Curricula Developers and Professional Development Providers Introduce TeachCS Platform to Strengthen High School Computer Science Education
As the nation focuses on Computer Science Education Week, December 7-13th, leading computer science curricula developers and professional development providers joined forces to announce TeachCS, a platform for high school teachers looking to broaden their computer science training and curricula. Funded by private sector philanthropy, the goal of TeachCS is to match in-service high school teachers with both computer science professional development and financial support to attend training from leading academic institutions, in order to better prepare their students for the lucrative computing jobs most in demand in the future. In its pilot year, TeachCS will provide in-service high school teachers with funding for professional development in one of three curricula – Exploring Computer Science (ECS), AP© Computer Science Principles (AP© CSP), or Bootstrap.
“TeachCS will support educators with little to no background in CS Ed who are looking to become computer science teachers. The chief requirements are the teacher’s interest in learning to teach computer science and the support of the school community in the creation and sustainment of a computer science program for at least three years,” said TeachCS Executive Director, Rob Underwood. Both requirements will be evaluated through a fellowship application to be launched in early 2016 through which any public high school teacher in the nation can apply.
“The curricula TeachCS support – ECS, AP© CSP, and Bootstrap – have the backing of world class universities and each have multi-year track record of effectiveness in the classroom,” said Underwood. “They and their affiliate professional development partners have demonstrated the ability to scale, and each is an active contributor to the national computer science education body of knowledge and peer-reviewed research.”
“By bringing together in-service teachers looking for computer science education training, leading CS education curriculum and associated professional development providers, along with both financial support, all under one virtual roof, the TeachCS platform will connect three critical groups that must work more closely together if we’re to successfully expand computer science education in the United States,” said Pedro Torres-Picón, founder and board chair of TeachCS.
“A further benefit is that as TeachCS drives teacher demand for these three well-established curricula, TeachCS will also increase the financial basis of support for each curriculum through the professional development dollars that teachers will bring,” said Underwood.
As cities such as New York, Chicago, and Seattle roll out “top-down” city- and district-wide programs to systematically train teachers over the course of the next decade, TeachCS complements these efforts by working “bottom-up” at the individual teacher and school level, unbounded by geography. Any high school teacher and school community throughout the United States may “raise their hand” to get started by applying for professional development funding through TeachCS. “While TeachCS intends to support teachers in both urban and rural settings, a key focus will be to serve communities, especially in less-populated parts of the country, yet to benefit from comprehensive computer science creation programs,” said Underwood.
Lucy Sanders, CEO and Co-founder of the National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT), is joining the TeachCS Advisory Board. Sanders noted that TeachCS’ national focus is crucial to improving diversity in technology. “The call for increasing diversity in the technology workforce means that we need to ensure that high school educators are properly trained and equipped to prepare students for the lucrative and secure computing jobs that we are encouraging them to pursue. TeachCS offers professional development to high school educators with a broader reach, eliminating financial and geographical obstacles that have deterred teachers in the past.”
Gail Chapman, Director of National Outreach for Exploring Computer Science (ECS), emphasized the importance of TeachCS in empowering teachers and school communities, particularly in communities that have been traditionally underserved. “TeachCS will provide access to professional development that will support teachers in schools interested in creating CS programs without the necessity of large district partnerships. Focusing the professional development funding on programs that are well-established and backed by research will provide much needed guidance in terms of choice of curricula, while providing the flexibility to choose what best fits students, school priorities, and overall pedagogical philosophy,” said Chapman.
Other curriculum developers were also enthusiastic about the national reach TeachCS will create. “TeachCS will enable us to both broaden and deepen our existing national coverage by reaching communities that lack the resources for professional development. TeachCS will also allow us to increase the amount of teachers who can attend new programs such as this upcoming summer’s CSEdWeek in Colorado,” said Emmanuel Schanzer, Executive Director of Bootstrap.
Owen Astrachan, Professor of Computer Science at Duke University and Principal Investigator of AP© Computer Science Principles (CSP), noted the timeliness of TeachCS given the 2016-17 launch of the Advanced Placement CS Principles exam. “With the introduction of the new AP exam built around CSP by the College Board, we need to accelerate and expand the creation of qualified CS teachers nationwide. TeachCS does that,” said Astrachan.
