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C'est la Z

PD for people who know CS

I saw a couple of tweets from Sarah Judd this morning:

It wasn't the first time I've heard this refrain. Last year I attended my first CSTA conference. I had numerous conversations with CS teachers on the fact that everything was on an intro level in terms of both content and teaching. Further conversations with local teachers with stronger CS backgrounds led me to run a professional development session at Hunter this past election day for more experienced CS teachers at schools that offered more than the basics.

While it's not surprising that most of the PD opportunities for CS teachers are rather rudimentary given that nationally most programs are new and most teachers are new to the subject but there are a few deeper reasons.

To start, there are big players in the CS Ed movement that are pushing curricula and specific programs and that leads to scripted PD for their products and not depth of knowledge nor deep pedagogical content knowledge let alone basic pedagogy. Add to this the fact that many of the "thought leaders" in the space don't have experience teaching CS at the K12 level and in many cases don't have a background either in teaching nor tech and you can see where the problem comes from. On top of this we have the erosion of respect for teaching as a profession where reformers are trying to take the teacher out of teaching and are trying to reduce pedagogy to following scripts. This problem goes well beyond CS Ed but as the new kid on the block it probably hits us hardest.

In any case, preparing beginners is both necessary and appropriate for the time being but we can and must do a better job than what's currently "state of the art." At the same time we have to do something with the CS teachers who indeed do have strong content knowledge but don't feel comfortable with imparting that knowledge.

So, what should we do?

For new teachers the solution will ultimately have to come from pre-service programs but what we end up getting is going to largely be dictated on what's required by individual states. If states merely require passing an exam like the Praxis CS exam which, from what I can gather isn't a horrible content exam then we're going to see CS teachers bumble through their early to mid careers while trying to figure out how to teach CS much like I did way back when. If they end up endorsing pre-service programs that are focused on specific curricula - APCS-A for teachers, APCS-P for teachers, Math for Math teachers if you will but for CS, we're also not going to get strong well prepared pedagogues. On the other hand if you can design a program that has a strong pedagogical component to go along with the content, you have a chance. Even with a well designed program implementation will still be a challenge. Who will teach it? Education professors who don't have CS backgrounds? CS professors with little pedagogical training? Neither of those groups necessarily have any real experience as actual K12 teachers. If you can find honest to goodness experienced, strong K12 CS teachers to teach your pedagogy courses that's a big win but that's going to be hard in most cases.

I think we designed a great program at Hunter and have a practical and strong implementation plan. If you're going to be at CSTA2018 you can hear all about it and why we designed it as we did in the talk I'm giving.

For the more experienced I don't have a universal answer but I can say what I'm planning. Teachers in NY have to complete 100 CTLE hours every five years. For beginners, there are plenty of options, at least content wise. For teachers who know CS, not so much. I was at a meetup talking to a few friends a couple of weeks ago and one mentioned that they get most of their hours in Math for America CS workshops. Unfortunately more than a few of my CS teacher friends who are in MFA tell me that the CS content in these workshops, while they do satisfy the hours, are somewhat lacking on the CS / CS pedagogy side.

Here's what I'm planning - we (Hunter) will host a once a month dinner/session for CS teachers who are a little farther along CS wise. I haven't worked out all the details yet but I've got a few tech companies that are already interested in sponsoring and helping out should we need anything and we'll probably set most of our agenda for the year at the first session where I'll make my best guess at a useful agenda. This is something I'm pretty excited about. It should help create a network of more experienced CS teachers which will both help bolster that segment of the community and provide a long term resource to newcomers and it should be a lot of fun.

In some ways, this is why I ended up joining Hunter. Regardless of what the city and state do, we're going to prepare the teachers and if you have a well prepared teacher, you've got a shot.

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