Setting kids up to fail - CS edition

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:

  • They don't really teach anything
  • The kids rely on a group member who already knows stuff or will learn all the stuff on their own
  • If it weren't for my StuyCS background my group would have really struggled.

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:

  • Using simplified environments that export to mobile
  • Gluing together libraries with minimal code
  • Working with an extreme amount of coaching in a short period of time.

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.


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