EppsNet Archive: Teachers

Teaching Computer Science: Priorities

When schoolchildren start paying union dues, that’s when I’ll start representing the interests of schoolchildren. — Albert Shanker, President of the United Federation of Teachers (1964-1984) and President of the American Federation of Teachers (1974-1997) It’s a problem in my profession that the number of schools that want to teach computer science far exceeds the number of computer science majors who want to teach computer science. The opportunity cost is too high. Computer science majors can earn a lot more working as software engineers than working as teachers. I volunteer a couple mornings a week to help with computer science instruction at a local high school. This school has a teacher, originally hired as a math teacher, who must be well into her fourth decade of teaching.  She now teaches computer science classes — poorly, but she teaches them. Because of her professional longevity, she makes a six-figure income with… Read more →

The Interests of Schoolchildren

More than 30,000 teachers in the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) went on strike this week. LAUSD serves 640,000 students and is the second biggest school district in the country. The mean annual wage for LAUSD teachers is $75,000. In the local reporting I’m seeing on the strike, teachers and union reps are unanimous in saying that they’re striking for the benefit of the schoolchildren. I’m reminded of something Albert Shanker — former president of the United Federation of Teachers (1964-1984) and the American Federation of Teachers (1974-1997) — used to say: When schoolchildren start paying union dues, that’s when I’ll start representing the interests of schoolchildren. I can’t say for certain that the LA union reps are being disingenuous but it does make sense that they’d be representing the interests of the people who are paying them. Read more →

Teaching Computer Science: Tips and Tricks for the AP CS Principles Performance Tasks

Your most valuable resource for the performance tasks is the AP Computer Science Principles Exam page. Look for the section titled Sample Responses and Scoring Information. There’s a rubric for performance tasks, but they’re graded by humans so scoring is somewhat subjective. This page takes the guesswork out of it. You’ll find multiple student responses from previous exam administrations, including scoring guidelines and commentary. Some of the responses are excellent, some are bad, and the rest are somewhere in-between. But they all come with a detailed explanation for each row of the rubric as to why points were or were not awarded. Don’t submit your performance tasks without ensuring that they most closely resemble the high-scoring examples on this page.   Teachers are limited in the type of questions they can answer regarding your performance tasks. It has to be your own work. That being said, if you have a… Read more →

Teaching Computer Science: Inequality = Bad?

I’m volunteering a couple mornings a week in a high school computer science class . . . “Why don’t schools and classes have sponsors?” I ask one of the teachers. “When my kid was in school, they were always complaining about not having enough money. So why couldn’t you, for example, come in and say, ‘Hey kids, before you come to 1st period, make sure you have a good breakfast at McDonald’s. I’m lovin’ it!’? “And McDonald’s pays you 100 grand or whatever to say that.” “My concern,” he says, “is that would lead to more inequality in education.” I’m not sure he really thought that through. It seems more like a mechanical response to an abstract notion, i.e., “Inequality is bad.” As a parent, I always supported inequality in education. I wanted my kid to get the best possible education, better than most other kids. As a classroom volunteer,… Read more →

Teaching Computer Science: Next Year’s Teacher

I’m volunteering a couple mornings a week in an AP Computer Science Principles class for the upcoming school year . . . Schools are adding more CS classes and, almost without exception, retraining in-service teachers to teach them, rather than hiring people with knowledge and experience in the field. I met with the teacher today to do some upfront planning. At one point, he was calculating how many printouts we’d need for 6 groups of 4 students each . . . “Let’s see,” he said, “6 times 4 is 20 . . .” If you think that’s funny, guess what class he normally teaches: accounting. “Are you going to write that?” someone asks me. “Does he know you have a website?” “I don’t know what he knows or doesn’t know. Except he doesn’t know what 6 times 4 is.” Read more →

