Friday, December 28, 2012

The K-12 Computing Potato is Heating Up

Heading Into The Pipeline Soon
This won't be news to some of you - but we have a problem in K-12 Computer Science education. It isn't news to me either, but I have been seeing just how sticky it is from a new perspective recently. One of my projects has led to my reading detailed documentation about existing and proposed national education standards. And boy is it fascinating.

Now, we think (we know) we have some challenges in higher education because computing (the more internationally preferred term) is not always given the recognition it is due and that national and global economic needs indicate it most definitely deserves. One of the puzzlements (is that a word?) is reflected in the fact that post-secondary computing departments are sometimes found within Engineering, sometimes within Mathematics, sometimes under the Natural Sciences. But at least we recognize it when we see it. We have curricular recommendations for several computing programs (one of the most recent is CS2013 which I have written about before) and there is the option of rigorous departmental accreditation by ABET which is appropriate for some programs.

But I'm realizing in a profound way that part of the pipeline problem (whereby not enough students are coming up through the K-12 pipe who are both interested and prepared to study post-secondary computing) is that in some quarters - perhaps in a lot of quarters - there is fundamental confusion about what Computer Science is.

In curricular guidelines known as the Common Core, currently being adopted by many states in this country, the focus is on English Language Arts and Mathematics. No doubt the lead is taken from federal initiatives that emphasize the same. Unfortunately, No Computer Science prominently displayed. Now, we can find technology/information technology courses taught in many Vocational-Technical programs. Some of the Voc-Tech programs with an IT focus are really well done; well thought out, well taught, well assessed - but they aren't Computer Science.

Then there are the developing revisions of national recommendations for K-12 Science Education Standards. The last guidelines came out almost 20 years ago and it is well recognized that much has changed since then. However, based upon the Framework for Science Education it appears that Computer Science is not going to be included here either. Why not? Because it is deemed to be a branch of mathematics. The problem is, as I already noted, the K-12 Mathematics recommendations don't include Computer Science either.

Do you see where this is leading?

If no one is claiming computing then it gets lost in the shuffle. Not a trivial matter. 

Everyone agrees that computing is everywhere and undergirds professions everywhere. But there isn't a rush to claim it under any existing or proposed curricular umbrella. This feels like a game of pass the potato. It isn't a hot potato - yet.

On the optimistic front:

The Computer Science Teachers Association (CSTA) has put together some impressive recommendations for making computing integral to K-12 (click here and scroll to the bottom of the page for the K-12 specific Model Curriculum document). Having read these guidelines in depth I am impressed by the thought that has gone into this tough task. It fits the bill and it makes perfect sense. There should be no question in anyone's mind after reading this documentation just what computing/computer science is with regards to primary and secondary education.

Now the hard work is really under way: making it happen.

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