What Does an Emphasis on Problem Solving Look Like in Your ECS or CSP Classroom?


Hi! We are from Outlier Research and Evaluation at CEMSE at the University of Chicago (Outlier), home to a new CS10K project, Examining the Factors that Affect the Implementation and Sustainability of Exploring Computer Science (ECS) in Schools and Districts. This work – also know as “the BASICS Study” (Barriers and Supports to Implementing Computer Science in High Schools) – builds on a previous Outlier project, OS4CS, which established a more comprehensive understanding of our nation’s current high school CS teaching and learning environment.

The overarching goal of the BASICS Study is to support educators who are working to advance CS education. School districts participating in our project include three that use the Exploring Computer Science (ECS) program: the Los Angeles Unified School District, Chicago Public Schools and DC Public Schools.

Momentum is clearly building for CS education. As a kick-off to the BASICS study, we did some digging to learn more about the history of K-12 CS education in the United States. During this search, we found a couple interesting tidbits:

  • Twenty-seven percent of the funding for computers in 1981-82 came from outside the “usual” school sources (Tucker, 1985a as cited in Kurland & Kurland, 1987). For instance, parents were a major source of fundraising for the introduction of computers into K-12 classrooms in the early 1980s, sponsoring bake sales and computer fairs (Cuban, 1986; Radnor & Walsh, 1982).
  • Social, political and economic disparities in computing education are nothing new. In 1998, Wenglinsky noted students of color and students in public middle schools tended to use computers for drill and practice, while white students and students in private schools had more opportunities for problem solving and simulations.
  • The 1960s through the 1990s are viewed as the drill and practice era for computer science education. Although LOGO and Mindstorms curricula were introduced in the 1980s, the big shift towards emphasizing problem solving and complex thinking as the core of K-12 computer science is a post-Internet trend (Kurland & Kurland, 1987).

It is this last item, the move in K-12 CS from drill and practice to problem solving or computational thinking that we find particularly interesting. We want to hear from you:

What does an emphasis on problem solving processes look like in your ECS or CSP classroom? What part of problem solving comes easily for some students, and what parts seem to be a struggle for them?


The BASICS Study is a two and a half year project, so expect to hear from us about this topic and others throughout the study with real-time findings and tools that will hopefully be of interest to you and your CS colleagues. In the meantime, we want to kick off our presence on this blog by providing a list of CS education blogs we are keeping tabs on, and that may be of interest to you:

  • Mark Guzdial’s Computing Education blog
  • Computer Science Teacher blog
  • A+ Computer Science Blog
  • The Female Perspective of CS blog
  • 6 Reasons why Studying Computer Science is Worth It blog post


Co-Principal Investigator

Sarah J. Wille is a researcher at Outlier Research and Evaluation at CEMSE at the University of Chicago, andthe Co-PI of the CS 10K project Examining Supports and Barriers that Affect the Implementation and Endurance of Introductory Computer Science in Schools and Districts. She has worked with Outlier since 2010 on a range of research and evaluation projects focused on improving STEM education.

Associate Project Director

Courtney Heppner is an Associate Project Director at Outlier Research and Evaluation at CEMSE at the University of Chicago. Prior to Outlier, Courtney was the Associate Director for STEM Projects at the Battelle Center for Mathematics and Science Education at The Ohio State University, and a Research Associate at American Institutes for Research in Washington D.C. At Outlier, Courtney’s research focus has been on STEM schools and computer science education.

Research Assistant

Amelia Baxter-Stolzfus is a Research Assistant at Outlier Research and Evaluation at CEMSE at the University of Chicago. Amelia received her masters in Anthropology from New York University in 2012. She is an aspiring forensic pathologist.




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