Computer Science: Creating a Village for Educators focuses on two related goals:

  1. to increase and diversify participation in computing by supporting the work of school districts and
  2. to study and share how school districts do this work, so nationally and collectively, we can increase and diversify participation in computing.

Our studies involve research on process and evaluation of outcomes for teachers and students. During 2015, our first year of CS- CaVE, we gathered data to inform the ongoing work of the CS10K community.

cscave photo 1Research on Process, Implementing Change in CS Education

Through interviews and observations, we explored a central question—what helps and what hinders progress toward the goal of expanding and broadening participation in computer science in K12 schools? We seek to better understand the educational system at multiple levels, and the opportunities and constraints in achieving the goals of more Computer Science Principles (CSP) classes in high schools, more CS/CSP students, and a more diverse group of CS students.

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Through interviews and observations, we explored a central question—what helps and what hinders progress toward the goal of expanding and broadening participation in computer science in K12 schools? We seek to better understand the educational system at multiple levels, and the opportunities and constraints in achieving the goals of more Computer Science Principles (CSP) classes in high schools, more CS/CSP students, and a more diverse group of CS students. Data analysis is preliminary and can be summarized as follows:

At the classroom level: Classrooms need to meet the needs of students learning CS across multiple dimensions.

  • Student interest drives enrollment, which determines how classes are scheduled. Active recruitment can generate student interest and should involve understanding of CS courses and how they relate to students’ other interests and fostering students’ sense of self-efficacy in CS.
  • Students need to satisfy certain requirements for graduation. At present, CS classes most often count as elective courses, but many in education are advocating that they should satisfy math requirements to make them more attractive to students.
  • CA CS teachers need state-sanctioned credentials in Business, Industrial and Technology Education, or Mathematics, plus appropriate CS content and pedagogy training. To successfully engage diverse students, teachers also need high levels of enthusiasm and responsiveness to the differing needs of diverse students, especially those traditionally excluded from CS due to socio-economic barriers and social expectations.
  • Some teachers are attuned to how CS classroom environments should be welcoming to a broad range of students. Implicit messages in décor, posters, and conversation, can invite or exclude students.
  • Master teachers advocate that curricula should cultivate the core skills of computational thinking, have specific, accessible content (inclusive of student diversity whenever possible), and articulate clear performance measures. Curricula should quickly adapt to inevitable CS advances and demonstrate real-world relevance.
  • Teachers are learning pedagogical strategies to more actively engage their students, including pair programming, project portfolios, and offline computing.
  • Computer hardware must have sufficient computing power, Internet access, and in some cases, local area networks that enable students to have administrator privileges without putting school databases at risk. Tablet computers and Chromebooks are insufficient tools for learning computer science and programming.

At the school level: Schools need to increase both supply and demand for CS courses, while simultaneously broadening and diversifying participation among teachers and students.

  • Student recruitment is an essential driver of student enrollment. Critical questions include: Who communicates what to whom about CS offerings? How do teachers, counselors, and administrators articulate the opportunities, expectations, and potential rewards of taking CS courses? How do they choose what students to recruit? How do biases play a role?
  • Teachers, once they are credentialed, trained, and equipped with necessary resources, need to be encouraged, supported, and retained. Schools need to build capacity and “deepen their bench” to support sustainability. Two potential issues: a) while math teachers can teach CS, there is a high demand for them to teach math, and b) since many CCTE teachers’ contracts are course-by-course and their income is at stake, they may be competing against each other for the opportunity to teach CS.
  • Funding for courses relates to student enrollment. Schools/principals need to find funding sources for CS classes. The programs in which they are situated (Math or CCTE) can determine what funding sources are available. If schools/principals can demonstrate that CS classes are serving a required number of students with free-and-reduced-lunch eligibility, additional funding sources (e.g. Title I, etc.) can become available.
  • Scheduling a CS class requires students, teachers, funding, and classrooms with suitable hardware resources AND space on a school’s master schedule. Therefore, explicit support from school administration is necessary.
  • Course credits, or how classes “count” relative to students’ district-based graduation requirements, determines which students enroll, which teachers are allowed to teach the class, and how it can be funded.
  • In CA, most schools will not adopt a class unless it has University of CA “a-g” approval, which determines a course’s eligibility for college entrance requirements for the CSU and UC systems.
  • The introduction of Advanced Placement status may incentivize some students to enroll, but might also be off-putting for those who don’t perceive themselves as “AP.”
  • Course approval by the district, and assignment of UC a-g status, requires that school principals and counselors submit the school’s course offerings to the district before a predetermined deadline, which can be up to 8 months before the next school year begins.

