Monday, October 30, 2017

CS Educator Interview: Emmanuel Schanzer–The Update

I interviewed Emmanuel Schanzer in my last series. But like so many things, Bootstrap, the program he directs has grown and expanded. A number of teachers in this series teach using Bootstrap curriculum as well. So an updated interview with Emmanuel seemed like a good idea. Besides that I am a big fan of both Emmanuel and the Bootstrap program so highlighting them is a logical move for me.

Find out more about Bootstrap at
(Read my previous interview with Emmanuel Schanzer here).
bootstrap logo
When I interviewed you four years ago, Bootstrap was a single curriculum that was largely a mix of Algebra and computer science with game creation tossed in to make it even more interesting. Today Bootstrap has several courses. How did that happen?
Four years ago, Bootstrap offered a single course, which carefully-designed to align Algebra and Computer Science based on substantial research into both Math-Ed and CS-Ed (given the decade of work that went into it, I wouldn’t say the game was “tossed in” !). Back then we reached a little over 5,000 students each year. Things sure have changes since then! Today, we offer curricula for Algebra, Data Science, and more Advanced CS, and are piloting a course in Physics in conjunction with the American Association of Physics Teachers, the American Modeling Teachers Association, and STEMteachersNYC  We reach more than 25,000 students annually, making us one of the largest providers of in-school programming in the country.

There are two factors that led to this expansion:

1) We had hundreds of math teachers who dug into Computer Science with Bootstrap:Algebra, found that they liked it, and came back asking “what else have you got?” Schools that invested in Bootstrap:Algebra as a way to improve math instruction (or to check the “CS box”) suddenly found that there was now greater demand for dedicated CS classes, and were able to leverage their existing Bootstrap teachers teach them. This came as a happy surprise to us: rather than competing over the same small group of CS teachers nationwide, we were accidentally creating new CS teachers from the enormous pool of math teachers that have adopted our curriculum!

2) Lots of governors, superintendents and principals made pledges to bring CS to every child, but discovered that dedicated CS electives and required CS classes were either incredibly expensive (hiring/retaining new teachers), logistically impossible (adding a new class given finite hours in the day and rooms in the building), or actively undermined equity (opt-in classes are only taken by students with the means and/or inclination). As a result, they started asking how they might integrate CS into other subjects — and authentic integration is our special sauce! Squeezing CS into math is something folks have been trying to do for decades, with little success. Our success with Bootstrap:Algebra means we’ve got a track record of doing it right, which means we’ve been approached about integration into everything from Physics to Social Studies.

Bootstrap: Physics appears to be a way of integrating computer science and physics as a way to teach both. Is that a fair read or would you describe it differently?
Absolutely. When the AAPT and AMTA approached us about integrating computer science into Physics, we jumped at the chance! The modeling folks have an incredible research basis for their approach, which happens to dovetail perfectly with the pedagogical philosophy we use in Bootstrap. Modeling is a powerful approach to connecting the real world with mathematical abstractions, and students in Bootstrap:Physics blend empirical observations with mathematical models they literally build through programming. Seeing their own models running as a simulation - superimposed over data they’ve collected - is a potent experience. We’re piloting the course, now, and the response from teachers and students has been fantastic.

Two of your courses, Reactive and Data Science, seem to be more purely computer science focused than anything else you do. Where do you see them fitting? Grade level, added to existing courses, etc.?
We’ve building Bootstrap:Data Science for students in grades 8-12, and it’s scalable as a first CS class or an in-depth course on Data Science for students who’ve taken years of programming. The module covers introductory statistics (measures of center, linear regression, plotting and graphing, etc.) as well as introductory CS (looping/iteration, methods, functions, unit testing, data types and structures, etc.). In Bootstrap:Data Science, students select a dataset they care about, and learn how to analyze the data, identify trends, and search for correlations. We’re also making sure the curriculum addresses the infamous "Austerity Problem” by teaching rigorous software engineering techniques — so that students know how to verify their claims, instead of just making them. Finally, every student in Bootstrap:Data Science completes a research paper that describes their dataset, their analysis, and their findings.

