NYC CS4All - This Is Not The CS We're Looking For

It's no secret that I'm something of an old curmudgeon in the K12 CS Education world and I've been critical of a number of initiatives and organizations over the years but I've been pretty quiet on the CS4All movement in NYC Department of Education. I've had and any number of concerns though.

This past week at the inaugural meeting of New York City's CSTA chapter we got a taste of the NYC CS4All Blueprint. A highlight was this video:

Along with the supporting web page.

TL;DR - in a elementary school CS class, the students kept tapping out drumbeats on the desk because they had drumming class the period prior. Now the drumming teacher is teaching rhythms that match segments of HTML so the students can tap and chant the line as a memory aid.

Sure, it's nice when teachers can work together to support each other but at the end of the day this is a mnemonic aid to memorize HTML. Nothing particularly innovative here. Mnemonics like this are great until there are too many to keep track of or ones that are too similar.

The part that saddened me was that this was the video that was chosen as a highlight, an exemplar. It was OK but there was nothing new or innovative. What was worse was that there was no computer science.

The kids were memorizing HTML. As we watched the video, my neighbor nudged me and asked "why are they memorizing HTML?" I would ask the same question. Now, I do think that HTML or some other mechanism to create content that can be shared with the world is important. Having students get there work out in the word can be tremendously rewarding and motivating. Also, although I'm not sold on it, some say that HTML is a good stepping stone to CS but still.

Let's try an experiment.

Imagine that lesson but instead of HTML the kids were learning Microsoft word so instead of a chant for <a href=""></a> you have a chant for putting a link into a word document or instead of a chant for <b>somethingbold</b> you have a chant like control-b-typestuff-then-control-b. Same lesson, same technique, still no CS. You could also say that this was just one video and maybe most of the year is about real CS. Maybe, but then why highlight this on the CS4All web site as a featured resource.

This was disappointing but not surprising.

Some will say that kids aren't ready for hardcore CS at that age. That's fine. We can have that discussion but if CS is appropriate for whatever grade was in the video then it should be real CS. We can also have endless discussing about what that is but memorizing HTML is not it.

I wondered if the video was representative so I looked at another. It turned out this was also a lesson on HTML and again the video could of been about any number of subject areas. I will give this one credit for highlighting that you can do "unplugged" activities but it wasn't really a CS activity.

Then there was this one. No video here but how we structure a CS lesson. We have this outline:

  • Warm-up
  • Mini lesson
  • Independent work time
  • Share session

Or, as we used to say back in the stone age:

  • Do Now
  • Instructional activity
  • practice
  • summary

Nothing new and nothing CS here. I used that model when I taught math but deviated from it more and more as I developed my CS teaching chops.

Finally I looked at this one. For full disclosure I have to say that Eric, the teacher, is a friend of mine and I know he's a dynamite teacher and I know he knows his stuff.

This video, however was all about differentiation. Just like the other resources, there's nothing wrong with them per se but there's not really about CS. You could reskin them for any subject.

I also agree with a lot of what Eric says in the video but as CS Standards take hold and standardized exams become the norm we'll find that individualized instruction and meeting students where they are is in direct conflict with the testing that comes with standards. I'll talk more about that in my standards rant that I keep putting off writing.

Sure, the resources site has a page with concepts like algorithms and many schools, for better or worse, in the upper grades just fall back on AP offerings but the more I dig the more it's apparent to me that CS4All in NY will be more about getting something into every classroom rather than something appropriate and good.

Using Emacs 37 - Treemacs file browser

I've been meaning to get back to making Emacs videos but I've been having trouble figuring out what to record.

People have asked for Magit but I only use the basics and I think there are already some great videos on it out there. I'd also like to get more comfortable with DIRED mode and then do a video on it but I'm not there yet. I've also been looking into packages that manage workspaces like Eyebrowse and Persp-mode but neither are really doing it for my workflow.

This morning I saw an post on the Emacs subreddit about Treemacs - a sidebar file browser similar to what the Atom editor has. It's pretty slick. I particularly like the integration with projectile.

I suspect I won't integrate a file browser side bar into my workflow - I've probably spent too many years with Emacs built in buffer commands but if like that type of interface, definitely check Treemacs out.

Awesome Cs Revisited

Saw this tweet the other day so I though I would try to plug the Awesome CS Education list I started on GitHub:

To answer the tweet, the closet thing I know to a list is Alfred Thompson's blog roll which is actually a post he wrote on his blog in 2012. Unfortunately his list can be hard to find and is somewhat out of date.

The idea of an "awesome" list is publicly hosting a simple site that is community driven and anyone can suggest additions and edits.

I put up a starter here and a few people have contributed but I'd love to get more people involved. Awesome lists have a number of advantages over other repositories.

  • Unlike blog posts, the site is easy to find.
  • Unlike private mailing lists or Facebook, anyone can see the content.
  • Anyone can suggest additions (although you need to create a Github account).
  • Anyone can download or fork the site.
  • It's essentially plain text and is easy to edit (just read the contribution guide).

So, there you have it. If you have a blog or resource to share please submit a pull request. Over time this could be a terrific single starting point for educators to get to a wealth of resources.




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