Increasing equity and inclusion in computer science education

Last month I attended my first CSTA conference. I LOVED the positive energy. From the keynote speakers to the exhibition space to the breakout sessions, everyone at CSTA2018 seemed genuinely happy to be together and they were clearly excited to share, learn, and ultimately do more for students.

My favorite part of CSTA2018 was the session with Andy (Andrea) Gonzales. In short, while in high school, she and a friend created a viral video game, won a Webby Award, wrote a book, were covered by multiple media outlets and now she is on a full ride scholarship to both UNC Chapel Hill and Duke. Impressively, she’s determined to leverage her space in the spotlight to do more for other young women like herself.

Andy talked about the exclusion she felt as a young woman learning computer science. She shared that the early support of an adult (her male summer camp counselor) was key to her success today. She described the misconceptions she had about computer science and the stereotypes that so many other young women and women of color struggle with. She emerged from her experiences more empowered and now wants to empower others.

Andy and her story are impressive. And yet, the thing that struck me the most about Andy was the response she garnered from the adults in the room.

Nearly all the questions Andy fielded from the audience of 700+ computer science education teachers and advocates were about they could do more to support girls and students of color in their computer science classes. How can I get more girls to join? What do you think I can do differently? Of the few girls I have in my computer science classes, how can I get them to engage more? How do I best support my students of color?

These questions clearly articulated the teachers’ desire to do more to help ALL their current or potential CS students succeed. They also illustrated the gaps that exist for teachers to find – and then implement – the resources that would help them reach this goal.

To be clear, I am not an expert on this topic. And in full transparency, I work for a tech company that is actively working on how it makes progress on diversity, equity and inclusion internally and how it can play a role in increasing equitable access to computer science education around the world.

I do know that there is a lot of good and important work that has been done on equity and inclusion in education broadly, and specifically in math and science. And while we are making progress, and there is a lot of great research on what the issues and challenges are in diversity, equity and inclusion in computer science, what I hear from teachers and others in CS education is that we still have work to do to make practical solutions easy for teachers to bring to life, specifically for computer science.

I know that by sharing a short list of resources, I am bound to leave things out. But with the goal to start somewhere, as I’ve been on my learning journey, others have told me that the following resources and information have been helpful in their work to support success for all students in their computer science classes and programs.

I’m sure you have some you want to share – please do! Post them on Twitter, tagging @csteachersorg with the hashtag #CSforAll so others can see them too. You can view all posts that use these two tags here.

Defining the issues:

Practical tools and resources for teachers and schools:

Recent blog posts by fellow CSTA board members:

Yvonne Thomas
Partner Representative CSTA Board

A Call to Celebrate Diversity in Computer Science

A primary goal for our #CSforAll initiative should be to develop positive computational identities among all students. This requires that students not only build strong foundational knowledge and skills; they must also understand how CS connects to their interests and, perhaps most importantly, believe that they can succeed in CS.

This is challenging because a small subset of the population has dominated the field of computer science, and our society has crafted a pervasive and narrow stereotype for who has access to and can achieve in CS. Even though the field is actually more diverse, these stereotypes are not surprising given the mostly homogenous population of the tech industry (see the Kapor Center’s Leaky Tech Pipeline report, 2018).

It is critical that we disrupt this narrative. We must highlight how people of all backgrounds have positively contributed to computing in diverse ways.

Describing the problem

Students as young as elementary school begin to adopt stereotypical beliefs in STEM. Research has shown the negative impact on students traditionally underrepresented in CS, namely women and people of color (e.g., Cheryan, Master, & Meltzoff, 2015). Professor Sapna Cheryan notes:

“People use these images to decide where they fit, where they’re going to be successful and what’s appropriate for them to pursue.”

Stereotypes negatively affect students’ interest, self-efficacy, career aspirations in STEM (e.g., Shapiro & Williams, 2011). If students do not fit those stereotypes and they don’t have role models that suggest otherwise, they are less likely to pursue CS.

What can we do about this?