Teaching Computer Science: How to Get Top-Notch Teachers in the Classroom

I read something every day where educators and/or elected officials are talking about the importance for our kids, our country, our future, etc., of teaching computer science, the sticking point being an extreme shortage of qualified teachers. A person entering the workforce with a computer science degree is unlikely to go into teaching because of the opportunity cost: they can earn a lot more money as a software engineer. The likelihood of getting a mid-career tech industry professional to switch into teaching is even lower. Teacher salaries are based in large part on years of service. A mid-career person switching into teaching is not going to get a mid-career teacher’s salary, they are going to get a first-year teacher’s salary. So here’s the idea: Give CS professionals the opportunity to apply their years in industry to years of service as a teacher. It’s still a pay cut going from software… Read more →

Teaching Computer Science: When You Need Help, Ask For Help

I’m volunteering a couple mornings a week at a local high school, helping out with computer science classes. It’s a mixed class . . . most of the students are taking AP Computer Science Principles, and about 10 kids just recently started a second-semester Visual Basic class. The VB kids were pretty inquisitive at first but started to get discouraged . . . in my opinion because of the way the material is presented to them via an online curriculum. The current approach to teaching computer science in American schools, because of the shortage of (I almost said “lack of”) qualified teachers is to use packaged courses delivered to students online. My observation is students assume that because they’ve been put in front of a computer full of lessons, they’re expected to be able to read and understand the material and complete the assignments on their own with no help.… Read more →

Teaching Computer Science: It’s Not Easy to Teach a Subject in Which You Have No Training

A recent issue of Science has an article on the pipeline for computer science teachers . . . The first sentence says, “It’s not easy to teach a subject in which you have no training.” That could be the whole article, really. That’s about all you need to know about the current state of computer science instruction: It’s not easy to teach a subject in which you have no training. Cameron Wilson, chief operating officer and president of the Code.org Advocacy Coalition, is quoted as saying, “It’s really hard to convince a computer science professional to give up a job that pays up to three times more to pursue teaching. And I don’t think we should.” Wilson’s opinion that computer science classes should not be taught by someone who actually knows something about computer science is probably influenced by the fact that Code.org is one of the leading providers of… Read more →

Making it Through High School Alive

Baltimore schools spend a staggering $16,000 per student – the fourth-highest rate in the nation – and still an investigation by Fox45’s Project Baltimore revealed that at six city schools, not one student scored proficient on the statewide tests for English and math. At West Baltimore’s Frederick Douglass High, one of five high schools and one middle school where not one student scored a four or a five on the state test, only one out of 185 students who took the test last year scored a three, while 165 students scored a one, the lowest possible score. — Zero Hedge The schools are: Booker T. Washington Middle School Frederick Douglass High School Achievement Academy at Harbor City New Era Academy Excel Academy at Francis M. Wood High New Hope Academy It looks like if you live in Baltimore, you want to avoid sending your child to a school whose name… Read more →

To Young Women Considering a Career in Technology

You’ve probably read a lot of articles about how sexist and awful the culture is for women in technology. I think if anything deters young women from technology careers, it’s this glut of articles saying how sexist and awful the culture is. I’ve worked in software development for 30 years. In my experience — and feel free to discount this because I’m not a woman — the culture is not tough for women. If anything, men give women the benefit of the doubt because they’d like to have more women around. As Holden Caulfield used to say, “I like to be somewhere at least where you can see a few girls around once in a while, even if they’re only scratching their arms or blowing their noses or even just giggling or something.” Yes, I have seen bad things happen to women in tech, but I’ve seen bad things happen… Read more →

Teen Solicits Clown to Kill Teacher

Originally she just wanted a pie in the face but the clown upsold her. “For another $50 I can use a FROZEN pie and kill her!” Read more →

A Picture of God

A little girl was in a drawing lesson. She was six, and she was at the back, drawing, and the teacher said this girl hardly ever paid attention, and in this drawing lesson, she did. The teacher was fascinated. She went over to her, and she said, “What are you drawing?” And the girl said, “I’m drawing a picture of God.” And the teacher said, “But nobody knows what God looks like.” And the girl said, “They will, in a minute.” — Ken Robinson Read more →

