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February 27, 2007

Jakob Nielsen Weighs In on Key Computing Skills

Dr. Jakob Nielsen, often referred to as an expert on usability, and a well known name in software and website design recently posted an article about "Life-Long Computer Skills" on his alertbox page at useit.com.

Several of the topics presented by Dr. Nielsen parallel with what CSTA is recommending in the ACM Model Curriculum for K-12 Computer Science. Here are some of the alignments.

Dr. Nielsen talks about:
Information Credibility and Information Overload, which is discussed as being topic number 10 in both the grade level 3-5 and 6-8 topics.

Writing for Online Readers, which is discussed as being topic number 10 in the K-2 topics, and topic number 6 in the 3-5 topics.

Computerized Presentation Skills, which is discussed as being topic number 8 in the K-2 topics, and topics number 4, 5, 6, and 8 in the 6-8 topics.

Debugging as the process of fixing mistakes in a computer medium (ie errors in spreadsheet formulas) which can be seen throughout all of the grade levels in the model curriculum.

Isn't it nice when outside sources confirm that what you are advocating is a good idea?

The more education is coming into the spotlight, the more people agree that teaching computer skills and computational based thinking to all students is a good idea.

Share this information with your colleagues, your administrators and people in your district at all grade levels!

Leigh Ann Sudol
Chair, Communications Committee

Posted by cstephenson at 01:40 PM | Comments (0)

February 23, 2007

CS Student Podcasts Great Classroom Tool

Women university students studying computer science are now making the most of their media savvy to provide information and resources to other students interested in computing, and providing a cool new resource for computer science teachers.

Students at Shippensburg University in Pennsylvania have created a series of computer science podcasts on topics such as genetic algorithms, zip code encoding, encryption, searching and sorting in MySpace, and my personal favorite, malware.

The podcasts are all part of the "Where is the Software" series, feature student-delivered mini-tutorials on interesting computer science concepts and run from about seven to fifteen minutes.

The production team of Sara Joseph, Charmagne McKinney, Logan Kennedy, Elizabeth Jones, Natasha Gunasekara and Tina Bledsoe who are part of the WiCS (Women in Computer Science) group at their university, originally envisioned the podcasts as a way to reach out to local high school girls to help them see computer science as both interesting and challenging.

These podcasts, however, also make great mini-tutorials that you can use in the classroom to highlight concepts that you may be covering in class or to give students a better idea of the breadth of the computing disciplines.

You can access the podcasts at:


The students say that they are planning to produce a new podcast every month.

Chris Stephenson
Executive Director

Posted by cstephenson at 07:29 PM | Comments (1)

February 16, 2007

How does more testing ensure that students are gaining critical thinking skills?

For those of you who have not yet seen it, the Commission on No Child Left Behind has put out their report proposing changes and updates to the NCLB legislation currently in place.

In reading the high school section of the report (Chapter 6) I was immediately drawn to the recommendations that they are making for high schools. In addition to changing the way that high schools are evaluated, and including evaluation for principals, there are some changes that concern me. First of all the report states that "70 percent [of employers] said that high school graduates were deficient in critical thinking and problem solving skills" (p. 131).

Are they recognizing that there is a pressing need to include more critical thinking activities (such as large design projects) or that students take at least one elective course in their high school career that is designed around critical thinking and problem solving? No, this is not their solution. Instead they are instituting another grade level assessment at the 12th grade level. If they are not bothering to teach these key concepts and skills as part of the curriculum, why on earth do they think that yet another assessment will solve the problem?

Problem-solving courses can take many forms and many of these courses already exist in schools. The problem is that they are being phased due to the pressures of NCLB. Why not re-energize those courses, computer science included, by recognizing they teach an important set of concepts that is often missed in the four R's.

Regardless of your feelings about NCLB and the mentioned changes here, I highly recommend you read the report. Even if you do not read the entire report, at least read the sections pertaining to your particular sphere of existence. Share your thoughts, speak out, let us know what you think the solutions might be.