Lien Diaz, Senior Director of AP Computer Science for the College Board, embraced TeachCS efforts to get teachers trained to teach the new AP Computer Science Principles course (AP CSP) launching in Fall of 2016. “AP CSP not only offers a broad introduction to computer science that goes well beyond coding, but makes computer science more inclusive and accessible for females and underrepresented groups.” said Diaz. “In high schools, 9 percent of the students who take the AP Computer Science A exam are Hispanic and 4 percent are African-American but with the help of TeachCS and the creation of AP CSP, we can create more opportunities for all students to study computer science that will help power the future.”
Dan Garcia, Teaching Professor in the Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Department at UC Berkeley and co-creator of Beauty and Joy of Computing (BJC), agreed. “Beauty and Joy of Computing is one of several CSP curricula that satisfy the framework for the new AP CS Principles exam,” said Garcia. “To reach more students we urgently need more high school teachers who can teach CS using frameworks such as CSP and curricula such as BJC. TeachCS will be a critical component to increasing the number of students taking AP level computer science.”
Calvin Lin, University Distinguished Teaching Professor of Computer Science at The University of Texas at Austin and Principal Investigator of Thriving in Our Digital World, one of three curriculum and professional development programs aligned with the Computer Science Principles framework TeachCS will support in its pilot year, was similarly excited about the geographic expansion opportunities TeachCS will afford. “Our program is well established in Texas, and we’re ready to scale up and broaden our reach to the rest of the country,” said Lin. “We expect that the TeachCS platform will help us reach a broader swath of teachers and help us better anticipate and plan for demand.”
“Not only will TeachCS expand geographic reach, it will also allow more intentionality about planning where and when CS professional development is held around the country,” said Ralph Morelli, Professor of Computer Science, Trinity College and co-Principal Investigator for Mobile CSP. “By essentially acting as a marketing, sales, and financing channel from teachers to curricula and professional development providers, TeachCS will give us the ability to plan nationally so that we’re not neglecting one location while saturating another.”
Evan Korth, another member of the TeachCS advisory committee, and Clinical Professor of Computer Science at NYU who served until earlier this year as the founding Executive Director of the New York City Foundation for Computer Science (“CSNYC”), noted the numerous expansion opportunities that TeachCS will make possible. “In future years, I would anticipate that TeachCS will add curricula for middle school and elementary school, while additionally adding more curricula and professional development providers focused on high school,” said Korth.
The centerpiece of the TeachCS funding model are fellowships, which cover professional development tuition, stipends, and other expenses. These fellowships are tied to the teachers’ schools’ Free and Reduced Lunch (FRL) rate, a nationally recognized marker of economic need. Teachers will be eligible for fellowships proportional to the FRL rate of their school community. The remainder of the funds may be paid by the existing school or district professional development funds, though TeachCS encourages school communities to raise this money through a local crowdfunding campaign.
“TeachCS’ funding model both directs funding to where the need is greatest while the crowdfunding component makes sure the surrounding school community has a stake in the long term success of the new computer science class,” said Mark Nelson, Executive Director of the Computer Science Teachers Association (CSTA) and who will join the TeachCS Advisory Board. “We’re excited to soon welcome these new computer science teachers to CSTA.”
“Making the fellowship rate proportional to the school FRL rate allows private sector funding to flow to the school communities where the need is greatest,” said Korth. “We must make sure that all public schools, regardless of the economic means of parents and the surrounding community, have the opportunity to create a computer science program led by a qualified, trained computer science teacher.”
Underwood echoed the importance of enabling any teacher and school community that wants to start a CS program with the ability to do so. “It should not only be schools with million dollar PTA budgets that get a head start on computer science,” said Underwood, who served as Chief Technology Officer at Relay Graduate School of Education and, previous to Relay, as a senior manager in Deloitte Consulting’s Customer and Market Strategy practice. “As a public school parent of three children myself, including two at a district school that receives Title I support, I see first hand how important it is to give teachers and local school communities the funding and tools they need to start computer science programs just as soon as they are ready. Often the only obstacle is simply funding and knowing where to start. TeachCS eliminates these barriers.”
As part of Computer Science Education Week, Underwood is joining representatives of leading computer science organizations to open the NASDAQ MarketSite on Wednesday. At the ceremony will be local students participating in Hour of Code events organized through the CodeBrooklyn campaign Underwood launched with Borough President Eric L. Adams to help every school community in Brooklyn create a computer science program with a qualified computer science teacher in support of New York City’s CS4ALL program.