Such a wicked problem cannot be fixed quickly, but we can make substantive impacts in our local schools. One strategy is to connect students to role models and mentors with whom they can identify, to provide inspiration and guidance. Exposure to role models of similar race and gender backgrounds leads to increased identification, self-efficacy and aspirations in STEM fields (Stout et al., 2011; Scott et al., 2018).

How to celebrate diversity in CS

Teachers can provide exposure to diverse role models through books, videos, and magazines and also through direct interactions including classroom visits, field trips, career fairs, and mentorship programs. These efforts should happen throughout the year. In addition, during cultural awareness months, we can use the opportunity to highlight people of specific backgrounds. March is Women’s History Month. This presents a great opportunity to connect students to female role models and showcase the incredible contributions of women in CS. Below are some suggestions from the #CSinSF team:

  1. Invite guest speakers to your class. If you don’t have connections through friends and family, try finding a local volunteer or a Skype connection. Here are some tips for classroom volunteers and a list of suggested questions to ask about their careers.
  2. Explore careers. Great videos featuring diverse professionals are available from Made w/ Code, Technolochicas, and Code.org. You can also have students read articles from the Careers with Code magazine, designed for teens to understand how computer science can help them create a dream career in any field, including health, sports, business, fashion, and virtual reality. The site features both profiles and videos of diverse people in diverse industries.
  3. Showcase influential figures in CS. Read books, watch videos, and lead activities that showcase influential figures in computing. For example, during Women’s History Month, hang these posters of seven incredible women in CS and lead related activities (e.g., matching activity, Bee-Bot challenges, Kahoot). Elementary teachers could read story books like Ada Lovelace: Poet of Science and Grace Hopper: Queen of Computer Code and show videos like Happy Birthday, Ada. Additionally, teachers of all levels can use Hidden Figures (original text, young readers’ edition, story book, or the film adaptation) and challenge students to retell stories of these incredible women (e.g., through Scratch animations).

Bryan Twarek, School District Representative

Growing Up Leadership

I sat in a small conference room in the summer of 2009 with several other CS teachers from around the US. CSTA brought us all there for advocacy leadership training and the beginning of what some called a grass roots movement for CS. I remember feeling excited that there were all of these other people just like me – passionate about CS Education and who were interested in helping it grow however they could. We learned about advocacy at local, regional, and state levels. We talked about our struggles, the situation of teacher certification, whether or not our state recognized CS, and formed friendships that last till this day.

Through that week and a subsequent training the following year the Leadership Cohort was born (now called CSALT). Through these passionate people districts were changed, courses were added, local government actions were taken, some states passed resolutions about CS ED Week, and there were even opportunities where one or two spoke to National leaders. All of these things were accomplished by volunteers and the support of CSTA.

We were also encouraged to start local chapters. Some were able to do this and are still apart of the chapter’s leadership today. Others of this group has gone on to write curriculum, provide professional development to other CS Teachers, developed and pilot the CS Principles course (and others), have become leaders for CS in their state, have presented at many different conferences including our own CSTA Annual Conference, and still some have been elected to serve on our CSTA Board.

This is not to say that all of our great volunteers and CS advocates started this way; however, there is a strong core group that I can point to that all got their start in those advocacy leadership trainings.

Growing leadership is important for organizations to thrive. Creating lasting friendships and networks of people and resources is also essential. I have “survived” my years of teaching and advocating because of so many of the people that I met that summer. So I say thank you to CSTA for the foresight to start CSALT (formerly Cohort Leadership) and for continuing to support all CSTA members through the conference, other professional development, and the great network of people and support. I urge any of you to attend the conference, a local chapter meeting, or anything you can to be a part of the larger CS Education team.

Most of all I say thank you to CSTA for giving me a chance seven years ago to be part of the CS movement. I have learned beyond my expectations, worked harder than I would have ever imagined, and I have some lifelong friends because of it.

Computer Science for All – Are We Asking the Right Questions?

