Posted by Bryan Twarek on May 29, 2020
K-12 teacher takeaways from SIGCSE 2020 Portland
SIGCSE provides an important forum for computer science education research, and it is unfortunate that this year’s conference was canceled. In this four-part 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. This final segment focuses on K-12 curricula, tools, and platforms.
Parts 1, 2, and 3 of the series introduced a variety of research takeaways, instructional strategies, and K-12 assessment.


Example Unit from Scratch EncoreScratch Act 1 (3-5) and Scratch Encore (5-8)

Scratch Act 1 is an introductory curriculum for students in grades 3-5, and Scratch Encore is a secondary curriculum for students in grades 5-8. These creative but structured curricula created by Diana Franklin, David Weintrop, and colleagues at the CANON Research Lab have a full set of teacher resources (e.g., sample projects, worksheets, support materials) and utilize the TIPP&SEE learning strategy, which has been shown to lead to learning gains. The curricula include culturally-relevant projects; in Scratch Encore, there are three module strands with the same technical content but three different interest options (multicultural, youth life, and gaming). See also their paper and slide deck on piloting Scratch Encore.

Cross-Curricular Coding Projects (3-6)

Lisa Floyd has created many elementary coding projects with cross-curricular connections to math and other subjects. Most have tutorial videos, a written algorithm, screenshot of code, and example programs.

AI + Ethics Curriculum for Middle School (6-8)

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MIT Media Lab researchers and collaborators created a curriculum to teach middle school students about artificial intelligence (AI) and ethics. It aims to bring awareness of the technology to the children who are all growing up while surrounded by AI and help them become both conscientious consumers and designers of AI. Through a series of lessons and activities, students learn technical concepts-such as how to train a simple classifier-and the ethical implications those technical concepts entail, such as algorithmic bias.

Post-It Pandemonium (6-12)

Post-It Pandemonium is a 2019 Nifty Assignment created by Jeffrey L. Popyack. This “unplugged” activity exposes data structures and algorithms involved in image representation and compression, using multi-colored Post-It Notes.
Post-it Pandemonium Example

Interdisciplinary CS Workshop (6-12)

Veronica Liesaputra, Guillermo Ramirez-Prado, Bashar Barmada, and Lei Song developed a one-day workshop that showcases the interdisciplinary nature of CS and the various ways computing can help students discover and solve societal problems. The computational thinking activities centered around themes of multiculturalism, cybersecurity, and air pollution are described in their paper and visualized in this slide deck.

Sample Student Project Created with ProcessingCS for Incarcerated Youth (6-12)

Kirsten Mork, Theresa Migler, and Zoë Wood created a curriculum to introduce CS to incarcerated students within a juvenile hall. The 5-week curriculum was built around creating a simple 2D game in Processing (see image on the right for an example) and is described in their paper.

CMU CS Academy (9-12)

Carnegie Mellon University’s CS Academy is a free, online, interactive high school CS curriculum that teaches Python programming through graphics and animation. They also provide free teacher training and technical support. See also: more information and teacher resources.

AI4ALL Open Learning (9-12)

AI4ALL Open Learning offers free, adaptable, classroom-based artificial intelligence (AI) curricula for high school teachers. ExploreAI is an introductory curriculum that focuses on what AI is, its impact on the world, and ethics. A second module on Sentiment Analysis & Natural Language Processing teaches the benefits of machine learning models and the basics of programming.
Perception is one of five key ideas in K-12 AI education.

Introduction to Computational Thinking (9-12)

Introduction to Computational Thinking is a new high school curriculum using CodeWorld created in partnership between the Louisiana Department of Education and LSU. It is designed to  bridge Scratch- and Java-based courses, teach abstraction, emphasize semantics over syntax, and encourage student creativity. See Fernando Alegre and his colleagues’ paper and slide deck describing lessons learned from piloting the course.

Illustration of a teacher presenting to a class, with a projection of cybersecurity symbolsTeaching Security (9-12)

The Teaching Security lessons introduce the foundational ideas of cybersecurity, built on threat modeling and the human-centered nature of authentication. The materials are prepared by subject-matter experts with research backgrounds in the technical workings and social implications of cybersecurity: Maritza Johnson, Julia Bernd, Daniel Garcia, and Buffie Holley. The lessons are designed to meet the cybersecurity learning objectives in the AP Computer Science Principles framework, but they are flexible enough to be used in any high school computer science class or program.

