Professional Development beyond Scratch

Today was Election Day. One of the few days each year when students stay home and teachers spend all day attending what is generously known as professional development.

Years ago I was in a room with a few colleagues when my friend Dave - one of the best math teachers I know said "you know, every time we have a PD day in NJ and my wife and I have to scramble to take care of the kids I get a little annoyed but then think I shouldn't get annoyed since they're spending the day doing all sorts of valuable PD." He then said "but then I realize that their PD is probably about as useful as our PD and I get really angry."

There you have it. This is not to say that there is no good PD but it seems that the professional development opportunities provided by our schools have over the years ranged from useless to insulting with maybe a small bright spot here and there. Historically it's been worse for CS teachers because we get lumped in with math teachers and have to spend the day learning about tools and techniques we'll never use or discussing curricula we never teach.

So, when I spoke to JonAlf about rescuing the Stuy teachers for the day and hosting them at Hunter, he and the other CS teachers were pretty excited. It wasn't as though I had the magic PD answer but I was going to provide a space and we'd figure out together what would be productive and valuable for them.

As it turns out, I've been spending a good amount of time these past few weeks visiting high schools to talk about Hunter CS and when I was at Bronx Science the topic of Election Day PD came up and I thought that it would be nice to get the Bronx Science and Stuy teachers together. After thinking about it more, I recalled that there were few good PD opportunities for CS teachers who taught advanced classes as opposed to all the CS PD floating around these days at more of a beginner level.

I thought that we could change this. In the end, I hosted PD today and had teachers from Stuyvesant, Bronx Science, Brooklyn Tech, and the Manhattan Hunter Science High School in attendance. I invited teachers from a few more schools but in the end we had those four schools and seventeen teachers.

The original agenda was:

  • 09:00 - 10:00 : Each school describes it's program and courses
  • 10:00 - 11:00 : An intro to Git and GitHub for the classroom
  • 10:00 - 11:45 : Sharing neat lessons
  • 11:45 - 12:00 : Presentation by ChickTech
  • 12:00 - 01:00 : Lunch
  • 01:00 - End : Small group lesson and curriculum work

Oh boy did I mess up on the timing. The description and discussion of school programs took all morning. It was interesting to hear how each school's program evolved and how they fit into the school's culture. Brooklyn Tech, for instance is a school where students declare majors. This has a big impact on what classes kids have to take and are able to take. This is very different from Stuy or Science where kids programs are more open ended or MHSHS which is a much smaller school and has restrictions related to size. It was also interesting to note Brooklyn Tech's decision to have every student take APCS-P. Interesting because Brooklyn Tech is one of the country's largest high schools and most of them should have done well on the exam. That gave NYC around 1,400 passing AP scores in one shot. On the other hand none of the other schools present today offered APCS-P but did have their own intro CS class that students took prior to APCS-A.

We finished the morning with a visit by Heather from ChickTech. ChickTech is a non-profit dedicated to retaining women in Tech. It works with both girls in K12 and also those in industry. My hope was to get a conversation started and see if there were some potential avenues of partnership between the organization and the schools.

After lunch, the group decided that we should do the Git/GitHub workshop and JonAlf obliged.

Overall I think the day was a success.

My hope is that today's attendees can form a core group of CS teachers who teach more advanced courses and we can form something of a support group for each other.

I plan to try to facilitate future meetings and hopefully we'll be able to attract more teachers to our group.

All in all I'm very happy with how the day went.


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