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Computer Science and Computational Thinking Teachers

Teaching is one of the most honorable, revered, and complex professions in the world, which requires a person to have certain qualities and skills. Also, there are some subjects that are much more difficult to teach than others. It happens because they relatively recently appeared in the educational system, and the areas to which they belong have not fully developed yet. Such subjects are computer science (CS) and computational thinking (CT), which require teachers to have special skills. Moreover, teaching these subjects is even more challenging in culturally diverse school districts as materials and approaches should suit all students. The purpose of this paper is to determine the strategies that help to recruit and retain CS and CT teachers. Another goal is to discuss teaching materials, adapting and scaling professional development models, and certification programs and pre-service pathways.

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Strategies to Recruit and Retain CS and CT Teachers in Culturally Diverse School Districts

A lack of well-trained teachers hampers all the efforts to improve access and participation in computer education, and it still remains a key issue. Seeking a solution to this problem raises the question of how the system of education may provide professional, appropriate, and rigorous development for potential and current computational thinking and computer science teachers nationwide. There are several possible ways that may seem rather challenging to achieve, but that will help to recruit and retain CS and CT teachers in culturally diverse school districts. The first step is quite simple: as this field of education is just starting to develop, schools may tell potential teachers that they may make a huge difference in that process. This strategy works with many people as they want to be famous at some point and contribute to a global process.

The following steps are more difficult: teachers need to see that if they continue working at schools, they will get a reward as motivation. For example, “senate bill 7070 (2019) established recruitment awards for newly hired teachers who are content experts in specified subjects including computer science” (“2019 state of computer,” 2019, p. 63). This will help culturally diverse schools to attract more CS and CT teachers and retain them (Weintrop et al., 2016). Hence, “by creating scholarships, grants, and student loan forgiveness programs as incentives,” schools get new specialists in computer science and have something to offer them. Also, career pathways may represent some rather critical strategies for retaining and recruiting quality teachers. Schools need to make sure that they convince teachers that CS and CT and they themselves are important and necessary.

Another reason for the small number of computer science teachers in schools is the lack of diversity and imagination in this area. This probably limits a creative approach to the subject and the development of educational materials (Yadav et al., 2014). Thus, one of the strategies for retaining computer science teachers in schools is to bring some creativity and allow them to make small but important changes in the lesson plan (Montoya, 2017). If it is entertaining for the teacher to conduct the lesson, they will be able to arouse the same strong interest in their students (Reider & Xie, 2014). Hence, they will want to continue teaching at school for a long time (Akl et al., 2007). Thus, through creating clear, understandable, and useful professional pathways related to knowledge of content for computer science teachers, it becomes possible to keep computer science teachers in culturally diverse schools.

In addition, computer science professionals should be encouraged to become teachers through accelerated certification processes to ensure a comfortable transition to becoming a teacher. Career paths are critical strategies for recruiting and retaining quality teachers, not just in computer science. Creating a clear way to the teaching computer science and providing teachers with possibilities for professional leadership and growth makes students and young specialists interested in computer science. Hence, they may start teaching instead of being involved in high-tech work in the private sector. In addition, states must invest in computer science teachers, providing competitive salaries that compensate for highly qualified, culturally competent training.

Differential Professional Development Needs for CS and CT Teachers

Professional development is needed for computer science and computational thinking teachers may differ because they base on their background and prior experiences. There are culturally diverse schools that do not have a well-developed CS class. That is why the students from such schools, though have an interest in computer science, did not get enough experience and knowledge (Dettori et al., 2016). Hence, they are behind those who had the opportunity to study this subject before graduating.

Creating Teaching Materials for CS and CT in Culturally Diverse School Districts

One of the most challenging tasks of the education system that cannot be ignored or skipped is the creation of teaching materials and manuals. Its complexity lies in the fact that a person needs to select words very clearly and carefully and to look for suitable examples. It is also vital to answer in advance all those questions that may arise from the one who will read this textbook. It is more difficult to create teaching materials for those subjects that have recently appeared in the educational system. One such subject is computer science and computational thinking. The materials should address the barriers that teachers face when they learn how to teach CS and make them robust to those obstacles (Kopcha, 2010). When creating teaching materials, it is vital to consider modern technologies and describe the challenging moments connected with computer science and teaching. In order to do that, those who create books need to gather information and data, and organize some researches and questionnaires among the real and potential CS and CT teachers.

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Potential of Online and Hybrid Professional Development Approaches in CS and CT

The professional development approaches in computer science and computational thinking range from highly specialized to highly adapted. According to Ravitz et al. (2017), “ubiquitous access to computing tools among current teachers has led to the consideration of several teaching methods, including full-time, video conferencing, online learning, and blended learning” (p. 3). There is not much research on online classes effectiveness because their use for the professional development of computer science teachers is a relatively recent idea. In order to measure the potential of online and hybrid professional development approaches, scientists decided to organize several different courses for computer science and computational thinking teachers and analyze the results. There were a usual face-to-face training, a hybrid course, and an online one.

