A student is working on a project about teaching computer science classes in high school and is trying to gather insights from folks about how it might be done. His questions and my answers follow.
There’s a term sometimes comes up when people discuss curriculum: teacher-proof. This is one of those two-faced terms like “rightsize” and “right to work.” It complements the curriculum while denigrating the teachers: “These lessons are so good, not even the teacher can mess them up.” I believe that quality education requires the following of teachers:
A teacher-proof curriculum tries to route around both of these. Any educational reform that doesn’t put trust and responsibility in teachers’ hands is bound to have a short lifespan.
I believe teachers must be the ones to get computer science courses in schools. This means that they must know the content. There are many companies and non-profits out there developing learn-to-code platforms that students can use on their own. This is great, but the best of these also provide professional development for teachers so they too can learn the tools and how to incorporate them into classrooms. I’ve been trying to secure resources to host some of this professional development, and our proposed model looks like the following:
I offer a few reasons:
Mandated classes have locked computer science out of schools for a long time. As much as I think taking computer science classes is a good idea, forcing them upon students would amount only to a regime change.
Also, student motivation for these computer science courses tends to be high, and I think requiring them will undermine the intrinsic motivation that we’ve enjoyed up to this point.
On the other hand, we struggle to achieve diversity in our field, and universal exposure to computer might help us find a better balance.
My understanding of Wisconsin rules is that for a course to have a certain amount of technical content, the teacher of a computer science course must have a computer science teaching license. I believe only two schools in Wisconsin provide this licensure. I would love to see UWEC offer it too, and we have some great math education professors with strong foundations in computer science. We just don’t have enough of them.
Are the licensure rules appropriate? I think requiring specialty licenses is appropriate for standardized and common curriculum. Computer science doesn’t have that, and the licensure requirements effectively prohibit it from even gaining a foothold in Wisconsin schools.
That said, we would do whatever we can to make sure any professional development we offer counts toward the requirements of this licensure. We must work in the system we have in place until it can be changed.
A former colleague told the story of a faculty member who held computer science courses for teachers in the summer. The intent was to equip teachers to offer computer science classes in their schools. However, most of the teachers who went through these courses gained enough skill that they quit teaching and got jobs in the technology industry. The contrast of working conditions and pay between these two careers is hard to deny. Unless we can plug this brain drain by giving teachers respect and a more competitive salary, we will have few teachers to carry computer science into the classroom.