2016: The Year of CS Education

A Prediction Comes True…

When asked for a New Year’s prediction a few weeks ago, I responded that 2016 would be the Year of Computer Science Education.  I did not anticipate just how accurate that prediction would turn out to be just 30 days later.  And it appears that we are just getting started, thanks to the incredible support and commitment of the White House and this Administration on behalf of CS education and CS teachers.

CS education is about students.  On January 12, as he began to speak to national priorities, President Barack Obama led with CS Education.  He said that, “In the coming years, we should build on that progress, by … offering every student the hands-on computer science and math classes that make them job-ready on day one.”  As Executive Director for one of the first CS teacher member organizations, it was an exciting moment to hear the President lead off with a statement so aligned to our members’ profession.

CS education is about access.  On January 20, the White House announced the Champions of Change for Computer Science Education. I was thrilled to see recipients like Jane Margolis whose book, Stuck in the Shallow End: Education, Race and Computing, motivated me to pursue this position several months ago.  The recipients of the honor included a diverse and deserving collection of individuals working to improve access to computer science education.

CS education is about collaboration.  Then today, January 30, I was again both excited and awed, as the White House announced the Computer Science for All initiative (#CSForAll)—the President’s plan to give all students across the country the chance to learn computer science in school.  It is a plan with aggressive goals, bipartisan support, and multifaceted commitments from an amazing array of participants spanning federal and state agencies, corporations, non-profit organizations and academic institutions, school districts, and teachers.

CS education is about teachers.  It is clear that many more exciting announcements are to come.  On behalf of the Computer Science Teachers Association (CSTA) and the teachers it represents, I thank the Administration for its “above and beyond support” for CS education and recognizing that providing access to quality CS education to all students requires developing and supporting CS teachers.  I am also appreciative to the Administration for creating mechanisms to enable CSTA to actively participate and engage in the events leading up to today’s announcement.   CSTA is excited to be involved and contributing to this collaborative effort.

…And CS Education is Just Getting Started.

CSTA recently developed a new 10-year vision, supported by the first of three strategic plans.  The themes of students, access, collaboration, and teachers underpin that framework.  For the next three years our primary efforts will focus on teacher professional development, programs related to our big IDEA (Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Access), and maturing our association practices.  These three priorities are supported by a set of five strategic levers and a range of specific measures and activities.

As part of CSTA’s commitment to #CSForALL, we will pursue and implement a new professional development (PD) model for CS Teachers that includes:

  • A developmental assessment with personalized roadmap to help teachers focus PD on skill development needs and programs that could address those needs.
  • Hybrid (online + in person) PD experiences to increase access to PD for teachers.
  • A digital portfolio or digital badging model to enable competency-based micro-credentialing.  This provides a means for teachers to demonstrate CS skills and track their progress toward a master-CS teacher status.

We are on track to pilot some of the above elements as early as this spring.

This year CSTA will establish a Diversity Educational Leadership Program (DELP).  DELP will provide PD to cohorts of teacher-leaders coming from diverse and underrepresented backgrounds in CS.  The goals of DELP are to improve access to leadership and development opportunities for underrepresented teacher segments, support a growing network of effective teacher-leaders and CS advocates in their classrooms and communities, and increase the visible pool of diverse candidates for leadership positions in CSTA and other K-12 CS organizations.

CSTA is also stepping up its own capabilities, such as going live with the “alpha” version of our new member management system this past week.  In addition to a new website that is mobile-friendly, and easier to navigate and update, we will have tools to enable more members to engage and volunteer in activities of the association.  There will be new tools to support chapters.  New tools to support advocacy or outreach among segments of members. There will be new ways for members to communicate with each other and new resources to help make #CSForAll a reality.

Later this spring CSTA will unveil new branding, as we evolve into CSTeachers.org – the member organization for K-12 computer science teachers. With 22,000 members across 130 countries, with 62 local member chapters, and as founding partners of other CS educational organizations, like Code.org, NCWIT, and TeachCS, we will continue to seek out and engage in opportunities to collaborate that include CS teachers and further enable access to quality computer science education for all students.

Getting Engaged in the Future of K-12 CS Education

These and many of our other planned initiatives, such as a series of PSAs and content to promote awareness and understanding of what CS is, link back to the themes and priorities identified by the White House as part of #CSForAll:  Students, Access, Collaboration, and Teachers. Getting there will require innovation, entrepreneurship, collaboration and support from a great variety of organizations and individuals.  CSTA greatly appreciates the work of this Administration which has elevated CS education and the needs of CS teachers to a national priority.  We look forward to the great works that will come out of the current #CSForAll commitments, and for those that will follow.

