Can we talk? Learning, Conversations and Networking

Professional development for teachers in a field that changes as fast as computer science education is always going to be an issue. There is never enough time, enough money, enough of the right trainers or any thing else related to professional development. What makes this even larger a problem for compute science teachers is that they are often pretty isolated. They are often the only person in the building who has a clue as to what computer science is about. There may not be other computer science teachers at near by high schools either. So what is a teacher to do?

Well a recent survey by the CSTA has some interesting information. While I have some concerns with the methodology so would be careful about expanding many of the results to the larger school population I think we can learn a lot about the people who teach computer science from the report.

One of the key questions in the survey was What do you believe to be the most effective methods for delivering professional
development to CS teachers?
Workshops and seminars ranked highest. But Networking with others ranked a high second. Online resources and professional conferences ranked third and fourth (by my calculation) respectively. I have some theories.

I think that online resources are valued and thought of as effective in part because they help with the time and money part of the equation. If you have no time or money being able to learn on your own online for little to no cost that’s going to be a lot better than a workshop that may not be on topic, be located far away, and cost a lot of money. Professional conferences provide some of what a workshop does and some professional networking but not always enough of either. I know that some people go to conferences just for the networking. Others just for the sessions. Any way you play it you are going to miss out on something because you can’t be in two places at once.

Now a good workshop/seminar with a good instructor and good take home resources can be a wonderful thing. I’m not sure there are enough of them though I have been to some really good ones as part of pre-conference events. Networking it seems to me is too rare. I have some suggestions though. Probably too late for this summer but keep in mind for the future.

If you are an AP CS teacher sign up to be an AP Reader. What? Yes, sign up to be an AP reader. The grading itself is like a graduate level course in exam creation and grading. Seriously you can’t pay for a “course” that good in my opinion. Secondly you will have networking time. Meals, evenings, breaks, through out the day you will have a chance to talk to some of the very best computer science teachers (high school and university both) in the country. I’d be a reader again in a heart beat if they would let me but I don’t teach AP CS or an equivalent college course these days.

Secondly look for residential workshops/conferences that are held at various places around the country. Sure you may wind up living in a dorm but that helps keep costs down. But remember those late night “bull sessions” in the dorm when you were in college? Guess what? The are even better with a group of professional educators who care deeply about their work. Yes you may give up between a few days and a week of summer vacation but the networking alone will be worth it. Plus the shared learning and discussions with peers will teach you a great deal. You may make friends for life – I know I have.

Look into the CSTA Chapters. There are a number of them out there and more coming all the time. If there are none in your area you can get involved in starting one. Networks don’t just happen – people create them and put work into maintaining them. If nothing else try to locate other teachers in your geography and get together for coffee and donuts from time to time. Be proactive though.

Lastly think about getting connected online. Read some blogs (list borrowed from the Moving Forward wiki) like:

  • CSTA Blog

  • Brian Scarbeau

  • Kathleen Weaver

  • Leigh Ann Sudol

  • Mark Guzdial's Computing Education blog

  • Know of any more? Get involved in the conversation. Read the comments. Add your own comments. Help to build a personal learning network.

    You may also want to try Twitter. Besides me 🙂 you may want to follow

    • @mfh Michelle - Middle school computer science teacher; Director of Technology, CSTA enthusiast,

    • @lsudol teach computer science and am studying CS Education

    • @Guzdial Mark Guzdial - Professor in Interactive Computing, CS Ed Researcher

    And if you pay attention you’ll probably find other interesting people getting in on the discussions. That’s how things work when you network. One person introduces you to another and another and another.

    Note: Mark Guzdial has a blog post called Questioning the report that High School CS is declining that outlines a lot of the same concerns I have about the CSTA survey and the conclusions some people are drawing from it.

    Comments (1)

    1. Charley Williams says:

      Agree 100%+ about signing up to be an AP reader — absolutely one of the best professional development experiences I ever had.  Great networking with great people who obviously care tremendously and think very deeply about CS education and education in general.  Plus you leave with a lot of respect for the quality of the AP grading process.  (I also wish I could still be a part of this, but unfortunately not teaching APCS anymore.)

      And to all you APCS teachers out there, "I don’t think I’m qualified" is a poor excluse!  After an APCS-teaching friend of mine refused to apply year-after-year, using the aforementioned lame excuse and despite my prodding, she finally went this year and now proclaims "I can’t wait to go back next year!"

      So if you meet the basic College Board requirements, consider yourself invited!  🙂

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