This past week, Garth Flint wrote a couple of posts on how he got to be a CS teacher and on being a CS teacher. You can find them here:
They're both well worth a read.
It got me thinking about how I got my start.
I never planned on being a teacher. I figured I'd just work in tech. After working my way through college, fresh CS degree in hand, I landed at Goldman Sachs. I had other opportunities but the tech scene was very different. You could (basically):
Well, I didn't drive and wasn't going to do consulting so I ended up on Wall Street. I worked there for a bit but it didn't do it for me, then tried a consulting gig. No better. Wall street never appealed to me and at the time, more programming type jobs involved you working alone on a computer in an office or a cube all day.
So, for no particular reason, I decided to give teaching a go.
I always wonder, if I had come along a few years later if I would have stayed in pure tech.
I had zero teaching credentials but there was a math teacher shortage at the time. By taking a couple of CS classes as math classes (numerical methods, algorithms) they justified giving me temporary license. I would have to take a handful of Ed credits within a couple of years and later get a masters (which I knew would be in CS, no way was I getting an Education degree).
So, I started at Seward Park High School as a math teacher. Best thing that could have happened to me. I was working with an incredibly diverse population - high achieving kids, low achieving kids, immigrants, multi-generational Americans, delightful kids and kids on parole. That's where I developed my chops.
Knowing that I was a CS guy the math chairman started having me teach the basic programming course and later APCS.
A couple of years later, I was bumped to Stuy. Taught math and the rest of my history can be seen here.
Garth talks about requirements and Alfred Thompson, in his link to Garth's posts talks about the problems of CS teacher isolation. It took a long time and it was hard work, but I started in a school with no CS to speak and no CS teachers and now we have a required course, between six and 10 CS teachers depending on the year, and a thoroughly oversubscribed program. Of course, if you're at a small school, you can't really do that. I remember in the early years, when it came to course signup time, I'd have to visit every math class in the building on one day to hock my courses. I'm glad those days are gone.
Garth also makes a great point about all there is to learn as a real CS teacher. The best math teachers I know love doing math and love solving problems but by and large, they're not learning new subfields every year. Over my time as a teacher I've learned, either by choice or necessity:
and many more.
On the other hand, since I do work with many other CS teachers, I might be a little bit of an outlier. Some of my colleagues also work to keep current and learn new things while others are content with their knowledge base and are happy to teach what they're currently teaching. That's not to say that they don't work on their craft, but rather, they're in a comfort zone of knowledge.
So what's next? As initiatives like CS4All progress, CS education will become more formalized. You all know my fear about the current efforts - CS Ed will go the way of Math Ed and we'll be left with Meh CS education for all. If that's the case, and I hope I'm wrong, many of Garth's issues will disappear. CS across the nation will become more generic but more accessible and CS teachers will hopefully know how to teach their courses but maybe not too much more.
Even if that is the case, there will hopefully still be places for us old time gluttons for punishment.
Funny story from yesterday.
Devorah, my better half, is an assistant principal at another high school. Yesterday evening, she was at work late for "curriculum night." Parents came to the school after hours to hear a variety of presentations.
During her presentation, Devorah mentioned her name, that she had two former public school kids in college, and that's about it for the personal info.
After the session, two parents approached Devorah to say "we're big fans of your husband!"
Since when do teachers have fans?????????
I mean, I understand "my daughter/son was in your husbands class and really enjoyed it," but "I'm a big fan?" She wasn't sure how to take it. Obviously we both took it as an honor and compliment but we also both got a chuckle out of the turn of phrase.
I've already said that teachers aren't rock stars, we're blues men so I guess this shows that some folks still like the blues.Read more - comments
Today we kicked off Hacking Sessions 2015. Saturday morning with sixty kids in a room brainstorming ideas. Soon they'll settle on teams and projects and we'll be off for a semester of exploring CS and tech.
The next couple of weeks will be a little chaotic with groups shifting, mentors figuring out which groups to work with and us, the instructors launching each team on its way.
This is our third year running Hacking Sessions. We're setting things up to have student teams exploring a project, technology, or tool. Each team will have more experienced students mentoring them. In some cases the mentors will also be new to the topic. Supporting both the hackers and mentors are our instructors.
I'm pretty happy with our model but it took us a couple of iterations to get here.
