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C'est la Z

Is there room for CS for All

A fear revolving around CS For All concerns where will the money come from and how will we fit in the new classes.

One suggested solution is to integrate CS into other subjects. I thought I'd write today about why I don't think the fear is valid and while integrating CS into other classes can have value, it probably isn't a long term solution for CS education.

Let's start with the integration solution. The idea is to bring CS into an existing class. Bootstrap, a program I've written about before and one of the programs I like does this, primarily in Algebra. The idea is that this supports the student's learning Algebra while exposing them to CS. It's a nice program but a math teacher using Bootstrap shouldn't be confused with a computer science teacher. They're bringing some CS to their student and engaging the students in a different way mathematically and that's all great but in general you can't take two classes worth of material and concepts and fit them into one class and the number of teachers who are truly knowledgable in any two academic subject areas both in content and pedagogical content knowledge is few. I'm guessing that one of the reasons that Bootstrap works in Algebra is the alignment of the toolset and Algebra and how you can teach it. The other is that Algebra is frequently given more time for fewer topics. In some struggling schools, students might have two years of algebra or a double period so there's time to add in some CS.

I'm all for cross curricular work. You can look at applications of science in math classes, do mathy work in a CS class, run stats and data analysis in math and CS classes on materials from History classes and all of this is great. You can even create great combined curricula where you do indeed teach multiple subjects in an integrated way but to think that you can take what is typically taught in two different classes and you can combine both so that they're taught in one class with one teacher sounds fishy to me.

So, at the end of the day, if you go the integration approach you're either going to have to dedicate a similar set of resources both in time and personel to having independent courses. The alternative is that CS will be the second class subject.

So, let's look at actually bringing in CS For All as a separate course.

Here are the New York State Graduation Requirements [fn::The state lists by credits which are a year, I doubled the numbers to map to semesters]:

SubjectNumber of semesters
Soc Studies8
Phys Ed4

It can be difficult to fit Phys Ed in since it has to be offered every semester so let's double the Phys Ed requirement to 8 semesters. What is actually normally done is to have 7.5 periods of science a week and 2.5 periods of Gym.

This means that the basic student program uses 48 class slots and includes 7 elective slots.

In terms of exit exams, students have to pass the following Regents:

  • English
  • Any single math (Algebra, Geometery, Alg 2 / Trig)
  • Any single Social Studies (US History or Global History
  • Any single Science (Living Env (bio), Chem, Phys, Earth Science)
  • Any additional Regents exam

The requirement of passing a single Math regents is what leads to the extra time allocated to Algebra that I mentioned when discussing integrating CS into Algebra above.

To get an Advanced Regents diploma you have to pass additional exams - both history, all three math, three science and maybe more.

Using a Typical 7 period plus lunch day, we have room for 56 single semeter classes in a high school career. This means that assuming students aren't failing too many classes, even with the extra Phys Ed allocation I mentioned above we can easily fit computer science into our day. In fact, we can technically fit in four full years assuming a student doesn't have to repeat any class.

So in New York state we certainly have the time but what about the budget? That's not an issue either. The state also requires that students recieve 5.5 hours of instruction a day exclusive of lunch. At 47 minute periods, that translates to students being assigned 7 instructional classes a day which means we can't just give the kids the required 44. We have to fill all 56 available class slots over those four years.

Of course it's not really that simple. Students fail classes and have to repeat them and some classes might be assigned more time than others but it looks to me like we should be able to fit computer science in without any big budgetary or scheduling changes. The challenge will be finding the teacher and working the internal politics and policies since as computer science comes in it will mean removing some electives even if those electives are additional years of science, math, or English.

Programs like TEALS and Bootstrap are important transitional programs and even when we do have qualified CS teachers they will play an important role - TEALS in providing industry support and resources and Bootstrap by integrating curricular areas and over time as preservice programs start to appear the rest will work itself out.

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