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March 22, 2007

You Mean CS Isn't Always About Building a Better Algorithm?

One of the things I try to do for my students is to give them a chance to play with some of the really cool research that is going on in computer science. While algorithms are an important part of what's happening, many computer scientists are focusing more on the integration of their discoveries into larger applications, as well as those applications themselves.

Today I went to a lecture given by Takeo Igarashi. Igarashi is a recipient of both Carnegie Mellon University's Katayanagi prize and the ACM SIGGRAPH Significant New Researcher award for his contributions to computer graphics. His ideas are based in not making more complex graphics, but the interaction with the human during a "rough sketching" process.

I highly recommend checking out his website and playing with the tools that are available.

I also recommend that you look for things like this for your students to. While it is true that students have to learn the basics first (the need to understand simple things like decision and looping structures and basic principals of object oriented programming and design) it doesn't hurt to show them some of the problems that "real" computer scientists are working on.

Not how to search for a name in a phone book. Foundations are exceedingly important, and we need to learn how to mix the batter before we can bake and eat the cake, but don't you prefer the cookbooks that show you a picture of the finished cake?

Carnegie Mellon posts videos of these lectures on line and they can be found through links off the main

Leigh Ann Sudol
Communications Chair

Posted by cstephenson at 08:09 PM | Comments (0)

March 19, 2007

Working Together or Falling Apart

Sometimes, it really is true that a crisis can bring out the best in both people and institutions and our current enrollment crisis in computer science is prompting a new spirit of cooperation between university and high school computer science educators.

A good example can be seen at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (a CSTA Instutitonal member) where the commitment to revitalizing the connection between K-12 and universities goes right to the top.

In a recent web posting , Anthony Skjellum, Chair of the Computer and Information Science Department declared his department's intention of helping to revitalize computer science education in the state's 480 high schools.

Skjellum also makes it very clear that his reasons for doing so go beyond the desire to simply increase enrollment.

"Why? Because the national trend away from Computer Science education at the pre-college level and the substantial decrease in Computer Science undergraduates in the USA since 2000 are bad for the US economy, competitiveness, and future. Computer Science is a vital career path for students in America, and Alabamians stand to gain hugely from first class education in our field."

The University of Alabama at Birmingham is not the only university reaching out to high schools. I personally know of terrific programs at Indiana University, Carnegie Mellon, the University of Illinois, and Colorado School of Mines. And I am sure there are more out there (let us know if you have a program teachers in your area should know about).

All of these outreach efforts are important because the issues that need to be addressed are complex and require the attention and commitment of all levels of the education system. This really is a time where we either work together or all fall apart.

Chris Stephenson
Executive Director

Posted by cstephenson at 09:26 AM | Comments (0)

March 16, 2007

Robin Raskin's Blog Posting On K-12 CS

The release this week of the American Innovation Proclamation is raising interesting questions about our current education system and whether it provides the kinds of knowledge and skills students need to drive innovation in the digital age.

This week I had the opportunity to talk to Robin Raskin of Yahoo Tech about the link between supporting computer science in K-12 education and addressing the critical drop in the computer science pipeline.

Today, Robin posted a thoughtful piece about this issue on her blog.

I strongly encourage you to check it out and to participate in this important discussion.

Chris Stephenson
Executive Director

Posted by cstephenson at 12:24 PM | Comments (1)

March 14, 2007

Taking Advantage of the Chance to Ask Bill

I received a great email this morning from Brian Scarbeau, a computer science teacher at Lake Highland Preparatory School in Orlando Florida, telling me about his recent encounter with Microsoft head Bill Gates.

Brian is a great person, a wonderful volunteer, and a tireless advocate for K-12 computer science education. He has presented sessions at our annual Computer Science and Information Technology Symposia, helped on CSTA projects, and even convinced the City of Orlando to officially proclaim December 8th (Grace Murray Hopper's birthday) as as Computer Science Education Celebration Day. He is also currently running for the CSTA Board of Directors.

