Friday, December 19, 2014

A Look at Computer Science Education Week

Computer Science Week has been around for about seven years now. In the early years I think most of us didn’t really know how to deal with it. There was talk about doing things similar what what other subjects did for special weeks. But while French departments can attract a crowd by serving crapes and the Latin department can show off trebuchets we don’t have quite the same things in computing. A lot of schools brought in special speakers. I gave a bunch of those talks myself. I’m not sure they made much of an impression with most students though.

Two years ago came up with the idea of an Hour of Code for CSEdWeek and that took off. Between’s outstanding marketing and their ability to mobilize industry and famous people Hour of Code became almost synonymous with CSEdWeek. It continues to create a lot of buzz and media attention. All of this attention is great. But one week, let alone one hour, is not enough to really get things going. CSTA and Code.Org (among others) work all year long to improve the state of computer science education. And that is great as well.

Where do we go from here? By we I don’t just mean CSTA and and other organization but computer science educators as individuals. As much as CS Ed Week is a great thing my biggest fear is that too many people will think that it is enough. I like to think of it as a boost or perhaps a “kick in the pants” to spur action though the rest of the year.

In the new year most schools start registration for classes next fall. Registration time is a good time to talk to all the students who did an Hour of Code and suggest that they might like a whole semester (or year) of it to do more with it. And while most schools have their program of studies set for next year it is really a good time to look at how more CS could be added to the next program of studies.

Perhaps an existing course could be made better and include more real CS. I wrote a bit about how we changed our school’s applications course and made it more of a computer science course in a recent guest post on the Microsoft New England blog. I think more schools (or their administrators) may be open to that these days in part as a result of the CS Ed week and Hour of Code publicity.

Perhaps a school that couldn’t (or wouldn’t) offer the current APCS Course will be willing to support the AP CS Principles course. Or the Exploring Computer Science course that many schools are adopting. Middle schools could think about offering a CS exploratory using some of the simple tools for teaching CS that seem to be sprouting up all the time. (See here and here)

The important thing in my opinion is to act locally, building on the momentum from CS Ed Week and make changes in individual schools. It’s not easy. In some schools it can be very difficult to add courses. But trying is the only way to find out how hard. We have a chicken and egg problem in CS. Not enough teachers in part because there are not enough courses and there are not enough courses because there are not enough teachers. At the same time since there are not enough courses administrators think they don’t need any courses. Inertia is not our friend. But we can overcome it.

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