Exploring Computer Science is supported by the Broadening Participation in Computing division of the National Science Foundation (Into the Loop).
Our mission is to increase and enhance the computer science learning opportunities in the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), the second largest school district in the country, and to broaden the participation of African-American, Latino/a, and female students in learning computer science. To do so we have founded a K-12/university partnership, which is working on changes at multiple levels:
- Technical (curriculum, professional development, counselor education);
- Belief systems (stereotypes about what type of student can do computer science, low expectations);
- Political (policy changes that must occur to institutionalize computer science learning at the high school level, especially in schools with high numbers of students of color).
While we partner to deepen the capacity of LAUSD to support these reforms, we are developing a model and repository of best practices that can help spread and inform similar efforts in other school districts.
Our Overarching Perspective
While recognizing the importance of computer science knowledge for economic and educational opportunity in the 21st century, we also believe that the inequities in computer science are an indicator of what Jonathan Kozol (1992) refers to as the “savage inequalities” in our larger educational system. The mechanisms and beliefs that channel students of color away from computer science learning opportunities do the very same thing throughout the entire college-preparatory educational system. The end result is that students of color in low resourced schools are commonly denied a wide range of occupational or educational futures. Therefore, in the end, it can be fairly stated that our work is about computer science education, but also about addressing the larger inequities in our current educational system.
Our Professional Development (PD) Model
CS teacher certification does not exist and neither do CS teaching methods courses (Margolis, et. al 2008; CSTA, 2008). Teachers who do teach computer science are often teaching out of subject, are isolated, and are lacking a professional learning community. Therefore, a critical part of building district capacity for computer science instruction is the accompanying Exploring Computer Science Professional Development program.
ECS Professional Development (PD) is focused on building a professional learning community of teacher leaders. The PD consists of a summer institute focused both on course content and pedagogical knowledge, along with on-going PDs and inquiry groups throughout the year, and an in-classroom coaching program.
Inquiry Based Instruction
We believe that in the world of computer science education, a greater understanding is needed of both the issues of under-representation and the use of pedagogy that successfully engages traditionally underrepresented students with computer science. We have found that forming a learning community is at least a two-year process that involves on-going collaboration and learning.
During the academic year, follow up Saturday sessions are held. This ongoing model of professional development provides teachers a regular chance to come together with fellow teachers and university educators to reflect on their classroom teaching experiences and build a learning community, while learning new curricular material and new pedagogies.
Since many computer teachers are used to more traditional instruction methods (and are teaching out of subject), a big shift is required to teach the Exploring Computer Science project-based, inquiry based curriculum. During the PD, inquiry focused instruction is modeled through role playing, jig sawing activities, pair and small-group collaboration, structured tinkering, promoting multiple solutions, and engaging in simulations. After a year of teaching, and becoming more familiar with the content, teachers are in a stronger position to focus on the key overarching purpose of the course: to have students introduced to and working with the problem-solving and practices of computational thinking.
Throughout the PDs we work with this question: How do we foster critical thinking, problem-solving, and creativity throughout ECS?
Despite the importance of the Exploring Computer Science Summer Institutes and weekend workshops, in-classroom follow up is also necessary. Therefore, an ECS coaching program has been established. Findings on this importance echo much research from other fields showing that off-site professional development events are simply not sufficient to support teachers in crafting their pedagogical approaches around a new curriculum (Darling-Hammond and Youngs, 2002).
In this coaching program, coaches and teachers design a collaboration plan: a) identifying goals, b) identifying success indicators, c) selecting strategies to achieve the goals and d) determining the data to be collected as evidence. Strategies range from co-teaching, observation of another classroom teacher, videotaping and reflection, as well as planning and reflecting conversations.
Through the coaching collaboration, teachers’ comfort and ability to effectively implement ECS has been greatly strengthened.