A CS State of Mind

In New York City, students and teachers well represented.

GUEST COLUMN | by Michael Preston

CREDIT CSNYC teacher training.jpgThe last several years have seen an unprecedented growth in computer science (CS) education. Arguably, 2013 was the turning point for CS in K-12 education, with the founding of local organizations such as CSNYC and national ones such as Code.org, whose explicit missions are to expand classroom access to CS.

Significantly, several state and district initiatives have gone beyond simply increasing access to CS to some students and declared CS a required subject for all students — effecting an unprecedented change to curriculum nationwide. Highly populated urban districts, including New York City, Chicago and San Francisco, as well as the states of Arkansas, Rhode Island and Utah, have each launched CSforAll initiatives, providing essential literacy for 21st century learning and an expanded pipeline to pathways in technology today’s public school students.

We recognize educating current teachers is only the first step in a long-term plan to create equitable, sustainable access to CS for all students.

A White House call to action established in January 2016 both acknowledged this growth and spurred additional commitments, and a new CSforAll Consortium was launched in September 2016 to help organize activity and track data across the country.

Teachers are integral to CS Success

In order to teach CS to as many public school students as possible, we need to produce a deep bench of teachers who are equipped with the skills and understanding they need to support student learning. Nurturing deep CS knowledge in a single teacher means that potentially hundreds of students per year will be able to learn CS.

Realistically, schools will seek to integrate CS in diverse ways that will evolve over time. This presents a need for at least two types of teachers: those who will formally be known as CS teachers in their schools; and those who will offer CS in the context of another subject area. Yet there are very few CS specialists for schools to hire, and few current teachers have been exposed to CS in ways that would enable them to teach it effectively in another context. The lack of (1) university programs in CS education — or even a general CS literacy requirement for all students — (2) certification pathways for teachers, and (3) a discernable job market have together produced a chicken-and-egg dilemma that has sustained years of inertia in K-12 CS education.

The tide is beginning to turn, however, with new CS initiatives in schools and districts creating sudden demand for CS teachers. Universities are slowly following suit, with a slate of new teacher preparation programs being implemented across the country, including several in New York City. In March 2016, CSNYC hosted a convening of local universities working on pre-service CS teacher programs and will continue to support their efforts to develop and scale their programs. In 2017, CSNYC will launch a National Science Foundation-funded project called “Finding a Home for CS in Schools of Education” in partnership with universities across the country.

While promising, these nascent programs will not produce qualified teachers overnight. In fact, to implement CS at scale for the foreseeable future, our central strategy must be to offer high-quality professional development (PD) for teachers already in classrooms. This is certainly the case in NYC, where our goal is to educate nearly 5,000 teachers over 10 years so we can reach 1.1 million students in 1,700 schools.

Who are these teachers?

Because of the dearth of qualified CS educators, the reality facing school districts is they must educate teachers from other subject area certifications. For example, the NYC Department of Education’s Software Engineering Program launched in 2013 with 40 teachers, but only 10 percent had any background in CS or a related field. Those teachers spent three years and about 350 hours in PD while teaching a curriculum that spanned computer programming, web and mobile development, robotics and electronics.

Educating teachers in CS from other disciplines comes with both benefits and constraints. The benefits include:

  • The teachers are already committed to careers in education and know how to manage a classroom;
  • They have demonstrated an interest in expanding their curriculum repertoire;
  • They are willing to manage a classroom focused on problem- and project-based learning; and
  • They are able to build connections back to their primary certification area.

Conversely, the constraints of in-service PD include:

  • The relatively small amount of time available, compared to pre-service learning and other higher education programs;
  • The lack of opportunity to develop strong fundamentals in CS; and
  • The challenge of developing CS-specific pedagogical content knowledge (how to teach) that may be very different from their primary certification.

The NYCDOE just announced a new slate of CS professional development opportunities for the 2016-17 and 2017-18 school years. By providing schools with a diverse range of options, they are making it possible for schools to implement CS in a way that aligns with their school vision and culture. The PD opportunities are designed to be accessible to teachers of varying backgrounds in CS, whether just starting out or building upon existing knowledge, and allowing teachers to continue to grow over time.