2016 is going to be a great year for K-12 CS Education.  Please keep following #CSForAll and #CSTA on Twitter for more developments or reach out to CSTA if you are a CS teacher or organization who would like to be involved in our evolution.

About CSTA:  The Computer Science Teacher’s Association (CSTA) is a member-based organization founded in 2004 by ACM, the world’s largest educational and scientific computing society.  CSTA’s mission is to empower, engage, and advocate for K-12 CS teachers worldwide.

Announcing a New Framework to Define K-12 Computer Science Education

Computing Leaders ACM, Code.org, and CSTA Launch Effort to Guide Educators and State and District Policy Makers About K-12 Computer Science

For most states and school districts, the notion of computer science for every student is a relatively new and unexplored topic. Responding to parent demand for their children to have access to computer science, there’s been a major shift in thinking by states and school districts about how to make computer science part of core academic work. They are asking big questions of the computing community: What is the appropriate scope and sequence for K-12 computer science? What does the community expect every student to learn in elementary school, in middle school, or by the time they graduate high school? And why?

CSTA, ACM, and Code.org are joining forces with more than 100 advisors within the computing community (higher ed faculty, researchers, and K-12 teachers, many of whom are also serving as writers for the framework), several states and large school districts, technology companies, and other organizations to steer a process to build a framework to help answer these questions. A steering committee initially comprised of the Computer Science Teachers Association, the Association for Computing Machinery, and Code.org will oversee this project. Funding for the project will be provided by Code.org and the ACM.

The framework will identify key K-12 computer science concepts and practices we expect students exiting grades 2, 5, 8, and 12 to know. This effort will not develop educational standards. We expect that states and school districts will use the framework to create their own frameworks, guidance, and standards, and the CSTA has its own independent process for developing detailed K-12 computer science standards.

Underpinning this effort is our belief that computer science provides foundational learning benefiting every child. Computer science gives students a set of essential knowledge and skills important for students’ learning and for their future careers and interests. This work is about defining the basic expectations for what every student should have a chance to learn about K-12 computer science to prepare for the emerging demands of the 21st century — not just to major in computer science or secure jobs as software engineers.

The projected release date for the framework is summer 2016. More information, including monthly updates and how to get involved, can be found at K12CS.org.

Mark Nelson, Executive Director of CSTA

Mehran Sahami, Chair, ACM Education Board

Cameron Wilson, Chief Operating Officer, Code.org


CSEdWeek: Message from CSTA’s ED

December 7-11, 2015 is Computer Science Education Week (CSEdWeek). It began in 2009 with roughly a dozen organizations (including CSTA) joining together to raise awareness of the need for increased CS education and the importance of computational thinking across careers and disciplines.

Now in its 7th year, CSEdWeek will have more than 190,000 events world-wide, and could surpass 200 million participants this year, with participants in nearly every country on the planet. This growth and success was facilitated by the foresight of founders, the diligent work of volunteers, the ongoing support of many organizations, the media power and appeal of organizations like Code.org, and most importantly—the considerable hard work and dedication of teachers.

Around the world, CS education is getting increased attention from governments, businesses, and other organizations as a top educational priority. Access to CS skills and education will change the global landscape, affecting more than just the future access to careers. Increasingly, we see examples of using CS concepts, such as coding, to learn new things. Ultimately, access to CS education will affect equity and the ability of individuals or groups to participate in society at many levels.

CS: More than just Coding

In recent years, CSEdWeek focused heavily on the Hour of Code™. The Hour of Code™ is a nationwide initiative by Computer Science Education Week and Code.org to introduce millions of students to one hour of computer science and computer programming. This may have both positive and negative implications for CS education.

On the positive side, the simplicity of the message and the accessibility of the event have lifted interest in CS to incredible heights. The Hour of Code™ made CS fun and accessible in a new way. It introduced CS to children, parents, CS teachers’ peers and school and district leaders and many others who might otherwise have continued to think using online learning is the same as computer science, or that PowerPoint is a computer science skill crucial to the 21st Century. This is much of what we celebrate during CSEdWeek.

While coding may attract many individuals to experience CS, at some level, the simplicity of the message and the focus on “coding” has unintentionally narrowed the public discourse as to what CS really is. Coding is to CS as arithmetic is to math, or sentences are to writing. Coding is often one of the first content areas learned in CS and is fundamental to the discipline. However, like arithmetic and sentences, there is much more to CS than coding alone. Computer science embodies a wide variety of skills and practices… many of which can wrapped up into a more complete package called computational thinking. Within the K-12 CS education community, we must build upon the initial message to broaden the understanding and discourse around what students should know about CS today and in the future.