Our first go round was Fall 2013. We had just started CSTUY and wanted to get something started prior to launching a summer program. SumAll provided us with space and we were able to attract a small cadre of kids. We had a few of our older students as teaching assistants and ran the program with a mix of instruction and projects. Over the year we saw that a Saturday program presents a number of challenges:
We learned a lot that year and ran V2.0 the following fall. Second time around we had the advantage of bringing in kids from our summer program to seed the culture. We also knew we wanted to move to more of a project / mentor based model but due to space restrictions couldn't really get to where we wanted to be.
That changed halfway through when SumAll moved to larger offices. By the end of the year, I think we worked out most of the kinks. We figured out how to get the kids into teams and pointing in the right direction as well as how to find the right mentors and provide them with support. The only thing we weren't happy with was that the mentors didn't have enough time to work on their own projects.
Now we're in V3.0. Thanks to our kickstarter, we're fully funded and somehow word seems to have gotten out. Numbers are way up and I think we've finally gotten the model down.
As with anything new, it takes time and revisions to get things right but as long as one leaves the kids with a net positive and as long as one can look at oneself with a critical eye, you eventually get there.
Looking forward to a great year.
I was brought up on Gilberg and Sullvan. My father, who always wanted to be an opera singer sang with LOOM back in the day and there was always classical music playing. Either from the Hi Fi or my father singing.
Recently, there's been a kerfufle over what was to be NYGASP's production of Mikado.
My son, Natan wrote a terrific blog post on it and the suspension of belief in opera. It's long but well worth a read.
If you like G&S or opera in general, take a look.
It can be found here.
Enjoy.Read more - comments
First and foremost, I hope my concerns are unfounded and I hope the plan is a tremendous success.
What's got me bummed is not that I need to see my name in lights given that in many ways I've been a CS Ed trailblazer (although who doesn't like a little ego stroking), rather that in my humble opinion NY has squandered a great opportunity and resource and as a results, kids won't get nearly all they could.
This STEMs from the fact that NYC has been unwilling to engage us, StuyCS as a resource. We've got the most experience and success in building programs, training teachers, and teaching kids. What more could you ask?
I've repeatedly reached out to and repeatedly invited in key government and DOE players in an effort to try to get them to look at our work and leverage it to do more good for more kids but over two mayors and around fifteen years, the silence we get back is deafening.
Now, this isn't to say that I don't have some friends and supporters in the CS Ed space. I consider Fred Wilson, the main man driving this from the tech sector side to be a supporter, ally and friend. His involvement is the key reason I think this whole thing might work. Likewise, many people in the tech industry who've worked with my graduates are very supportive of my efforts and my actual graduates are a wonderfully supportive family.
So why do the DOE and NYC people say they don't want to include us?
Here are some of the things I get back:
This implies that our stuff is purely a result of Stuy being a school with high achievers. My response?
and it also ignores the fact that:
and this is just the teaching part. What about our success in designing an overall program or training teachers.
Of course it doesn't help that Stuyvesant's own administration has never recognized nor supported StuyCS.
You'd think that those with the keys to the castle would engage and at least consult with the people who've been doing this successfully for over 20 years.
So who are these folk with the keys?
It's a mix of people. Some in NYC government, some in DOE, some Tech entrepreneurs, and running program. None have our experience or track record and a number have neither taught nor coded.
Why won't they really engage us?
You're guess is as good as mine but I have my suspicions.
Why am I concerned?
Because we have something to offer. NYC and DOE won't leverage us as a resource. What other missteps will they make as they try to bring CS4All.
I have no control over all of this, all I can do is work in my little corner of the world. If others want my help, my doors always open. If not, I know there will always be some parents, kids, and educators who get what we do and will benefit from it.
The NY Times just posted an article - the mayor announced a 10 year deadline by which time all NYC public school students will be taking CS.
I should be happy.
I feel thoroughly defeated.
As many of you know, I've struggled for years to try to bring CS education to more kids and to train more teachers. You also probably know that over the years, I've become pretty good at this.
Why am I feeling so down about this.
Because despite my best efforts I'm no closer to my goal than day one.
Stuy is no closer to recognizing CS. I'm still a just math teacher and the DOE has given the job of running CS education to person after person none whom had any real CS experience and few who have had any real teaching experience.
I see plans based on dropping in curricula and quick fixes.
I see programs run by people still wet behind the ears with respect to CS Education.
Sometimes I feel like I'm the only sane person in the room, or maybe I'm the loony. I'm not sure.
Probably because I don't play well with others.
So I feel defeated.
Defeated because I know I have something to offer that the kids of NYC deserve.
