If a high school math or science teacher was going to begin teaching computer science, what do they need to know? I know of many teachers given this responsibility without any training for it. Since most states in the U.S. do not have a computer science certification, new teachers are often left on their own to prepare. A number of one week summer courses exist, such as those provided by the college board, but this is grossly inadequate for a new computer science teacher.

If we were to design an ideal course of studies to take a teacher with little to no programming experience and prepare them to teach a course like AP Computer Science, what should that program include? This question is not just theoretical since programs are currently being designed where none exist.

Here I am looking for two types of answers:

  • If you are familiar with an excellent program, what does it include?
  • If you are teaching computer science, what courses do you wish you took before teaching CS and why?
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    $\begingroup$ This is probably a US only question. I think many other countries require more training for teachers. In the US the requirements differ radically by place and by type of school. But as the poster implies, there are few subject level requirements for CS teachers at this level. Worse, not every CS teacher actually desires to teach it, being required by circumstances. $\endgroup$
    – Buffy
    Sep 23, 2017 at 23:49
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    $\begingroup$ Teacher requirement differ by State. Most States have no certification for CS at all, but some are changing that. Answers from faculty involved in teacher preparation (from any country) are welcome. Although my question is hypothetical–"what should a program include?"–I am interested in hearing about successful existing programs. $\endgroup$
    – Thorn
    Sep 24, 2017 at 10:09
  • $\begingroup$ Are you asking because you want to create one? Is it just for one school? If you already exists, maybe for a different place, would you be interested in adopting it? Can you update question, not just reply to comments. $\endgroup$ Sep 25, 2017 at 8:49
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    $\begingroup$ This question is getting at something interesting, but I think it needs to be more specific to be on-topic. Theoretical or "just wondering" questions are off-topic as per the help center. I'm voting to close for now, but I hope you edit your question to be more specific so we can reopen it. $\endgroup$ Sep 25, 2017 at 16:23
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    $\begingroup$ @user3244 While it is certainly true that you should have deep content knowledge, such knowledge is only gently correlated with professional experience. By this standard, most college professors (regardless of field!) should not be, and most of the greatest coaches in NFL history shouldn't have been allowed on the field. $\endgroup$
    – Ben I.
    Oct 8, 2017 at 17:01

3 Answers 3


As states in the US consider requirements to add a CS endorsement to a teaching certificate, the proposals vary widely. The changing landscape is described in the April 2017 EDC document State of the States Landscape Report: State-level Policies Supporting Equitable K-12 Computer Science Education.

Iowa SF274, passed June 2017, allocated \$250 thousand for CS professional development. This is dwarfed by \$500 million announced this week by the US Department of Ed and the tech sector, but like parallel initiatives in many US states, it led the state's Department of Ed to consider CS endorsement requirements. The Department of Ed drafted recommendations as a starting point for a working group to consider. Iowa DoEd is suggesting in that draft:

  • 12 semester hours of CS coursework to include
    • Data structures
    • Algorithms
    • Operating Systems or Networking
  • 3 semester hours of a CS Teaching Methods course
  • 6 semester hours of coursework in Career and Technical Education

I post this draft recommendation because the crowd-sourced opinion of this community would be informative to me as a member of the working group. The fact that the discussion here would be useful to someone like me as a CS educator in a time of fervent activity in legislative and executive realms is a reason not to close this question.


The College of St. Scholastica in Minnesota has a Computer Science Education graduate certificate program. It is a four-course sequence designed to add a CS endorsement to a high school teaching certificate, though no state-issued endorsement exists yet in Minnesota. The courses:

  • Computational Thinking and Standards for the K-12 Teacher
  • CS Principles, covering the AP CS Principles course description with additional material covering pedagogy and CS pedagogical content knowledge
  • Programming and Teaching Java, a Java-based course covering the AP CS A course description with additional material covering pedagogy and CS pedagogical content knowledge
  • CS Methods and Capstone, covering pedagogy and CS pedagogical content knowledge, CS education research, and development of a CS curriculum unit

I'd be very wary of any program with a course llike "CS Principle" or "CS Principles for Educators." First, it pushes the "you take it you can teach it" model which would imply that any kid that finishes a class has enough content knowledge to teach it and that just isn't so. It's also a red flag that it might follow the model of many math ed courses like "Calculus for math teachers" which purport to be about both the math and how to teach it but in practice are more frequently watered down math classes with formulaic content about instruction.

I think the Iowa proposal submitted here is more on track. Content should be somewhat beyond the highest level a student might take so Algorithms / Data structures fits the bill. I personally don't agree with the networking / OS part but that's neither here nor there.

On top of depth of knowledge you need breadth and on top of that pedagogy so you'd need some more courses there.

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    $\begingroup$ I agree with you completely. However, too many teachers are assigned such courses when they are not ready at all. But if you are going to get training, get something that doesn't just help you keep a day ahead of the students. $\endgroup$
    – Buffy
    Sep 30, 2017 at 20:07
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    $\begingroup$ The danger is that too many states are going for the quick win and stopping at the weekend PD model. The right way to do it is set an M year goal. You can start now with nothing, you must do ABC by year N and finish the whole shebang by year M. $\endgroup$ Sep 30, 2017 at 20:14
  • $\begingroup$ Yes. Can you develop that into a complete answer here? Such a plan might require the backing of some organization behind it, i'd guess. $\endgroup$
    – Buffy
    Sep 30, 2017 at 20:17

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