How People Learn to Become Resilient

[Developmental psychologist Emmy Werner] found that several elements predicted resilience. Some elements had to do with luck: a resilient child might have a strong bond with a supportive caregiver, parent, teacher, or other mentor-like figure. But another, quite large set of elements was psychological, and had to do with how the children responded to the environment. From a young age, resilient children tended to “meet the world on their own terms.” They were autonomous and independent, would seek out new experiences, and had a “positive social orientation.” “Though not especially gifted, these children used whatever skills they had effectively,” Werner wrote. Perhaps most importantly, the resilient children had what psychologists call an “internal locus of control”: they believed that they, and not their circumstances, affected their achievements. The resilient children saw themselves as the orchestrators of their own fates. In fact, on a scale that measured locus of control, they… Read more →

Why Do Bad Things Always Happen to Him?

Posted by a teacher on Facebook: You don’t look good, in my opinion, making other people’s tragedies all about you . . . Read more →

The Ceiling Seems Very Low

I don’t know if this is good news or bad news. It would help to know what “trains” means but I read the article and it doesn’t say. Reporters need to be more inquisitive. Can someone with no knowledge of computer science or programming be “trained” to teach computer science or programming? What would that entail? How long would it take? Can someone who’s never played an instrument or listened to a piece of music be “trained” to teach a music class? Can someone who’s never picked up a drawing pencil or visited a museum be “trained” to teach an art class? Can someone who doesn’t speak Spanish be “trained” to teach a Spanish class? The ceiling on any of these approaches seems very low compared to hiring actual programmers, musicians, artists and Spanish speakers . . . Thus spoke The Programmer. Read more →

Teaching Computer Science: Ask More Questions

You need to ask more questions. I think there’s a general fear about asking questions. There’s a risk of looking foolish in front of the whole group when it turns out that everyone else already knows the answer. It’s actually very unusual for someone to ask a question to which everyone else knows the answer. If you find it happens to you a lot, you probably want to get that checked out, but normally it’s very unusual. Another scenario: Somebody, maybe a teacher, says something and you think “That doesn’t make sense. I wonder if it makes sense to everyone else. Rather than risk looking foolish in front of the whole group, I’ll wait and see if someone else asks a question.” So you wait for someone to ask a question and no one asks a question. Why? Because they’re all waiting for someone to ask a question. Many people,… Read more →

Teaching Computer Science: Combating Procrastination

Students had a project due last week and I got a lot of messages and emails asking for help. Of course, when we handed out the assignment two months ago, we advised students not to wait till the last minute to work on it. Teachers and parents saying “Don’t wait till the last minute” is just an understood part of the process. It’s something that gets said but it’s background noise. A couple of alternatives occur to me: Reverse psychology. Say “My advice is to start as late as possible. Try to do two months of work in the last week, or better yet, the last night.” This seems too easy to see through and therefore unlikely to work. Hand out the 20-page spec and tell the students that it’s due tomorrow. WHAT!? YOU CANNOT BE SERIOUS! NOBODY COULD DO THIS IN ONE DAY! “You’re right. It’s actually due in… Read more →

Teaching Computer Science: Incentives (or Lack Thereof)

According to this article on TechCrunch, “Every California high school must establish computer science courses as part of its core curriculum.” From the same article: “Most California teachers have little or no training to teach computer science.” Do you see the problem there? I’ve been a programmer for many years . . . I’d be glad to teach computer science to students, teachers or anyone who wants to learn it if there were even a modest incentive to do so. Which there isn’t. One way to measure how much people want something is how much they’re willing to pay for it. There’s no shortage of people talking about teaching programming and computer science, which is free (the talking, that is), but without the incentives ($$$) very little is going to actually happen. Read more →

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