Every two weeks, the CSTA K-8 task group hosts a twitter chat using the hashtag #CSK8. These twitter chats help teachers like me connect with other computer science education enthusiasts; they offer us a place to share and learn new ideas for our classrooms. Since I am part of the CSTA task force that hosts these chats, I have learned a lot on how to run these twitter events. Picking the right questions for a chat is key to its success.  The questions must provide the right amount of structure and be interesting so that all participants contribute to the chat. This is difficult since we do not know who will actually join the chat.
The chat on Feb 10 was on the new initiative proposed by President Obama called ‘Computer Science For All’ (To read more on this initiative, see  “CS for All”  and  Watch the president’s full remarks here). The chat was moderated by another CSTA Task force member Vicky Sedgwick and myself.
Computer Science For All initiative is still in the early phase, with of course no clear idea on whether it will ever be approved. However, the initiative has opened up the discussion on computer science access to a wider audience, and it was a perfect topic for our chat. Vicky and myself struggled to come up up with the best set of questions and we were modifying them as the chat progressed.   Selecting the right questions to ask on this topic helped us think more on the big question – how do we really provide computer science education to all? Here are the questions that we finally used on this chat. Take a look below –  what would be your answers?
  • Q1: Obama said “we have to make sure all our kids are equipped for the jobs of the future.” Is this really why #CSforALL is needed? #csk8
  • Q2: Why should #CSForAll be a federal initiative? Can’t we just rely on state/local/industry/non-profit efforts? Pros/Cons? #csk8
  • Q3:  How will we find teachers for #CSForAll & what is needed in terms of professional development & teacher credential programs? #csK8
  • Q4: There are currently many states with their own CS standards & more writing them. How does this affect #CSforAll or does it? #csk8
  • Q5: How would you spend $4 billion? What is most important? K-8/High School/PD/In-school programs/AfterSchool programs/Diversity? #csk8
If you are interested in reading the conversations on this topic (or other topics), check out the archives of the #CSK8 chats at the CSTA K8 G+ community at https://plus.google.com/communities/111803101139836526905/stream/00a8a67d-804b-4ee1-9c95-0852dfa0b171
Do you think we are asking the right questions? If you had five questions to ask on this topic, what would they be?

Vintage Computer Festival — five events this year!

If you’re looking for novel ways of inspiring students, then consider giving them some hands-on exposure to the past at a Vintage Computer Festival event.

Vintage Computer Festivals are a series of family-friendly events celebrating computer history. The event formed in the 1990s and gradually spread to other parts of the country and into Europe. Each event has an exhibit hall where anyone can see and try out historic computers from the 1960s-1980s. There are also keynote speeches by celebrities and VIPs, technical classes, tours of nearby museums, consignment sales, and more.

Upcoming editions include VCF East (April 15-17, New Jersey) and VCF West (August 6-7, Silicon Valley). Children enter free for most of the event.

These events are the only place where your students can see things such as a 1960s DEC minicomputer, 1970s systems such as an Altair 8800 or Apple-1, and all manner of 1980s eight-bitters — all up-and-running. Take a learn-to-solder class, play a round of Zork, see a UNIVAC mainframe, and learn how to load BASIC from paper tape.There’s no better way to make students appreciate modern smartphones than to see an 800-pound Cray supercomputer or boot a Commodore 64 into a flashing cursor prompt.

The series producer is Vintage Computer Federation which is a 501(c)3 educational non-profit. In addition to the shows, the Federation also owns the Vintage Computer Forum online discussion site, incubates regional chapters, and operates its own hands-on computer museum.

– Evan Koblentz, president, Vintage Computer Federation

www.vcfed.org 

evan@vcfed.org 

facebook.com/vcfederation 

twitter.com/vcfederation 

Introducing CSPdWeek

We shine a spotlight on CS education for students each December during CSEdWeek. Why not do the same with a perennial offering for CS professional development for teachers?

After all, professional development has long been recognized as one of the key ingredients in CS education. Bringing even one PD provider to train a handful of teachers and counselors in a small district is prohibitively expensive, and even the smallest school district will need multiple solutions to implement the dream of CS4All. One way to solve this problem is with grants and sponsorships, subsidizing local workshops for a handful of teachers at a time. However, this only solves part of the issue–even with limitless dollars, scheduling constraints make it extremely difficult to bring multiple providers in at the same time. This makes it nearly impossible for most districts to adopt the broad mix of offerings that are necessary to increase diverse participation in computing. In other words, coordination can be just as large a bottleneck as funding.

