When advocates push for computer science education, they’re usually talking about increasing the number of schools offering computer science classes — in a bid to reach more students.
But from our perspective as computer science education specialists, a key factor is the number of teachers qualified to teach the subject.
Data from 2020 indicates that in one of the most advanced high school computer science classes taught nationwide, the College Board’s Advanced Placement Computer Science Principles course, enrollment grew from nearly 44,000 in 2017 to more of 114,000 in 2020.
Enrollment growth—for this class and other computer science courses that preceded it—has been spurred by more teachers taking quick courses in how to teach computer science.
Increasing the number of computer courses depends on training even more teachers to teach them.
But nearly half of all US states don’t have a plan to teach computer science at the K-12 level.
There are eight states that lack certification for computer science teachers.
And 27 states and the District of Columbia do not offer incentives for higher education institutions to offer computer science teacher training programs, according to data from Code.org.
This means that schools will not have enough teachers to develop computer science education. Increasing high-quality access to computing is important for students who wish to use computing as a tool for problem solving and creativity.
The National Science Foundation and private groups have programs to increase the number of computer science teachers.
But most of these training efforts take place in one- to two-week sessions that typically prepare teachers without computer training to teach basic computer science principles.
They teach some of the IT content that teachers will need to impart, but they often come out of training lacking the ability to translate that content for students. Short courses do not offer this level of depth.
Without policies and incentives for more specialized teacher training, we believe that many new computer science teachers will not be adequately prepared. Two-week training courses can give prospective computer teachers a basic education.
But in our view, they cannot provide enough depth to prepare teachers to deliver high quality computer science education.
A combination as a solution
At Michigan State University, in partnership with the University of Detroit-Mercy, we have begun to explore another approach that we hope will better prepare teachers to teach a full range of computer science courses.
Our effort puts college instructors with deep knowledge of computer science in high school computer science classes alongside a teacher who is looking to become a computer science teacher.
The college instructor takes the lead first, teaching high school students while simultaneously demonstrating best practices for the teacher.
As the year progresses, the secondary school teacher gains knowledge and experience, eventually taking on more responsibility in the classroom.
We expect our evaluations to find that this method will make teachers feel more comfortable with the content.
Then they can independently offer high-quality computer education.
We also saw great opportunities for teachers to connect with their students’ identities and interests to explore computing.
For example, one teacher used a coding tool called Cornrow Curves — named after an African and African American hair braiding style — to explain and explore how algorithms work.
More recently, we’ve been thinking about how to take advantage of the social connections students enjoy – such as with coaches and barbers – to design a learning environment rich in computing and cultural resources.
Aman Yadav is Professor of Educational Psychology and Educational Technology, and Michael Lachney is Assistant Professor of Educational Psychology and Educational Technology, both at Michigan State University.