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Lessons Learned While Implementing a Dual Credit Course.

I'd like to share with you some of the opportunities and barriers we encountered while implementing a dual credit CS course in high schools across New Mexico.

New Mexico Computer Science for All, an NSF-CE21 funded CS10K program, recently completed its first cohort year. The program was designed to prepare high school STEM teachers to serve as learning coaches or TAs during the lab portion of a dual credit University of New Mexico CS151L course offered at their high schools. Using a flipped classroom paradigm, high school students watched videos outside of class time then participated in design and build computer modeling experiences during the school day at their local high school. Students received both high school and college credit for completing the course.

Here is what we learned that may be of benefit to other educators and policy makers.

1) Access issues still exist even though many schools have computer labs. We found schools that were using netbooks as dumb terminals and running apps off a server, then blocking access to server and internet access during the course so bandwidth could be reserved for State Test takers. One solution was to provide thumb drives loaded with videos and the NetLogo executable.

2) Our content/assignments need to be sensitive so as not to trigger negative reactions from students and teachers. For example, one video used the term "drunkard's walk" to describe random walks but this hit too close to home for some students. We substituted the term with "lost puppy". On another occasion, we rewrote an assignment to avoid focusing on individual pride because it counters some students' cultural values.

3) Course expectations need to take into account teachers' and students' realities. Using possibly new vocabulary during quizzes or exams is unfair to students whose first language is not English. We found that, unlike our personal educational experiences in earlier times, students today do not have access to dictionaries in the classroom (and are not allowed to go online during quizzes and exams).

4) It is important to make it clear to all constituents and partners that this is NOT a weed out course. The course can be a "college prep" course / a dual credit course without being a weed out course. We argue that any computer science that a high school student learns IS preparation for college and future endeavors.

5) The role of NM-CSforAll instructors, facilitators and program managers, is to be problem solvers, not gate keepers. Instead of first imposing university or program expectations, collaboration with teachers has helped us design a program that will work in their setting (while at the same time maintaining most of the program's goals).

6) We've learned that even students with low GPAs can succeed in our course. Students' past academic performance is not necessarily predictive of performance in our CS course. We found that students engage in a different way with learning computer modeling and simulation. Dropping the GPA requirement for taking the dual credit course has allowed many students to take the course.

7) Positioning the course as an Introduction to Computer Science through modeling and simulation has shown broad appeal. While we don't have a similar course positioned as a "programming course" to compare it to, we believe NM-CSforAll's approach had broad appeal because of the students who took the course. Seventy-four percent of students taking the CS151L course were from underrepresented in STEM and Computing (including underrepresented racial/ethnic groups and young women).

8) The option to receive dual credit was a draw for students but high school students also needed to be able to gracefully withdraw from dual-credit. If not, failing students would be in danger of getting an F on their college transcript before even getting to college.

If others in the CSTA community are interested in or currently attempting to offer Computer Science via the dual credit route, we'd love to hear from you!

Irene Lee
CSTA Computational Thinking Task Force Chair

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