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August 29, 2007

First Day Activities

Every year this question is asked on the AP List Serv: What do I do on the first day?

I noticed that the question didn't come up this year, and I know that there are new teachers out there looking for first day activities to do with their classes.

As educators we want to engage our students right off the bat and show them that computer science is fun and interesting. When I talk to students about computer science and programming, I purposely avoid the current debate about how it is defined. Instead, I like to explain to my students that computer science is about being specific and solving problems in a linear and clearly defined fashion.

I also like to help them to understand that you cannot take anything for granted when giving instructions to the computer.

One of my favorite first day activities is the paper airplane building exercise. I pair the students in groups of two and give each person a sheet of paper. The rules are that only one student is allowed to talk, and the other needs to follow the directions they are given EXACTLY. I then sit the students back to back so that they cannot see each other. The student who is allowed to talk creates a paper airplane and talks through the process, while the student who is not allowed to talk follows along. It is fun to see if they come out with the same airplane at the end of the session.

After the paper airplanes are built, I engage students in a discussion about the process, asking them questions such as: "Does the order in which you gave the directions matter?", "What was the most difficult thing about not being able to talk?" and "Would it have been helpful to get feedback during the process about how you were progressing so far?" (Hint - this is a subtle reminder about writing programs in pieces and compiling as you go along rather than trying to do it all at once.) I then refer back to this activity throughout the year as a common experience in which I can frame other parts of the code - compile - run - refactor process.

What's your favorite first day activity? How do you hook your students in? How do you introduce the class? Leave a comment, a sentence, a link, or just a short experience here!

Leigh Ann Sudol
CSTA Communications Chair

Posted by cstephenson at 04:30 PM | Comments (5)

August 22, 2007

NCLB Resulting in Serious Decreases in Many Subjects

According to a report from the Washington, D.C.-based Center on Education Policy (CEP), about 44% of school districts nationally reported cutting time from one or more other subjects or activities as a result of the NCLB legislation.

The report, Choices, Changes, and Challenges: Curriculum and Instruction in the NCLB Era was based on a nationally representative survey of nearly 350 school districts. It reports that time spent on subjects other than reading and mathematics (including science, social studies, art and music, physical education, lunch and recess) has fallen by nearly one-third since the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act became law in 2002.

About 62% of districts reported increasing time for English language arts and/or mathematics in elementary schools since school year 2001-02, and more than 20% reported increasing time for these subjects in middle school during the same time. Among the districts reporting increased time for English and mathematics, the average increase was substantial, amounting to a 46% increase in English, a 37% increase in math, and a 42% increase across the two subjects combined.

The report notes that the increases and decreases are more prevalent in districts that are home to struggling schools. School districts with at least one school identified for improvement under NCLB reported in greater proportions that they had increased time for English and/or mathematics at the elementary and middle school levels and had cut back on time for other subjects since 2001-02 (78%) than did districts without schools identified (57%).

In addition to increasing time spent on English and mathematics, many districts appear to be changing their curriculum to provide a greater emphasis on content and skills covered on high-stakes state tests used for NCLB purposes. In mathematics, for example, 81% of districts reported changing their curriculum at the elementary and middle school levels to more closely match the content of state tests, while 78% of districts reported doing so at the high school level.

We would love to know if you have experienced similar cuts, especially to computing courses, in your school!

Chris Stephenson
Executive Director

Posted by cstephenson at 03:43 PM | Comments (0)

August 20, 2007

Is Summer Almost Over Already?

The end of summer always sneaks up on us too quickly. It seems that one minute we are enjoying quality times with our family and friends without having to worry about the pile of papers waiting on the dining room table to be graded before going to bed, and the next minute, a certain office supply store starts running a commercial with a man dancing in the isles to Christmas music while his children sadly pick out school supplies.

One of my favorite parts about the summer is meeting new teachers at conferences and workshops and learning something new. I would like to take a moment and share with you some great resources I learned about this summer, and I hope after reading this post you will do the same and perhaps add a comment here (no need to register, sign up or otherwise open yourself to spam – just click comment below – I swear its easy!).

To begin with, CSTA just launched a new resource called the Source web repository. The Source is a searchable database of lessons, activities, and other useful materials for the computing teacher. (yes computing – thats right! Level 1 of the curriculum standards is nicely aligned with the NETS standards so even elementary and middle school computing teachers should be able to find information as more lessons get added!) We are adding new resources daily so check back with this blog to find highlights of new activities from time to time. You can reach the Source web repository either directly at http://csta.villanova.edu or through the link on the left hand side of the main CSTA web page.

Google has also made the Computer Science Unplugged materials available free for download at http://www.google.com/educators/activities.html. I strongly suggest that you check out the main google for educators site as there are a lot of interesting things there for classrooms of all types and ages.

Well, I hope that you found my links useful, now how about one of your own? It could be your personal web page if you have some nifty lessons, it could be a site you visit often for information, or it could just be an activity or an idea that you use in your classrooms that you think others might find useful. Don't be shy! And thanks in advance for your contributions.

Leigh Ann Sudol
CSTA Publications Chair

Posted by cstephenson at 12:59 PM | Comments (7)

Georgia Summer Camps Reveal Student Preferences

Summer is my busiest time of year. We run teacher workshops and summer camps for middle and high school students. We began with two weeks of camp for high school students in 2004. Last year we added two weeks of camp for middle school students. This year we expanded the program to five weeks of camps for middle school students and three weeks of camps for high school students. We ran two weeks of middle school camps using Scratch and PicoCrickets and two weeks of middle school camps using LEGO NXT robots and Alice. We ran one week for middle school students on RoboCup Jr. and some teams went on to participate in the international RoboCup Jr competition at Georgia Tech.

For high school students we did two weeks of Alice, LEGO NXT robots, and Media Computation in Python. We also did one week for high school students for RoboCup Jr using LEGO NXT robots (dance and rescue).

One interesting result is that many middle school students really liked Scratch and many high school students really liked Media Computation in Python. Many students preferred these free items over the expensive robot kits from LEGO and Pico. One boy had his mother come up and take a picture with his image collage displayed behind him that he created using Media Computation. See this collage at http://coweb.cc.gatech.edu/ice-gt/567 (3rd from the top).

So, it is fairly easy for a high school teacher to offer computing summer camps for middle and high school students with Scratch, Media Computation in Python, and perhaps Alice and make some extra money in the summer and hopefully increase the quatity and diversity of kids in your computing classes! You could even make enough to buy some robot kits. The kids liked the RoboCup Jr. camp, too. I would like to do a Southeastern regional competition every year for this.

See http://coweb.cc.gatech.edu/ice-gt/475 for more information on our summer camps and a zip about how to start a summer camp and some curricular materials.

Barb Ericson
CSTA Board of Directors

Posted by cstephenson at 12:44 PM | Comments (0)