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February 25, 2008

Life Changing Moments in Professional Development

In the March, 2008 issue of the CSTA Voice newsletter (csta.acm.org/Publications/sub/Periodicals.html), readers are invited to reflect upon and share professional development experiences that changed their lives. We all have stories of inspiring presenters, dramatic training, and "ah-ha!" moments that transformed our approach to students, what we teach, or even our direction in life.

As summer approaches and opportunities for professional development abound, we'd like to hear about the professional development experiences that truly made a difference in your life. CSTA is the proud sponsor of many professional development opportunities (csta.acm.org/index.html), and hearing from you will help us in planning memorable, maybe even life-changing, opportunities.

So in the spirit of sharing, let me tell you my story of life-changing professional development. I began my professional life as a home economist. In one of my first years of teaching, I attended a professional development event and listened to what we called way back in the early 80s, a "futurist." I have long forgotten the person's name, but the message was loud and clear: "Technology will change the lives of families in ways you cannot imagine. Those who prepare now for the technological future will have the opportunity to impact that future."

I was so excited about the stories of smart devices, ubiquitous communication, and unbelievable opportunities, I barely slept for days. Within weeks, I reenrolled in college, figured out how I was going to be part of the exciting new world I had heard about, and announced to my fellow (and very skeptical) teachers that I was going to become a CS teacher!

Lo and behold, the future that I heard such wondrous things about is here and my life was changed forever because of a professional development event.

Please tell us about the impact of your professional development experiences.

Also, take a look at CSTA professional development offerings.

Get ready for life-changing experiences.

Pat Phillips
Editor, CSTA Voice

Posted by cstephenson at 03:37 PM | Comments (0)

February 14, 2008

AP CS: Progress But Is It Enough?

The College Board released its 4th Annual Report to the Nation for 2007 yesterday and the there are some very positive signs, but I am not sure they are positive enough.

After significant declines in the number of students writing the computer science A and AB exams in 2003, 2004, and 2005, it is good to see that the upward trend that began in 2006 is continued in 2007, with the number of CS text-takers increasing from 19,601 last year to 20,113 this year.

Even more importantly, AP CS has made some positive gains in the representation of both young women and minority students among the 2007 test-takers. Many of us in the computer science field have been profoundly concerned about the under-representation of young women and minority students in our discipline and we are thrilled to see an improvement in both these areas. The increases are not large, but they do indicate that organizations such as CSTA are making progress with their equity outreach efforts.

The number of females taking the computer science A and AB exams jumped 2% from 15% in 2006 to 17% in 2007. The percentage of Latino and Hispanic students (among the worst represented considering the overall size of this population in the U.S.) increased from 6.2% to 6.5% and the percentage of Black and African American students show a similar improvement from 3.4% to 3.7%. Unfortunately, however, even these gains represent less than an average of one additional student per group in each state.

While these increases in no way indicate that the challenge of making the discipline and the industry more representative have been won, they are an sign of progress. So many of us have been working to find ways to better engage underrepresented student populations: by providing better information about careers, providing more equitable access to AP courses for students, and by finding ways to teach that better engage all students. We have a long, long way to go, but it is so good to see that our efforts are beginning to have a concrete, measurable impact, even if it is not enough.

Are there things happening in your school or district to support the improved participation of young women and minority students? Please share your successes and failures with us. This is one challenge we are all going to have to face together if we are really going to make computer science more equitable.

Chris Stephenson
CSTA Executive Director

Posted by cstephenson at 06:22 PM | Comments (0)

February 13, 2008

Rethinking CS Education

I think if there is one benefit to the current downturn in computer science enrollments it is that great minds are starting to wrestle with the complex challenge of how we improve computer science education so that we better engage all students.

This was the topic of a recent blog posting by Dan Reed on his Reed's Ruminations blog (http://hpcdanreed.typepad.com/reeds_ruminations/). Here is some of what Dan had to say.

