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Lisa Kaczmarczyk on Evaluation in K-12 Computer Science May Require Unexpected Resources

Hi, my name is Lisa Kaczmarczyk; I am a computer scientist with my own project evaluation consultancy and I’m also an adjunct computer science (CS) faculty at Harvey Mudd College. I work primarily with CS and engineering teachers and faculty who face unique challenges when creating their computing curriculum and evaluation procedures. A recent conversation I had with a frustrated school Principal exemplified two of the problems I often encounter in this setting: enthusiasm but lack of formal CS training, and isolation from other CS teachers. K-12 CS Evaluators need to be prepared to deal with this situation.

The Principal explained to me that he wanted one of his teachers to develop a new computing curriculum for grades K-8. I was asked to help them develop CS based assessment metrics for each grade. Unfortunately, neither one of them had a computer science background or professional experience. As a result, they were having a very hard time identifying objectives that were based on age appropriate computational principles.

Unfortunately, this situation is not unusual in the US because CS teaching certification varies widely and is often hard to come by. Frequently, CS teachers have their primary certification in another area of instruction. In addition, whether or not they have a CS teaching credential, new computer science teachers often have no one to talk to. They feel isolated.

Like many of their peers, this Principal and teacher needed resources to build off of and a community to share and vet their classroom ideas and experiences. An evaluator coming on the scene needs to have resources at hand to help teachers develop their understanding about what computer science objectives are and are not.

Rad Resources:

There are several good curricular resources, guidelines and references available, each with their own very active community of teachers. The resources contain varying levels of specificity, but they all have online communities that include both new and experienced CS teachers. Without endorsing any one standard over the other, here are a few to peruse and start a conversation about classroom objectives with:

From the Computer Science Teachers Association (CSTA) http://www.csta.acm.org/Curriculum/sub/K12Standards.html;

From code.org https://code.org/educate/curriculum

From the Scratch community http://scratched.gse.harvard.edu/guide/

Hot Tip: Resources alone only go so far. Teachers and administrators need support to form local support communities. Provide them with the emails or URLs to connect to their state level CS teacher meetups, professional organizations (such as CSTA) or faculty at local community colleges who might be interested in creating bridge programs. In most cases, there are other teachers willing to share computational goals and objectives they are trying in their classrooms along with members of their professional network in computing academia and industry.

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3 thoughts on “Lisa Kaczmarczyk on Evaluation in K-12 Computer Science May Require Unexpected Resources”

  1. Hello Lisa,

    I really enjoyed your article and could relate in many ways; even though I have no formal CS training, I have been working with many different coding languages and have amassed a firm foundation in computer related skills. I am also a Canadian primary school teacher currently completing a master of education, and am in the midst of learning about program evaluation.

    There is currently a big push from our school district, and probably many others in British Columbia, to integrate effective computer science curriculum into our schools. But as you mentioned, there are few if any teachers with any formal CS training in the profession, as most people who receive CS training tend to work in the IT sector. This means that by the time the students reach me (grades 3 or 4, which is the highest grade in our school), they are not even able to turn on a computer, let alone code.

    One of the struggles I have had is trying to convince my colleagues that there is value in teaching kids to code early. Because it is not explicitly in the early years curriculum, they would just rather bypass it and ignore it rather than learn the skills necessary to teach it. I have mentioned to them that many jobs will eventually be replaced by computers (I wrote a blog post about teaching methods I’ve been employing in my classroom to navigate this: https://timraposo21stcentury.weebly.com/blog/february-09th-2021#comments) and they still do not see the value in coding. Are there any suggestions that you have for how to convince them to be a little more forward-thinking with this?

    In my own classroom, I have had success getting the students to create The Floor Is Lava-style video games using Microsoft Powerpoint; I know that it sounds dubious, but it is far more suited to their level than the initiatives put into place by the block-coding movement. Perhaps I would be able to work with them using software like the ones you mentioned in your Rad Resources like code.org or Scratch, or even some of the others that have popped up like Tinker, but the students are so limited in what they can do on a computer – especially being that I work in a rural community – that this was the best alternative for me.

    I appreciate your Hot Tip, and will consider sharing my mini computer science unit with other teachers in the district to see if it resonates with them and gets kids into the mindset to think in terms of computer logic. It’s very important to me that students don’t miss out on these skills just because their teachers are lacking them.

    Also, I was wondering what some of the assessment metrics were that you came up with for grades K-8? Having those at my disposal might allow for me to better connect my staff to computer science in the classroom.

  2. Hi Lisa,

    I really enjoyed reading your article on computer science evaluation and resources. It’s clear that computer science skills are becoming more important every year as we’re only progressing more and more towards a technologically advanced world.

    As an elementary schoolteacher currently undergoing a graduate program and working solely online, I at times rely very heavily on communication between my classmates and professor via email. I find this certainly helpful with providing resources to utilize towards solidifying our content understanding for term papers and projects.

    I can only imagine the helplessness CS teachers’ feel when trying to locate assistance and resources to help with age-appropriate computer science curriculum; especially with CS being a fairly new and developing subject in schools.

    I think it’s very important that CS teachers of mixed experience levels are combining their efforts into sharing and building available resources, I wonder if we’ll start seeing a more centralized focus of incorporating CS and assessment skills as an underlying requirement for new educators?

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