Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Jeff Kaufman: Computer Science for Some

After decades spent fighting abusive/inept principals, Jeff Kaufman, one of the stalwarts of the ICE caucus, has been teaching computer/coding classes working with an excellent principal the past few years, a late career reinvention of himself as a teacher. Jeff sent this the other day.
I submitted the attached article as an op-ed for the New York Times partially in response to an article that appeared there about the manipulation of computer science education by some wealthy tech companies. As you can see my experiences evidence their lack of commitment to the basic notion they started with; that computer science was truly for all. In any case it doesn't appear the Times will print it. .... Jeff Kaufman
I also went back to school in mid-career and earned an MA in computer science in the mid-late 80s and taught computer courses at Brooklyn College. I spent the last 20 years teaching tech/low level coding in elementary school and also teaching teachers at the district level -- things like -- how to set up their first email accounts. My computer lab was more popular than gym for many kids. I used the Basic Programming languahe initially to have the kids use x/y coordinates with a color of choice to turn on a pixel on the screen. They could then build that into lots of pixels to make large letters or picture. Simple coding but also teaching math.

I saw the power kids felt in controlling a computer. And also the logic and order one learns from programming. So I was all for the call for coding -- but only if done with a broader purpose.

One of my goals is to get off my lazy ass and go over to Jeff's school and hang out in his class.

In this piece Jeff points out the shift from the initial values that attracted him. It wasn't just about teaching pure coding but relating it to a cultural significant curriculum that would engage the students. Jeff makes this key point:
The course began with an assignment that required us to read a book co-authored by Goode with her colleague at UCLA, Jane Margolis entitled Stuck in the Shallow End.[8] The book, a landmark study of how racial and ethnic barriers not only persisted in the allocation of resources in Computer Science education but were reinforced by the then current pedagogy. Both Goode and Chapman sought to introduce a more culturally relevant curriculum and transform our pedagogy to reflect teacher practice which was sensitively inclusive in diverse student populations.
Apparently the original purpose of Goode and Chapman have been morphed by leaving out the "relevant curriculum" aspect.