I believe we must rethink our computing education approaches in some deep and fundamental ways. First, as researchers and technologists we seek to reproduce students in our technical image, failing to acknowledge that most of our students will not develop compilers, write operating systems or design computer chips. Rather, they benefit from training in logical problem solving, knowledge of computing tools and their applicability to new domains.

In short, most of our graduates solve problems using computing rather than working in core computing technologies. We must recognize and embrace the universality of computing as a problem solving process and introduce computing via technically challenging and socially relevant problem domains.

The magic hierarchy of computing - from atoms to gates to bits to in-order instruction architecture and machine language to code translation to "hello world" was an attractive and emotionally enticing technology story to previous generations. It is often esoteric and off-putting to a generation of students reared on ubiquitous computing technology.

This does not mean we should eviscerate the intellectual core of computing. Rather, we must emphasize relevance and introduce computing as a means to solve problems. Show the importance of computing to elections and voting, energy management and eco-friendly design, health care and quality of life.

Second, we struggle to accept the fact that not every student needs detailed knowledge of every computing specialization. If I were to draw a tortured analogy with the history of automobile, drivers need not understand combustion dynamics, the stiff ODE solutions underlying antilock brakes or superheterodyne radio engineering. Drivers do need to understand how to operate a car safely and recognize the high-level principles underlying that operation.

All of this suggests we should create multiple educational tracks that emphasis the disparate aspects of computing, layered atop a smaller, common core. Of course, I could be wrong - I often am.

To read the full blog entry, you can go to the CRA blog at:


It is well worth the read.

Chris Stephenson
CSTA Executive Director

Posted by cstephenson at 02:20 PM | Comments (2)

February 12, 2008

CSTA Sad to Lose a Much-Loved Member

We were very sad to receive the following email from our friend Don Allen about the passing of a much-loved CSTA member.

It is with an incredibly sorrowful heart and tears in my eyes that I must report that the teaching profession and the world has lost a wonderful human. Within the past two days, Dave Wittry while training for a triathlon became distressed while swimming. A fellow swimmer was able to get Dave to shore but rescue efforts to revive Dave failed and he was pronounce dead.

I had the privilege of working with Dave for several years at Troy High School and can attest to the fact that as helpful as he was to those posting question, he was order of magnitudes better in person.
I consider one of the greatest privileges of my life to have work and an even greater honor to have known Dave.

As I get information on any memorial services (Dave grew up in the Chicago area and I believe there will be a service in that area), I will pass on any information as I get it. I also understand a memorial service is possible in Orange County, CA. Once again, I will pass on any information as soon as I get it.

Please feel free to email me for more information at big_zero@hotmail.com.

In addition, Dave's mom has asked anyone with pictures or stories to please email her at helen@helenWittry.com.

Posted by cstephenson at 04:36 PM | Comments (0)

February 08, 2008

Computing Life

Medical shows and Crime Scene investigations have sparked students imaginations. They imagine themselves as criminologists solving crimes and doctors saving lives, both rewarding and important careers with an expectation of job satisfaction.

Computer scientists often get to work in similar fields. In fact, much of the high tech equipment used by both doctors and criminologists was developed with the help of a computer scientist.

In my time here at Carnegie Mellon University as a visiting lecturer I have had the opportunity to see computer scientists work on robotic surgeons A Miniature Mobile Robot for Precise and Stable Access to the Beating Heart), and using human computation in order to help computers make more books available to more people through the Internet Archive recaptcha.

I recently came across a website called Computing Life published by the National Institute of General Medical Sciences. This publication focuses on highlighting the ways in which scientists use computers to increase our understanding of the human body, medicine and a variety of other topics. Take a look! Go and talk to you science teacher about a collaborative project – what can you help your school's students model?

If you have any great resources, or any collaborative projects you have done along these lines, comment here and share!

Leigh Sudol
CSTA Communications Chair

Posted by cstephenson at 07:38 PM | Comments (0)