A Fresh Perspective on Teaching Computing

An interview with William Lau,
author of Teaching Computing in Secondary Schools

When a full-time teacher has a young family but still manages to find time to write a book, you know he is passionate about his subject … and has an angelic spouse! In college, Will studied computing and business and then began teaching IT, video editing and graphic design. He still recalls his first computer class at the age of 10 and feeling incredibly lost. So lost, in fact, that when the teacher asked students to shut down their machines at the end of the class, Will pulled the plug out of the wall! His shame and embarrassment when he realized his mistake was so acute that he vowed to help others not get so lost when learning about the power of computers and what makes them tick.

Zulama CEO Nikki Navta loves her copy of Teaching Computing in Secondary Schools!

His approach is user-friendly and assumes no prior knowledge of hardware and software. In fact, when teaching preschoolers and kindergartners, he starts off with basics like developing fine motor skills needed to operate a mouse and keyboard. With Will’s methods, it’s possible to teach anyone who wants to learn.

Yet Will admits that when teachers are unwilling or being forced to learn about computers, it’s very difficult to help them gain the right skills, much less get their students excited about computing. He recommends that administrators make sure teachers have adequate resources, primarily time and money.

His advice for teachers who want to learn and teach computing?!

  1. Develop your own skills
  2. Focus on student thinking rather than the activities

Unpacking that second idea, he encourages teachers to study how expert computer scientists think, and understand common misconceptions people have as they learn about computing.

Computer science is an incredibly dynamic subject to teach, because it changes every day. One day a teacher may understand mobile app development, and then a new technology like augmented reality emerges. Teachers need to be given time to constantly update their own skills.

How does Will stay up to date?

He follows cognitive scientists and educators like Daniel T Willingham (@DTWillingham) like Greg Ashman (@greg_ashman ‏), Paul A. Kirschner (@P_A_Kirschner)‏, Joe Kirby (@joe__kirby), and Doug Lemov (@Doug_Lemov) on twitter, where they post their research. He recommends Python as a starter programming language, especially because there is a robust online community and resources available on pythonprogramming.net, pythonschool.net and youtube.

What’s Will currently into?

Teaching Advanced Placement Computer Science, and learning about Pygame through Al Sweigart’s books. He feels a strong responsibility to give back to the network of computer science learners by providing research-based mentorship.

His goals for the future?

Let’s develop a global network of computer science educators, rather than remaining siloed in our localized CS communities! For example, we don’t know much about how Russia teaches computer science, but they are graduating top talent into the workforce. Computers are global, why isn’t computer education global?!

You can find William Lau @MrLauLearning on Twitter!

Summer Resource Roundup: Computer Science and Professional Learning

Professional development—it rarely inspires excitement. But if PD is relevant, fun, and hands-on, it can spark creativity and remind educators just why they started teaching in the first place! With that in mind, we’ve been exploring the intersection of CS and good PD on our blog all summer, researching and writing about Why Game Design Is an Awesome Introduction to Computer Science and Tools for Creating an Inclusive CS Classroom.

Through conversations we’ve had with teachers and experts, we’ve discovered a bunch of practical and fun resources. Below are some of our favorite articles, podcasts, books, and more:

Websites

Podcasts

Books

Videos

Twitter Edchats

  • #EthicalCS: Spearheaded by Kara Chesal, senior director of strategic partnerships at #CS4ALLNYC, and Ed Saber, a CS educator, this edchat takes place Wednesdays at 8 p.m. EST. Educators, computer scientists, and education policy experts come together to discuss how to make the field of CS more ethical.
  • #InfyEdChat: InfosysFoundationUSA invites education thought leaders to host these bi-monthly edchats. Topics range from “How to Start a Makerspace in the New School Year” to “Teaching CS Away From the Computer.”Here’s a guide to getting started with edchats if you haven’t tried it before!

Newsletters

  • CSTA Newsletter: Connect with fellow educators who teach computer science, and hear from innovators in CS curriculum, tools, and professional learning.
  • EdSurge Newsletter: Find out what’s new in edtech.

 

Want more resources like these? Sign up for our Newsletter, too!

Zulama Newsletter

Why Project-Based Learning Isn’t Just for Students

By: Amy Pavelich, Zulama Copy Editor

At the heart of our Computer Science and Game Design Certificate Program is a project: you design an original video game and then showcase it in a digital portfolio. But how will this fun professional learning experience help shape and inform your own teaching practices once you step back into the classroom?

