@steve1 I think you’re right that asking hard, big questions is important. I do just want to clarify a point here though which is that we we’re solely motivated by the AP test here when we opted to make those recommendations in Unit 2. I personally conducted several detailed interviews with classroom teachers last fall about Unit 2. Some teachers had success with them, but usually after they had made tweaks. A number reported that it felt like they were losing the excitement and momentum that had been built up through Units 1 and Unit 2 Chapter 2. There were of course some, like you, who really valued these lessons. FWIW when I visited the high school I used to teach at, a public school on the southwest side of Chicago with largely first-generation students, I heard many students, unprompted, identify these lessons as the ones most in need of work. I want to be careful not to give too much voice to a single classroom experience like that, but when we looked at survey data from almost 200 teachers last year we heard similar questions about whether and how spreadsheet skills fit into this curriculum. When we brought together a small group of teachers to advise the team on how to update the curriculum, this was quickly identified as an area of the curriculum that needed attention, and many experienced teachers reported they were already skipping it without our recommendation. In other words, there were many inputs into this decision-making process that had nothing to do with the AP test, and compared to the rest of the curriculum there was a pretty consistent pattern of feedback that it might not be meeting the goals of the curriculum. Some of those goals are of course ensuring students are prepared for the AP test, but even for the broader goal of engaging students and increasing participation we had reason to believe we needed to take a careful look at these lessons.
Secondly I’d add that I think the questions of where and how to teach data are important ones. I used to be a data analyst myself, advising companies on high profile mergers. I left that job and entered education in large part because I was disenchanted by how data was being twisted and abused to make the arguments either side of these cases wanted to make. I think data is important for our students to understand and has a daily impact on their lives. I think we need a more data literate society so that people with more sophisticated data skills can’t essentially lie to the rest of us with numbers to get what they want. In short, I think you’re right to identify the importance of data.
I also, however, want to be careful about the aims of this course. It’s not as though we have removed these lessons to create space for multiple choice practice questions (something that is often requested and yet we’ve been advised repeatedly by expert teachers is not needed). We know we need to improve pacing because many classrooms just don’t have time to get to the other important content in this course. Students also need to know how the Internet works, or how the complexity of their lives is being digitized, or what’s involved in building the apps and software that students are using every day. This class is a survey course, and to some degree we’re treating every topic in it lightly, rather than going into great depth. We think every topic is important, but to some degree we’ve had to get comfortable with the idea that the way that we treat each one will be slightly unsatisfying to those who have deeper background with the topics.
To address an earlier comment of yours, Unit 4 is definitely not going away and if anything we plan on further emphasizing important questions there about how data and computing more broadly is affecting our students’ lives. Check in later for more updates on that. I also can’t say what will happen to these lessons in Unit 2 in the long term or data skills more generally. We’re moving quickly to address the needs the community identified for the curriculum and share our decisions essentially as soon as they’re ready to be publicly consumed.
Finally I’d just say that I think the field of computer science is in the middle of deciding how and when to teach “data”. I submitted a proposal for a BoF at SIGCSE this year because I (and really we here on the curriculum team at Code.org) see these as important ones to answer. Frameworks, standards, and motivated teachers, all seem to agree these topics are important. The practical realities of teaching data in the classroom, however, are challenging. How much do we need to be working with math / science departments on this to ensure students come into the class already knowing the mathematical content we’d like to rely on. How deeply do students need to know how to use data management tools created for professionals versus beginners in the classroom? What content or skills do we even mean when we say “data”? These are all important questions that I think this community is still grappling with, and at the very least from where we sit there doesn’t seem to yet be clear answers. As someone who taught and studied math I think there’s similar questions to be asking there, where it feels like calculus continues to be unduly viewed as the most important topic to move our students to, as opposed to the statistical and data-manipulation skills that increasingly seem more relevant. That in itself is worth a post this long but I mention it just because I think a holistic view to these questions does need to be that big.
This is a long way of us saying that there are lots of deep questions to think about when designing an introductory computer science course. Some of them do involve the AP test and like Baker said, that will continue to be one of our priorities. We’ve committed to supported teachers teaching this as an AP class and we’ll continue to do that. You asked for an expression of other “stakes in the ground” and I think a good place to look for that is our Curriculum Values. We’ve committed ourselves to supporting teachers in classrooms, to responding to feedback, and to promoting student engagement, among many other things. We try to make decisions in alignment with these values and I’ve been trying to show that we think we still did that in this instance. That said, we rely on this community to tell us when we go wrong. We hope you all continue to let us know your thoughts and needs, and we actively reach out to ensure we understand the questions and challenges facing our classrooms. Looking forward to chatting more and thanks for taking the time to weigh in on these topics!