TeachCS is presently identifying philanthropic donors to fund teacher fellowships that will be donated to teachers through the TeachCS platform. TeachCS expects the first round of fellowships to be announced in early 2016. Teachers who wish to be invited to apply for a TeachCS fellowship should express their interest on the TeachCS site at http://www.teachcs.org.
Exploring Computer Science (ECS) is a research-based program with a mission to democratize computer science education. The program includes the ECS one-year college-preparatory high school curriculum in combination with ECS teacher professional development. The ECS instructional philosophy is based on inquiry and equity-based pedagogy and highlights the creative nature of computing, technology as a tool for solving problems and the relevance of computer science. See http://www.exploringcs.org for more infomation.
Bootstrap uses programming to both improve students’ algebra skills and to teach them strong programming practices. The Bootstrap curriculum emphasizes creative, student-driven projects and reaches all students, including those often left behind by other computing curricula.
About AP© Computer Science Principles
AP© Computer Science Principles launches as an Advanced Placement© course in 2016-2017. The launch includes a rigorous curriculum framework that was developed by the College Board in collaboration with computer science educators over an eight-year period with four years of pilot testing. The curriculum framework is designed as a set of big ideas, enduring understandings, learning objectives, and essential knowledgement statements that allow different implementations to flourish. The end-of-year AP© assessment includes unique through-course performance tasks that encourage collaboration and individual creativity and expression as part of the body-of-work used to provide students a score on the AP© exam.
Beauty and Joy of Computing (BJC) is a CS Principles course whose guiding philosophy is to meet students where they are, but not to leave them there. It covers the big ideas and computational thinking practices required in the AP CSP curriculum framework and powerful computer science ideas like recursion and higher-order functions. The programming part of the course uses Snap!, an easy-to-learn blocks-based programming language based on Scratch. Through the course, students learn to create beautiful images, and realize that code itself can be beautiful. We have offered professional development to over 240 high school teachers through three grants, and partnered with EDC (Educational Development Center), to help us refine our curriculum even further.
About Thriving in Our Digital World
Thriving in Our Digital World was first developed in 2012 and was initially taught in 5 Texas High Schools. Based on the CSP framework, for the 2015-16 school year the course is being taught in 22 Texas High Schools and serving over 600 high school students. Thriving in Our Digital World draws on a student-centered, project-based pedagogical model. Each modular unit is built on an authentic problem or scenario, framed using engaging multimedia and narratives.
About Mobile CSP
Mobile Computer Science Principles (Mobile CSP) uses mobile computing as the organizing theme for a curriculum that conforms to the CSP framework. Students learn the principles of computer science by designing and building socially useful mobile apps using the App Inventor programming language. Started in 2013 at Trinity College in Hartford, CT, and expanded in 2015 by the College of St. Scholastica in Duluth, MN, to include online Professional Development (PD), the Mobile CSP project has trained more than 125 teachers in CT and elsewhere over the past three years. The Mobile CSP project is funded by the National Science Foundation.
About The Computer Science Teachers Association (CSTA)
The Computer Science Teachers Association is a membership organization that supports and promotes the teaching of computer science and other computing disciplines. CSTA provides opportunities for K–12 teachers and students to better understand the computing disciplines and to more successfully prepare themselves to teach and learn.
The National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT) is a change leader network of more than 650 universities, companies, non-profits, and government organizations nationwide working to increase women’s meaningful participation in computing and technology. NCWIT equips change leaders with resources for taking action in recruiting, retaining, and advancing women from K–12 and higher education through industry and entrepreneurial careers. Find out more at http://www.ncwit.org.
About the College Board
The College Board is a mission-driven not-for-profit organization that connects students to college success and opportunity. Founded in 1900, the College Board was created to expand access to higher education. Today, the membership association is made up of over 6,000 of the world’s leading educational institutions and is dedicated to promoting excellence and equity in education. Each year, the College Board helps more than seven million students prepare for a successful transition to college through programs and services in college readiness and college success — including the SAT® and the Advanced Placement Program®. The organization also serves the education community through research and advocacy on behalf of students, educators and schools.
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