Posted by Bryan Twarek on May 19, 2020
K-12 Teacher Takeaways from SIGCSE 2020 Portland

The SIGCSE Technical Symposium (the ACM Special Interest Group for Computer Science Education) provides a forum for computer science education research. While traditionally focused on postsecondary learning, it has a sizable and growing emphasis on K-12. It is unfortunate that the conference was canceled, but in this first post of a series, I’m excited to share some learnings and practical takeaways relevant to K-12 CS teachers to help ensure practitioners benefit from this great work.

A Synthesis of CS Ed Research

The entire 32-chapter Cambridge Handbook of Computing Education Research was summarized by the many co-authors in a 55-minute video! That’s an average of 16 pages per minute! Thanks to Sally Fincher, Anthony Robins, and Colleen Lewis, we essentially have a series of expertly-curated flash talks that cover the comprehensive body of existing research in computing education and propose new directions for future research.

Algebra I as Gatekeeper to CS

Algebra I acts as a gatekeeper to CS participation. In a large-scale study in Texas, Ryan Torbey and his colleagues found that students who took Algebra I before high school had more than double the odds of being enrolled in a CS course.


UDL Guidelines + CS / CT by Israel et al.There are many ways that K-12 CS teachers can implement Universal Design for Learning (UDL)-based instruction, as explained by Maya Israel and her colleagues. In their paper, they used a variety of data to examine which UDL principles teachers addressed and found that teachers most commonly focused on breaking tasks into steps, emphasizing student choice, and presenting information in multiple ways.

Differences in CS Practice Engagement

Using a pre-created curriculum is more likely to engage students in CS practices than pulling together instructional materials from a variety of sources and/or developing one’s own. In a nationally representative study of high school CS teachers (the NSSME+ survey), Eric Banilower and Laura Craven found differences in classroom engagement in the CS practices defined in the K-12 CS Framework: Students are often engaged in aspects of CS related to developing computational artifacts, but they tend not to be engaged very often in aspects of CS related to communicating with end-users or considering diverse needs. Not surprisingly, teachers who feel better prepared to teach CS, both in terms of content and pedagogy, are more likely to engage students in the CS practices. The largest factor predicting frequency of engagement in the CS practices was participation in 35 or more hours of professional development. See also their slide deck and full report.

AP CSP’s Impact on Broadening Participation

AP Computer Science Principles (CSP) is broadening participation in CS but may not act as a direct pipeline to computing majors and careers. In their paper, Linda Sax and her colleagues used nationwide Freshman Survey data to examine characteristics of students who took CSP and/or AP Computer Science A (CSA). They found that students who took only CSP were more diverse than those who took only CSA in terms of gender, race, income, and first-generation status, but they exhibited less computing confidence and less interest in computing majors and tech careers. Students who took both CSP and CSA exhibited characteristics associated with long-term engagement and success in CS. See also their slide deck.

Influence of Reading and Math on CT in Upper Elementary

Reading and math proficiency in upper elementary students influence their learning of computational thinking, as shown in a study by Jean Salac and her colleagues. They found that while all students benefited from the curriculum, there were significant differences in learning outcomes, especially between students whose reading and math proficiency are below grade-level and students whose proficiency are at or above grade-level. This performance gap suggests the need for curricular improvement, the decoupling of CS learning from reading and math, and the development of CS learning strategies for students who struggle with reading and math. Promising strategies include both TIPP&SEE (described in the next post) and using more accessible tools like ScratchJr with struggling students. See also their paper, video presentation, and slide deck.
ScratchJr, "reading had a stronger association with text surface questions" with example questions
ScratchJr: " math had a stronger association with program execution questions" with problem examples

State Summit ToolkitState Summit Planning Toolkit from ECEP and NCWIT

See this comprehensive Broadening Participation in Computing (BPC) State Summit Toolkit from ECEP and NCWIT to learn how your state can help develop and advance strategy for expanding access to and broaden participation in CS education. The toolkit helps with planning all aspects of a summit and also provides practical resources that communicate the importance of BPC efforts and strategies that change leaders can apply to their efforts. If your state does not yet have a state summit, consider partnering with your CSTA chapter(s) and/or ECEP team to host one!

Learn Directly from Student Perspectives

So often adults talk about students, rather hear directly from them. The REAL-CS Project from Jean Ryoo and her colleagues at UCLA’s Center X highlights student voices in Los Angeles and Mississippi as a way to better understand their sense of engagement, identity, and agency in CS. Rather than hear a summary, listen to students’ individual perspectives in this video panel. See also more videos on the project website and what makes a “CS person”.

This is only a small glimpse of the content prepared for SIGCSE 2020. In subsequent posts, I will synthesize takeaways related to instructional strategies, assessment design, and curriculum. If you want to learn more, view SIGCSE 2020 Online and the entire Proceedings in the ACM Digital Library, which is currently free and open to everyone through June 30, 2020.
Please let us know what you find useful and what we’ve missed by writing to @csteachersorg and @btwarek.