In this post, we’ll explore how professional learning that is tech-oriented and project-based gives you an upper hand when teaching in a student-centered learning environment. PBL curriculum can open your classroom walls, turning your classroom into a laboratory of divergent thinking, creativity, and active learning.

The most important attitude that can be formed is that of desire to go on learning.John Dewey

The Growing Influence of Project-Based Learning (PBL)

John Dewey (1859–1952), a pioneering thought leader and educator, advocated “learning by doing.” He argued that if lessons were focused only on content and not driven by an experiential element, learners would be deprived of making informed opinions based on their interaction with the content. But, he went further in suggesting that “each student’s experience will be individualized based on past experiences, and not all students will take away the same outlook of the concept. Thus, the experiential learning classroom mimics society, where all people have different views of topics and information” (Learn NC, 2009).

While the idea of learning by doing was not new, Dewey’s advocacy for it in the early twentieth century led to it becoming “a recognized field of education, and in 1977 the Association for Experiential Education (AEE) was established” (Hammerman, Hammerman, & Hammerman, 2001). And PBL has gained momentum as technology has advanced. In today’s world, students have so much information to traverse and assess, and PBL gives them the ability to use higher-order thinking skills to identify and solve problems that are increasingly complex and unique to the twenty-first century.

As PBL’s influence has grown, experts have tried to pinpoint some key ingredients for making PBL effective. Typical elements of PBL include real-world context, collaboration, various communication strategies, and authentic assessments. Adding a technology component can help to enhance the experience into one of deeper learning.

How does the Zulama brand of PBL stand apart from the traditional model?

projects, pbl, learning, PD

  • Students learn the foundational skills of computer science, which are critical to today’s workforce development.
  • We hook kids’ interest with game design as the content focus.
  • Teacher-facilitated lessons combine traditional methods, such as reading assignments, with dynamic student-created projects that give students greater autonomy and ownership of their learning, sparking empathy, creativity, and passion in their work.

Essentially, we give PBL a lift.

Impacts of PBL Professional Development (PD)

In a landmark study conducted by the Buck Institute for Education, researchers wanted to determine how PBL professional development (PD) would impact teachers in a poor rural state. They found that teachers with PBL PD experiences were more likely than teachers without it to be successful in teaching and assessing 21st-century skills. Why? It turns out these teachers were more likely to incorporate PBL curriculum once they got back into their classrooms. But that’s not all! These same teachers also were more likely to share and provide PBL PD to other teachers. And that, of course, leads to systemic change! Because PBL is immersed in authentic assessment, where you have check-ins and multifaceted assessments at intervals throughout the project, you have a better gauge on where your students are at in their learning and can use this to guide them to deeper learning.

“Facilitating” PBL

Teaching a rigorous tech-oriented PBL curriculum has all kinds of benefits: higher student achievement, a decline in absenteeism, increased cooperative learning skills, less teacher burnout, among others.

Going through our Certificate Program will give you the initial exposure to how tech-oriented PBL curriculum works. It will alleviate some of the concerns and hesitation you might have about instituting PBL, turning your view from one that’s steeped in “risk” to one filled with boundless opportunities for growth for you and your students.

PBL curriculum is student driven, meaning you must adopt the mindset of facilitator:

  •    Be open to uncertainties.
  •    Be okay with not correcting students’ mistakes.
  •    Be present.
  •    Ask good questions to redirect students when they get off task.
  •    See yourself as a co-learner alongside your students.

Facilitator

Keeping these helpful strategies in mind will make your transition from teacher to facilitator a much smoother one.

Cultivating Empathy through PBL

One other key to a successful PBL experience is empathy. At the core of PBL is collaboration, which requires a commitment to listening to others, valuing their perspectives, understanding where they’re coming from, and then being willing to adjust your own perspective based on this new information.

As you work your way through our professional learning, your ultimate project will be to design and code an original game. This is when thinking like a game designer and keeping the player experience in mind becomes critical. You must empathize with the player, developing a deep understanding of how the player will experience your game. This drives your creative process: What is the purpose of the game? Is it fun, engaging, challenging? Or is it frustrating, boring? Empathy also informs the playtesting process, where someone else plays your game. While you may think your game is great as is, your audience could feel otherwise and point out issues you may have overlooked. Having the ability to perceive others’ perspectives and understanding their experiences will help you look at your game from new angles. Perhaps there is room for improvement, after all! Cultivating empathy through game design projects is a means for actively practicing and modeling empathy with your students. And if you have experienced PBL first-hand in your own professional learning, you will be able to better understand and empathize with your students as they learn through projects in the classroom.