This week Brian attended the Microsoft VIP Summit, which included a presentation by Bill Gates, followed by a question and answer session. Brian took advantage of this opportunity to talk to Gates about the importance of Microsoft's support for a number of key computer science education projects and elicited Gate's promise to look into some funding cuts that Brian believed appeared to indicate Microsoft's dwindling support for K-12 computer science education.

This encounter is a perfect example of how teachers can be great advocates. Not everyone has the chance to talk to a Bill Gates, but we all can talk to parents, principals, school administrators, and our state and federal representatives about the importance of supporting K-12 computer science education.

What we do is important. Computer science is the heartbeat of innovation, it is that science of science, and it is the career of the future. We need to take advantage of every opportunity to let people know.

Chris Stephenson
Executive Director

Posted by cstephenson at 10:32 AM | Comments (0)

March 13, 2007

Applause for ISTE Standards Refresh

Over the last year the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) has been carrying out a review and renewal of its National Educational Technology Standards (NETS) and early indications are that the results will be positive for educators concerned about ensuring that students have the skills they need to thrive in an increasingly technological world.

The newly released ISTE NETS for Students Draft document (1/4/2007) is a move towards inclusion of computer science topics as well as technology topics under one standard. I applaud ISTE for suggesting a broader base of computing studies than in previous standards.

While I believe the draft represents a step toward better computing preparation for K-8 students in the US, the one-page draft does not provide sufficient indication as to the anticipated level of student understanding expected. For example, Section "VI.A. Technology Operations and Concepts, understand and use technology systems" does not indicate the type of technology systems. I can reasonably imagine this as anything from connecting and using a DVD player or MP3 player, to connecting and using a computer system.

Unfortunately, "IV.B. Critical Thinking, Problem-Solving and Decision-Making, plan and manage activities to develop solutions and complete projects" also fails to specifically state that students should use algorithmic thinking as a means to develop solutions. Trial and error is a great place to start, but eventually standard algorithms need to be introduced and modified in the approach to a solution.

CSTA applauds ISTE for moving technology standards forward and for introducing concepts that are suggested in the
ACM Model Curriculum for K-12 Computer Science Education
. While not perfect, the revised NETS are moving students toward knowledge and skills necessary for success in today's digital world. We would encourage ISTE, however, to look at the future needs of US students and consider a more comprehensive approach to these needs.

Anita Verno
Chair, CSTA Curriculum Committee

Posted by cstephenson at 12:16 PM | Comments (0)

March 05, 2007

AP Report Shows Slight Improvements

The College Board has released its Report to the Nation for 2007 and the good news is that the number of students writing the A and AB Computer Science Advanced Placement exams seems to be on the rise after four years of continual decline.

Between 2002 and 2005 the overall number of students taking AP CS dropped from 23,459 to 19,021. In 2006, however, there is a slight upward trend of about 3% to 19,601.

The distribution of examinees by grade level is fairly similar to last year, with a slight increase (from 0.8% to 1.4%) in students who are taking the exam as early as 9th grade).

Exam Takers by Grade Level
9th grade: 1.4%
10th grade: 14.5%
11th grade: 36.6%
12th grade: 42.4%
Other: 5.2%

The Grade Distribution also remains fairly consistent.

AP Grade Distribution
Score of 5: 24.9%
Score of 4: 21.6%
Score of 3: 15.1%
Score of 2: 8.1%
Score of 1: 30.3%

There is also a slight improvement in gender equity, with the percentage of young women writing the AP CS exam rising from 15% to 16%.

AP Exam Takers by Gender
Male: 84%
Female: 16%

The number of exam takers who are students from traditionally underrepresented populations has also improved marginally. Both the number of Hispanic or Latino students and the number of Black or African American students have increased by 0.4%.

AP Exam Takers by Race & Ethnicity:
White: 52.8%
Asian American or Pacific Islander 22.4%
Hispanic or Latino: 6.6%
Not stated: 5.0%
Other: 4.0%
Black or African American: 3.8%
American Indian or Alaska Native: 0.4%

These small improvements are a positive sign in light of growing concerns about the AP Computer Science exam, but it is doubtful that they are sufficient to overcome the growing sense among both K-12 and university educators that the exam is in need of a significant review and revision.

Posted by cstephenson at 12:34 PM | Comments (1)