Pedagogical Content Knowledge in Computer Science - Ellipsis Education

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Pedagogical Content Knowledge in Computer Science

February 13, 2023
By Whitney Dove, Ph.D. CEO

Teaching ‘know-how’ is broken down into two broad domains: content knowledge and pedagogical knowledge. When they come together – in Pedagogical Content Knowledge – special things happen in a classroom. 

Let’s talk about these frameworks and how they can be applied to teaching computer science.   

What is Content Knowledge?

Content Knowledge in teaching is exactly what it sounds like. You need to know the facts, concepts, theories, and principles taught in your specific academic course. 

Put simply, if you are a math teacher, you need to know something about math! The pythagorean theorem, names of polygons, long division, etc. would all be considered mathematical content knowledge. 

What is Pedagogical Knowledge?

Pedagogical knowledge is knowledge of best practices in teaching and learning. Examples include pausing for effect, chunking information, and transitioning from one place or subject to another. 

These skills are essential! After all, the single greatest predictor of students’ success is the teacher making the right instructional decision, at the right time, for the right student (Frontier & Rickabaugh, 2014). 

Pedagogical Content Knowledge

Image shows Venn Diagram with CK (“I know math”) on the left, PK (“I know how to teach”) on the right, and PCK (“I know how to teach math”) in the center.

Now, imagine a Venn Diagram with Content Knowledge (CK) on one side, Pedagogical Knowledge (PK) on the other, and an area we’ll call Pedagogical Content Knowledge (PCK) in the middle (pictured below). PCK is this special kind of magic. I know math (CK), I know how to teach (PK), and I know how to teach math (PCK). In other words, I recognize:

  1. Math is unique.
  2. To impart math wisdom to my students, there are special practices that I must use.
  3. I know how to use them.

PCK is what makes teachers special. It’s what allows them to transform their knowledge for the benefit of students in their classroom (Shulman, 1986). 

Pedagogical content knowledge examples include finding multiple ways to represent ideas, creating developmentally appropriate lessons, and adapting material to the needs of specific students. 

PCK in Computer Science

Since computer science (CS) is a relatively new subject in K-12 settings, every CS teacher is at a different place in their journey. Some may feel great about teaching, but less confident with computer science content knowledge. Others may have deep understanding of CS concepts, but may not feel confident teaching them. 

No matter the particular challenges a teacher may face, the lack of either content knowledge, pedagogical knowledge, or pedagogical content knowledge can certainly be a barrier to the teaching of computer science in the classroom. As a result, it’s essential to select a computer science curriculum that meets the needs of teachers. 

Here’s how Ellipsis Education curriculum strikes that balance, so you can more confidently bring computer science to your students.

For those of you that lack content knowledge, but are stronger in pedagogical knowledge –

A strong foundation in PK is important to get you started with a new subject, and you already have that! Then, we step in with the step-by-step instructions in our lesson plans. This level of specificity helps you work toward deepening your understanding of computer science.

If you have strong CK (looking at those who transitioned from industry to teaching careers!), you may have a good understanding of computer science but can be weaker in the pedagogical know-how. 

In this case, our step-by-step instructions play the inverse role. Now, we are not teaching you the content, necessarily, but we are giving you a model for how to teach the content.

Image shows example from Lunar Loops, an Ellipsis lesson. The definition of loops is an example CK, while the teaching prompt is an example of PK.

In the example to the right, the definition of loops is helping the teacher with content knowledge. On the other hand, previewing the lesson for students helps develop pedagogical best practices.

[Download this lesson for free – Lunar Loops.]

And, here’s where the whole framework comes together. No matter which of those scenarios ring true, we are supporting you in developing the magic – the secret sauce – for teaching computer science: PCK.

Try a Free Computer Science Lesson

See how Ellipsis Education computer science curriculum helps you develop computer science pedagogical content knowledge. Sign up for a free trial of the curriculum, where you can explore lessons from each of our 13 courses. Whether you’re looking to strengthen your CK or PK, experience the step-by-step lesson plans for yourself.