At the district level: Districts have many priorities besides computing education. They are concerned with student engagement and graduation, teacher performance and human resource development, and meeting their budgets.

  • Course approval at the district level is required for a course to be offered at schools. Course approval typically requires review by relevant department chairs (e.g. Math or CCTE) and approval by a district curriculum committee and sometimes the district school board.
  • Course credits, in CA, depend on approval by the University of CA “a-g Doorways,” which inform graduation requirements and are designed to prepare students for a university education. Districts must submit a course description and rationale for how the proposed CS course contributes to a core discipline (e.g. math) or should be counted as a high-quality “g” elective.
  • Educational pathways articulate how courses are sequenced to support meaningful student learning. For example, within Career and Technical Education (CTE) and Career, College and Technical Education (CCTE), CS courses can act as key elements in the Information Communication Technology (ICT) Pathway, with a 2-course minimum. When CS courses are offered this way, additional federal funding can be provided to support CS teachers, thereby reducing the cost of CS courses to school sites.
  • Policy compliance by course offerings must be ensured by districts. Many CCTE programs receive state and/or federal funding and must meet requirements for academic rigor and appropriate sequencing by the funder.
  • Funding for CS courses is a concern at both the school and district levels, especially as districts work to establish, scale up, and sustain CS programs at multiple schools.

At the state policy level: 

  • Teaching credentials are determined by the CA Commission on Teacher Credentialing (CTC). During summer 2015, the CTC approved a supplemental authorization specifically for CS teachers based on CS course work at the university level.

Funding for public schools comes from the CA DOE, based on student enrollment and program designation. For example, CCTE receives federal money based on a different funding formula than regular education. Decisions about funding allocations at the district level must meet state and federal mandates.


Evaluation of Outcomes, Training and Professional Development

Teachers’ thoughts about CS education, CS skills and teaching, and their own knowledge acquisition were obtained via pre-post training surveys and informal observations and conversations during and after training sessions with teachers and master teachers.

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Teachers’ thoughts about CS education, CS skills and teaching, and their own knowledge acquisition were obtained via pre-post training surveys and informal observations and conversations during and after training sessions with teachers and master teachers. Findings include:

  • Teachers learned a lot from the training. When asked to rate their knowledge/skill levels at both the beginning and end of the training, in 5 areas: 1) Alice ability, 2) overall programming ability, 3) teaching Alice, 4) teaching programming in general, and 5) teaching CSP in general, teachers’ pre-training skill ratings averaged from 2% to 45% across districts. By the end of training, skill ratings averages ranged from 50% to 67% across districts, with pre-post increases of ~20-30%. Although teachers felt they acquired knowledge and skills, the post-training data indicate that teachers still feel that they have a lot to learn, particularly with regard to teaching CS.
  • Teachers liked and would continue to use the training materials and website curriculum content and links provided during training. They especially liked having additional platforms besides Alice to work with, such as App Inventor.
  • Teachers reported being excited to teach CSP, wanting to teach CSP, and liking computer science and programing. They strongly believed that their students would benefit from a CS class and from having to think about why wrong answers are wrong as well as why correct answers are correct.
  • Teachers felt high levels of confidence in their ability to successfully complete important aspects of the CS courses they would teach. Examples include “helping students learn the fundamentals of computer programming,” “using Alice as a tool to teach students about computers and programming,” “apply the Peer Instruction method in the classroom,” “engage the students in peer learning,” and “ask students appropriate questions after peer interaction to maximize the quality of whole-group instruction.”
  • Teachers reported that their schools and districts had increased their focus on CS education over the past three years, indicating that it had become ‘more’ of a priority than before. Teachers believed CS education should be more of a priority than it currently is for their schools and districts, however.