CS: The Need for Teacher PD

The global supply of people with CS skills falls short of current and projected industry demands, and the shortage of K-12 CS teachers leaves a vital part of the pipeline to fill these positions mostly empty. According to a study from Code School, interest in CS careers occurs early, with most programmers and developers showing interest before age 16.  At the same time, a recent Google and Gallup poll reported that only one in four responding schools has a CS teacher. The poll findings further indicated significant differences in access to CS education based on race, gender, and other demographic factors. Without experiences like those offered during CSEdWeek, many students might never find that interest in CS that could lead to future computing careers.

Among other needs, providing an ongoing CS educational experience for students that goes beyond what CSEdWeek can provide requires teachers trained in CS concepts, practices, and pedagogy. Closing the gaps in access to CS education for students will require a great deal of teacher professional development (PD). Currently many, if not the majority, of CS teachers come from other disciplines. It is not uncommon to hear tales from teachers who have had minimal access to CS PD. As the public continues to become more aware of the need and importance of CS skills, we must think about what is required to develop those skills in both students and teachers.

Educated citizens of the new millennium will need CS skills to ensure both economic and social prosperity. There are excellent CS teachers, but growing the supply to meet demand will take many, many more. The PD needs for CS teachers, in response to constant evolution of the field, is not just a short-term challenge. PD needs will be high and ongoing to help increase teacher capabilities and confidence with CS content and practices even as CS itself continues to evolve.

CSTA in CSEdWeek 2015 and the Future

Being new to the Executive Director role at CSTA, the breadth of organizations collaborating on activities during CSEdWeek is inspiring.  It is also interesting to note the many follow-on activities that will provide extensions to those who want to go beyond an Hour of Code™ event. There are TechJams and Hackathons. There are competitions, such as the Cutler-Bell Prize and the Congressional App Challenge. There are other immersive learning experiences, such as the NSA Day of Cyber or Oracle Academy’s JavaOne4Kids coding fair. There will be celebrations of CS happening around the world this week and through the upcoming months.

At the US-national level, CSTA will take a more low-key role in CSEdWeek this year. We are supporting numerous organizations with their initiatives, and our member chapters are participating in many ways. We selected the winners of the Faces of Computing competition, with results being publicized during CSEdWeek. We will go live with a member-based “I AM” campaign to collect pictures and perceptions of CS Teaching as a profession. We are partnering with the College Board to provide PD around the Advanced Placement (AP) CS coursework. We will be present at Hour of Code™ and White House events during the week as well.

Looking past CSEdWeek, members will soon begin to see several changes in CSTA.  Before the end of January CSTA will go live with a new website and member portal. We are working on exciting additions to the annual conference which takes place in San Diego in July 2016. Our strategic initiatives will expand PD offerings, support diversity and teachers new to CS education, increase research, strengthen chapters, and provide new services and benefits for members both in the US and internationally. We also plan to update our branding and governance models in the year ahead as part of revamping our methods of communicating with and engaging members.

Final Remarks

Please take time to explore and enjoy the many different opportunities to learn, engage and have fun during CSEdWeek 2015. Experience an Hour of Code™, and then experience one of the thousands of other events in celebration of CS education. Perhaps write a legislative representative or a school superintendent to ask them to support CS Education. We welcome the opportunity to work with new partners to support CS teacher PD. If you would like to help, please feel free to reach out to organizations like TeachCS or CSTA.

Finally, and most importantly, on behalf of CSTA, I would like to thank our more than 22,000 members across 130 countries for all of their hard work, effort, and dedication to creating a future where students have access to great CS education because of great CS teachers.

Happy CSEdWeek!

Mark R. Nelson, Ph.D., MBA, CAE
Executive Director, Computer Science Teachers Association (CSTA)

(Please note, this piece has been cross-posted within LinkedIn).

Must-read (and Share) Report on US K-12 CS Education

They say you can have data without information, but not the other way around.  So for those of you seeking data on why CS in K-12 matters there is good news today.  There is a new report out from Google and Gallup, which I particularly encourage all of our members in the US to read and share.  Whether you are in K-12, higher education, government, or the corporate environment the data and information contained in this report is important.  As we head into another school year, it would be great if every school board member, superintendent, principal, parent, and legislative representative read the report as well.

The report is entitled, Searching for Computer Science: Access and Barriers in K-12 Education, and is available as a downloadable PDF here.