Defeated because I know they're not going to get it.
I'm already looking to leave Stuy and public education.
Maybe this is just another sign that it's time.Read more - comments
This post is in response to an email thread on the NYTM mailing list. I mentioned how the NYC DOE refused to even look at our program at Stuy let alone support us and help us get to more kids.
Rather than pollute an email thread, I said I'd write up the story here.
I've been at the CS Ed game for a long time. Twenty five years to be exact. One of my biggest frustrations and failures is that I've never been able to gain the support of the NYC Department of Education in my efforts. Likewise, the only time I've truly had the support of my school's administration was during a brief period in the mid to late 90's.
My experiences have led me to believe that as CS Ed continues to gain momentum I have no faith in NYC actually doing it right.
Let me go through my experiences with the DOE over the years.
I won't use real names for either those who've supported me or those who've been obstructionist.
I'm generally considered to be pretty good at what I do. There are those that refer to me as the "Godfather of CS Education in NYC." Others refer to my graduates as the "StuyCS mafia" - a reference to the fact that my graduates can be found all over the tech industry.
Some people dismiss the Stuy program as being a product of the school but we can produce evidence to the contrary.
I've heard from enough people in the tech industry and academia to know that we've built something special.
Even though I started to try to get the DOE's support shortly after 2001 and Stuy's support for my entire career, I really didn't make serious attempts to connect with the DOE until the mid Bloomberg years.
At this point, we had an established three year program at Stuy and we had been around long enough to produce results.
I started to try to connect with the DOE to get them to come down and look at our program - vet us - and then hopefully help us get to more schools, more teachers, and ultimately more kids. I implored my principal to help, cold emailed the chancellor, emailed and called up the chain of command and at one point, my graduates wrote a letter to the DOE and Mayor's office with hundreds of signatures.
I was able to secure a meeting or two at Tweed but nothing ever came of it. The people I spoke to had their own agenda - they weren't tech people and frequently not educators and were more looking to see if I could be used to push their agenda.
I also pitched a school but that went nowhere.
A little later, people in the tech industry pushed the DOE to look at what I was pitching.
A school was ultimately created but as soon as the tech community was on board and the announcement was made, I was frozen out of the process. The school went in a direction very different from what I was pushing and I was told in no uncertain terms that I was to keep quiet about the whole thing. Some of the story was written up in the NY Times.
A little later, with the help of the tech community, we pitched setting up Stuy as an official CS program (we're officially just math teachers) and use us to train new teachers and to roll out programs.
When the tech people were in the room, my principal and the DOE Deputy Chancellor were very supportive. As soon as the tech people left, I would get bounced around. The DOE would say "it's the principal's decision" and my principal would say "I wish we could do something but there's no pathway in the DOE to get there."
In the mean time, the DOE hired someone to run CS Education (something I was told was not going to happen). He designed New York's original Software Engineering Pilot. Looking at the guy's linkedin showed that he had never had a teaching job nor a programming job. It shows from what he developed. He parlayed this position to something at Google a few months later.
I reached out to him a few times - encouraged him to check us out - nothing.
Since then other people have been running CS at Tweed. I have yet to see someone with a both a strong CS and teaching background in charge.
I have also repeatedly reached out to the people in charge.
It doesn't seem to matter who's running the show. We've got a great program running in a public school in lower Manhattan and everyone seems to know it and acknowledge it except the DOE.
Instead the DOE would rather take people with little or no experience and have them try to figure this all out on the fly.
I just don't see it ending well for the kids.
I've said it before - we will have CS in the schools but except for a pocket here and there, it won't be good CS.
We talked about setting kids up to fail in math. What about CS?
Well, it's a little subtler.
I started thinking about this after a conversation with one of my graduates about Harvard's famous CS50. Since that conversation, I've spoken to a number of my kids that have gone through CS50 and most seem to say the same things:
and things like that. I was then told that after CS50 kids go on to Functional Programming in OCAML and they drop like flies.
Doesn't sound like a recipe for success.
We're seeing this at multiple levels and we're seeing it because very few places seem to have a plan. A multi year path taking kids from start to finish. It's something we've done and I'm proud of it.
I think that if we look carefully, we'll start to see what my graduates reported happening more and more. Traditional CS sequences can be pretty unforgiving and unless colleges put in a sensible ramp up and recognize that not all CS and related majors should go on to grad school we're going to have a high rate of kids initially thinking that CS is for them and then dropping. I do suspect it will get better as colleges recognize that there's more than one type of CS major.
