When a frustrated teacher needs a colleague’s encouraging support, professional advice or reassuring hug, he or she might seek out another educator teaching the same subject or grade level in the school. But what if no one else in the building handles the same curriculum? Computer science teachers often can be the only one teaching that course in a school, or even an entire district. Finding like-minded educators to brainstorm with or seek guidance from can be difficult. That’s where the Computer Science Teachers Association ( www.csteachers.org ) comes in. CSTA aims to offer computer science teachers a local chapter with meetings where these educators can exchange information, learn about professional development opportunities and pick up tricks of the trade.
To find out more about CSTA and what it offers computer science teachers, we contacted Jake Baskin, the association’s executive director:
Q: Tell us about CSTA: When was it formed, and what was its original goal?
A: CSTA, founded in 2004 by the Association for Computing Machinery, is a membership organization that supports and promotes the teaching of computer science (CS). CSTA provides opportunities for K-12 teachers and their students to better understand CS and to more successfully prepare themselves to teach and learn.
Q: How is CSTA different from other teacher organizations?
A: At its core, CSTA remains devoted to supporting K-12 educators globally. As a former high school computer science teacher, I first found a community of practice and support at my local CSTA chapter.
Since then, thousands of new teachers have joined the movement to bring CS to their students, but they are often still isolated in their schools and districts. Since coming on board at CSTA, I’ve focused the organization on growing and sustaining our local chapters to make sure every new CS teacher has an even better experience than I did when walking into his or her first chapter meeting.
CSTA is unique in its focus on building local communities for K-12 CS teachers that are led by K-12 CS teachers. From our board of directors to chapter leadership to our annual conference, all of our work is designed by CS educators without a specific curriculum to push.
Q: Do CS teachers face other unique challenges in the classroom? How does your association help teachers meet those challenges?
A: On top of the isolation I mentioned above, one of the biggest challenges CS teachers face is access to high-quality, low-cost professional development programs. CSTA serves as a hub to highlight these professional development programs and connect teachers to them.
We also recognize that professional development is not a one-time experience. Through our annual conference, which is the best way for teachers to connect with the latest topics in CS education while learning from classroom peers, and local chapters, we provide high-quality continuing professional development to teachers at all experience levels.
Q: Are there other ways that you help CS teachers keep abreast of their ever-evolving field?
A: CSTA also works to develop standards that help guide teachers to what’s most important for all students to learn across K-12. Just this year, we co-led the AI for K12 working group that is developing guidelines for teachers to use for introducing artificial intelligence to their students.
We also maintain a list of professional development providers that is regularly reviewed by our independent professional development committee to connect members with learning opportunities.
Q: How does CSTA look to partner with states interested in promoting STEM education in general and CS classes in particular?
A: Outside of finding funds to support the development of CS programs, establishing a standard curriculum for CS is a challenge. Through our CSTA K-12 Computer Science Standards ( www.csteachers.org/page/about-csta-s-k-12-nbsp-standards ), released in 2017, we have developed a core set of learning objectives to provide the foundation for a complete CS curriculum. Since their release, 34 states have formalized CS standards, with six additional states working toward adopting standards this year.
Q: Is there anything else you would like to share about CSTA and what it can offer to CS educators?
A: Teaching is hard — and teaching CS can be even harder. These teachers might often be the only CS educator in their school, town or district. By joining CSTA and connecting with the local CS teaching community, these teachers have a support system to share ideas with and gain inspiration from. They have access to a community of like-minded educators and to the professional development they need to help improve their craft.