understand the great responsibility of that power. How can we do this? My first resource when I ask myself this question is the CSTA K–12 Computer Science Standards.

Ages 5-7
Yes, even our youngest students need to be aware of the ethics of computing. At this level, the focus is on ownership. Just as our students learn to protect their possessions and respect the property of others off-line, they need to learn to do this online, as well.

  • 1A-NI-04 Explain what passwords are and why we use them, and use strong passwords to protect devices and information from unauthorized access.
  • 1A-AP-13 Give attribution when using the ideas and creations of others while developing programs.
  • 1A-IC-18 Keep login information private, and log off of devices appropriately.

Ages 8-11
As students mature, they are able to recognize and consider others’ viewpoints which provides opportunities to explore the ethics of computing more deeply. We can use current events, like some of those mentioned above, to bring ethical discussions into the classroom. Students create and often share computational artifacts at this level. They should think about the users who will use what they create and the impact it can have on those users.

  • 1B-NI-05 Discuss real-world cybersecurity problems and how personal information can be protected.
  • 1B-AP-14 Observe intellectual property rights and give appropriate attribution when creating or remixing programs.
  • 1B-IC-19 Brainstorm ways to improve the accessibility and usability of technology products for the diverse needs and wants of users.
  • 1B-IC-20 Seek diverse perspectives for the purpose of improving computational artifacts.
  • 1B-IC-21 Use public domain or creative commons media, and refrain from copying or using material created by others without permission.

Ages 11-14
Students at this level can explore bigger ethical questions because they can better understand the perspective of others as well as the perspective of society. This lets them grapple with ethical questions like: Who is collecting data on them and what are they doing with it? What should the students do with data they are collecting through programs they have created? Are the technologies they are creating accessible by all?

  • 2-IC-20 Compare tradeoffs associated with computing technologies that affect people’s everyday activities and career options.
  • 2-IC-21 Discuss issues of bias and accessibility in the design of existing technologies.
  • 2-IC-23 Describe tradeoffs between allowing information to be public and keeping information private and secure.

Interested in continuing discussions on teaching ethics in the computer science classroom? Join us on Twitter for #csk8 chat where ethics often enters into the discussion and check out #ethicalCS.

Vicky Sedgwick
K-8 Teacher Representative

Reading Stories in Computer Science Class

Stories are an entertaining way to introduce or reinforce computer science concepts and help students to understand abstract concepts in a more concrete way. Do you read picture books, chapter books, or short stories to your students in computer science classes? I do. The easiest way to get started is with books that are specifically written to teach CS concepts.
For 5-8-year-olds, Hello Ruby: Adventures in Coding by Linda Liukas is a wonderful place to start. Written to introduce young children to computing, it is a picture book about a “small girl with a huge imagination.” As Ruby goes on adventures, students learn about planning, sequences, algorithms, collaboration, conditionals, loops, and more. The book includes activities that go along with the story, and the official website has resources for educators. Linda Liukas has also written a second book, Hello Ruby: Journey Inside the Computer, which includes activities about the internal parts of a computer.
A graphic novel for 8-12-year-olds that covers multiple CS concepts is Secret Coders by Gene Luen Yang and Mike Holmes. It is the first in a series of books that combine logic puzzles and coding (in Logo) wrapped up in a mystery storyline. The official website has downloadable activities and Logo instruction videos so your students can code along with the characters if desired. Check out the excerpt on the website for a fun introduction to binary. The concepts in the book can easily be applied to any programming language you are using with your students.

The comic book, The Cynja, by Chase Cunningham,‎ Heather C. Dahl, and Shirow Di Rosso was written for younger children, but I like it for introducing Networks and Cybersecurity for Middle School students. The Cynja is a story of a battle between the evil forces of cyberspace and the Cynsei and his apprentice, the Cynja. Code of the Cynja, the second comic in the series, has a female lead character. These are difficult to get in print, but digital versions are available on Amazon and in the Google Play Store.

Don’t limit yourself just to books written about computer science concepts. Working on decomposition skills? Read a “Choose Your Own Adventure” book. Then work with students to decompose it and build a decision tree. Talk about how conditionals allow it to work and have students create their own “Choose Your Own Adventure” program. The Fly on the Ceiling by Julie Glass is a fun book to introduce the coordinate plane. After reading it, students could create a Scratch project to draw their initials using glide commands with x and y coordinates. Read The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle and have students retell the story with Bee-Bot or write a ScratchJr project about the life cycle of the butterfly. Look around and see what books are available at your school and find ways to use them in your computer science classes.

Are you reading stories to students in your computer science classroom? We would love to hear about it!

Vicky Sedgwick K-8 Teacher Representative