One of the most exciting aspects about the growth of CS in K-12 education is the continued growth of a diverse community comprised of teachers, CS content providers and higher education institutions. We recognize educating current teachers is only the first step in a long-term plan to create equitable, sustainable access to CS for all students. But the first phase of this work will be a sustained investment in our current teacher workforce.

Michael Preston is Executive Director of CSNYC, the New York City Foundation for Computer Science Education. CSNYC works to increase access to computer science in NYC public schools and is the city’s partner in the 10-year Computer Science for All (CS4All) initiative. Prior to joining CSNYC, Michael designed and led digital learning initiatives at the NYC Department of Education including programs in middle and high school computer science, personalized learning and digital literacy. Write to: info@csnyc.org


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Cool Tool | Epson’s iProjection App for Chromebooks

CREDIT Epson iProjection.pngChromebooks are turning into the computer of choice for the classroom. According to Futuresource Consulting, they accounted for more than half of device sales in the K-12 market in 2015. To help schools utilize these devices, Epson created the free iProjection App for Chromebooks so students and teachers can use Epson BrightLink interactive projectors and most PowerLite projectors to wirelessly display documents, photos and web pages from Chromebooks. The wireless capability makes it easy for teachers to move around the room and students to collaborate in small groups. When combined with the Epson Multi-PC Projection with Moderator function, teachers have the ability to display up to four Chromebooks notebook computers simultaneously from a maximum of 50 connected devices for an engaging and collaborative classroom experience. In addition to the iProjection App for Chromebooks, the iProjection App is compatible with iOS Apple devices running iOS 4.2 or later, including the iPad®, iPhone® and iPod touch®, and most AndroidTM devices running Android 2.3 or later. Learn more.

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Cool Too| NovoEd

NovoEd engineering team.pngNovoEd is a learning platform for the modern workforce (pictured are some of the company’s engineering team during an off-site gathering at their co-founder’s home). Its social, collaboration, and mobile capabilities power more engaging learning experiences, enabling organizations to more effectively train their employees, partners, customers, and students. These experiences are as impactful as in-person training programs, but can be deployed faster and reach entire organizations, driving business transformation. The platform has over 1.3 million users from organizations such as IDEO, Comcast, Nestle, Sanofi, ING Bank, Stanford, Wharton, UVA Darden, and UC Berkeley-Haas. The platform is differentiated by several key elements:

  • The modern, mobile user interface provides a consumer-grade experience, on-demand from any device and fully accessible. The platform seamlessly integrates media types to promote deliberate practice and active learning.

  • An effective and experiential approach allows for applied project work and collaboration in small groups. Small group interaction triggers social learning, which boosts effectiveness and increases accountability.

  • A social, engaging environment prompts learners to interact in context and share work with peers. It delivers sustainment and reinforcement, extending learning beyond the course with peer-to-peer connections and mentor feedback.

  • Powerful Reporting and Management tools provide real-time data for a detailed view of learner engagement and content quality. NovoEd integrates with existing enterprise systems and provides bank-level security and compliance.

Learn more.

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Changing Worlds

How academic video created 100 percent pass rates in rural South African schools.

GUEST COLUMN | by Gary Weis

credit-sonic-foundry-lucky-imageSixteen-year-old Lucky Hlatshwayo lives in one of the most rural areas of the South African Free State province — a community in the mountains that borders South Africa and Lesotho.

“My family is a very destitute family. It’s not very wealthy. They cannot even support me with money to register for universities,” Lucky said. “I lost my mom in 2004.”

Despite the hardship, Lucky’s grandfather encouraged him to be the first one in his family to embrace education. Motivated with the desire to finish high school, attend university and better his family, Lucky (pictured, above) put everything he had into his studies at Phofung Secondary School.

“I see the light for me. If you can’t change the situation, make the best of it. I made the best of it. You can do better by hard work.” 

