Sunday, January 19, 2014

For the Cause of Coding in K-12: Let's Collaborate++

To address the myriad challenges involved in getting high school kids interested in coding, and even more importantly in Computer Science, we need to draw upon a variety of perspectives. A variety of experiences. A variety of skills. A lot of people out there are interested in tackling this problem and we need to listen to all of them. Many people have been working for a long time, and very hard, on drawing attention to the need for Computer Science, and coding as a subset of that, to be widely available in high schools and for students to be encouraged to try it out.

I had an interesting conversation this week with Jeremy Keeshin, one of the founders of CodeHS, a Silicon Valley tech startup that is working on this problem. I met Jeremy last November when he was one of several
Photo Courtesy of CodeHS
tech company presenters at a meeting of the ACM Education Council (I wrote about that meeting Here). Sure, a lot of companies, startup and not so startup, have jumped into the K-12 coding fray. But there was something particularly interesting here that I wanted to learn more about, so I tracked Jeremy down and we had a nice long chat.

CodeHS's approach has a lot going for it, and is worth checking out, but it isn't so much the specific details of their model I want to talk about right now, but the perspective and attitude that feeds that model. Jeremy apparently caught the pedagogy bug while working as a Computer
Photo Courtesy of CodeHS
Science Teaching Assistant in college, and understands more about "what makes it work" (or not work) than I might have expected when I first met him last Fall. He is committed 100% to contributing to the success of introductory coding in K-12, not as a teacher but as an industry entrepreneur.  At the same time, he hasn't turned his back on what academia has to offer. He sees the merit of both worlds.

In our most recent conversation we spoke at some length about the challenges and excitement of trying to build bridges between two very different worlds that ultimately share the same end goal: kids that like coding and see it as a first step towards further computing studies. We speculated on what collaborations could look like and how they might work. A key factor in any such collaboration is that all parties must clearly see something in it for themselves and their perspective on how to improve educational outcomes. It turns out that, in addition to their current core work with high schools, high school teachers, and students, CodeHS is in the preliminary stages of two such collaborative projects.

In the first project, they are talking with a current Stanford PhD student about conducting research on high school students' code and evaluating it in relation to problem solving pathways those students subsequently take in their coding*. This project sounds to me like it could develop into an excellent "you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours" scenario, providing knowledge on a theoretical and applied level; providing eventually, potentially, depending how far they run with it, lots of data that informs rapid tool development and pedagogical practice.

In the second exploratory project, CodeHS is in discussion with several Computer Science faculty about how they can work directly together in high schools. Now, each group can, and already does, such work on their own. But according to Jeremy in this case there has been a meeting of minds and a recognition that each of their respective groups has the ability to assist the other in overcoming barriers and making the experience for students, to put it in his words, "a whole lot better".

To pull off projects like these, especially the second one, requires a certain mindset, a willingness to be flexible and open to different ways of knowing and doing. I hope both of CodeHS's collaborations continue and are successful. I'm going to keep in touch and see how it all goes.

Inspired by all of this, I'm percolating on what might happen if we got the right  group of dedicated, passionate, committed "bridge people" together in a room for a few days. Add good coffee, stir...

*Information corrected/clarified from an earlier version of the post

1 comment:

  1. Nice to talk again Lisa, and thanks for including us in your blog!