The face-to-face experience proved to be rather useful and understandable. It provided the participants with “a very strong sense of community and significant gains in self-reported knowledge, but other attitudes did not shift” (Ravitz et al., 2017, p. 12). Moreover, it “showed the largest pre-post gains in knowledge” (Ravitz et al., 2017, p. 12). The hybrid course had a smaller number of highly experienced teachers compared to the other two. However, it appeared to be “the only course with statistically significant changes in expectations and self-efficacy measures” (Ravitz et al., 2017, p. 12). Finally, during the online training, the participants did not feel united, and there was almost no sense of community that is important for studying groups. Most of the teachers who finished this course will not recommend it to other people and will unlikely use most of the learned information.

Online Professional Development

This analysis proves that online training is not as useful as face-to-face ones, mostly because of the lack of connection that people always need to have. For some people, it is rather difficult to concentrate and stay focused outside of a classroom. However, online professional development exists, therefore, it is crucial to discuss it in detail. Online professional development takes place in many forms, and there are different approaches to conducting the lesson (Webb et al., 2017). For example, there may be the use of written materials, and teachers can conduct live webinars or record them in advance.

Online classes have a division into asynchronous and synchronous. The advantage of asynchronous online classes is that they often support extended discussion and reflection because there are no real-time restrictions. However, people who teach these classes may feel isolated either because they teach computer science – a discipline with a low level of enrollment, or because of their geographic location. That is why they may prefer synchronized classes that provide with direct interaction, though accessing professional educational communities is rather desirable (Webb et al., 2017). Another strong advantage of online professional development is the flexibility of time for teachers. They can choose when they want to study. Moreover, they often gain access to online repositories of resources. These online libraries have lesson plans, grading systems, and video tutorials. Online teachers can choose not only the time that suits them but also the city. For example, a person may receive training outside their city or state and receive mentoring from people with specialized knowledge.

Despite its strengths, online learning has its rather major drawbacks. In the absence of proper trust, mandatory reporting to administrators, and other external factors, teachers may not feel enough motivation for full participation or completion of online term paper. In addition, authors of online courses may not be able to maintain the relevance of their content or offer constant access due to a lack of funds for interactive learning technologies.

Hybrid Professional Development

In blended or hybrid professional development courses, there is a combination of online and face-to-face components, and, from one program to another, the resulting structures differ greatly. For example, one computer education institute may specialize in personal seminars and provide access to additional materials like webinars available online. Another institute, on the contrary, can provide online classes for the part of the training, and at the end of it arrange personal meetings for general discussions. However, improving knowledge and enhancing student outcomes is more likely to happen if there are programs that support classroom implementation through offering highly timely and relevant information and allowing teachers to tailor classes as they wish. Besides, compared to a completely online professional development, hybrid lessons can significantly increase the frequency of training units for individuals.

The Best Way to Assess the Effectiveness of Professional Development Models for CS and CT

If people require the professional development models for computer science and computational thinking to work and be effective, it is vital to make sure they have the following features. According to Goode et al. (2015), such programs need to have “student learning at the core of the PD, where all students are considered so that issues of equity and access are addressed from the beginning” (p. 496). Then, professional development models need to include the active involvement of those people who are rather experienced in teaching the subject-area successfully in high school. In other words, these programs require those who understand pedagogical content knowledge, pedagogy, and teaching. Next, PD “must be focused on pedagogical content knowledge, but reinforce and leverage the knowledge that teachers already have” (Goode et al., 2015, p. 496). Its design should let teachers with various abilities and backgrounds flourish and succeed equally.

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Moreover, such professional development models take time, and it is vital to consider this idea while integrating the programs. Due to the fact that there is a focus on teaching and pedagogy, PD participants and teachers need to meet face-to-face, and these meetings should not be devoted only to content disseminating. What is more, it is required to design the models “to nurture leaders so that participants see a path to professional growth as well as development” (Goode et al., 2015, p. 496). Finally, professional development programs have to serve as additional help for building communities of learners.

There is also a complementary recommendation that may help to make professional development programs even more effective. During courses, mentors should start working with those teachers who may already be considered CS experts. These people are helpful as they can share experiences and materials regarding the subject and technology use, and there will be an exchange of knowledge. Moreover, in the future, they may assist mentors with working with less experienced teachers.

Adapting and Scaling CS and CT Professional Development Models for Greater Impact

It is hard to disagree that there is a huge variety of computer science teacher professional development experiences. However, some of them are more suitable, and people need to find the best ways to provide CS teachers with effective education (Gray et al., 2015). Nowadays, the demand for major professional development for computer science and computational thinking teachers is growing rather rapidly. It would be fair to say that there is a need for a more consistent system of professional development of computer science teachers. Moreover, the educational system should pay more attention to improving the teachers’ needs and the content of professional development coordination.

