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Recipes for Making Improvements in K-12 CS

Yesterday I had the pleasure of meeting with Bill Mitchell, Director of the BCS Academy of Computing in the United Kingdom (UK). It was interesting to chat with Bill about the role that BCS has played in the formation of the Computing at Schools (CAS) group and to learn how closely the relationship between the BCS and CAS resembles that between ACM and CSTA.

Both BCS and ACM saw the need to improve how computer science was being taught in K-12 and both took the leap of supporting the development of a new professional organization--grounded in real school realities, built upon full community engagement, and dedicated to teasing out the issues--and then tackled the hard task of making profound and sustained changes to education.

My conversation with Bill convinced me that the experiences of both CSTA and BCS point to four ingredients that provide the foundation for enabling these new K-12 groups to truly impact computer science in schools.

1. A Perceived Need:
Someone has to have figured out that all is not well in computer science education in schools and that there are profound issues concerning who is and is not being taught, what is being taught, and how well teachers are prepared to teach it.

2. An Organizational Champion Providing Financial Support
In order to begin doing the work that needs to be done, CSTA- or CAS-like organizations require financial support and someone in a leadership position willing to make a real commitment. At BCS, this person is Bill, while at ACM it is Executive Director John White. The support of these two leaders is significant to the fact that both BSC and ACM commit a level of annual funding to support their respective K-12 groups.

3. An Industry Champion
CAS has been incredibly fortunate to have the support of Simon Peyton-Jones of Microsoft. Simon, an incredibly dynamic and enthusiastic supporter of K-12 computer science education in the UK plays the role of evangelist, convincing anyone who will listen (and in Simon's case this means many of the most influential policy-makers in Britain) that improving computer science education in schools is critical to students, to industry, and to the UK's long-term national economic survival in the global marketplace.

4. Worker Bees
This is the collection of staff and volunteers who dedicate themselves wholeheartedly to work: to planning the events, doing the research, writing the standards and curricula, providing professional development, talking to teachers, and to tirelessly doing the million things that need to be done.

Both CAS and CSTA have been fortunate enough to have these factors in place and the fervent hope is that, with this recipe in mind, organizations will arise in other countries to take on this important task of ensuring that students have the opportunity to learn the skills that will enable them to thrive in a field that truly prepares them for the jobs of the future.

Chris Stephenson
CSTA Executive Director


Do we have that industry champion, though? I think we've got 1, 2 and 4 from your list. But we don't really have a 'celebrity' that gets people's attention about the issues. Bills Gates has done a lot of great things for schools, but his message and his works have mostly been about access to technology, not reforming education entirely. Your description of Phillips-Jones: "dynamic and enthusiastic supporter of K-12 computer science education in the UK plays the role of evangelist, convincing anyone who will listen." Who is that for us?

Also interesting to note if in the UK they had to fight with Math and Science for a place at the table. If they did, how did they do it? If they didn't have to fight, why was it? Did math and science teachers reinvent themselves into CS teachers, or was everyone just on board with CS as a necessary element. I'd be interested in hearing about that.

Thanks for the great post.

Cameron Wilson of ACM is probably the closest person to an industry champion we have in the US. That being said we probably need several in the US and they need to be at a high enough level that government pays attention to them.

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