CSEdWeek is a model for coordinated advocacy. Schools in a district, in a state, and across the country effectively leverage funding and volunteer efforts at the same time every year. It’s time to do the same for professional development, and this is the impetus and foundation for CSPdWeek.

The first annual CSPdWeek is this July 18th-22nd, 2016 – find out more at www.CSPdWeek.org!

CSPdWeek Events

An inaugural event, offering PD from Bootstrap, NCWIT Counselors for Computing, AP CS Principles, and Exploring Computing Science will be held during the week of July 18-22nd at Colorado School of the Mines. The event is sponsored by the Infosys Foundation USA, with additional support from the National Science Foundation, The National Center for Women & Information Technology, and the Computer Science Teachers Association. We invite teachers and counselors from across the US to apply for full funding (covering travel, food, lodging and PD), with an emphasis on those working in high-needs schools. Join nearly 300 educators from across the country, and spend the first CSPdWeek with us in Golden, Colorado!

Can’t make it to Golden? That’s okay! CSPdWeek is for everyone, and we encourage other PD providers to offer their own professional development events during the week. Professional development matters, and will be a crucial component of CS4All. By staking out one week during the summer, and coordinating our efforts, we can amplify the impact of everyone in our community.

It’s going to be an incredible summer, and we hope you’ll join us in celebrating CSPdWeek 16!
Owen Astrachan (CS Principles)
Gail Chapman (Exploring Computer Science)
Joanna Goode (Exploring Computer Science)
Jane Krauss (NCWIT Counselors for Computing)
Emmanuel Schanzer (Bootstrap)

Choosing a computing major

Teachers are an important resource for students when it comes to their college decisions. Indeed, undergraduates students often state that a high school teacher influenced their decision to become a computer science major. This blogpost includes a number of  for CS teachers to help their students learn about computing related majors. It might also help teachers recruit students in their computer science courses and highlight the breadth of majors available for students. Along with my colleague Susanne Hambrusch, we have developed the following list of resources for computer science teachers as a part of our NSF-funded PD4CS project.

There exists a range of four-year computing and computing-related degrees a student can pursue. It can be daunting to determine differences and commonalities.

Four-year Liberal Arts Colleges will typically offer one degree, most likely in Computer Science. The simplicity may have a drawback: the number of courses offered may be small and few opportunities for specialization may exist. On the other hand, many liberal arts colleges provide a strong computer science education that is often combined with flexibility, allowing students to take diverse courses in other areas.

Large, research-oriented schools tend to offer multiple computing degrees. The types of degrees and specializations offered are often influenced by whether Computer Science is in a College of Science, a College of Engineering, or in its own College (e.g., College of Computing, School of Information).

Most schools provide information and guidance for incoming students. For example,

Many rankings of computer science programs exist. No ranking is perfect and many schools not ranked or not ranked highly can provide an excellent undergraduate education. The US News and World Report rankings have a good reputation and are respected by universities and colleges. They rank different types of institutions, different research areas, different geographical regions, and more.

Students majoring in a STEM field often consider getting a minor in Computer Science. Having a CS minor will give them additional and often attractive job opportunities after graduation. A minor typically consists of 5-6 CS courses (the student is expected to have the appropriate math courses).  Students majoring in math or physics can often double count courses and may be able to complete a minor with less effort.  Guidelines and expectations differ and a student needs to find out the details for the particular program.

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Aman Yadav is an associate professor in the College of Education at Michigan State University. He serves as the teacher education representative on the CSTA board of directors. Follow Aman on Twitter @yadavaman

A History of the New Math (and lessons for CS Ed)

Spines of New Math paperbacks from the 1960s (courtesy wikimedia.org)

Spines of New Math paperbacks from the 1960s (courtesy wikimedia.org)

Many of us remember the New Math from personal experience. I do from elementary school in the 1970s in West Hurley, NY.