It will be interesting to see what happens on the high school level. Will we see what we've seen in math - two years on the first level course then dump the kids into something like APCS A or will we see something more sensible?
Where this really gets me is with all those after school and summer programs. One give away is when a program claims "learn to _ in 4 weeks," "our kids learn more than in an AP class", or something similar.
My team and I have had to "rescue" kids from a number of them.
These programs take a number of forms:
Now, none of these things are necessarily bad but so many of these programs are designed and run by non-educators.
So, the kids go through the programs, think they know the real deal, and are hammered when they enroll in a real CS class.
I've seen it happen. There was even an article a couple of years ago which then went on to blame the teacher in spite of the fact that the program boasts that thier kids "learned more than in APCS."
Now, all these programs have to do is make sure the kids make something exciting and that they're happy. There's no real accountability and the guy at the next level will shoulder the blame.
So there you have it, setting kids up to fail.
It's something I think we'll have to be more aware of and on guard for as CS becomes more mainstream.
As many of you know, I'm part of the team behind CSTUY, a non-profit dedicated to bringing the best CS education to kids who wouldn't otherwise have the opportunity.
Over the past two summers we've hosted our highly succesful immersion program SHIP. We were also able to run a small Saturday program thanks to the generosity of SumAll who provided space, and other members of the StuyCS family who provided laptops and the funds we needed.
We're trying to do it again, this time through a kickstarter. What would be really awesome is if we could not only fund the Saturday program but also the summer program so we can focus on getting to the kids and not on raising money.
So, we need you to head over to:
Watch the video, read the project, and kick in for the cause.
Just as importantly, spread the word - your friends, co-workers, managers, funders - anyone who can help.
Wouldn't it be asweome if we could blow the roof off this kickstarter and be able to focus all year on teaching kids!!!!
Thanks.Read more - comments
"Four in ten NYC high schools don't offer Algebra 2 and both Physics and Chemistry."
At least that's what this article and linked report say.
The implication is clear - many of our students don't have the opportunity to advance in math and the sciences.
The truth though is much more disturbing.
The reason why these schools aren't offering Algebra 2 is very simple - the kids aren't ready for it. Any math licensed teacher is qualified and capable of teaching any level of regents math which includes Algebra 2 and Trigonometry. The truth is that the students in these schools by and large aren't getting past Geometry.
Even in some highly touted "miracle schools," looking behind the curtain reveals kids ill prepared to get through geometry.
The disturbing part is that these kids are set up to fail - to take a class and exam that they're ill prepared for only to have their self esteem crushed. Why? Because more kids taking more exams at higher levels is perceived to look good.
In New York, students have to take three years of math to graduate high school. Two years can be spent on one level of math and of course Regents exams are king.
Then you have the classes: Algebra, Geometry, and then Algebra 2 and Trig. Algebra is by far the easiest course. Geometry, which is really a course in logic and deductive reasoning using Euclidean Geometry as a platform is much heavier.
Lets see how things play out.
In "high performing" populations you have kids take Algebra in the 8th grade. By and large the kids do fine in the class and on the regents exams but, at least according to my colleagues, these kids don't really internalize the skills, they just learn the mechanics.
In schools with struggling populations, they don't start Algebra until high school and then do it over two years. This leads to a reasonable pass rate but then the kids are placed in geometry and are taking a much more rigorous course in half the time.
The results are predictable.
I graded geometry regents this past June. I graded two long answer questions with a combined value of 10 points. From unscreened schools, including at least one highly regarded one, the median grade was 0 and the mean not far above. Even in screened schools the results weren't much better. There we saw a bi-modal distribution with kids either doing very well or very poorly.
Why do we set these kids up to fail? Because, test scores are king and kids are required to pass regents to graduate. Schools and teachers aren't allowed to do what's best for kids. Schools and teachers must answer to the politicians - remember, my rating and job depends on how kids do on standardized tests.
You start to feel even worse when you start thinking about the value or lack thereof in lots of what we require in high school.
Why am I writing about math?
Well, to find out you'll have to tune in next time when I talk about the CS side of things.Read more - comments
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|How it all began|
|I guess some people like the blues|
|Hacking Sessions - iterating until it's right|
|Suspension if disbelief and the Mikado|
|Not in with the in crowd - concerns about NYC #CS4All|
|I should be happy but feel like I've failed|
|Why I have no faith in NYC Doing CS Ed right.|
|Setting kids up to fail - CS edition|