The New CSTA Standards:Comments of a practicing CS teacher

I started looking at the new CSTA Standards today with more than my initial cursory glance.  I have to say they are very ambitious.   I also have to say they are also totally unrealistic.  I have been teaching CS for about 30 years.  With that experience I can understand or have a general idea as to what each of the 9-10 and 11-12 standards are saying.  Without being nitpicky I think they all have merit as part of a CS curriculum.  The trouble is there is just no way for the average school or average CS teacher to implement a curriculum that would contain more than say half of the standards.  The required teacher background would be the first major hurdle.  The teacher has to have knowledge of programming in several languages, which is not uncommon for an experienced CS teacher, but is uncommon for most new CS teachers that did not go through a CS degree program.  Then there are the standards relating to networking and hardware.  From looking at a few CS minor or CS Ed programs this is not even in the curriculum.  It is usually a program offered at junior or tech college or is gained by experience.  There is the standard relating to logic circuits and logic gates, knowledge of which would definitely not be in the lexicon of a teacher learning CS on the fly, which seems to be the predominant method of learning the job.

As an experienced CS teacher, I look through this list of standards with an understanding of the time involved to build a lesson to address the standard.  Many would be rolled up into some project so most are not a standalone task.  A few would be standalone.  I want to look at one as an example.  Standard 3B-N-4-35 “Simulate and discuss the issues (e.g. bandwidth, load, delay, topology) that impact network functionality.  (e.g. use free network simulators.)”  Very hardware oriented but also very relevant to the understanding of a fundaments issue in CS.  My problem with it is that final “e.g.”.  The simple task of finding a “free network simulators” is huge.  They do not grow on trees nor do they advertise themselves.  A teacher wanting to implement this standard is going to have to do a lot of time on the internet trying to find a “free network simulators”, whatever the heck that looks like.  They then have to figure out how the simulator works and then build something for the kids to do with it.  This is not trivial as far as time and effort goes.

Remember, a CS teacher does not have a nice list of textbooks to look through that address the standards.  This is not Math or Biology or Physics where publishers are producing great textbooks that address the standards.  CS teachers have to build their curriculum from scratch, usually on their own time.  Maybe in the future a publisher will decide it is worth the gamble to put out a CS textbook but I doubt it.  The thing would have to be updated regularly to just be sure something like that free network simulator is still around.

Has the effort the builders of the CSTA standards gone to waste?  Definitely not.  They have built something that a school looking to implement a CS curriculum can look through to get ideas.  A teacher looking through it can see weakness and strengths of their present program.

What I would like to see something that is a bit more prioritized.  I see this as the deluxe, platinum edition of a curriculum guide.  Something that a magnet school with a very experienced staff and a curriculum writing budget can use to build the ultimate of CS programs.  Most schools need something that is a bit more constrained and realistic.  They need the bronze edition.  Something that lists the very basics of what is needed to build a viable CS program.  Something a rural school with a business teacher that has just been told she is to offer a CS program next year can use as a guide.  This teacher also needs stage two, how to build the program with a list of assets and resources for those basic standards.  Wouldn’t that be handy?

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