Computer Science for Some: An Assessment of Two Different Approaches to Teaching Computer Science in a Diverse Classroom
By Jeff Kaufman[1]
After several years teaching United States History, Government and Law to at-risk students and given the opportunity to transform my teaching practice to a blended learning environment I embarked on a way to provide a relevant and rigorous curriculum to my students. Following some of the teaching models outlined in Gloria Ladson-Billings’ book, The Dreamkeepers: Successful Teachers of African American Children[2], I sought to provide a pedagogy that incorporated these concerns.[3]
There were many resources available to teach culturally relevant materials in Social Studies including the Zinn Education Project[4] and the American Social History Project.[5] Along with teaching practical law courses such as Police-Student Encounters[6] and Immigration Law my ability to tailor the curriculum to student needs made their learning both engaging and personal. I used the computer to provide a ready-resource to the outside world and encouraged exploration, research and discussion on the topics we covered.
Unfortunately, due to graduation requirements and other New York State Education Department mandates I was slowly being forced to change my curriculum to conform to high stakes examination requirements. While my pedagogy did not change it became increasingly more difficult to go into the depth necessary to provide the high-ordered thinking vital for students to fully take part in our democracy. Since students are required to pass the New York State Regents examinations to graduate my classes became test review classes requiring a pedagogy that was not only irrelevant to my students but was antithetical to culturally relevant education.
As this trend was becoming clearer to me and I contemplated retirement I noticed an offer by the Central Board of Education to learn and teach Computer Science. My classes were already paperless and seeing a way to teach an important subject without a high stakes test and proscribed curriculum I decided to investigate.
During the summer, in 2014, I attended a seminar taught by Joanna Goode and Gail Chapman, who, at the time, were associated with Code.org, a philanthropic educational company founded by an ex-Microsoft executive to promote Computer Science throughout the United States.[7] Goode and Chapman taught my cohort of New York City budding Computer Science teachers in a way that valued culturally relevant methods in similar ways Ladson-Billings did in her books.
The course began with an assignment that required us to read a book co-authored by Goode with her colleague at UCLA, Jane Margolis entitled Stuck in the Shallow End.[8] The book, a landmark study of how racial and ethnic barriers not only persisted in the allocation of resources in Computer Science education but were reinforced by the then current pedagogy. Both Goode and Chapman sought to introduce a more culturally relevant curriculum and transform our pedagogy to reflect teacher practice which was sensitively inclusive in diverse student populations.
I was skeptical at first but after trying out the curriculum I was sold. While I found some of the practice pedantic I nevertheless found a freedom to allow for high order thinking, positive and rigorous discussion and the time to teach students who were eager to learn. For some of my students Computer Science was the first time they felt they had learned something.
By the fall of 2015 New York City was all in with its Computer Science for All initiative:
NYC students will learn to think with the computer, instead of using computers to simply convey their thinking.  Students will learn computational thinking, problem solving, creativity, and critical thinking; to collaborate and build relationships with peers; to communicate and create with technologies; and to better understand technologies we interact with daily. These skills will be integral to student success in higher education, the 21st century job market and beyond.[9] 
I joined the excitement and volunteered to help facilitate Code.org professional development. This allowed me to recreate the same sense and transformation I had experienced while learning how to teach Computer Science. These experiences and my teaching improved my practice and looked forward to the day I would be able to teach Computer Science full time.
That opportunity came when I was accepted to teach Computer Science at a Queens high school which had the highest free or reduced-price lunch rates in its district.[10] The school had a Technology Department but there were no Computer Science classes. The transfer gave me a retirement-delaying reason to try bringing my newly adopted subject to a new environment.
It worked. By the end of my second year I had started a brand new Advanced Placement class in Computer Science and with the help of the principal brought robotics and 3d printing to students who had never experienced Computer Science education.
This past summer I went back for some more professional development and found out that Code.org had disassociated itself from Goode and Chapman and had adopted a new pedagogy for teaching introductory computer science. This new class stressed computational thinking and many of the goals outlined on the New York City DOE website but deliberately avoided the culturally relevant education that was stressed with my previous instruction.
Notions of equity were mentioned but the new facilitators were not equipped or instructed on how to teach computer science among diverse populations. Teachers under the new pedagogy were ill prepared to teach Computer Science for all.
It is important that our students learn to be prepared for their role in our democracy. Computer Science provides an ideal modality to cause students to become critical thinkers. If it becomes less relevant we will only reinforce the barriers our students face.[11]


[1] Jeff Kaufman has taught at-risk students for almost 20 years having taught in the high school on Rikers Island, a jail for adult prisoners held in New York City, a long-term suspension school for students prohibited from returning to general education schools due to student discipline transgressions and a transfer school serving under-credited, overaged students in Brownsville, Brooklyn. He currently teaches Computer Science at Queens High School for Information, Research and Technology, a school on the Far Rockaway High School campus.
[2] John Wiley & Sons, Mar 23, 2009
[3] These include: 
1.Communication of High Expectations
2.Active Teaching Methods
3.Practitioner as Facilitator
4.Inclusion of Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Students
5.Cultural Sensitivity
6.Reshaping the Curriculum or Delivery of Services
7.Student-Controlled Discourse
8.Small Group Instruction
[6] See, more generally, https://www.flexyourrights.org/
[7] See Singer, Natasha “How Silicon Valley Pushed Coding Into American Classrooms,”
[8] Margolis, Jane, Stuck in the Shallow End:  Education, Race, and Computing, with Rachel Estrella, Joanna Goode, Jennifer Jellison Holme and Kim Nao
[9] From the New York City Department of Education website at http://schools.nyc.gov/Academics/ComputerScience/Introduction/default.htm
[11] During my first training, a lesson on coding for cornrow braiding was provided early in the curriculum. While this was only one of several culturally relevant lessons it caused the most discussion while I taught the lesson in professional development. When I taught the lesson to my students they could not believe someone had created software to help design cornrow braids. This lesson was omitted in the revised curriculum.

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