Leigh Ann Sudol
CSTA Communications Chair

Posted by cstephenson at 11:47 AM | Comments (1)

February 14, 2007

Portugal's CS Teachers Face Critical Challenge

According to Ana Paula Ferreira of the Portuguese Science Teachers Association (ANPRI), someone has been playing politics with teacher certification requirements in Portugal and the future of computer science in high schools is in jeopardy.

Since the 1990s, Portugal has had a pre-service university degree for people who want to teach computer science courses. Since that time, many high schools have been teaching computer science in grades 10 through 12.

Recently, however, the Ministry of Education decided to allow anyone to teach computer science classes. The problem, Ana says, is that the people in the Ministry of Education do not understand the difference between teaching computer science and teaching technology in education (the use of computers to support learning in other curriculum areas).

The members of the ANPRI are very concerned that this change will allow teachers with no computer science background to teach computer science or will eliminate real computer science education altogether.

According to Ana, the computer science teachers who are part of ANPRI believe that it is essential to prepare their students for a technology-embedded future and computer science is a key element of their education. ANPRI is therefore committed to working in collaborating to the Ministry of Education to propose a special curriculum for K-12 schools, and develop special high schools courses.

ANPRI estimates that there are 2000 teachers with degrees in computer science teaching in Portugal's high schools. ANPRI represents 10% of that number the organization is launching a campaign to reach for new members.

Judith Gal-Ezer
Director for CSTA International Outreach

Posted by cstephenson at 01:47 PM | Comments (2)

February 12, 2007

Educational Media and our Student's Generation

Over the past couple of decades we have witnessed major changes in the culture of our country and the way that people interact with it on an everyday basis. Within such a short period of time the way in which humans in a large percent of the world, and definitely in a large part of America receive and process information has completely changed.

It seems silly, but for the past year or so I have referred to the current generation of students as the iPod generation. This labeling came about for a variety of reasons, least of all because none of them ever seem to be without their iPod. For them computing is ubiquitous. It pervades their transportation, their recreation, everything.

As educators we often try and win the "distraction" war where we ask students to put away and turn off their electronic devices, almost as if they were in an airplane about to take off and we were afraid it was going to interfere with our instrumentation. There are so many case studies of where teacher's are engaging their students with electronic media (podcasts, wikis, class blogs, etc.) without taking time away from their curriculum.

As computer science teachers we are also faced with this dilemma. There are so many tools out there to be used in the classroom to bring media in as a part of programming. They include but are definitely not limited to Alice, Karel the Robot, and all of the programs where teachers have created curriculum to do media manipulation as introductory programming assignments.

There is a good article that was recently published in Edutopia that I would strongly recommend for any educator, computer science or otherwise. The article entitled "Synching up with the iKid" by Josh McHugh talks about how the ways that students process information is a direct result of their environment. Form your own opinions, but share them so that we can discuss and debate whether or not our modes of instruction need to change.

Leigh Ann Sudol
Communications Chair

Posted by cstephenson at 11:26 AM | Comments (0)

February 09, 2007

Girl Scout Outreach for CS

When I was a little girl, I always wanted to be a Boy Scout because
they got to go camping and build stuff. We got to make "campfires"
out of celery sticks and marshmallows. That's why I'm so excited to
see this article in the Daily Texan about efforts by
the Girl Scouts to interest and inform girls about science and
technology through hands-on experiences.

Computer science isn't offered at so many schools that I think
popular non-school entities picking up the slack can only help. If we
want our population to understand our discipline and be able to make
informed decisions about things like funding (never mind filling jobs
in the many awesome careers out there) they need as many
opportunities as possible to learn how fun and interesting it is and
what it is about. The Girl Scouts also have a fun website at GirlsGoTech.org.

I'm sure the Texas Girl Scouts aren't the only ones with a program
like The EDGE. One of our local troops has had our librarian in to
talk about internet safety. I'm excited to see computer scientists
reaching out to kids. I wonder what else is out there?

Michelle Hutton
CSTA Vice President

Posted by cstephenson at 11:56 AM | Comments (0)