You Are NOT Alone!

You might be a specialist in your school and the only one teaching computer science. You might be one of the few classroom teachers at your school or at your grade level integrating computer science into your instruction. You might be the math or science teacher who was just asked to also teach computer science. Your school might be integrating computer science at all grade levels and you and your colleagues have questions about best practices in teaching computer science. You may have been teaching computer science for some time but feel overwhelmed by all the options we have today.

Where can you go to feel supported and ask those questions that come up? Questions like:

How can I fit computer science into the already overcrowded school day? What is the best way to teach 1st graders about networks and the Internet? When should my students be moving from block-based coding to a text-based language? How can I meet the needs of my class when I have students who have never coded and students who are already programming proficiently in one or more languages? And so many more…

In my opinion nothing can beat face-to-face connections and CSTA provides some exceptional options for this. You really must plan to attend the annual CSTA Conference. It is an amazing experience, and the perfect place to meet and make connections with others who are doing exactly what you are. The next conference is scheduled for July 7-10, 2019 in Phoenix, AZ. This conference is only once a year, but you can keep those face-to-face connections going by getting involved with your local CSTA chapter and some regions are starting to hold regional conferences as well!

What about those times between chapter meetings and conferences? If you have questions today, you don’t want to have to wait until your next CSTA chapter meeting or the next conference to get them answered. I have never met some of amazing CS teachers who I consider mentors, colleagues, and friends. Most of my connections with other computer science teachers have been made online even if I have, subsequently, met them at a conference or other event.

Where can you go online to add to your community of computer science teachers? I recommend both Twitter and Facebook.

Twitter was the first place that I made connections with other K-8 teachers of computer science and you can, too! The K-8 Teacher Representatives from the CSTA Board of Directors moderate regularly scheduled chats on Twitter on the 1st and 3rd Wednesdays of most months during the school year. You can follow along or join using the #csk8 hashtag! Each chat has a specific topic, and the chats are archived if you happen to miss one. The best thing is that the hashtag is used by K-8 CS teachers to share about what they are doing, and to ask questions of other K-8 CS teachers all the time, not just during the chat.

Twitter is awesome, but it is also very public, the length of a post is limited, and it can be difficult to follow ongoing conversations depending on how people reply. We, the K-8 reps on the CSTA Board, wanted a place for an inclusive, online community of K-8 teachers of CS – a place where teachers could share the amazing things they are doing in their classrooms, ask for and give help, and keep conversations going all year. At the CSTA Conference in July 2018, we asked some of the K-8 teachers who were in attendance where they thought this community should be. For most, this was Facebook. In August 2018, the CSTAK8 Group was launched! We would love to have you join us there to help build our community.

You don’t have to be or feel alone. Make some connections online and offline!

Vicky Sedgwick
K-8 Teacher Representative

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

Tips for CS PD Facilitators

As we gear up for the new school year, many of us are entering into professional development (PD) soon. I am lucky enough to have the opportunity to plan and facilitate PD for teachers in San Francisco, and based on this experience, I’d like to offer some tips that I believe contribute to successful learning experiences for teachers.

Model best practices

  • Facilitate learning. Teachers should experience sessions in a format similar to their students. Be the guide on side, not sage on the stage. And, please, please, please don’t lecture about active engagement.
  • Be explicit about strategies used. Then, allow teachers to reflect on whether and when the same strategies could be useful in their own classrooms.
  • Set explicit learning goals and measure progress towards those goals. If you want to develop a strong community of practice, state this explicitly as a goal, actively work towards this goal through collaboration and team building, and measure progress through surveys and observations. Do the same with content and pedagogy-oriented goals.
  • Differentiate. Groupings or breakouts based on grade level, content area, or other contextual factors can be useful, but this in itself is not differentiation. Consider multiple means of representation, action/expression, and engagement. Set consistent baseline objectives for everyone, and create different levels of scaffolding and extensions to challenge teachers at the appropriate level.
  • Allow choice. Let teachers decide what is important and relevant to them. They cannot choose everything, but make sure have some agency.

