We broke for a quick lunch following session four and were joined at the table by Vandana Sikka, chairperson for Infosys Foundation USA and Code.org founder Hadi Partovi. It was so exciting to meet one of the visionaries behind the Crossroads conference and, on top of that, one of my personal heroes whose organization has been for many the public face of the computer science education movement that inspired Kids Code Mississippi.
The lineup for Session Five included Cameron Wilson, the COO and President of Code.org (See my interview with Cameron Wilson on the Maris, West & Baker blog); Dave Reed, director of CS and Informatics at Creighton University and board member of the Computer Science Teachers Association (CSTA); Jan Cuny, a computer scientist and program director for the Directorate for Computer & Information Science & Engineering (CISE) at the National Science Foundation (also a former CS faculty member at Purdue University – Go Boilers!); and Leigh Ann DyLyser, Director of Education and Research at CSNYC. The discussion was moderated by Kumar Garg, a senior fellow at the Society for Science & the Public and former Assistant Director for Learning and Innovation at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.
Cameron Wilson discussed how he became involved in the computer science education movement, first advocating for CS classes in Fairfax County, Virginia and later as the Director of Public Policy at the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) and more recently as the COO and VP of Government Affairs at Code.org. Initially, the lack of professional development for K-12 teachers was a large barrier to expanding coding opportunities in schools. Today, Code.org is offering free PD opportunities across the country. Currently, their focus in on preparing in-service teachers. But they recognize that reaching pre-service teachers will become increasingly important to continue the momentum.
Dave Reed addressed the need for more CS teachers to bring computer science to a greater number of students and expand the opportunities to more diverse students, including students who will benefit from computer science instruction but are not destined for CS careers. The new AP Computer Science Principles course is designed with this inclusivity in mind. He discussed microcredentials and digital badges as an exciting way to establish teacher credentials in a field that’s fast-changing and demanding. While it will be important for credentials to be portable across states, Reed acknowledged that there is a risk of credentialed teachers leaving low resource schools for greener pastures.
Jan Cuny described how quickly the environment for CS education has changed in recent years, telling the story of two appearances on a Washington D.C. radio call-in show, where she discussed computer science education. During the first appearance, listener calls were almost universally negative and even openly hostile. Callers wondered why students should have to learn computer science at all. Four years, in 2014, she appeared on the show again and opinions had changed drastically in favor of CS Ed. According to Cuny, the NSF if committed to funding $120 million on computer science education.
Leigh Ann talked about the fact that, until recent years, there were few opportunities for public school students in New York City to learn computer science. With her organization’s support, the city launched the city’s first CS-themed public high school, The Academy for Software Engineering. The organization is working to support former New York mayor Bill de Blasio’s 10-year CS4All commitment to reach every student in New York public schools. Leigh Ann discussed the growing interest in integrated CS (incorporating programming into non-CS classes) and said that she is hearing that Scratch is the new diorama project.
Below, you can watch a conversation between Vandana Sikka and Code.org CEO, Hadi Partovi, about expanding access to CS Education from the 2015 Infosys Confluence conference.
Photo (top): Mississippi girls code at a weekend workshop at Ridgeland’s Highland Elementary School. Photo by Sissy Lynn.