Blog Post

“Volun-told” to Teach CS? Help Is here!

In talking with a number of computer science teachers, I have come to realize that my path to teaching CS was vastly different than many teaching it today. After obtaining two degrees in educational technology, I wanted to bring technology and computer science to the students that I worked with in the K-12 arena. However, I recognized that I did not have sufficient knowledge to immediately teach some CS concepts and bridged those gaps by attending professional development workshops. The majority of colleagues that I have spoken with indicate that they were either assigned or “volun-told” to teach CS. While certified in other content areas, many of them came to computer science with little or no background in the content and taught themselves along with their students.

As more states and districts are beginning to require CS courses, you may find yourself assigned to teach unfamiliar content. If this happens to you, I’ve put together tips to help you out.

Tip 1: Seek Community

I sought out professional learning communities to support my curiosity and hunt for resources. My interest in integrating STEM into all aspects of my curriculum was piqued when I attended the National Summer Teacher Institute on Innovation, STEM and Intellectual Property offered by the US Patent and Trademark Office. Upon returning home, I sought local universities and online providers for computer science professional development. I was able to integrate CS into the content areas (Language Arts and Science) prior to teaching a stand-alone computer science course. As I was integrating STEM and CS into the courses, my students and I often ran into issues beyond our knowledge. We quickly figured out that posting questions in online forums would generally net the answers that we needed. As the lone CS teacher in my school, it was imperative that I made connections to stay abreast of trends in the field. Joining a professional organization—CSTA—and a virtual community—CS for All Teachers—further entrenched me into the field and helped answer questions that arose.

Tip 2: Seek Content

There are a number of reliable, online (and prior to COVID-19, face-to-face) professional development programs available to teachers interested in CS. It is important to note while I’m not endorsing of any of these programs per se, the ones I’ve included provided me with a successful start. Attending the National Summer Teacher Institute on Innovation, STEM, and Intellectual Property gave me an opportunity to code an app with limited knowledge. The skills of making and thinking about how to bring the opportunities to my students jump started my journey. After realizing that I could code, I wanted my students to have a similar realization, augmented by multiple opportunities, Like many who transitioned to teaching CS, I started with the Hour of Code. As my students quickly progressed through those lessons, I knew that I needed expert advice. Code.org offered one-day, K-5 workshops and I signed up for the next available one (a little over 200 miles away) taught by Dr. Jeff Gray, who provided the overview I needed to continue along my way. As my grade level assignments changed, I continued to pursue professional development with Code.org, received $6,000 in funding from Donors Choose to attend a professional development course, and completed online professional development with CodeHS.

screen shot of Yolanda Payne's Code.org's account
Code.org Classes Yolanda and Her Students Have Completed 

 

These courses were just-in-time for my needs, with the online courses allowing me an opportunity to work through lessons at my own pace and the face-to-face offerings helped fill in knowledge gaps.

Tip 3: Construct Knowledge and Fun

As teachers, we often feel as if we have to be the expert. As competent professionals, we are generally taught that we learn our content thoroughly and then are prepared to teach. While it is true that you need to learn the basics of computer science, I feel that at the core of CS there is a concept that is often foreign to those of us who are well-versed in “schooling.” Computer science invites us to experiment and at the heart of this experimentation is a willingness to fail and figure out. That is to say, we have to be comfortable with not always knowing the answers, but being able to tell ourselves and our students that we can figure it out. This constructivist approach to knowledge helped my students and I build strong classroom connections. They were able to see me as a learner as well, and I was able to see their competence and potential as budding computer scientists. As my students progressed through coding lessons with speed, I had to come up with ways to keep them engaged. After paying a nominal member fee of $35, with free renewal each year thereafter, I was able to secure STEM resources through the Civil Air Patrol STEM Kit Program. This program allowed me to give my students access to physical computing via the Raspberry Pi. This investment has led to a myriad of opportunities and explorations that I will delve into in my next blog post.

Were these tips helpful? Let me know in the comments!

CS for All Teachers Community Ambassador Yolanda Payne has been in love with computers since her parents bought a Tandy computer from Radio Shack. With over 21 years of education experience ranging from Pre-K to college, Payne hopes that her love of learning is the legacy left behind. Currently a Constellations Fellow at Georgia Institute of Technology, she assists teachers with implementing advanced CS courses in high schools. An avid Raspberry Pi user, she also hosts Girls Who Code and Code Club chapters at the middle school where she formerly taught.