People need to consider any computer science and computational thinking professional development study for teachers in a wider educational context. The growing dependence on computer technology and the constant interaction with them require the recognition of CS as an equal and one of the main elements of education (Reimer et al., 2018). As interest in this subject grows and leads to a significant increase in the number of students at the post-secondary level, access to CS and CT courses in schools with different cultural heritage should be wider.

In order to serve a more significant number of culturally diverse school districts, it is necessary to adapt and scale computer science and computational thinking professional development models for greater impact. Researchers note that “state-specific adaptations include emphasizing aspects of the standards to reflect the local economic priorities or implementation scenarios” (“2019 state of computer,” 2019, p. 30). As teachers come with different teaching experiences, from diverse backgrounds, and some of them have no computer science experience at all, it is crucial to adapt the professional development models (Leyzberg & Moretti, 2017). For example, there is a way “with teachers exploring the materials as their students would, and later presenting this back to other participants as teacher” (Price et al., 2016, p. 472). Hence, it is possible to achieve the adaptation by changing the information complexity level, considering the teachers’ cultural and background facts, and replacing the unnecessary tasks with the needed ones.

Establishing Certification Programs and Pre-Service Pathways for Professional Development

Formal ways of teaching computer science, especially in public schools with culturally diverse students, are the best opportunity to expand participation in this subject. Many training programs for teachers do not include technology or computer science requirements, and the pathways for those who want to become computer science teachers are not clear. The ESSA and the Higher Education Act, the two main federal educational policies, “have specific provisions and regulations regarding teacher preparation and quality, but neither specifically mentions computer science in these contexts” (Montoya, 2017, p. 57). Also, only a few states have ways to certify teachers and train in computer science.

However, many of them often make demands on information teachers, and their own training programs are not able to meet them. For instance, candidates for computer science in Florida must take a special computer science course, which any state’s teacher training program does not offer. Finally, since computer science curricula are not defined and do not have clear standards, it is difficult for teachers to adequately prepare for practicing (Angeli & Jaipal-Jamani, 2018). Moreover, many current teachers often lack the training to work with advanced classes.

As for state certificates, it is necessary to develop them in advance and thereby prepare to ensure that a larger number of students who have completed preliminary training become computer science teachers. When certification requirements developing finishes, existing teachers must move into new classifications. After clarifying the certification process, states should also encourage partnership opportunities between local school districts and education schools to create a direct path for teachers in high-demand school districts.

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Conclusion

To draw a conclusion, one may say that it is of great importance to make computer science and computational thinking one of the core subjects in culturally diverse schools. Although many organizations have created the standards for the computer science curriculum, states have to make several well-defined standards themselves. Those standards will inspire teachers and students and define computer science and computational thinking. In order to ensure that students are receiving quality CS and CT education, all culturally diverse schools have to adopt those standards. As for the teachers, they need to prepare to use computer science materials and methods that support the academic achievements of culturally diverse students.

References

2019 state of computer science education: Equity and diversity. (2019). Web.

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Price, T. W., Catete, V., Albert, J., Barnes, T., & Garcia, D. D. (2016). Lessons learned from “BJC” CS principles professional development. Association for Computing Machinery, 467-472.

Ravitz. J., Stephenson, C., Parker, K., & Blazevski, J. (2017). Early lessons from evaluation of computer science teacher professional development in Google’s CS4HS program. ACM Transactions on Computing Education, 17(4), 1-16.

Reider, D., & Xie, Y. (2014). Integration of innovative technologies for enhancing students’ motivation for science learning and career. Journal of Science Education and Technology, 23, 370-380.

Reimer, Y. J., Coe, M., Blank, L. M. & Braun, J. (2018). Effects of professional development on programming knowledge and self-efficacy. In 2018 IEEE Frontiers in Education Conference (pp. 1-8). San Jose, CA: National Science Foundation.

Webb, D. C., Nickerson, & H., Bush, J. B. (2017). A comparative analysis of online and face-to-face professional development models for CS education. In Proceedings of the 2017 ACM SIGCSE Technical Symposium on Computer Science Education (pp. 621-626). New York, NY: Association for Computing Machinery.

Weintrop, D., Beheshti, E., Horn, M., Orton, K., Jona, K., Trouille, L., & Wilensky, U. (2016). Defining computational thinking for mathematics and science classrooms. Journal of Science Education and Technology, 25(1), 127-147.

Yadav, A., Mayfield, C., Zhou, N., Hambrusch, S., & Korb, J. T. (2014). Computational thinking in elementary and secondary teacher education. ACM Transactions on Computing Education, 14(1), 1-16.

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