Blueprint Community Engagement

Blueprint Community Engagement

Since the New York City Department of Education Computer Science For All initiative launched in the fall of 2015, our team has been working hard at building a blueprint for computer science (CS) education in NYC.

We know it is a big undertaking to support educators and their school communities as they begin to integrate, many for the first time, computer science into their classrooms. Therefore, we’re co-creating the blueprint with a dedicated group of educators, elevating their CS teaching knowledge and experience in NYC classrooms.

We’re also gathering feedback from the industry, researchers, families, and the CS education community, regularly making pivots in our design direction and content, based on their insights.

We will highlight our work with educators and:

  • Explain what we have learned from the wider community.
  • Outline a few of our design premises, aha moments, and what we’re hoping to learn over the next few months through our ongoing and iterative development of the blueprint.

Classifying, combining and condensing CS skills and concepts with researchers

We had our first chance to engage with the ecosystem of CS education through the CSNYC Knowledge Forum last April. At the Knowledge Forum, we ran a workshop with 20 CS education researchers from around the country to test our early assumptions around the blueprint. Mainly, what concepts and practices should we prioritize if a school is integrating CS into an existing subject area for the first time?

The researchers debated the value of covering a large breadth of topics versus going deep in a few. Many recommended using the engineering design process as a grounding framework to teach important skills like collaboration. One argument we heard for this emphasis on teaching students the design process was tied to job trends: students will need to have the multi-disciplinary content knowledge and soft skills to thrive in the future workforce.

The researchers agreed with teachers about the importance of programming and algorithms but assigned even greater importance to engineering design practices and collaboration, as well as the impact of computer science on society.

This workshop confirmed our assumptions about the need to simplify skills and concepts and helped us draft our first framework.

Drafting arguments, rationale, and potential impact of CS with the CS education community

The themes of the workforce and economic development proposed by CS education researchers, and the different narratives that emerged from conversations with educators and school leaders, were further tested through conversations with the Hive Research Lab and their community.

Through several workshops we sought to ideate, synthesize and refine different arguments or visions for CS. These conversations helped us understand the range of visions for CS from the wider CS education community including:

  • Economic and workforce development
  • Citizenship and civics
  • Competencies and literacies
  • Technological, social and scientific innovation
  • Equity and social justice
  • School reform and improvement
  • Personal agency, joy, and fulfillment

This discourse improved our user personas and highlighted the differences between educators and the wider community’s rationale for scaling CS in NYC.

We further validated the arguments and visions for CS with families and educators at the World Maker Faire. At our booth, families were asked to tie a knot around the narratives they found most important for their kids.

We also used the Hive workshop and a workshop organized in partnership with Cornell Tech and CSNYC to test our assumptions about how to use the refined concepts and practices across a framework and a template for CS learning activities. We learned that our initial academic approach included too much detail and that the template we drafted was too cumbersome for folks in the out-of-school-time space to change their existing curriculum. So, we dropped the template, and are exploring new tools with enough structure to ensure rigor across the curriculum — but enough wiggle room to support the sharing of learning activities from diverse partners.

Testing assumptions and industry-driven inspiration

Through an Industry Roundtable with CTOs, lead engineers, technical recruiters and tech venture capitalists, we explored what careers in computer science might look like for NYC students; gathered perspectives on the most sought attributes of new hires; and forecasted where we anticipate industry growth and change over the next decade.

Participants validated two key assumptions:

  1. Our curricula should be language agnostic. The programming languages and their application thereof that we teach students today, will likely evolve before they enter higher education or the workforce. However, these underlying skills will remain relevant. More importantly, we should instill in our students the value of lifelong learning.
  2. Soft skills, team collaboration, and critical thinking are equally important to technical skills.

During our discussion on tech trends, we heard tech leaders express the value of employees who can weave data and storytelling and act as data interpreters. They further extolled the value of being able to understand and work with data, as questions of privacy, security, and the application of algorithms become increasingly relevant to not just tech careers, but our democracy.

We’re taking these two concepts forward by hosting a second industry roundtable to further dive into social implications of computing, and by highlighting concepts and practices over specific programming languages in the blueprint.

Looking at what’s next

Similar to how we teach our students to use the engineering design process when creating their projects, we are working directly with our stakeholders to build, test, and iterate through every new phase of the blueprint’s development. In the weeks and months to come we are hoping to learn more and get feedback from the wider community about:

  1. How to teach students about the social implications of computing.
  2. How to build a wider set of narratives around tech careers across industries.

Through the blueprint process, we’re working with the wider community to gain perspective, and ultimately create prototypes of tools to support educators in rolling out CS education. If you’re interested in learning more about our process or getting involved, feel free to contact us.

About the author


Allyson Gill is the Community Manager for NYC CS4All.

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