What role might higher education play in district efforts to expand CS offerings?

We want to understand the appropriate and evolving role of the university and CS-CaVE staff as each districts’ capacities increase internally and as the community of CS-teachers grows across the districts.

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We want to understand the appropriate and evolving role of the university and CS-CaVE staff as each districts’ capacities increase internally and as the community of CS-teachers grows across the districts.

In the CS-CaVE partnership (and previously ComPASS), UC San Diego helped to train CS teachers, who then became Master Teachers (MTs) in their districts, and empowered MTs to act more effectively as CS champions within their districts. As MTs and other district champions have gained experience over this first grant year, we are learning how the university can play important roles in:

  • continuing to support curricular innovations and development,
  • creating inter-district opportunities for all CS teachers and MTs to learn,
  • providing continuous as-requested championing of CS issues/needs with the revolving door of administrators at school sites and within districts,
  • speaking to school boards, industry and university faculty/staff about resources needed within schools and districts,
  • helping K12 administrators, teachers, counselors, parents and students understand the importance of learning/exposure to CS for college and career readiness, and

continuously drawing attention to the imperative to diversify the student population that has access to and participates in CS education.


Dissemination of Findings

Through collaborative effort among university and district partners, we share what we learn through various channels.

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Through collaborative effort among university and district partners, we share what we learn through various channels:

  • The Education Studies/CREATE UC San Diego Common Core and NGSS Conference: Diving Deep: Transforming Educational Practice for All Students through CCSS/NGSS created a special session for Master Teachers Art Lopez (SUHSD) and Ray Kinne (SDUSD) to share their work with regional K12 administrators and teachers. 350 K12 educators attended the conference (May 2015).
  • The CA Department of Education (CDE) holds an annual STEM Symposium for thousands of CA K12 teachers and administrators. CS-CaVE PIs supported and participated in Sweetwater Union HSD’s accepted panel presentation Equity and Innovation: Computer Science Pathways for Grades 7-12 (October 2015).
  • The Association of Computing Machinery’s publication ACM Inroads published CS-CaVE: Districts’ Roles in Broadening Computer Science Access (December 2015, volume 6, no. 4). This journal article tells the story of CS-CaVE’s origins in another NSF-funded project (ComPASS) and the move toward focusing on social-political dimensions of educational reform, not solely technical dimensions. This journal targets computer science educators and educational researchers.
  • The American Educational Research Association awarded a Presidential Symposium to Broadening Participation in Computer Science Education through Professional Learning Communities, Implementation Research, and District-level Change (April 2016). With Janice Cuny, NSF Program Director for Computing Education, as discussant, this symposium will share four NSF-funded university-school district partnerships for CS education, highlighting the necessities of change in teacher preparation, district-level organization, and state educational policy. We organized this symposium and invited colleagues from University of Chicago, UCLA, and Oregon to participate in this larger symposium.
  • At the Computer Science Teachers Association National Annual Meeting (CSTA), CS-CaVE university and district partners—including high school students—will present a panel discussion Equity, Diversity and Inclusion in CS in HS: What Works, What Doesn’t (July 2016). The discussion will address issues of critical importance to CS teachers, i.e. how to recruit and retain more girls and underrepresented minority students to participate in CS.

At the Computer Science Teachers Association National Annual Meeting, CS-CaVE university and district partners are working with district administrators, the San Diego County Office of Education, and organizer Joe Pistone, president of CSTA’s San Diego Chapter to hold a full-day seminar with district level leadership on the importance of CS educational opportunities and strategies and case studies on how to grow such opportunities within their districts (July 2016).