As computer science transforms from a speciality skill to a critical literacy in this digital world, it seems everyone else has caught on to what those early teachers knew: this is something kids can do. In today’s world, computers are no longer something on the side. They do not exist only in isolated rooms or specialised areas – but instead pervade the way we work, live, communicate, and play. In the US, as in many countries globally, our education systems are embarking on a mission to make them a critical part of how we learn.
In this next phase, we will need those early teacher leaders, but cannot rely on them alone. We need our systems to help build pipelines for students and teachers to develop not just introductory knowledge, but rather mastery in computer science.
Local educational systems
Great curricula do not appear in a vacuum. Educators, both in and out of school, rely on local systems to provide time, space, and students for their courses. At CSforALL, we believe that critical systems change is needed to allow teachers to focus on instruction.
I was a high school mathematics and computer science teacher for ten years before shifting to teaching at the college level. During that time, I spent eight years at one school, building a CS programme, a 40-member robotics team, and an AP (Advanced Placement) Computer Science class that had significant enrolment every year. When I was offered a position at a university, I worked with the district to find my replacement, and even had overlap time (unheard of in education). Sadly, just a year after I left, former students reached out indicating that the school was closing down the CS classes. I never realised how much my own personal efforts were contributing to CS education in that school.
Now, at CSforALL, it is about more than just supporting new teachers – it is about creating the infrastructure to truly serve ALL students equitably. If we believe CS education is a kindergarten through high school subject, than administration needs to be engaged in the support for and critical planning of elementary and secondary pathways. Individual teacher leaders cannot do this alone.
This is why we work with local school districts through our SCRIPT programme (Strategic CSforALL Resource & Implementation Planning Tool) – a framework to guide teams of district administrators, school leaders, and educators through a series of collaborative visioning, self-assessment, and goal-setting exercises to create or expand upon a computer science education implementation plan for their students. And we engage with state leaders through the Expanding Computing Education Pathways project to think systematically about how to support teachers and students, and to improve and broaden participation in computing education.
Community systems: creating learning spaces
CSforALL believes that the ALL doesn’t just represent all students, but their educators – both in the classroom and outside of school – and communities too. Education is inherently a local endeavour, and we strive to reach every zip code in America, and every region on the planet.
Our communities are the vital ingredients to move beyond isolated experiences for students and teachers, to sustained learning trajectories for both. In NYC, one of the very first things we did was start a meetup group for computer science education. That meetup group now has over 2000 members, and is now the NYC chapter of the Computer Science Teachers Association. The group counts not only classroom teachers as members, it is also a collection of informal educators, museum staff, and even professionals who want to support kids learning of CS. Together, the diverse group explores topics and builds knowledge and capacity in the community for high-quality computer science education.
We believe so strongly in the local model that we are launching a new programme, EcoSystemsforCS, meant to help catalyse local communities, and bring all the stakeholders to the table to support computer science education for all students and educators.
Teacher training and development
A third key component of CSforALL is teacher training and professional development. How we prepare teachers for the classrooms of today needs to include computer science as a key fundamental skill. Teacher training programmes in colleges and universities are a key component of the systems that will ensure high-quality computer science education for all.
In 2018, in collaboration with other computer science education leaders, I co-authored a report entitled, ‘Priming the Computer Science Teacher Pump’. This made specific recommendations for engaging teacher preparation programmes in computing education, with a range of focus areas varying from equipping all teachers with the necessary knowledge through to defining opportunities for interdisciplinary coursework for interested computer science education PhD candidates. The recommendations made in the report are meant to begin the systems change progress in higher education. It is crucial to support not just the orientation of teachers to CS education, but the development of master teachers.
Additionally, CSforALL wants to connect educators with researchers and create a system where the best pedagogy does not just sit in academic papers, but makes its way into classrooms. The RPPforCS project is hoping to do that – building a community of projects studying computer science education, funded by the National Science Foundation.
How to get involved
Systems change is the keystone of changing our education system so it can bring rigorous, equitable, and sustainable computer science education to all. And you can get involved! Teachers or supporters in the US can join the Computer Science Teachers Association. Your district or out-of-school-time programme can join CSforALL, and you can work with your partners to make a commitment for the CSforALL Summit this October. CSforALL is working on the systems that need to change to support your leadership and we have resources to support that work.