A Connector Course for Pre-service CS Teacher Development

Bootstrapping pre-service CS teacher training with CS0.

“With the expansion of computing education in mainstream K–12 schools, the current approach of providing professional development for current teachers will quickly fall short of supporting a sustainable pipeline of computer science teachers for the scale many cities and states have committed to” (Priming the Computer Science Teacher Pump). Code.org found that, in 2016, “only 75 teachers graduated from universities equipped to teach computer science.” “We do not reach sustainability with in-service teacher development, though that is where most efforts are today,” says Mark Guzdial.

One challenge of preparing pre-service CS teachers at a large public university such as UC Berkeley is that the program for STEM majors exploring a career in education, CalTeach, does not provide a pathway for Computer Science Education (CSEd). Development of such a program normally involves recruiting faculty and securing internal or external funding. However, Schools of Education are currently “facing enrollment declines and budget cutbacks.” In CS, “computer science classrooms are overflowing at colleges and universities across the United States” at a time when they’re “unable to hire the new faculty they need and must instead restrict access to […] computing classes” (Resources for the CS Capacity Crisis). Specialized CSEd faculty are even rarer: “There are few researchers with CS education PhDs, and right now few or no active formal CS education PhD programs.”

A 2014 study by Yadav et al. showed the benefit of integrating computational thinking (CT) into general pre-service teacher training as a week-long module. In this proposal, we suggest extending the study by developing a semester-long ‘connector course’ to support pre-service CS teacher development. A connector course uses concepts from a parent course as a foundation to teach complementary ideas; 25 such courses have been developed and taught at UC Berkeley.

The proposed connector course will complement The Beauty and Joy of Computing (BJC), an introductory “CS0” and AP Computer Science Principles curriculum, making it particularly well-suited as a course for students to take in preparation for a career teaching CS in K–12. The course would offer an introduction to both (a) teaching CS and (b) infusing CS and computational thinking concepts into other subjects in both STEM as well as the humanities. The course will be designed to be broadly accessible to attract both Education students and CS students, building out the beginning of a CSEd program and fill the need expressed from school principals and administrators looking to “hire teachers with requisite backgrounds for computer science instruction.”

The connector course can be launched and taught by current faculty experienced in teaching BJC and CS0 at other institutions of higher education. As the connector course is supported by a parent course, it involves a lower workload than teaching a standalone course in CSEd. It is hoped that the low implementation costs of this program combined with the pedagogical benefits of introducing CT to a broad audience of pre-service teachers will result in adoption by institutions of higher education which have introductory CS courses and faculty to teach them but lack the resources to develop standalone CSEd courses to meet the demand from CS for All Teachers.