The beauty of Data Science is that it’s applicable everywhere: Business teachers use tabular data and charts all the time to teach students about business models and sales data; Statistics teachers use tabular data, mean median and mode, and plotting; we think a lot of CS teachers will start to be looking at Data Science over the next few years, as a way to engage students in questions they care about ("who is the best quarterback of all time?”, “which restaurants are the best value?”, etc.). We’ve already had a lot of interest from each group, but there’s one other audience of teachers who have largely been left out of the STEM discussion: social studies teachers. What IS the impact of the electoral college? How do we know if a policy is successful or not? Is “Stop and Frisk” racist? Social Studies teachers regularly deal with questions about data and society, focusing heavily on making inferences from data and writing persuasively about the results. So yeah, plenty of folks will use Bootstrap:DS as a semester-long CS elective, but we think the magic comes from integrating into courses like social studies, where data analysis and writing matters most. Add this to our work in Physics and Algebra, and every school in the US can now offer three courses in Computer Science — all without having to find room in the budget for a new teacher or room in the schedule for a new class!

Bootstrap:Reactive is your classic hardcore CS — we cover data structures, rigorous software engineering in a Python-like environment, and a twist on FRP and MVC-style architectures. We see it as a semester-long CS course, or an integrated module into a full-year AP or post-AP CS course. It’s designed to be a follow-up to our Algebra and/or Data Science modules, and allow students to build any program they can imagine. Even though it’s only been out for a short time, we’re already seeing hundreds of students each year complete the class, building everything from maze-solving and multiplayer games to cell-phone apps. Schools like New York’s Academy for Software Engineering are using Bootstrap:Reactive as the programming module for AP CS Principles, and seeing students build on what they know from algebra. Leveraging prior knowledge is a huge win for us, and when it’s prior knowledge from a class that every child takes it’s a win that reaches all children.

The original Bootstrap: algebra continues to grow and evolve. How is it different from four years ago?
People say “CS is like math” all the time, but it turns out that Math transfer is an incredibly difficult nut to crack. We’re thrilled to be the standard bearer here, and we’re constantly refining our approaches through careful research, student data and teacher feedback. With help from the entire Bootstrap:Algebra community, we’ve made improvements to the curriculum in terms of supplemental materials, deeper connections to graphing functions, and lessons dealing with topics like Ratio and Proportion, Quadratics, and Exponential Functions. We’re proud to be the first programming course to show real algebra transfer at this scale, and we’ll be announcing some exciting results at SIGCSE this year.

I noticed a Bootstrap Hour of Code lesson recently. Is that a “hook” for students to do more with Bootstrap? Is it also a way to expose teachers to a different way of teaching that they might not otherwise see?
Absolutely. For teachers who are curious about Bootstrap, or who are looking for something more challenging after the normal Hour  of Code, give our Hour of Code a try this year during CSEdWeek

I see announcements for Bootstrap professional development regularly. How do they workshops come about? Do districts come to you, ask for them, and fund them? Or is there some other model for when and where they are offered?
We run trainings for all our courses year-round, though obviously we do the bulk of them in the summer when most teachers are available for PD. The vast majority of our workshops come from either districts or states reaching out to us directly (Austin, Dallas, NYC, CPS, and DCPS just to name a few), or from companies looking to sponsor CS Education in their communities (Facebook, Palantir, LinkedIn, 3M, and many more). We encourage states, districts, schools and companies to contact us directly about running a workshop, at

What sort of background makes for a good Bootstrap teacher? Are you training mostly math and physics teachers to teach a new way of teaching their subjects? Who else picks up Bootstrap and adopts it?
We get a good mix of CS and non-CS teachers. In fact, we probably have the most diverse cohort of teachers in the business — with such a variety of courses, we have CS, math, physics, business and social studies teachers working with students as young as 9 and as old as 25, in settings from continuation schools in California to accelerated elementary schools Maryland! When computer science becomes “teaching a tool”, as it so often does, you tend to only get teachers who are excited by tools. But when you focus on teaching content, you get a much larger, richer and more diverse set of teachers reaching students everywhere. That’s been our experience with Bootstrap, and we’re going to keep using that strategy moving forward.

What might I not know about the current state of Bootstrap as an organization and curriculum that I should know?
People know that Bootstrap is one of the largest providers of in-school CS nationwide, but not everyone knows that we’re also one of the largest providers of in-school computer science to girls and students of color nationwide. Of the 20,000 students we reached last year alone, nearly 9,000 of them are girls and young women and nearly 9,500 of them self-identify as African American or Latinx. We’re also investing heavily on making our materials accessible to differently-abled students, thanks to support from the NSF, Google, and the ESA Foundation, and are a proud development partner with AccessCSforAll.

Note: The index for this interview series is at and is updated as new interviews are posted.

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