Learning from and Leading through Empathy

As your students work on their own game design projects, with your guidance, they too will begin to understand the importance of empathy, not only in how it applies to the player experience, but in a greater world context. As they interact with one another in group collaboration and feedback loops, they’re practicing skills that will make their futures brighter: actively listening to better understand and value other perspectives beside their own. Empathy drives the PBL curriculum—it’s what makes collaboration successful, what inspires people to look at things differently to make better decisions, and helps spark new ideas. This culture of collaboration cultivates outstanding leadership skills and the desire to be compassionate world citizens who tackle challenging problems with breakout innovations.

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This post is part of a blog series in support of our new professional learning opportunity, the Computer Science and Game Design Certificate, co-developed with the Computer Science Teachers Association. For more on the intersection of computer science and professional learning, read the previous posts in the series:

Unpacking “CS for All”: Tools for Creating an Inclusive CS Classroom

By Lily Taylor, Community Advocate

While it is incredibly important to discuss the lack of access to computer science (CS) education, it is also essential to talk about (and celebrate!) all of the men, women, and underrepresented minorities who have succeeded in CS—in ways big and small. Stories of triumph can inspire students and teachers, who feel like outsiders in CS, to keep going (Rework, 2016).

And success stories should reveal the bumps along the way, Leigh Ann DeLyser, Director of Education and Research at CSNYC and former CS teacher, points out. Leigh Ann’s inspiring story, which includes earning a Ph.D. in Computer Science from Carnegie Mellon University, has had plenty of tough moments. “Every single day I was there at the University,” she says, “I thought that they would figure me out and kick me out . . . I had imposter syndrome. I spent hours on the floor of friends’ dorm rooms going, ‘Why doesn’t it like me?’ and struggling with our code just as much as everyone else does.” If students hear Leigh Ann’s story, they might not feel as alone or inadequate when they face their own challenges with CS courses.

As an educator, how do you help all kinds of students live out their own CS success stories? For one, you can share anecdotes like the ones above at the top of class each day! But there’s more to an equitable classroom than that. We interviewed Leigh Ann a few months ago, and we’ve compiled a bunch of her tips, along with ideas from other education resources, on how you can start to make your school or CS classroom more inclusive to all students—today.

Making CS More Equitable

Thoughtful Recruiting

One of the first steps to making computer science more equitable is to recruit all different kinds of students into CS classes. Unfortunately, cultural stereotypes often play too large a role in the recruiting process. Leigh Ann explains that we often assume that the kid wearing the Star Wars shirt is the most likely to thrive in a computer science classroom. But there are lots of other kids who don’t fit that stereotype who likely are just as interested in CS. Leigh Ann says, “No matter what a student is interested in, tech might be something that they can find a home in.”

Art Lopez, a computer science teacher in San Diego, agrees that active, inclusive recruiting is essential. He also believes that schools that have trained their existing teaching staff to teach computer science have an upper hand when it comes to recruiting: “One advantage to using existing personnel is that these teachers already know the community and can work to recruit students who may not view themselves as computer scientists” (Mindshift, 2016).

In addition to teachers, there’s another group that knows the school community well: the students. They can help with recruiting in lots of ways. Ask them to share their CS experience on social media, put up posters around the school, and chat with their friends.

Once you have a classroom full of CS students with different backgrounds, how do you make sure that they all want to stay in that classroom?

Classroom Practices

Although Leigh Ann encourages all students to make their voices heard in CS classes, she emphasizes that, “Our teachers . . . shouldn’t be relying on students to speak up.” Instead, she recommends actively engaging with students on an individual basis. CSTeachingTips.org provides a first step for giving students personal attention—learning their names. As simple as it sounds, this can provide the foundation for meaningful teacher-student relationships that can keep all students coming to class.

