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C'est la Z

End of summer program beginning of summer break

Yesterday was the last day of classes for our current cohort. The rest of the week and maybe weekend will be all grading all the time and then I'll try to tune out work for a couple of weeks to try to recharge the batteries. Since there are some ongoing Hunter administrative snafus I'm not all that optimistic on getting real down time but we'll see.

So, how did it go?

Overall I'm happy with the results. We had a much larger cohort - almost three times the size of past years so that presented challenges but at the end of the day the participants showed a lot of growth and based on our anonymous survey the vast majority were very happy with the experience. There were a couple who were not happy but in a large group, particularly of teachers being taught, you're not going to please everybody.


The large group was a challenge but I'm not really sweating it since I don't expect there to be cohorts nearly this large in the future. I had a personal goal of getting NYC to around 100 certified teachers ASAP and that'll be done once this cohort finishes in the spring but I suspect that as we move on, there will be less demand for teachers getting an additional CS certificate while on the other hand, there will be a slow and steady increase in demand for Masters programs. At the same time, additional programs should start coming online across the state.

The end result should be no more classes of 60.

We also had elementary school teachers for the first time. This added an additional axis of complexity. We couldn't do a whole lot about some of it. The state created a K12 cert so there's no way around it, all students must learn the CS we feel is needed for a 12th grader. Creating two tracks isn't an option even though it would make more sense.

The other challenge was the spread of expertise. Other than saying that most of the participants were real troopers on both sides of the experience spectrum I'll leave this alone since it's not appropriate for a public post.

Good Stuff

As I just said, most participants were real troopers. Most of the participants with strong CS backgrounds put on their teacher hats and helped support less experienced teachers. We'd frequently drop in and lurk in a breakout room to see the more expereinced guide the room and it was rare to see one of them dominate and just "do the task" (although it did occasionally happen). Likewise most of the participants who came in raw showed tremendous progress and growth. Many stayed for end of day office hours to go beyond what we were asking because they wanted to master everything.

Also, based on the comments, the cohort is building a strong sense of community. There were a couple of comments where a student or two felt otherwise, but they were in an extreme minority (based on the anonymous surveys) and from their full comments it looks like they just didn't buy into the program at all.

We also had a handful of participants from outside the city with five from up near Ithaca. It was great adding them to the mix and I think there will be some rich discussions in the Fall in curriculum development when we can not only contrast schools but entire districts.

Of course, at a base level, there's also the fact that everyone got through the program and there was a lot of growth across the board.

For me personaly, the highlight was getting to know a bunch of great teachers and people and to be able to work with my team again. My team from Stuy is still the thing I miss most at Hunter. It's funny, we had one of my CS colleagues from Hunter also on the team and he commented on how great it was to work with this team and how well we worked together. A number of students also pointed that out as a positive.

A couple of things that stood out

These are just a few things that have been on my mind since closing. Maybe they're important, maybe not and I might change my own mind down the line. Still, these are few random or tangential things that stood out from the past month.

The state of CS PD

This year, when I saw the spread of CS expertise, I decided to dig deeper into teacher backgrounds. I also looked back to the teachers from the first two cohorts who came in barely able to write "Hello World!"

In many, indeed most of these cases the teacher had gone to the "usual suspects" PD sessions - mostly through CS4All in NYC but sometimes arranged independently by them or their school.

I then looked to see how long these teachers were doing these PDs.

In many cases it was years - three, four, five, or even more years of going to CS training.

This really alarmed me. Well, actually, I already suspected this but it was a sobering confirmation. I know a lot of people won't want to hear this but teachers attending CS "training" for multiple years should be well beyond the most basic of programs. Even if they haven't used a text based language, after multiple years, they should be able to transition to text fairly easily.

So, I know that a lot of people might be offended by my saying this but I stand by it. There are some providers I know who do good work but I think what I saw here is an indictment of the overall PD approach that, to paraphrase what said a few years ago, "trained XXXXX CS teachers" in a very short period of time.

Split the class

Another interesting thing is that there weren't a lot of comments from participants about the mixed teacher levels in terms of sharing experiences. On the other hand many would have loved us to be able to split based on programming experience. I haven't had a chance to do a deep debrief with JonAlf and Topher who ran the methods components but this was a little bit of a surprise. We'll see if this becomes a larger discussion topic in Curriculum Development.

On the splitting for programming level we couldn't do that for assorted reasons and moving forward I expect it not to be an issue.

Teaching Methods and Best Practices

We approach methods, and in fact our approach to teaching in general is all about helping teachers build a toolbox. We have to do a better job at communicating why this is our approach.

There were a couple of comments both in class and in the survey about "best practices" and "the research" with respect to methods. I get it, younger teachers are hit over the head with this type of edubabble from their first education course through every department meeting, PD, and observation.

The truth is that there are no "best practices," there are practices that under certain circumstances, based on a combination of students, teacher, school, culture and more can be most effective for THAT SPECIFIC TEACHER to use in that time at that place. Teachers aren't usually taught this, they get hammered with "best practice" and "the research" but nobody ever tells them that while there are some people doing great work in Ed research and CS Ed research, the field is generally held in low regard, work is almost never replicated and when you read most of it, there are tons of important variables that the research leaves out.

On top of this, we can go down a long list of "best practices" which were foisted upon teachers as the one true way only to be replaced a few years later with the new "best practice."

We believe in building a toolbox of content and techniques and we trust teachers to know their own strengths and weaknesses as well as their student needs and that they'll use the right tool at the right time.

Writing plans from scratch

Another thing I noticed was that when we got to the lesson planning unit, a lot of teachers really wanted to base their work off of a canned lesson. They said they wanted to adapt it but they were really reluctant to come up with something on their own, only using other resources for examples, references, etc.

I was a little surprised about this reluctance but upon thinking, it makes sense. Even if they adapt lessons, CS PD and training is all about providing canned lessons to teachers so in many cases, it's what they're used to. Add to that the fact that this was for an Education class, and to be honest, the demands and rigor of education classes vary greatly and in many cases the default approach is path of least resistance. I get it. I did many an Ed class where I threw together a quick paper from prefabbed sources to get my A for the semester. I'd like to think, though that our program is a bit better than that.

I think the cohort ended up doing it right and with the right attitude but I think it's interesting to see what teachers are normally presented with and how that contrasts, good or bad, with what my team is selling.

What's next

So, summer's in the books. We'll take this group through a few more courses and in the Spring they'll join the ranks of New York State Certified CS Teachers.

Personally, I'm going to try to disengage from Hunter related stuff for the next few weeks and try to recharge. There will be a few things I have to deal with but I'll try to keep them to a minimum. After a few really hard years I'm hoping I'll start up again at the end of the month with some renewed energy.

I also have to give some serious thought to the long term both for Hunter and me. Devorah turned 55 last November and I join her in October so, as many of you know, we've got some potential big changes to consider. More on that though once the year starts.

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