I’m trained in traditional Spanish guitar making. My degree is in philosophy and the history of western mathematics and science. I’ve been a math teacher in New Mexico and New York.
I am also a computer science teacher in New York City. Now, I lead the CSNYC Community Meetup, a group of over 1,200 teachers and technologists who gather to share ideas around computer science education.
My story is a roadmap for teachers who are excited but unsure about participating in the city’s growing “Computer Science for All” initiative. It’s also proof that you don’t need a degree in computer science to get started.
I had the unique experience joining the Academy for Software Engineering, the city’s first computer-science themed school, as a founding faculty member without a background in computer science. In my first year, working with computer science education giant Emmanuel Schanzer, I built a course that bridged mathematics and computing.
The results were encouraging: A pre- and post-test given to 70 students who had taken the course showed that average scores on paper-and-pencil algebraic problem solving doubled for students who had taken the course, while the scores of students in a control group remained flat.
Now, three years after AFSE opened, the city is about to embark on a much more difficult task of providing computer science for all. Building a program at a computer science themed high school or at a screened, specialized school isn’t the same thing as building programs that make sense for an entire city.
As critics have noted, it’s important for computer science teachers to have a firm grasp on the content itself, as well as strong teaching practice. Dropping many teachers into weekend workshops and leaving them to hack together classes with minimal support and no expertise won’t work.
Instead, they will need at least these three things: a supportive community, continued education in partnership with industry and higher education, and mentoring by experienced teachers.
I have benefitted from all of those elements. As I helped develop new courses for our school of diverse learners, I worked closely with many others, including Leigh Ann Delyser, CSNYC’s computer science curriculum consultant, and Sean Stern, a former software engineer and a great teacher.
My community continued to grow. I picked the brains of Mike Zamansky and Tracy Rudzitis, veteran New York City computer science teachers and regular attendees of the CSNYC meetup. I learned one of pilot curricula for an Advanced Placement computer science course from Dan Garcia of the University of California, Berkeley.
The list goes on. Building the Academy for Software Engineering and helping to develop these fledging programs has been an incredible professional experience made possible by finding a community of fellow teachers.
Citywide, we have built a strong community of teachers through CSNYC who can help bring the technical expertise and the results of our curriculum experiments to those who are interested. The mentors I’ve mentioned are also all on hand to introduce teachers to computer science and help them map a transition to deeper knowledge and professional growth.
As this movement grows, we also need to recognize that existing models for teaching computer science must evolve. In the past, self-directed learners made up the bulk of computer science students. We need to put our focus now on developing new pedagogy and curricular materials and testing them in classrooms of diverse learners.
To meet these challenges, we need all hands on deck, especially experienced teachers.
But with the right kind of support, teachers of all backgrounds can play a part in making sure that students get the computer science education they deserve, and that Mayor de Blasio’s announcement is not an empty promise.