Thursday, June 25, 2015

What will go if we teach CS?

It’s a constant question that comes up when we talk about adding (more) computer science to K-12 curriculum. Katie O'Shaughnessey talked about it in her excellent post Day -1: #cs50bootcamp: It’s all about scheduling in schools… what will go if we teach CS? Brian Sea asked me via Twitter “why not ask students? They can vote with their feet.” If only it were that easy.

Yes, in theory students can vote with their feet – they can sign up for the courses they want to sign up for. In practice school guidance counselors have a lot of influence and they don’t always see the need for more CS. Much of the reason for that is that they are influenced by college admissions officers who don’t seem to emphasis the value of computer science in their process. Many of us have been asking for universities to look for more CS in incoming students for years with little progress.

The only way to really get enough  people to have some exposure to CS in K-12 (or perhaps focus in during high school) is for there to be a required course. That pushed the “where will it go” question and the fighting begins.

Art, music and world language departments are often the ones with the most skin in this game. They are the departments that depend on elective courses the most. And they are important courses. Adding a new required course may very well cut back on their enrollment. The schedule of a school day is a zero sum game.

I wonder though if the problem is not overstated in many schools. I teach at a Catholic school where four full years are required. We still require more credits than most of the local public schools. If we can find room for four full year courses why can’t other schools find room for one semester or even full year of CS? Oh and by the way we do have a CS requirement or graduation.

I think that rather than assuming the schedule is full schools should look at what is actually happening in student schedules. If there are study halls or students only taking a couple of courses their senior year than clearly there is room for a required CS course. If not, well, than maybe something does have to go but with the increasing importance of CS in every facet of life room for CS needs to be found.


Garth said...

We are also a college prep Catholic school. We require two semesters of computer based courses. This includes Yearbook (learning PhotoShop and InDesign is not trivial), computer apps, computer tech, a research course where they end up making a web page, and programming. We are a pretty hardcore school compared to the public schools in the area and we can manage to get CS in to our curriculum. The public schools do graduate quite a few kids in 3 years and many seniors are doing only half days. Getting another requirement into the curriculum is easily possible. But good luck finding teachers.

Mike Zamansky said...

There's plenty of room. I just mapped out a hypothetical school.

If you have 7 periods a day + lunch over 4 years - that's 56 periods (fall and spring).

Here are the NYC requirements:
Terms Subject
8 English
6 Math
2 Arts
8 History
2 Foreign Language
6 Science
1 Health
4 Gym (but every term)

That leaves plenty of time for electives or even adding required classes.

Mike Zamansky said...

Quick correction - what I posted was NY State requirements, not NYC.

Katie O'Shaughnessey said...

At my school, the issue is not whether or not it can or will FIT into the curriculum, it is a larger concern about adding another requirement that will then overburden students, or change our existing requirements in some way. For example, our students typically take eight terms of English, Math, History, Modern Language and Science, along with three or four terms of Art. Our requirements are much lower (only 4 required terms in science, but many take 9!), but our population is very ambitious and they worry about not taking four years of every subject for their college applications. Adding another course into their already crammed schedules, means losing a study hall or doing more hours of homework per night, which is already a 3-4 hour ordeal. It is a very real issue at my school and institutional change takes time and patience.