I loved it. I learned that the decimal system is arbitrary and numbers could be expressed in any base. That was fascinating.

Of course, I was the kid who learned his times tables for fun.

The New Math emphasized understanding the rule-systems that underlie numbers. In elementary school, it constructed the very concept of number with set theory rather than by rote counting.

There wasn’t a focus on students being able to do arithmetic computations. This upset people, and by the 1970s, the New Math was under attack.

The “back to basics” movement re-established an emphasis on computations in the 1980s.

As described by Christopher J. Phillips in his book The New Math: A Political History (The University of Chicago Press, 2015), it’s not a coincidence that this is the same decade in which the country elected Ronald Reagan as president.

Phillips cogently makes the case that the rise and fall of the New Math movement traces our cultural mores and larger political beliefs about who should be making decisions in our society.

Going back two thousand years, Phillips shows how the argument about how mathematics should be taught has been a proxy for a conversation about how people should be taught to think.

For the developers of the New Math, their approach would help American citizens be critical and creative thinkers—what was required to counter the Cold War threat of a dominant Soviet Union.

Indeed, the federal funding that was leveraged in the 1950s to build the New Math movement was appropriated as literally a matter of national defense. This was followed by the Elementary and Secondary Education Act in the 1960s, which continued the federal government’s role in fostering national education curricula.

The consensus that the federal government should be deciding what’s taught in our nation’s schools frayed with the cultural changes in the 1960s and collapsed with the horrors of Vietnam in the 1970s.

As we work towards making computer science a first-class citizen in the pantheon of school teaching and learning, what lessons can we draw from the rise and fall of the New Math?

Computer science is a liberal art—not just a vocational skill. It’s true that becoming accomplished as a software developer is a path to a good career, including good pay. And it’s true that there is a social justice dimension to broadening participation in computing—everyone should discover whether they love computing and then have access to these career paths.

But the reason to institutionalize computer science in K-12 is deeper than that. It’s because computing is beautiful and powerful—like all forms of knowing and doing.

We must go beyond the zero-sum game. One of our big challenges is creating time for teaching and learning computing. We don’t want to create winners (computer science) and losers (other areas of study).

It seems clear that infusion approaches—integrating computing into other subjects—will be an important part of the future.

It’s a team effort. One of the big take-aways from Phillips’ book was the reach of the School Mathematics Study Group—the organization that was created to develop and support the New Math. Curriculum writers from all over the country were involved in creating the reference texts; these individuals then served in leadership roles in the adoptions in their home states.

Most importantly, now we live in a time where everyone’s involved in curriculum decisions, particularly parents.

We need everyone together to make this happen.

P.S. I highly recommend Christopher Phillips’ book. His writing is clean and compelling, and the story is engaging and compact. He also published an essay-length version of his thesis in the New York Times on December 3, 2015.

Do You Have a Professional Learning Network (PLN)?

Before anyone can answer that question, a definition is needed. According to Brianna Crowley in her article, 3 Steps for Building a Professional Learning Network, at http://www.edweek.org/tm/articles/2014/12/31/3-steps-for-building-a-professional-learning.html , “A professional learning network is a vibrant, ever-changing group of connections to which teachers go to both share and learn. These groups reflect our values, passions, and areas of expertise.”

I started thinking about my PLN after Brandon Horn on the AP Computer Science Facebook page asked for suggestions for additional information and support for current and new AP Computer Science Teachers. He said he usually recommends the AP CS Community on the College Board site, the AP CS Summer Institute, the AP Computer Science Facebook group and the local CSTA chapter, if there is one. In a comment, I suggested the CSTA Listserv (I am one of the moderators).

This question, I feel is more important to those of us who are the “onlys” on our campus. What do I mean by the “onlys”? “Onlys” are the only computing teacher on campus. For those of you who are one of those, who do you turn to for advice?

For me it depends on the class I am seeking advice for. I teach 4 different computing classes: Visual Basic, Computer Science Principles, AP Computer Science A and Computer Science AB. For general advice, I will look to the CSTA Listserv. For example, in October, I was told that I needed to decide on new furniture for the lab and only had a few days. I turned to the CSTA Listserv and asked what furniture the members had purchased recently that fit their needs. I received several responses that helped me to quickly make some decisions.