Cybersecurity Education with RoboScape (9-12)

RoboScape is a collaborative, networked robotics environment that makes key ideas inCS accessible to groups of learners in informal learning spaces and K-12 classrooms. RoboScape is built on top of NetsBlox, an open-source, networked, visual programming environment based on Snap! that is specifically designed to introduce students to distributed computation and computer networking. See also Bernard Yett and his colleagues’ paper and slide deck.

Design Principles in BJCThe Beauty and Joy of Computing (10-12+)

The Beauty and Joy of Computing (BJC) is an AP Computer Science Principles curriculum with the goal of helping underrepresented students enjoy and succeed in CS. In their paper, Paul Goldenberg and his colleagues present the design principles used to develop the course. See the slide to the right for an example. See also their slide deck and video presentation.

Elements of AI (10-12+)

Elements of AI Cover ImageReaktor and the University of Helsinki created a free, self-paced online course to help people to be empowered, not threatened, by artificial intelligence. Introduction to AI is a free online course for everyone interested in learning what AI is, what is possible (and not possible) with AI, and how it affects our lives – with no complicated math or programming required.

Computers, Ethics, and Public Policy (11-12+)

Hilary Cohen, Rob Reich, Mehran Sahami, and Jeremy Weinstein created a set of ethics case studies (algorithmic decision-making, facial recognition and data privacy, autonomous vehicles, and the power of private platforms) to prompt discussion on ethics, public policy, and technology. See also videos of guest speakers and their paper describing the design of the undergraduate course.

Integrated CS Instruction

Integrating CS with other subjects requires careful design to ensure synergistic learning. 

Learning Through Abstraction (6-8)Carbon Cycle Simulation in NetLogo

Aakash Gautam, Whitney Bortz, and Deborah Tatar presented their work to help middle school students learn through abstraction, a concept key to both science and CS. In one example unit on the natural carbon cycle, they examine multiple representations including a programmed simulation of cows grazing and plants growing and the chemical reaction for photosynthesis. The varied representations offer rich opportunities to deepen engagement with abstraction and core science concepts. Access all three integrated curricular units, and learn more in their paper.

The STEMcoding Project (7-12)

The STEMcoding project is a series of coding activities that illustrate how CS relates to physics, math, data science, and chemistry. Many activities are “physics of video games” tutorials where the creators emphasize the science and math concepts that are used in making classic 2D games like Pong, Asteroids, and Angry Birds. The video tutorials guide students through the entirety of the activities (all using JavaScript with p5.js) and feature diverse student presenters from Ohio State University. Email Chris Orban for a solutions guide and teacher resources.

DNA Sequencing (11-12+)

DNA Sequencing is a lesson from CS50 that explores the intersection of computation and biology. This activity reinforces reading files and string manipulation and is appropriate in a CS1 or CS2 class, or when students have some familiarity with strings and lists and reading files. See also the 2020 Nifty Assignment video presentation.

Evaluating Curricula

David Weintrop, Diana Franklin, and colleagues at the CANON Research Lab developed the Teacher Accessibility, Equity, and Content (TEC) Rubric, a computing curriculum evaluation instrument designed to help educational decision makers and teachers make informed decisions about which computing curriculum to use in their classrooms. It provides criteria with which to measure the quality of K-12 CS curricula along the goals of designing for:

  • Culturally-Relevant Computing and Students with Exceptionalities
  • Advanced Learning of Concepts and Practices
  • Teachers as Learners
TEC Rubric

Tools and Platforms

Edfinity (4-12)

Edfinity is an online assessment platform that allows teachers, curriculum developers, and researchers to create, organize, and share assessment items. Teachers can search a growing repository of items by grade level, standard, concepts, and curriculum, including innovative problem types (e.g,. Parsons problems, hotspot / point and click, and code correctness). Edfinity is free for teachers but requires a fee for student use. Learn more about a project to develop a community of practice for K-12 CS assessment.

Amphibian (7-12)

Amphibian is a tool that helps students move from blocks to text-based programming. With this plugin, students can use both blocks and text versions of Java and other languages supported by the IntelliJ environment, using the same Droplet editor that is found in Pencil Code and some exercises. Contact Jeremiah Blanchard if you want help using.

This is only a small glimpse of the content prepared for SIGCSE 2020. See also Parts 1 – 3 synthesizing a variety of research takeaways, instructional strategies, and assessment. 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. And of course, consider joining SIGCSE 2021 in Toronto.
You can also search the compilation of research studies and instruments at, led by one of CSTA’s newest Board members Monica McGill.

Please let us know what you find useful and what we’ve missed by writing to @csteachersorg and @btwarek.