About high school computer science teachers

I’m giving a talk at PyCon next Saturday about teachers. The title is “What teachers really need from us“.

The first thing I should admit is that when I started thinking about this talk, I was sure that the list of what teachers needed from us was really long.

Then, I started actually talking with teachers.

So, here’s what some of them have said:

  • Reading comprehension is the biggest barrier to completion of AP Computer Science (Page 8 of this AP CS course description)
  • Fighting for continued existence is the biggest battle for a computer science teacher every year. “The number of secondary schools offering introductory computer science courses dropped 17 percent from 2005 to 2009 and the number offering Advanced Placement (AP) computer science courses dropped 35 percent in that time period.” December 2010 report
  • Writing personal letters from a teacher to students and parents increased the number of girls in one teacher’s class (in Virginia) from nearly zero to 50%. Research into increasing the number of women and minorities in CS classrooms is available in Stuck in the Shallow End.
  • Students at a high school learned three languages in three years. (C++, Java and Python) This busted so many notions I had about how long learning to program takes or what languages are most appropriate for beginners.
  • Kids don’t need algebra to learn to program. Algebra is a weeder course, often a prerequisite to CS and one that strongly indicates whether or not a student will graduate high school. What if kids could take an “algebra on computers” course instead of failing out of school? Please note, learning to program is not the same thing as being a professional programmer.
  • School counselors who help kids choose classes still send students to CS class believing that they’re going there to learn to type. Find out more about the wildly varying understanding state-by-state of what a computer science class really is in the Running on Empty report.
  • What teachers wanted from me was for me to come to their classes and give a short talk to their kids about myself and my work.
  • Teachers were super excited to hear about PyLadies. They struggle to get girls into their classes and are all looking for ways to increase the diversity of their classes.
  • The CS teachers I’ve met want to share their lessons – with me and with other teachers.
  • The CS teachers I’ve met don’t know other CS teachers.
  • Teachers were only mentioned once in the 84 initial statements of support for code.org

I think we’re all really missing out when we don’t talk to teachers.

I’ve talked directly with nine computer science teachers. Most of them are in Oregon, but I also was introduced to a couple teachers who came to Python-related conferences, or were married to Python programmers. I’m hoping to meet more. If you know someone, please put them in touch with me. I’m happy to chat over the phone or email, and love to meet folks in person.

Re-thinking “Mistakes were made”: free and open source software and teaching

I’m working on my keynote for FrOSCon right now.

They asked for me to revisit the “Mistakes were Made” talk. My introduction will probably be a lot the same. A core idea is a theory that the ratio of failure to success remains mostly constant over time. So, in order to succeed a lot, we need to be trying and failing a lot more.

But this talk, I am planning to go into what concerns me the most about open source software: succession.
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