In short, the study illustrates that CS education matters, and that there is strong demand for CS education in K-12.  Two key barriers identified in the study are that administrators do not perceive that demand, and there is a shortage of teachers to teach CS.  The report also has some illuminating data around issues of equity and access.  As a whole, the report touches on critical topics we are working on in CSTA now and have even bigger plans for going forward.

Among some of the interesting findings:

  • 91% of parents surveyed want their child to learn Computer Science (CS), but <8% of administrators believe demand is high.
  • Half of principals and superintendents surveyed cite the lack of trained teachers as a barrier – greater than the need for technology. Less than half of administrators perceive school board support for CS.
  • 3 out of 4 principals surveyed say their school offers NO CS programming/coding classes.
  • More than 90% of students and parents surveyed believe people who do computer science have the opportunity to work on fun and exciting projects, and that people who do CS make things that help improve people’s lives.

Given that yesterday marked the “two-month mark” for me as the new executive director for the Computer Science Teacher’s Association, this news only reinforces for me that the mission of CSTA — to empower, support, and advocate for K-12 computer science teachers — is a mission that matters.

We can do more.  We must do more. CS matters, and we need more support to give all students better access to quality CS education, and ensure that CS teachers across the educational spectrum have access to the PD and resources they need to provide that quality CS education.  A great first step is making sure that the findings of this study are communicated and shared widely.

“Hello, World!”

A simple phrase known to perhaps every computer science teacher and student today.  Two words that can say so much.  Translated across many languages (human and computer), the phrase is a universal starter when learning something new.

A Mission That Matters.

In today’s world the need for us all to keep learning something new has moved beyond nicety to necessity.  Analytics, artificial intelligence, the Internet of Everything, and other outgrowths of computing will continue to accelerate the pace of knowledge creation and societal change across the globe.  Computational technology is increasingly ubiquitous, and yet few people understand what goes on inside the black box.  Computers remain mysterious to many, and technology advances so quickly today that even those of us comfortable with technology can become overwhelmed by keeping up.

Computer Science is emerging as the lingua franca of the evolving world.  However, Code.org reports that the percent of students graduating with a degree in computer science is less today than a decade ago.  At the same time, Crain’s New York Business observed that fewer than one in eight public schools in New York City have a computer science teacher.  As Jane Margolis argues in her research, access to this universal language is fundamental to future prosperity and participation in society.

The imperative for stronger educational opportunities and access in the computing disciplines continues to grow.  Making that access happen requires many other things to happen as well.  High on that list are meaningful and standards-based education and credentialing for teachers, making Computer Science count toward graduation, and establishing economically sustainable models to maintain and grow the quality of educational opportunities in computer science for both teachers and students.

Who am I?

My name is Dr. Mark R. Nelson.  I am excited and honored to be joining CSTA’s leadership team as its new Executive Director in a few weeks.  I am looking forward to getting to know the community, and as you may discern from the opening above, I believe CSTA has a mission that matters and that together we can positively affect the lives of many teachers and students.  As a very mission-driven individual, that inspires me.

On a personal level, I am 46.  I have an alphabet soup of credentials behind my name that reflect an ongoing passion for learning and education.  My Myers-Briggs type would place me as a strong INTJ.  Those who know me often use the words “thought leader, relationship builder, strategist, collaborative, and creative” to describe me.  Most also comment on my penchant to blend academic theory and practical experience when problem solving.  I enjoy the analytical process of finding meaningful stories in a set of data, and the socially creative process of collaborative problem solving.

A Future Vision.

While I have a vision for CSTA’s future, I am cognizant of the fact that I am new to the community.  Thus, over the next few months, I am looking to hear from many of you regarding your vision for CSTA.  Together we must unify around a clear articulation of who CSTA is as a community and how we build upon our prior successes to make lasting, sustainable, positive, and meaningful impact for our members and society.

As an association, CSTA is entering its second decade – the teen years.  The organization has benefited from terrific leadership and experienced impressive growth over the past decade. However, there is more to be done and we must continue to evolve.   This may mean re-evaluating some practices and policies, and finding new ways to enable engagement for all members of the CSTA community.

I am grateful to be joining a community where, like Seussian Whos, there is a fantastic story to be told and tell it we must.  I am eager to hear more of that story, and share it with others.  Please join us in July at our meeting in Dallas, as we learn something new, build relationships, and share stories.

Finally, a personal note of thanks to the search committee for their hard work, and to Lissa Clayborn, both for her substantive contributions as Acting Executive Director and for taking on the role of Deputy Executive Director and COO for CSTA.  We have complementary skills and a shared belief in the potential for CSTA to fulfill its mission.

Having gone on too long, I will end my introduction as I began, with two simple words that can say so much:   “Hello, World!”