Record, reflect, assess

  • Compile all resources and make it easy to access them. Consider a simple website or hyper doc (e.g, SFUSD’s PLC site).
  • Create shared notes documents so everyone can benefit. This allows a good record for teachers to remind themselves during the school year and allows those who missed out to reap some of the benefits. Ask for volunteers to contribute to the notes documents at different times.
  • Prioritize time for reflection. It’s important for teachers to process their learning and consider how they will apply new ideas and strategies. Thoughtful reflection improves transfer to classrooms.
  • Ask for feedback. This can help you evaluate, plan for future sessions, and improve facilitation. Don’t wait until the end to ask for feedback. Create formative measures.
  • More importantly, use the feedback to change plans and improve. And, show a summary of participant feedback each day, and explicitly note the things you’re changing to respond to feedback.
  • Assess learning. Don’t rely solely on feedback. Use similar assessment measures to those used in the classroom. Collect teachers’ projects to examine more closely.

Attend to the environment

  • Create a welcoming and inclusive space. Try to choose a room that is colorful and filled with natural light. Take down any Star Trek posters and replace with something that appeals to everyone. Create table groupings to make it easier to collaborate.
  • Set and reinforce norms. As teachers come from different communities and cultures, it can be helpful to adopt a set of common norms. Reinforcement can come through reflection, a norms tracker, and celebration of colleagues.
  • Make it fun! Throw in some corny jokes and spontaneous dance parties. Play music during breaks. Put candy and LEGOs on the tables.
  • Include breaks. Breaks allow teachers to take care of personal needs, engage in informal collaboration, and maintain better focus during sessions.
  • Get teachers up and moving. No one likes sitting all day. Movement is especially important after lunch because this is when most people’s attention starts to fade (the “trough”).
  • Mix up groupings. Many teachers default to choosing teammates whom they already know, but they also prefer to get to know new people. Facilitate this by thoughtfully designating grouping strategies and consider when teachers should collaborate with teachers from different and similar contexts.
  • Switch up the facilitation. Just like students get tired of hearing the same teacher all day, teachers feel the same way. Work to mix up both the facilitator and methods of facilitation as much as possible.
  • Empower teachers to lead and share their best practices. One way to do this is an unconference in which teachers select and run sessions based on their interests.

Show teachers you value them

  • Pay teachers. Teachers already work hard enough. If the PD doesn’t happen during the contract time, it’s important to compensate teachers for their commitment.
  • Provide good food. It doesn’t have to cost a lot to be thoughtful. Make sure to include some healthy options and attend to dietary restrictions. Unlimited snacks go a long way.
  • Provide the materials needed to implement lessons/curriculum. It is a huge lift off of teachers to give them ready-to-go materials. They’ll be very appreciative of the time (and money) you saved them.
  • Celebrate success. A fun and easy way to close the week is for teachers to create their own superlative awards to celebrate something they are proud of and share with the community (e.g., best debugger, craziest sock wearer, biggest risk taker).
  • Don’t treat adults like they’re children. Let teachers decide what’s best for them. Structure can enable productivity, but too much structure or accountability can foster resentment.

Other pro tips

  • Sprinkle in tips and tricks, and allow teachers to share these. Examples are new tech tools (e.g., yellkey.com), brain breaks (e.g., GoNoodle.com), team builders (e.g., Zip Zap Zop!), and showcasing strategies (e.g., Michelle Lee’s tips for amplify student voice).
  • Go beyond the (one) curriculum.Teachers new(er) to CS need to develop a decontextualized knowledge of CS and be empowered to determine the best ways to teach concepts to their students. Try to not just use one lesson or curriculum but offer several options on a related topic and ask teachers to contribute others and reflect on the usefulness in their own contexts.
  • Don’t try to do too much. You cannot do everything in one hour, one day, or one week. Decide what’s most important based on the teachers who will be attending and set measurable and achievable learning outcomes for the time you have. Expect things to take ~50% longer than you think they will.
  • Don’t let it be a one and done. Ensure there are follow-up mechanisms throughout the year. An effective way to do this is to create a community of practice, with both an online presence and regular, in-person convening.

What tips did I miss? Tweet @btwarek and @csteachersorg.

Bryan Twarek School District Representative