Where To From Here?
ducing several proposals for teachers to choose [ 3].
Even with all this backing the new curricula have been slow
to find their way into K- 12 schools and some of the teachers are
still concerned about what they should teach and how to assess
whether students have learned it.
The definitions of CT in these proposals are quite narrow
compared to the breadth of pressing computational issues in
the world—they do not apply to complex systems, reliability
concerns, hardware, or emerging technologies such as quantum computing. CT is not the defining characteristic of computer science. Neither is it “the way of thinking of computer
scientists” because many in other fields have contributed significantly to our understanding of computation.
EDIFYING CONVERSATIONS ON BIG QUESTIONS
We arrive at our 50th anniversary of the founding of SIGCSE
with a curriculum specifying what (and how) we teach computer science, a curriculum that evolved over half a century. The
specification was shaped by many factors noted here.
• Strong emphasis on building technologies at the beginning
• Resistance to forming CS departments from other academic
departments that did not accept computing as a legitimate field
• Developing our own community network at the dawn of the
• Being torn by intense debates over the roles of science,
math, and engineering in our field, manifested as struggles
over how to teach software engineering and information
technology, and how much to trust formal methods for
• Coming to grips with the emergence of computational
science and now the penetration of computing into nearly
every field of human endeavor
• The death of artificial intelligence and its resurrection as
machine learning and its claims about automation and the
future of humanity
This battle-hardened inheritance does not help us with
many of the pressing issues of the world emerging around us.
The worldwide connectivity we helped bring about through the
Internet has brought many benefits from shrinking the world
and globalizing trade. But it has also spawned conflicts between
non-state organizations and traditional nations, trade wars,
protectionism, terrorism, widespread detachment, fake news,
political polarization, and considerable unease and uncertainty
about how to move in the world. Access to troves of informa-
tion via the internet has begun to show us that knowledge does
not confer wisdom, and we long for wise leaders who have yet
to appear. The world we encounter in our daily lives is full of
surprises, unexpected events, and contingencies that not even
our best learning machines and data analytics can help us with.
We are now finding that many resources including sea and air
access are contested among nations; we lack means to resolve
the resulting disputes and we worry that the resulting conflicts
Computing educators became interested in the 1970s in
bringing computing’s general-purpose thinking tools into K- 12
schools. That was a major challenge: few schools had teachers
with computer science knowledge. Computer literacy was seen
by many as a gentle first step toward getting computer courses
into grade schools. The first attempts at literacy courses were
little more than training in how to use word processors and
spreadsheets. They were not popular with students or teachers.
A turning point came in 1999, when a task force of the Na-
tional Academy of Engineering issued a report reframing the
goal from literacy to fluency. Larry Snyder, the chair of the task
force, wrote Fluency in Information Technology, a textbook that
became popular with high school teachers [ 8].
Also in the 1990s, the College Board became interested in
an upgrade to the advanced placement test in computer science. With help from ACM and IEEE, they launched around
2000 an advanced placement (AP) curriculum focused on object-oriented programming with the Java language. Within a
few years, AP enrollments plummeted as students and teachers discovered the material was too complex for beginners. The
College Board, in cooperation with the US National Science
Foundation, undertook a new advanced placement curriculum
organized around computer science principles, which it hoped
would provide a better return on their investment. The upgrade
was rolled out in 2016.
In 2006 Jeannette Wing reframed the issue again around
“computational thinking” (CT) which she characterized as
the thought processes that computer scientists used to solve
problems [ 10]. This formulation resonated with many people
who saw computing permeating into their fields and wanted
to learn how to harness the technology. As an assistant director for the Computing & Information Science & Engineering
(CISE) directorate at the National Science Foundation, Wing
mobilized many people and resources around the goal of getting a computing curriculum based around computational
thinking into every K- 12 school. They sought to train 10,000
teachers in computer science. They supported the development of the CS principles advanced placement curriculum and
concurrently the development of a new genre of CS principles
first courses in universities. Many organizations stepped up
to define K- 12 curricula around computational thinking, pro-
We arrive at our 50th anniversary of
the founding of SIGCSE
with a curriculum specifying what
(and how) we teach computer
science, a curriculum that evolved
over half a century.