CS Professional Development in Montana: Where should it go?

The last two summers I participated in professional development sponsored by University of Montana (UM) and Montana State University (MSU).  The first summer was an AP Principals course using App Inventor. The second was on the Python curriculum “Joy and Beauty of Computing” (JBC) (https://www.cs.montana.edu/paxton/classes/joy-and-beauty/) developed at MSU.  Both were designed for beginning programming teachers to build a curriculum with in their school without having a degree in CS.  Both were worthwhile for me just for the networking with other computer teachers.

Next summer the organizer from UM wants to start a course thread for the next level.  She is a CS teacher at UM. Her idea of the “next level” and my idea of the “next level” became extremely clear at a meeting I had with her last week.  They were very divergent. Her idea was more advanced Python concepts. JBC was very basic and even then it was difficult for most of the attendees. Only two of the twenty had much Python experience (me and a teacher who used to be a professional programmer.  She was way beyond me.) The others were business teacher types that had “volunteered” to teach programming at their school. I can imagine what response a higher level of programming course would get. On the other hand my “next level” is pedagogical. I want to offer a “how to teach programming/CS” type course.  Something in the way of directions and resources for teachers without a CS degree. Issues kids encounter, issues teachers encounter (especially when not familiar with teaching programming), interesting exercises suitable for beginning and intermediate teachers and students, where to find teaching help, CS Unplugged, programming language selection, fundamentals of programming, grading and all the other things I had to learn the hard way.  Montana has a very small core of experienced and trained CS teachers. Small in the sense of maybe 10. The rest are business, Math, and whoever-is-willing teachers that are trying to just keep their head above water. This group does not need or want high level programming. They want “how to”.

The university CS professors organizing these summer professional development opportunities are great for finding grants for high school level professional development and getting the resources necessary.  Beyond that most of them are out of their element. They have not taught in the high school, they really do not understand the knowledge level of most high school programming teachers and they usually do not understand high school kids.  If they have been in the high school to observe it was in an APCS class. Not a good measure of the typical high school kid. A CS/programming course needs to attract the typical high school kids if we are going to get the classroom numbers needed to justify a course offering.  When a high school has 100 – 200 kids (typical for Montana) the number of kids interested in APCS is pretty much zilch. The number of CS experienced teachers teaching in a school this size is likewise zilch. I am hoping I can convince the organizer to offer something that will attract the average Montana CS teacher.

2 Responses to “CS Professional Development in Montana: Where should it go?”

  1. nrnrnr Says:

    Please keep us posted on this. And does your state university have a department of education that could get involved?

  2. gflint Says:

    CS is not a core subject so the schools of Ed will not get involved.

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