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June 27, 2006

Poster Perfection

Four the last four months, CSTA has been working in partnership with ACM-W and the American School Counselors Association to create a classroom poster to help promote computer science and information technology, especially for young women and minority students. One of the things we have learned is that sometimes it is more important to do something necessary and good than something everyone agrees upon.

The poster (which can be printed standard paper sized, or as a 2x3 ft. or 3x4 ft.classroom poster) is intended to help students make the connection between their interests and abilities and the many fields of computing that are part of computer science and information technology.

Our work began with a small committee. Bettina Bair and Gloria Townsend (ACM-W), Michelle Hutton (our middle school computing teacher), Brenda Melton (our guidance counselor) and I met with our designer Beth Scandalios to brainstorm our poster message and work through some design options. Beth then created six poster designs (one of which was exactly what we asked for and the other five which were even better). From there, Beth and I got it down to three choices and then the whole committee reviewed and critiqued those choices. People selected the elements they liked best and made new suggestions for further revisions which helped Beth create a final design.

During the design phase, we also asked for advice from folks outside the committee. Leicia Barker from the National Center for Women and Information Technology (NCWIT) provided us with a number of very valuable suggestions that we incorporated into the final poster design. I showed the poster design to a number of colleagues in other associations and to the CSTA Board of Directors and the CSTA Advisory Council. Bettina also took the design to the NCWIT meeting and we received feedback from a number of university folks. And Tracy Camp (who wrote the germinal research paper on the pipeline crisis) gave us great feedback and support all the way from New Zealand where she is working this year.

We also tested the poster design with teachers and students. The test group involved students in four classrooms (two middle schools, two high schools, two independent schools) and an online feedback site that involved both high school and university students.

The response to the poster was overwhelmingly positive, but that is not to say that everyone agreed. In fact, there were differing opinions on just about everything. The teachers who reviewed the poster were really pleased that the young woman was dressed "like our kids dress", but a couple of the university folks were concerned that some schools would find the tank top inappropriate. One person did not like the "IT is all about me" headline, but Michelle's response was "If they are in middle school, believe me, it really is all about them and they know it. That is what makes this such a catchy headline." And you will never believe how much time we spent discussing whether it should be "IT is" or "I.T. is"!

Our goal, however, was to get this poster ready for the upcoming conference season, so that we could get it in the hands (and classrooms!) of real teachers. And to date, conferences across the country have offered to distribute the poster to their attendees. These include the National Educational Computing Conference hosted by ISTE, the American School Counselors Association annual conference, the Grace Murray Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing, and a number of other folks who are offering great workshops for computer teachers.

The truth is, we could have spent a lot more time and a lot more money trying to hone our poster so that everyone would love it, but I am not sure we ever would have achieved that goal. Even though every single person who gave us feedback really wanted the poster to be a success, people's tastes and expectations are very different.

So, you might say that in the end we sacrificed complete consensus for getting something into teachers' hands right now, because the problem is right now and it is getting worse. We need immediate interventions to overcome students' beliefs that computing is not the field for them, that it does not welcome them and help them make important contributions to the world.

We really hope that you like the poster. We are proud of it. We hope that people will put it in their classrooms and offices. We hope that students will take notice. We are grateful to everyone who took the time to help us make it better.

Chris Stephenson
Executive Director


Posted by cstephenson at 02:02 PM | Comments (1)

June 22, 2006

Interesting Summer Job

I don't usually post job notices, but I was speaking to Dawn Butler from Johns Hopkins University and they are offering a really interesting opportunity for computer science teachers looking for something interesting to do this summer.

The Johns Hopkins University Center for Talented Youth (CTY) has a sudden opening for a summer computer science teacher in Los Angeles, CA at their site hosted by Loyola Marymount University. It begins immediately and ends July 15. They will provide travel to and from the location, room and board at LMU, and a salary that ranges from $2,040 to $2,940 (depending upon education and teaching experience). A second position from July 15-August 5 is also available at nearby Cal Lutheran University and so the Center is willing to offer employment for the entire summer.

These three-week courses are designed for academically talented students ages 12-16 who took the SAT as 7th or 8th graders and scored at or above the mean for college bound high school seniors. Algebra 1 is a pre-requisite. There are 15 students in a class, and each instructor has a full time teaching assistant, usually a computer science major. Additionally, every instructor is paired with a teaching assistant.

More information about the course is available at: http://cty.jhu.edu/summer/employment/math_cs.html#fcps

Desired qualifications are a bachelor's degree and experience teaching computer science. Interested candidates should immediately email a resume to ctycarlos @jhu.edu or call him 410-735-6194 for more information. More complete information on the position is available at www.cty.jhu.edu/summer/employment/inst.html

Chris Stephenson
Executive Director

Posted by cstephenson at 11:17 AM | Comments (0)

June 16, 2006

Equity Shmekwity

Sometimes I really wonder what people are thinking.

Last week I was having a great time going through the data from the CSTA Member Satisfaction Survey when I saw a comment that rocked me back on my heels. It said "NO MORE "EQUITY" ARTICLES!!! Its time to move on and focus on important issues."

I was astounded. This was clearly someone who cares passionately about computer science education, someone who understands that it is important. Why would she or he not care that young women and minority students are rejecting our discipline en mass. Why would it not matter to this person, just in terms of his or her own job security, that a huge portion of the population believes there is no place in this discipline for them?

I am not going to repeat all of the statistics here. We all know that fewer women and non-Asian minority students write the computer science AP exam than write any other science AP. We all know that women are still highly underrepresented in computer science departments and in industry. And we all know that the gap between the numbers of skilled IT workers we are producing, and the number we need is continuing to grow to an extent that major industry players are starting to worry about this very publicly.

So what is it that has this person all riled up? Is it that she or he really thinks that equity doesn't matter? Is it because he or she believes that computing is, and should always be, a boy's game? Or is it that this person has just reached what I call "misery overload" (that state when you just cannot stand to hear about a problem anymore because you don't believe that you can do anything about it)?

Believe it or not, this last possibility bothers me the most. As educators, we are incredibly powerful in terms of our influence over students. The day you stop believing in your ability and responsibility to engage and enlighten all students, regardless of their race or gender, is the day you should shut down the computer and walk out of the classroom. That is how I feel.

But what do you think? Should CSTA be doing equity work (it is certainly not the only thing we do, but we think it is important) or do you really not care?

I am puzzled and would very much like to know how you see this issue.

Chris Stephenson
Executive Director

Posted by cstephenson at 06:23 PM | Comments (2)

June 09, 2006

Sometimes Even Bad Things Are Good To Know

From an organization's point of view, a good survey is a wonderful thing. I don't just mean surveys that tell you good things are wonderful, but that any survey that gives you solid data can be a useful tool for getting a member's eye view of how you are doing and what you could be doing better.

In May we finished the first CSTA Member Satisfaction Survey. This survey was designed to provide very detailed information. We asked our members to rate every benefit and service CSTA provides and to tell us what other benefits would be of value to them.

As soon as they were available, I looked at the quantitative results and they were most informative. It has only been in the last week, however, that I have had time to delve into the qualitative results and they are a virtual diamond mine of new insights.

Here are some of the good things that I learned:

Here are some of the valuable things we learned about doing better.

These are important issues that the CSTA Board is now looking at thanks to the folks who completed our first Member Satisfaction Survey. Thank you for your input and insight. Thank you for continuing to support CSTA.

Chris Stephenson
Executive Director

Posted by cstephenson at 05:54 PM | Comments (0)

June 01, 2006

New Research on the Impact of NCLB

A recent study by Robert Tai, assistant professor of science education at the University of Virginia, gives some important support to warning voices being raised about the impact of NCLB testing on high school computer science education.

As two recent articles in the CSTA Voice noted, the current emphasis on student performance in math and literacy is having a profound effect on high school computer science. Teachers and resources are being pulled from non-core courses to provide remedial learning to raise test scores, leading to the cancellation of computer science classes, especially in urban schools that are more reliant upon federal funding.

Tai surveyed 3,359 students who were in the eighth grade in 1988. He found that among students who expressed interest in science and yet made only average math scores, 34% graduated college with a science or engineering degree while
those with above-average math scores and no preference for science, had only a 19% likelihood of earning a science or engineering degree.

Tai's findings suggest that mandatory testing policies, such as the No Child Left Behind Law might actually worsen the nation's output of scientists by focusing to narrowly on math and literacy achievement.

"We've been so focused on achievement, on getting students to do better, we've pretty much ignored their interest," Tai said in an interview. "And it's their interest that's going to pull them through."

Tai's findings are particularly important in light of the President's concerns about national competitiveness in areas such as supercomputing and nanotechnology for which computer science education provides the conceptual building blocks. Decreasing opportunities for students to study computer science in high school deprives students of the opportunity to explore their interests and abilities in this field, and therefore only exacerbates the current pipeline crisis.

Posted by cstephenson at 06:50 PM | Comments (0)