Many primary and secondary teachers around the country are stepping up to learn how to teach students how to apply the power of computers and computation to solve problems i.e. they are learning to teach Computer Science (CS).
CS High School teachers in Texas must pass the CS 141 certification exam in order to teach CS Courses. The WeTeach_CS Certification Prep program developed at the Center for STEM Education at the University of Texas at Austin was developed to provide review and practice for teachers interested in preparing for the 141 Certification Exam. The program started as a face to face workshop bringing 20–40 teachers together for 2 days of review of key CS concepts and understandings. Over 150 teachers have participated in that course since it was first offered in the summer of 2015. Since then a 6 week online EdX Edge version of the course was developed and offered for the first time from June-August of 2016. Over 1000 teachers signed up, and about 500 actually participated by watching and reading prepared materials, doing practice exercises and taking quizzes.
Why are people taking the course? Where are they from? What kinds of backgrounds do they have? Is anyone other than a high school teacher taking the course? Are participants getting certified? This post helps answer some of those questions.
Why are people taking WeTeach_CS Certification Prep?
The Center for STEM Ed has secured grant funding for $1000 stipends for currently employed Texas teachers that take and pass the state certification exam. So financial incentive is certainly a key factor in pursuing certification. What other factors are considered?
130 of the teachers that took the online course responded to a survey about their motivation for taking the course. They were asked about the importance of the following in their decision to take the course:
- Economic: The $1000 stipend they could earn if they go to pass the Certification Exam,
- Growth: The opportunity for personal and professional growth (e.g., interest in CS, improve CS skills),
- Autonomy: The opportunity for professional autonomy (e.g., greater control over what and how I teach in CS vs. other subjects),
- Demand: School demand (e.g., school needs a CS teacher, principal said I had to teach CS)
The stipend was certainly motivating, but it doesn’t stand out like one might think. Teachers were motivated by the opportunity for personal and professional growth. It’s somewhat troubling that school demand has so many teachers answering “Not at All”. We know that 9 out of 10 parents want CS instruction for their kids, and we know these teachers are stepping up, but overall the sense of demand is still low. How do we change that?
Are all participants High School Teachers?
Texas is one of only a handful of states that requires High School teachers to have a CS Certification to teach Computer Science. But as can be seen in the graph on the left, while the majority of the teachers that participate in the program were high school teachers, 25 Administrators participated as did almost 50 Elementary and almost 200 middle school teachers!
About 1/2 of participating teachers have bachelors and 1/2 have masters degrees.
25 teachers that participated already had their CS certification, and about 50% of the remaining teachers are certified in Science, Math or Tech Apps, but the other 50% are currently certified in something non-STEM related. CS tools and principles can be applied in any subject and its wonderful to see the broad range of teacher pursuing CS Ed professional development.
Teachers with a broad range of experience have taken the workshop or the online course, but virtually none them has experience teaching CS.
How did teachers fare in the Online Course?
The course has a diagnostic quiz at the start of the program so that the teachers themselves and the instructional team can get a sense of the teachers current level of knowledge and understanding of CS related topics. The diagnostic quiz is graded, but it does not contribute to the teacher’s grade in the course and one of the answers is “I have no idea”. Teachers are encouraged not to guess. So how did teachers do on the quiz?
Very few people scored 60% or higher. There’s a lot of learning to be done! The course has six one-week sections, and each section covers an important topic area and most importantly provides hundreds of practice questions that students can answer. This time for practice and the graded quizzes is what makes the online course different from the face to face workshop. While the workshop instructor works through problems with the students in class, there’s just not enough time to let teachers take practice assessments.
Did they stick with it and what grades did they get?
Before we look at the actual grades, it’s important to understand that with online courses, the stakes are low, the course is free, and a teacher can drop out at any time and there is no consequence. Here’s a plot of the number of teachers that took each of the quizzes in the course:
So while over 450 teachers took the diagnostic quiz, as expected the participation over the six week run of the course steadily declined.
The Participation Index (PI) is the sum of the number of quizzes that the teacher took. As the chart above shows, those that stuck with the course (PI or 7 or 8) did well in the course. The passing score for the course is the same as it is for the certification exam itself: 80%. Over 250 teachers passed the course and earned CPE credit hours. All but 6 of the teachers that took all of the quizzes passed the course, and it’s impressive that 8 of the teachers scored a perfect 100!
OK, But did anyone get Certified?
As of September 12, 2016, over 155 people have passed the certification exam and received the stipend. More than two thirds of those who reported getting certified had participated in the WeTeach_CS Certification Prep program. Anecdotally we’ve heard from teachers that participating in the workshop and doing the online course are a great combination. The research team at the STEM Center is doing some analysis to see if there is evidence to support that idea.
WeTeach_CS Across Texas
While there were about 80 teachers from 14 other states participating in the online course, most everyone that took the course was from Texas. The map below shows the distribution of the over 750 teachers around the state that participated in the Certification Prep Programs and got certified.
A Good Start. A long ways to go.
Helping get more teachers interest in pursuing and attaining CS certification is a good thing, but alas there is much more work to be done. Supporting teachers as they take it to the classroom is a national movement, and the Center for STEM Ed is committed to supporting that mission.
How are we doing? Are there other programs out there that you would recommend that teachers would enjoy and is helping prepare teachers to teach CS?