Another inclusive engagement tool that Leigh Ann loved as a CS teacher is walking a path in the classroom. She explains: “Rather than responding to raised hands while students are working on projects, choose a path . . . I would literally, during class, do laps of the room . . . Every student had to acknowledge that they were not stuck, that they didn’t need my help, that it was okay that I moved along to the next person.” Leigh Ann also had success with a “counting hands” technique. When students would raise their hands to answer a question, she would count all the hands that went up before calling on anyone. She found that this was a great way of stalling so that all students had a chance to think through the problem and participate in the conversation.

Even with the best intentions, though, sometimes we’re not aware of our bias. The folks at CSTeachingTips.org have a great idea for facing that issue head on. Bring up the effects of bias in class, so that teachers and students can have open conversations about it, rather than pretending bias doesn’t exist. In this dialogue, you can teach students about research that has been done on issues such as stereotype-threat and then discuss ways that everyone in the class can maintain an inclusive environment.

The Role of Mentors

Inside or outside the classroom, you can change students’ lives by serving as a supportive mentor. When Leigh Ann was discussing her path to a successful CS education, mentorship came up immediately. “What really got me is I had very supportive mentors while I was in school and then even after I got out of school who encouraged me.” As an educator, you can offer yourself up as a mentor to students by encouraging them to come talk to you after class or during office hours. You could also bring in older students, who have already taken your CS course, for mentoring sessions with current students.

Research backs up the importance of mentorship, especially for women and underrepresented minorities. The Atlantic reported on a study which found that women engineering students were more successful when they had women mentors. And when Carnegie Mellon scholars explored why their CS program was attracting more women students than average, they found that mentorship was a significant ingredient (Rework, 2016).

“What’s Good for the Goose Is Good for the Gander”

Good CS teaching practice does not change based on the race or gender of your students. It’s about making your classroom culture welcoming, comfortable, and empowering for all students. Leigh Ann puts it simply: “What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.”

She elaborates, saying, “The best things that work for young women, also work for our young men . . . It’s not about looking at the specific categories of the people that are missing, but instead asking ourselves how can we take our instruction, how can we take our classroom practice, and make it better for everybody.” Other researchers agree. CMU scholars argue that if you create CS content specifically for girls, you are just reinforcing the very stereotypes you’re trying to eliminate (Rework, 2016). And researchers at the University of Washington found that “girls were almost three times more likely to be interested . . . [in CS] when the classroom was not stereotypical [in its design and decoration]” (The Conversation, 2015).

When it comes to equity in CS education, there are also systemic issues at play that can’t necessarily be solved in the classroom. But all educators can make a huge difference. Especially when you have students in your class who have never encountered CS before, you have the opportunity to shape their perception of the subject. As Leigh Ann DeLyser says “the teacher’s role is key in computer science.”

Please let us know if you have any other tools or ideas for helping make the CS classroom a more inclusive place. And please share your own or your students’ CS success stories!

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Ready to level up your CS teaching? Check out the Computer Science & Game Design course, co-created by the CSTA and Zulama! You’ll learn game design and programming skills, earning a Computer Science & Game Design Certificate.

For additional reading on how to bring inclusive teaching practices to your classroom, or how to bring computer science to your school, check out these resources:

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This post is part of a blog series in support of our new professional development opportunity, the Computer Science and Game Design Certificate, co-developed with the Computer Science Teachers Association. For more on the intersection of computer science and professional development, read the previous posts in the series:

Learn about Computer Science, Learn about Yourself: A Hero’s Journey

By: Amy Pavelich, Zulama Copy Editor

Computer science is a liberal art, it’s something everyone should know how to use, at least, and harness in their life.” Steve Jobs

To all educators who are dedicated to helping students realize their full potential: We’re asking you to take a hero’s journey, if you will. This adventure will reshape how you think, give you the ability to enhance your classroom experience, and propel your students into the future. Want in?

Your Call to Adventure

We call upon you to action: Challenge yourself to gain new and relevant skills through computer science professional learning and develop a stronger understanding of your mindset. These steps not only will help you discover more about yourself as a teacher, but also they will give you the tools to empower and engage your students.

Hero's Journey

Why Start This Journey?

The number of students seeking majors in computer science (CS) at colleges and universities is unprecedented and set on a trajectory that far exceeds previous trends. Kids want to shape their futures through CS because it’s part of their daily lives; they understand how it touches every discipline, that every field is an information field.

