Putting the All in #CSforAll: Strategies for Inclusive Computer Science Classrooms

Summer is winding down, teachers are returning to classrooms and Fall is upon us. A recent chat among CS teachers about designing their classrooms with inclusion in mind, got me thinking about this important topic and inspired this post. With so many new #CSforAll teachers joining the community this year, back to school is a great time for a reminder about the pivotal role teachers play in creating inclusive learning environments and classrooms.

Environment Matters - Make Yours Inclusive

<em>Judith Hromcik’s August 2017 CS classroom decked out for back to school. That</em>’s right, girls are robots too!
Judith Hromcik’s August 2017 CS classroom decked out for back to school. That’s right, girls are robots too!

Research shows that environments matter when it comes to students feeling a sense of belonging in computer science (CS) classes and seeing themselves in tech. Take a look around your classroom and do a spot check: Do you have images that show a diversity of people? Are there examples of computing in many different applications - tech, fashion, medicine, robotics, etc.? Do gender stereotypes and typically male “geek culture” dominate your space? Knowing this, you can craft an environment that makes a broad range of students feel welcome. For more ideas and resources, check out the Top 10 Ways series of inclusion resources from NCWIT, the must have CS Teaching Tips, and this interview with Dr. Leigh Ann DeLyser on tools for creating an inclusive CS classroom.

To step up your classroom decor game, consider these free posters for computing classrooms:

A Little Inspiration Goes a Long Way

There is so much great content online these days about diversity in tech and tech careers, it is hard to keep track.

How about assigning a role model scavenger hunt as an extra-credit or break time activity for your students? Through this activity you can crowd-source a list of online inspiration resources and book-mark them for students to access all year long. Here are a few that I love:

  • TECHNOLOchicas from NCWIT & the Televisa Foundation offers beautifully produced videos of Latinas studying and working in tech, showcases profiles of 100s of young Latinas thriving in the field, and even has Ambassadors that can visit your school - and a rockin Instagram feed. Available in Spanish.
  • Made with Code from Google features inspiring stories of real women in tech, resources for getting started, and examples of unexpected applications of technology - like this programmable light up dress.
  • ReigningIT is an awesome blog and social media channel that profiles women in tech of all ages, with new profiles one to two times per week. Follow them on Medium, Twitter and Facebook.
  • Wogrammer is a site by two Facebook employees that showcases women in tech and the cutting-edge technology they create. Check out their Instagram feed!
  • Beauty & the Bolt is a fun YouTube channel by engineering major, maker and startup founder Xyla Foxlin, with instructional videos on making, engineering, tech and more.
  • FabFems features inspiring profiles of women in STEM fields, and offers the opportunity for students to be matched with a mentor.
  • TechPrep is an inclusion focused CS education career resource from Facebook and features resources for parents and families, as well as students.
  • Hidden Figures and The Computers are two great films depicting historical women and their contributions to technology.

Recognize & Encourage All Students

The most impactful thing I have learned in 17 years working on diversity in tech and engineering, it is that encouragement works - and it is free! Be conscious of how you are encouraging girls and minorities in your classes, and who you are recognizing and praising. Bias can creep into our unconscious daily interactions far too easily.

If you see a student doing something great, making progress and working hard - say so! Don’t assume students know how well they are doing, or that an outward bravado isn’t hiding inner anxiety. Additionally, don’t assume students are being encouraged to explore their interest in computing at home. If they don’t come from a family with a STEM background, they may not have support or resources at home. Remember, your words and actions have immense power.

Use a Growth Mindset when giving feedback to students - focusing on effort as opposed to innate ability. Print out 8 Ways to Give Students More Effective Feedback Using Growth Mindset and refer to it frequently. Remind students that anything worth doing is hard, and will involve failure. That is part of learning.

<em>The Aspirations in Computing Award recipients in Virginia beaming with pride.</em>
The Aspirations in Computing Award recipients in Virginia beaming with pride.

Finally, find ways to provide external validation for students through competitions and awards. Everybody needs a win now and then! This is also a great way to provide incentives for student engagement. Encourage all students to participate in clubs and competitions, and showcase them within your school when they do! Teacher Shannon Houtrow in Michigan makes a big fuss over his students’ accomplishments - through hallway displays, at the school board meeting, and in the press. Don’t just tell your students they are doing great. Tell others.

The following competitions and awards offer opportunities for students to shine:

  • The NCWIT Award for Aspirations in Computing is open to all high school girls 14+ that are aspiring in computing. Winners are recognized locally and nationally, and invited into an exclusive community of peers. Download the classroom poster. Applications open in September each year. Follow @ncwitAiC for updates. They also have an award for educators.
  • The Technovation Challenge engages teams of girls in solving global challenges using tech and is a great way to connect computing to the real world.
  • The Congressional App Challenge is open to students nationwide (if your member of Congress has not joined the Challenge, reach out and encourage them to participate - a great civics lesson!).
  • The Cutler-Bell Prize is for high school seniors in computing. It requires submission of a computing artifact and is very competitive, but comes with a 10K cash prize and often the process is as valuable as the win.
  • The SITES (Student IT Education & Scholarhip) program and HSCC (High School Computing Competition) programs from BDPA are a great way for students of color to connect with peers and meet diverse leaders in tech.
  • ProjectCSGIRLS is a national computer science competition in which teams of middle school girls design tech solutions for community challenges. The program was founded by Harvard CS senior Pooja Chandreshekar while in high school and is run by a team of high school and college students passionate about CS.
  • Samsung Solve for Tomorrow is a teacher led program that invites classes of students to solve a community challenge using STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and math). Winning teams receive Samsung hardware donations for their schools.

What’s Next?

Check out the CSforAll Consortium for CS education resources and providers of all types, both in and out of school, and to connect with the national community of educators working towards rigorous, inclusive and sustainable Computer Science for All.

The CSforAll Consortium is the national hub for the Computer Science for All movement and sets a collective agenda together with a membership of nearly 400 content providers, education associations, researchers, and supporters to help provide all US students with rigorous K-12 computer science education.

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