Computer Science Teacher Education

Computer Science Teacher
Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

Computer Science Teacher Education

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Mark Guzdial makes a strong case that the Best hope for CS Teacher Education is in-service, not pre-service. Basically there is not enough demand for strong pre-service CS teacher education because there are not enough people in education programs who have as a goal teaching CS as their main topic. There is not enough demand for the teachers either. Mark also asks why someone would go into teaching CS when there is so much constant learning and relearning required compared to other subjects. This is a little weak because I don’t know that many would be teachers go through that thought process. They decide they want to be teachers and they decide what topic they like NOW and think they would enjoy teaching. I’m not sure 19-21 year olds are thinking that far ahead. Some are but not all and not always that deeply. But still people in college who find that they love computer science do tend to think of other, non-teaching, careers that pay better. I have talked to several undergraduate CS students who think they would like to teach it though. Some of them will do so and will probably also be good at it. But that is not the way to bet of growing to 10,000 CS teachers over the next several years. So ultimately in-service education, helping people who are already teachers, teach better and learn new things is probably our best hope.

That brings up the next question – where are they going to get that training?  A lot of teachers take college courses either in bricks and mortar schools or online. For many people this is the idea way to learn a new programming language, get stronger at specific paradigms, and see someone else teach a topic. It’s helpful but often not practical. Summer programs by universities for HS CS teachers are my personal ideal way and I will always be grateful for the summer programs I attended at Carnegie Mellon University over the years. CS4HS programs which started there at CMU have expanded nationally. They are worth looking into if your summer plans call for professional development.

There are workshops for AP CS teachers every summer. Most of them are very good and are taught by experienced teachers and APCS exam readers (aka graders). That helps a lot if one is going to teach APCS. What about other areas though like specific teaching techniques or topics for courses before or after or in place of the AP CS exam? There is not as much of that. There are a couple of conferences in education technology but most of them contain very little for CS teachers. It is hard to justify travel and hotel and conference fees for several days for a couple of one hour workshops. Even the big conferences like ISTE, TCEA and FETC are very light on CS content. The SIGCT at ISTE has been working hard to improve this and I give them a lot of credit. They are why I attach ISTE. Likewise the TA/CS-SIG (Tech-Apps/Computer Science Special Interest Group) at TCEA works very hard and draws a strong turn out of CS teachers. Of course SIGCSE, while focused on higher education, does an outstanding job of providing very high quality and good quantity of workshops, sessions, papers and perhaps best of all networking opportunities for HS CS teachers. This is a must attend conference for me.

The real future may be in the hands of the Computer Science Teachers Association though. (http://csta.acm.org) There are two things going on here. One is the continued growth of the Computer Science and Information Technology Symposium. While traditionally a single day event CS & IT is expanding in 2010. You can read about some of these changes and give feedback on the CSTA blog at CS&IT Workshops. As a multi day event with expanded workshops this is going to be huge for CS teachers in 2010. I’ve been involved in some of the planning (I was on the program committee for last year’s event) and am very excited about the possibilities. (Did you see my post about the call for proposals the other day? CS&IT 2011 — Call for Proposals )The other thing that CSTA has been doing is creating regional chapters. I’ve attended meetings in several states in the last two months and the potential for teachers helping teachers to become better teachers is very encouraging. I highly recommend getting involved with or helping to start a local CSTA chapter where you live or work.

For those of you for whom travel is a brick wall there are online resources you can seek out. I try to blog about many of these as I find them. For example the Windows Phone 7 Development for Absolute Beginners series can help a teacher (and their students) learn about programming Windows Phone devices. Many companies are creating videos for their products and increasingly they are becoming aware of the need to target students (and teachers) with supplemental resources. This is something I am working on at Microsoft. I hope to have more resources for teachers to announce soon. Beside the already strong content at the Faculty Connection which not enough people seem to know about yet.

Is there enough in-service for computer science teachers? Honestly I think not. But not everyone is taking advantage of what there is yet. One of my goals this coming year (2011) is to do what I can to help both parts of that problem. So let me know if you have or know of good opportunities for professional development that I can share. We’ll all work on this together.

Note: I am on vacation this week so this post was prepared in advance for appearance now. To subscribe to this blog please use http://feeds.feedburner.com/ComputerScienceTeacher as the RSS feed source. Thanks.



  • Hi Alfred!  I agree that the fast-pace of re-learning required to teach CS probably isn't a factor in pre-service teachers' decisions.  Lijun's research is on in-service teachers, and there, I think the effort required to be a certain kind of teacher does play a role.  Say, a business teacher who is considering learning CS to broaden what she can teach, is going to take into account how much on-going effort being a CS teacher is going to require.  Thanks for the blog reference!

  • In regards to the AP CS kids and teachers, where do they come from?  I assume the kids have had at least a couple years of CS prior to walking into the AP CS class.  I would also assume the AP CS teacher started by teaching a programming class other than AP CS.

    On the CS Ed topic, I did go trotting over to my local university Tuesday and talked to the chair of the Curriculum & Instruction department in the School of Education about offering a CS for Teachers course.  He was interested but realistic.  His comment was the pre-service teachers schedule was over full as it was; there was simply no room for most courses.  He also commented on the major reviews and committees to add any course to a university curriculum.  His suggestion was to present the idea to the School of Continuing Education.  In other words, in-service, not pre-service, as Mark has suggested.  Not by choice but by reality.

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