Computer Science Majors

Average number of CS majors per unit since 2006. “Unit” denotes the administrative division responsible for the CS bachelor’s program. Source: Computing Research Association.

Despite the high demand for K–12 CS education, we face a shortage of both schools that offer CS and teachers who have CS experience. We know that kids yearn for computer science. In fact, students at Berea-Midpark high school recently proposed to their school board that it should offer a new CS course. By seeking out CS professional learning:

  • You fill the gap where the shortage occurs. Getting certified to teach CS or to bring CS concepts into other classes shows that you are a leader in your school. It will encourage other teachers and administrators to champion your cause, explore CS with you, and eventually institute CS curriculum.
  • You reach every student. CS is a fun and relatable experience for kids, especially when taught with a game design focus. By integrating what students are interested in, you’re offering them a deeper learning experience. You will see them tap into their own creativity as they work collaboratively and apply problem-solving skills to their work.

Computer Science Teacher and Students

Equip Yourself with the Right Tools

Becoming Aware of Your Mindset

Your mindset is one of the most powerful tools you possess on this journey, in your teaching career, and in your own life. Like many teachers, you might be concerned about having adequate subject knowledge or suitable resources for teaching CS effectively. By exploring CS PD and applying a growth mindset to it, you will find these are exactly the tools that will prepare you to teach your classes with confidence and dexterity.

Take a moment to discover where your mindset falls on the continuum by taking this survey. Reflect on times when you have approached challenges with a growth mindset. How did that affect the outcome? How can you bring that mindset to new challenges?

Tips for Adjusting Your Mindset

A growth mindset isn’t a natural state of being. It takes practice and consistently renewing your efforts to work toward a growth mindset. Here are a few tips:

  • See yourself as a learner. Like your students, you are capable of improving. Tap into your desire to transcend what you currently view as limitations. Being open to this idea is the first step on your journey.
  • Be willing to try new ideas. Get out of your comfort zone and embrace setbacks along the way. See them not as a measurement or limitation of your intelligence but as jumping points you can learn from.
  • Make time for self-reflection. So your new idea was a hit! Or maybe it didn’t go as planned. Either way, by focusing on what you gleaned from the process rather than on the end result, you will have a much more fulfilling experience.

Applying Growth Mindset in the Classroom

“Research also supports the idea that educator mindsets may influence the way they respond to students, which in turn has an impact on the students’ outcomes.” Mindset Works

Like you, all students are capable of learning CS, even if they have different learning styles. With a growth mindset, you will have higher expectations of your students. Giving them “strategy” praise (emphasizing effort over ability) will result in better student performance, stronger motivation, and a perception that you truly care about them.

The next thing you know, the roles will be reversed and your students will be teaching you a thing or two about computer science! As Thomas Suarez reflects in his Ted Talk, “These days students knowusually knowa little bit more than teachers with the technology.”

Crossing the Finish Line

Answering the call to action will be a rewarding challenge and personally transformative experience. By applying growth mindset to your professional development, you attain a stronger belief in your own ability to grow with your students. Your confidence and enthusiasm help minimize the CS gap by influencing your peers to get involved in making this invaluable resource available to more students earlier in their educational experience. By teaching computer science, you’ll make learning relevant, providing students the vision of a future filled with boundless opportunities. So, what are you waiting for? It’s time to put on your hero’s cape and take the next step in your journey!

Superheros

Additional Resources

  • These Ted Talks surely will get you thinking more enthusiastically about computer science education. In these presentations you will find a common thread of passion, excitement, determination, and an eagerness for challenge—the very hallmarks of a healthy growth mindset:
    • Twelve-year-old app developer Thomas Suarez’s Ted Talk. How can you not feel inspired? He’s 12 and a self-taught programmer. What’s his secret? A strong fascination with technology. And not just for playing games, but developing them. Find out his approach to how he taught himself and his peers to become programmers.
    • Linda Liukas’s Ted Talk. Liukas, founder of Rails Girls, provides insightful ideas about how code is a universal language for creativity and self-expression. Learn why she strongly advocates for a more diverse set of people to get involved with programming. You will discover how to break away from the common perception that computer science is just too “esoteric” and “magical” to be learned.

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This post is part of a blog series in support of our new professional development opportunity, the Computer Science and Game Design Certificate, co-developed with the Computer Science Teachers Association. For more on the intersection of computer science and professional development, read the previous posts in the series: