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September 25, 2006

What The Heck Just Happened in Texas?

Mark Stehlik kindly agreed to let us repost his message to the AP Listserv regarding Texas' recent decision not to include computer science as a math or science credit under their plan to increase the number of mandatory courses for high school students.

The state of Texas has recently approved a requirement called 4x4, to graduate in its recommended or distinguished track, it will require 4 years of Math, Science, English (Language Arts), and Social Studies.

Prompted by this, a week ago Thursday, I and an intrepid band of Texas secondary and college computer science educators ventured to testify before the Texas State Board of Education with the hope of persuading the board members to approve a petition formulated by Karen North to allow Computer Science (specifically, AP CS, not a course like Web Mastering) to count as a Math or Science in the newly approved 4x4 curriculum.

We arrived at 9:00 a.m. to find that we were item 8 on a 13-item agenda. And that 33 people were slated to testify to item 7 (discussion concerning the implementation of the 4x4 curriculum). As we sat and listened to discussions concerning the proper labeling of consumables (among the minutiae that occupy a state board of ed), we were heartened by positive references to Computer Science made in the testimony for item 7.

Unfortunately, those wan hopes were positively crushed by the board. First, since so many people testified on item 7, we didn't begin testifying until shortly before 6:00pm (needless to say, my 5:55 flight back to Pittsburgh left without me). Second, perhaps because of the late hour, approximately 6 board members (of 15 total) decided not to be present for our testimony. Their chairs were empty! It was positively disconcerting after watching all the favor paid to certain item 7 witnesses to see such an abject display of disinterest in our cause.

Further, unlike for item 7, there were virtually no questions subsequent to individual testimony (only 1 question, asked of 2 witnesses, was, "So, if you had to pick one, is Computer Science a math or a science?"). Of the 13 people testifying on this item, 2 were against (and 1 practically called us all liars for attempting to characterize Computer Science as science as we do not observe the natural world and thus are not a true science). (As an aside, I agree that Computer Science is not a Natural Science, but that doesn't make it not a science, or relevant to the future education of these students, but I digress).

At the end of the testimony, a board member asked to accept the Superintendent's recommendation to deny the petition (which was based on the fact that CS didn't require Algebra II as a prerequisite, which the board decided to no longer require as part of its discussion of item 7!). The motion was seconded and passed N-2 to 2. I say N-2 because it was unclear how many members were actually present to vote (the chair asserted that there was a quorum, though).

Very depressing.
Mark Stehlik

Posted by cstephenson at 12:56 PM | Comments (3)

September 20, 2006

Including Guidance Counselors In the Mix

It seems that colleges and universities are starting to address the problem of declining enrollments in computer science by reaching beyond the traditional pool of high school computing teachers.

I recently received a flyer from Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken NJ announcing an event they call "Tomorrow's Information Technology Leaders". This workshop is geared towards educators in the NY/NJ metropolitan area (although eastern Pennsylvania is also close enough to attend). The day contains a keynote by the CIO of IBM Research (talking about industry's needs) with breakout sessions geared specifically towards CS teachers and guidance counselors. Yes, that's right, guidance counselors. I was so excited to see that part of the program was for them that I ran right to the copy machine and then to the guidance department in order to recruit at least one of our counselors to come with me to the event.

Guidance counselors are incredibly important partners in the challenge of informing students about the opportunities that computing provides and its relation to other key academic disciplines and careers. High School students are surrounded by so many pressures and are pulled in so many directions that sometimes it is difficult for them to see appreciate how truly universal computer science is and the breadth of opportunities it provides. Informed guidance counselors can help attract students to our courses simply by including CS in their discussions with students.

If you are in the area, I would strongly recommend that you check out www.stevens.edu/undergrad/it for details of the Steven's event and consider registering. Even better, convince one or two of your guidance counselors this day would benefit them as well. If you need to, you can entice them with the idea of a free lunch.

Leigh Ann Sudol
Publications Chair

Posted by cstephenson at 03:51 PM | Comments (1)

September 06, 2006

Back to School

As a teacher in NY I realize I am one of the last teachers to go back to school, and to those of you who have been back awhile I apologize for what seems to you as a late post.

Every year when I get back into the rhythm of teaching again, I find that I stop for a moment to reflect on the previous year as well as what the summer held. I also look for exciting new things that I can bring to my classroom to enrich my curriculum even further. So I thought I would compile a list of useful or helpful things that I am bringing to my class this year.

Andy Begel's Kinesthetic Learning Activities
For those of you who didn't have the opportunity to join us in San Diego for the CS&IT Symposium, one of the standout sessions for me pedagogically was the kinesthetic learning workshop given by Andy Begel. You can also view additional activities developed by the people in the workshop (and many others). I plan to use these both for reference for activities for my own class as well as an inspiration for when I need a lesson for another topic.

Recommended Resources from CSTA
I know, it is redundant to refer you to a CSTA resource from a CSTA resource, but I cannot help myself. I especially plan to use the OO project using Pong that was developed jointly with IBM and CSTA.

The University of Washington's A Day in the Life video
This video is inspirational, motivational and shows kids (both boys and girls) that CS is not just sitting in front of a computer screen by yourself playing video games.

There are so many other resources available, but this is just a start for now. Keep an eye out for the CSTA repository – a full collection of resources that is being developed for computer science teachers at ALL levels.

Happy New School Year!!!!

Leigh Ann Sudol
Publications Chair

Posted by cstephenson at 04:09 PM | Comments (2)