K-12 CS Education Town Hall @ Grace Hopper

Valerie Barr
Valerie Barr, Professor of Computer Science, Union College

 For the second year in a row, the Grace Hopper conference included a Town Hall meeting on K-12 CS education, bringing together K-12 teachers with people from industry, academia, and research.  One of the questions discussed was what teachers feel they need.  The answers ranged from political and infrastructure responses to "in the trenches" needs.  Here are some of the responses:


  1. Teachers need a political partner, someone from the political world to witness our discussions and begin to understand that CS is in crisis, to understand what teachers need.  How about getting a U.S. senator or Arne Duncan to come to SigCSE to talk about the CS education act, etc.  And, most important, get CS included in STEM.
  2. Teachers need equipment and training.  Labs in many schools are too slow and too outdated. 
  3. Teachers need access to research and data, plus help on how to put together grants in order to get resources into their schools.
  4. If companies cannot donate equipment, maybe they could bring commitment in on loan.  Or set up a bus of equipment that could arrive at the school periodically so that students would have access to state-of-the art machines.
  5. As is often mentioned, teachers need help changing the image of computing within K-12 so that girls will be more likely to want to take the courses.  In particular, need ways to reach girls in 5th-8th grade, which is the time when they start to fall out of math and science.
  6. Need a groundswell of support, educate parents and others in communities so that they understand how important it is that CS be taught and be required. People need to know that CS isn’t required, so that they can lobby for it to become required.
  7. Need teacher certification and teacher training programs that are focused on CS.
  8. The K-12 situation would be helped by a disarticulation of the pieces of CS.  We need better understanding among administrators and policy making boards that CS is not IT, CS is not computer applications, but that CS is not just programming either.
  9. Teachers asked for online self-directed learning modules so that they can get up to speed on new CS material.
  10. Because standards differ in every state, administrative support is critical, as well as trustworthy curricular materials.

One issue raised was that there are many communities in which CS is not taught at all, so those communities would not have any teachers who could attend a town hall like this one.  

The next question asked was what people who are not K-12 teachers see as their role in the work around K-12 education, either personally or as a group.

  1. We can break down the isolation many individual K-12 teachers experience.  (One of the suggestions I made during my opening remarks at the Town Hall was that people in industry or college/university settings invite area K-12 CS teachers, giving them an opportunity to connect with each other.)
  2. We can target the people who help kids make decisions.  For example, a new corporate partnership will be announced soon which will reach out to parents and guidance counselors.

A final closing comment was that we figure out how to "network" our passion and sustain it so that we don’t leave meetings like the Town Hall and then lose all of our enthusiasm and energy. One way is to participate is to register for National Lab Day and CS Ed Week, and help with CS activities in your area schools. 


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