Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Become A Computer Science Teacher in Five Days

Garth Flint is a computer science teacher in Montana. While most computer science teachers are a bit isolated, most are the only CS teacher in their school. Garth is more so because Montana is a big state with a small population and few computer science t3eachers. Recently he attended a workshop to teach CS teachers. He wrote a review of the experience - A week of in-service: Another Python course

Some of the teachers had no previous computer science background let alone experience teaching computer science. They were mostly told to teach a course in the fall and figure it out.

Only a couple of us had actually done any CS/programming teaching.     It was a bit interesting talking to the teachers that had been give the directive to offer a programming course at their school.  It was a “come up with something” type of directive

I hear this a lot. You know a good teacher can teach any subject with a little prep time. Well no they cannot. Can you imagine asking an English teacher who spoke no French to teach a French course after a one week PD even at a local college? I don’t think so. Why is it less crazy to do the same for computer science?

As Garth points out in his post, teaching (and learning) programming syntax is the easy part but there is a lot more to teaching computer science than programming language syntax. One doesn’t just learn syntax rules and some vocabulary and suddenly speak French. No, there is idiom involved in a new natural language and that is no less true of computer science.

A week long course can give a CS teacher enough to get ready to teach a new programming language or a new curriculum. What it can’t do is really get you seriously into computational thinking or go deeply into the how to teach or why things are done they way they are. There is just no time.

The best professional development for teachers new to the subject are more involved (and longer) than 5 days. They involve pre-workshop work, post workshop work and ideally the workshop[ is longer than a week.  Even then things are going to be pretty tough that first year (or three). What worries me the most about assuming enough can be learned in a week is a) students will get turned off b) students will have to be retaught later (if we can get them in class again) and c) that teachers will get frustrated and quit before they get good at it.

There are many who believe that it is easier to teach a teacher to teach CS than to teach a CS person how to teach. Please do not mistake me for one of those people.


Edward Bujak said...

I am with you on this one. Follows just like most other subjects ... You acwuire content knowledge then learn how to communicate those ideas as a consultant, teacher or parent.

Brian Sea said...

LOL; After some encouragement on my part, the school asked how we might train teachers in CS merely "to build capacity." Sure, I built the program, but what do they do if I get hit by a bus or have a heart attack? We needed *at least* introductory subs.

I told the school to have teachers actually take one of my intro classes, and then I'll follow-up with more workshops. They were a little astonished, but they understood readily, because it was hard enough for them to find just me. I'm with you on the teaching bit -- I'll take one with subject mastery over five with teaching mastery any day, especially in technical or specialized fields.

Mrs_D said...

What about curriculum? My district simply says you are teaching Fundamentals of Programming and there is no curriculum. You figure it out. That does not happen in my math class.

Unknown said...

Preach on and Amen, Alfred!