There were difficult times. Lucky recalled when he failed a class as his lowest point.

“It was very bad, very very sad,” he said.

South Africa values education. As former President of South Africa Nelson Mandela once said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”

That’s easier said than done, though.

A lack of quality teachers and severe home conditions in rural areas has resulted in some South African provinces having 80 percent of schools classified as failing.

Supporting Learning with Video

To combat this, University of the Free State’s IDEAS Lab in the Distance Education department turned to academic video to provide support to students in 83 rural high schools.

And so the Internet Broadcast Project was born – a collaboration between the university and the education department within the province.

More than 54,000 learners and 3,000 teachers participate. The schools receive five hours of daily video lectures from highly-qualified teachers from around the Free State province who record videos in the central IDEAS Lab studio using Mediasite by Sonic Foundry.

The videos include support for core subjects such as mathematics, physical science, life science, economics, accounting and geography; preparation and support for Grade 12 exams; and teaching development training programs.

The videos are automatically distributed to remote end-points at each school through a robust content delivery network. This distributed video deployment helps the program bypass the region’s unique bandwidth challenges that come from cost and infrastructure limitations.

Online video-based learning allows for quick and cost-effective communications between teachers and students, despite distance. The content maintains the benefits of a centrally-managed, secure and automated deployment, including powerful analytics that measure student and school success.

“We can see what videos schools are viewing and judge that against how much the school is improving at the end of the day. Although we take a holistic educational approach, we can definitely see a direct correlation between Mediasite and success. The more content a school views, the longer they view it and the more they repeat watching the lessons, the better learning results they have at the end of the term and the end of the year,” said Edward Musgrave, IT & AV manager, IDEAS Lab, University of the Free State.

Student grades have improved significantly since this program began in 2011. Pass rates have jumped from 26 percent to 100 percent in some rural South African high school classrooms.

Prior to using these videos, the university couldn’t provide cost-effective daily support to students and teachers. Now, the province is recognized in South Africa as the state with the highest pass rate.

Bright Future with Academic Video

The future of the project looks very bright. The National Department of Education in South Africa has plans to expand the project in all nine South African provinces.

As for Lucky, he became number one in his class. In fact, he used the videos so much that his high school calls the room with the academic videos in it “Lucky’s Room.” He’d lock himself in that room and study through the night and then use it all day during school hours.

At the end of his final year in high school last year, Lucky looked to his future with excitement.

“I see the light for me. If you can’t change the situation, make the best of it. I made the best of it. You can do better by hard work. Your books are there. We have teachers. We have Mediasite. We have so many things. You just have to use them and work hard.”

Lucky wants to study actuarial sciences.

“I’ve never been to a university,” he said. “They say it’s challenging, and I’m up for it. I’m confident I’ll do better for my family and everyone.”

Hear from Lucky in this video

Gary Weis is the CEO at Sonic Foundry, the makers of Mediasite. Contact him through sonicfoundry.com

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Cool Tool | Variant: Limits

credit-triseum-variant-limitsCalculus has one of the highest failure rates of any course on any campus – in fact, the failure rate for Calculus I is reaching 38 percent according to the Mathematical Association of America. Yet calculus remains a core element of the ever growing STEM curriculum. In an effort to ease complex calculus concepts and help more students succeed, Triseum, which grew out of the LIVE Lab at Texas A&M University, has created Variant: Limits, the first game in a new series of immersive educational experiences for calculus students. Variant: Limits connects mathematics and game play, motivating students through compelling narrative and high-stakes adventure in a 3D world. The goal is to master calculus principles and theories, including finite limits, continuity, and infinite limits. Students gain immediate feedback on their performance and faculty can view intelligent game analytics to understand exactly how a student is grasping concepts. The power of game-based learning delivers an education experience that empowers students to engage with content on a deeper level. In Variant: Limits, students don’t just memorize and regurgitate information, but rather apply it. In fact, 79 percent of students playing Variant: Limits agreed that the game increased their knowledge of limits. You can watch an interactive trailer of Variant: Limits here.

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