In another situation when one of my students asked a java coding question that I did not readily have an answer, I turned to the AP Computer Science Facebook group and received responses very quickly. When I needed to write a Computer Science Principles Final Exam, I turned to the CSTA Listserv and several teachers responded with help. I appreciated it so much! I have asked questions on Twitter when I want to incorporate an ed tech tool into my computer science classes. Also, I always leave my local CSTA chapter meetings with some great ideas! All of these groups are my PLN.

Who is in your PLN? Please share so we can all grow ours.

DRAFT 2016 CSTA K-12 CS Standards: We need your feedback!

No one can doubt that it is an exciting and busy time to be a K-12 computer science educator: an announcement from the White House about the new CS for All initiative, a new K-12 CS Framework under construction, an emphasis on cybersecurity education in the K-12 classroom, new curriculum products, new computer science standards in Arkansas, Florida, and Massachusetts (to name a few states), computer science for all New York City students, and professional development opportunities for CS educators. Scarcely a day goes by in the news/media without some mention of K-12 computer science education and what it should look like.

The CSTA K-12 CS Standards Revision Task Force members have been diligently working to revise the 2011 CSTA K-12 CS Standards to ensure they are current, valid, and the best they can be. The task force members very much appreciate all of you who took the time to provide us with input on the 2011 CSTA K-12 CS Standards during the public feedback period in September – October 2015. Your input, along with the draft K-12 CS Framework and practices, standards from other states and countries, and related national standards informed the task force members as they revised, deleted, and added to the 2011 CSTA K-12 CS Standards. You may view the standards development process on the CSTA Standards Webpage. The first DRAFT of the 2016 CSTA K-12 CS Standards is ready for public review and feedback. We need your assistance once again!

Please take a little time to review the revised standards and complete the 2016 CSTA K-12 CS Standards Feedback Form. This will provide the CSTA Standards Revision Task Force members with constructive feedback that will assist us as we seek to refine the standards and make them most useful for K-12 educators. You will have the opportunity to give us detailed feedback on individual standards in each of the grade levels (Level 1, Grades K-5; Level 2, Grades 6-8, Level 3A, Grades 9-10), Level 3B (Grades 11-12). You will also have the opportunity to provide feedback on all the standards for a grade level within a concept area. (The draft K-12 CS Framework Concepts are Computing Devices & Systems, Networks & Communication, Programs & Algorithms, Data & Information, and Impacts of Computing.)

Feedback for this initial review period will be accepted from February 16 through March 3, 2016. The task force members will analyze this feedback and refine the standards. CSTA is committed to an iterative process that allows multiple drafts and revisions before publication. We anticipate another review period sometime in the spring of 2016, as the project budget allows. Our goal is to release the revised standards at the 2016 CSTA Annual Conference.

We want your feedback. We need your assistance. Please thoughtfully complete the CSTA K-12 CS Standards Revision Feedback Form. This initial feedback on the standards will be accepted until March 3, 2016.

Thank you for your time, expertise, and enthusiasm in supporting K-12 CS education.

Deborah Seehorn
CSTA Board of Directors Past Chair
CSTA K-12 CS Standards Revision Task Force Co-Chair

Tammy Pirmann
CSTA Board of Directors District Representative
CSTA K-12 CS Standards Revision Task Force Co-Chair

Website Links

Computer Science for All https://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2016/01/30/computer-science-all

K-12 CS Framework http://k12cs.org/

2016 CSTA K-12 CS Standards Revision Task Force http://www.csteachers.org/?StandardsTaskForce

CSTA K-12 CS Standards Revision Process http://www.csteachers.org/?StandardsProcess

2016 CSTA K-12 CS Standards Feedback Form http://www.csteachers.org/?SubmitYourFeedback

2016 CSTA Annual Conference http://csta.acm.org/ProfessionalDevelopment/sub/CSTAConference.html.