Thursday, December 19, 2013

An Hour of Code–Now What?

CSEdWeek_logo_vertical_RGBBy just about any of the usual measures (people involved, media attention, VIP endorsements) this year’s CS Education Week was a huge success. We’ve had a couple of CS Ed Weeks before and they often didn’t reach beyond our own little world of CS educators. An Hour of Code, initiated by Code.ORG, dramatically changed CS Ed Week. It gave people something specific to do to celebrate.

If previous  years many people didn’t really know what to do to celebrate. Oh we talked about ideas that other departments did for math week or whatever but not much specific. CS teachers, generally alone in their school, don’t have the resources that a math or English or World Languages departments do either. So while many people tried valiantly to do something it was hard to make a big splash.

This year there was something concrete to do. An Hour of Code!. And there were posters, celebrity endorsements, a big PR push and perhaps best of all a bunch of resources for people to use. (Full disclosure: I did some paid work for Code.Org on gathering some of those resources) So there were millions of students involved all over the world. News of the events and issues made it into the main stream media. Yea us!

Now what? A lot of kids were exposed to wring code. Many of them had a great time and are ready to do more. A one shot event is great but how do you keep the excitement going?  Code.Org has a list of resources for teaching beyond an hour of code. There is great stuff there and lots of it. If you want to get your children or your students to continue that’s a great place to start. Build an after school program? Sure, why not? Resources are available.

In the long run I have mixed feelings about after school programs. Some of them are great. Some of them start well but become unsustainable when a founder becomes unavailable after a time. I really want to see more computer science course in the regular school day. I want computer science to count for graduation requirements. (See petitions to make CS count for graduation requirements) I want computer science to be thought of as one of the liberal arts that everyone should have a chance to learn.

Computer science is not just for the math geeks. It is something people need to know something about in many fields (See Mark Guzdial at Why are English (and lots of other) majors studying computer science? and Gail Carmichael’s post Why Arts and Social Science Needs Code: Testimonials)

I want to see more good, well trained teachers of computer science. And better ways to teach it. We need to Catch and Hold Attention of a new generation.

To do this we need to change the way state departments of Education look at computer science. Making changes like this is hard. (Reference mark Guzdial’s blog Lessons learned from ECEP: How do we change a state?

National groups like the Computer Science Teachers Association (CSTA), ACM, and others can do lots of good here. And they are doing a lot of good. But we also need grassroots efforts. CSTA has Advocacy Tools available. Local CSTA chapters can be another source of organization and support for local and state advocacy.

In a country like the United States where there is no national curriculum (and a lot of resistance even to voluntary standards) getting more computer science in to schools is often going to be a state, a county or even a school decision. It’s going to take a lot of local work.

Right now computer science education has a lot of attention. But people, especially political leaders, have a short attention span. Now is the time to build on what was accomplished last week and work for the future.

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