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K-8 Take Aways from SIGCSE

I just returned from my first SIGCSE conference inspired and renewed. After listening to Dr. Margolis' closing keynote session, where she confirmed that computer science education is truly for all students and that early exposure is key, I knew that, as a K-8 computer science educator, my role was more important than ever. Validation that a CS education needs to start pre-college, and that K-8 teachers are an important part of the discussion, is slowly gaining support. But in order for K-8 teachers, or for that matter, any teacher, to be successful, proper professional development is essential.

Another session at SIGCSE, Expanding Access to K-12 Computer Science Education: Research on the Landscape of Computer Science Professional Development examined the current state of high school computer science professional development (PD). The researchers found that only "49% of the participants for the professional development were in-service computer science teachers" and the providers "designed and delivered their PD with little or no involvement from local schools and/or districts". While PD for high school teachers is far from ideal, professional development for K-8 teachers is almost non-existent.

Although there is consensus is that capturing students' attention early is important, accomplishing this is close to impossible without teachers to make it happen. Computer science is not a required course in the elementary/middle school landscape, so most K-8 teachers integrate computing into their courses as a direct result of personal interest or prior industry experience. Unlike other disciplines that provide consistent professional development with vetted curriculum and methods classes, computer science relies on the motivation and initiative of the individual teacher to bring this material into the classroom.

Thankfully, there are K-8 educators that have embraced computing and school districts that are mandating integration of computational thinking into the elementary classroom. One such district is the Ramapo Central School District (RCSD) in Suffern, NY. RCSD implemented Scratch in five of their 3rd grade classrooms as part of their unit on computational thinking. (See Scratch at RCSD.) In order to make this venture successful, the school district provided the teachers with training prior to implementation and continued support during the school year; two crucial elements to help insure success.

Professional development is an important component of CSTA membership. Local chapters host workshops throughout the year. CSTA's annual conference is another excellent source of PD. This year's conference will have a variety of sessions for middle school teachers.

Unfortunately, attending a workshop or conference is not enough support in the K-8 arena. Identifying computer science learning objectives for the youngest of our students is just as important as learning what to teach and how to teach it. A lot has been said lately about 21st century learning. In my case, I want my students to truly understand the power of computing, and become proper digital citizens, and I'm thankful for CSTA's vision and support as I navigate a path towards becoming a successful computer teacher. Join me and other K-8 CS teachers, no one need travel alone.

Patrice Gans
CSTA K-8 Rep,
Chair, K8 Task Force

Comments

The UK government's latest curriculum has computing (including programming) as compulsory from age 5 onwards, so they seem to have got the message about early exposure! A good blog that showcases some work by young children can be found here:

http://code-it-cs.blogspot.co.uk/

That's written by Phil Bagge (Twitter: @Baggiepr) who is involved in the CAS (UK equiv of CSTA) elementary school efforts. It's going to take quite a lot of training/PD though, as most UK elementary school teachers are generalists who do not have experience of teaching computing. Sounds like similar challenges in the UK and USA here.

Thank you Neil for sharing the blog and information about the UK's commitment to computing for students as young as 5. I agree we have similar challenges. As a result, any sharing of information is welcomed! Getting teachers trained in computer science is of extreme importance, but not insurmountable. Attending CSTA conferences is an excellent first step. Together we can bring CS into the K8 curriculum.

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