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March 25, 2008

Podcasts on GridWorld and Cyber Security

Over 1000 computer science educators gathered in Portland Oregon for the 2008 ACM SIGCSE conference. The 39th ACM Technical Symposium on Computer Science Education provided a wide selection of technical sessions and opportunities for teachers to network and to learn. The topics ranged from innovative strategies for increasing classroom diversity to hands-on techniques with applications and curriculum.

I love the excitement of SIGCSE, especially the opportunities to catch up with friends and the discovery of new and innovative teaching strategies. I managed to catch up with some of the presenters and participants who I thought you wouldd value hearing from.

Please listen in on the following CSTA Snipits podcasts.

A GridWorld Quickstart with Ann Shen
Medium: MP3
Listening Time: 9 min.
Interview Location: ACM SIGCSE 2008 Portland, Oregon
Interview Date: March 2008

Ann Shen, The Bishop Strachan School:
Case studies expose students to large programs, enabling them to understand the importance of design and good programming style while encouraging teamwork and active learning. The AP GridWorld case study provides a graphical environment in which students can experiment with different types of objects and observe how programming changes will affect the behavior of those objects. It is significant that the test results show a smaller score difference between males and females on the case study questions than non-case study questions. In our visit, Ann describes this learning tool, compares and contrasts it to the previous AP case study, and gives teachers suggestions for using it in their computer science classroom.

CyberCivics with Jeanna Matthews and James Owens
Medium: MP3
Listening Time: 8.5 min.
Interview Location: ACM SIGCSE 2008 Portland, Oregon
Interview Date: March 2008

Jeanna Matthews and James Owens, Clarkson University
CyberCivics was developed as a novel computer science outreach program, designed to introduce diverse groups of talented high school students to hands-on activities that reflect the myriad ways in which computing technologies directly impact their everyday lives. The cyberCivics program integrates hands-on computing experiences with the study of contemporary social and political issues. One such curriculum, focused on electronic voting and was used with a high school AP Government course. Jeanna Matthews and James Owens describe the philosophy behind this approach and give suggestions of how to implement in the classroom. They are pleased with how it reaches a larger, more diverse and more academically prepared group of students. The materials are available at:


Listen to these and many more Snipits podcasts at:


Pat Phillips
Editor, CSTA Voice

Posted by cstephenson at 02:13 PM | Comments (1)

March 10, 2008

We are losing the fight to keep Computer Science in the Secondary School classroom

The state of Maryland has a frankly byzantine system of awarding credits towards graduation, at least when it comes to the question of technology and Computer Science. Two kinds of credits are available: Basic and Advanced Technology. Most Computer Science courses earn an Advanced Technology credit. That sounds impressive, but students are required only to obtain a Basic Technology Credit in order to graduate any Maryland Public school.

Once upon a time, students could obtain this Basic Technology credit through a variety of courses. Several of these were introductory Computer Science or programming classes. A few years ago, Maryland lawmakers decided that only one set of standards should apply, and someone (a special-interest group) ensured that those standards excluded every class except those taught by Technology teachers---think middle school science repackaged with some construction activities.

I work in Montgomery County, which is one district that fought this change until the bitter end, which came this year. As I look through this year's enrollment numbers, I see my Advanced Placement Computer Science numbers down. These are cyclical and the drop isn't all that alarming when I consider the drop in the introductory programming course, which is devastating. The trend is clear: unless something is done our programs will virtually disappear from all public schools in Maryland. It's that simple.

Personally, I've devoted the last 5 years of my life to effecting change in the only way that a mere classroom teacher has at his disposal. I've created a great program, I spend my summers writing curriculum, developing new courses that integrate CS with other content areas, etc. I have loyal students who spread the word. I have even more who attend prestigious universities. I have a good working relationship with my Administration who believes that these courses do offer genuine value and have been willing to work with me to keep them in their building. I've obtained three certifications and now find myself faced with the prospect of unemployment within the next two years if this trend continues (and it will).

I will, of course, obtain another certification during this time. I think that I'll teach Mathematics. I like it, even if the students don't. The thing is: once I lose that AP program, I doubt that I'll ever go back and teach it. The ramp up, dealing with ETS audits, educating Administrators, parents and students about Computer Science, the countless hours writing curriculum, the time spent in out-of-the-building activities, etc., are just too great given the meager payoff---unemployment.

Tom Reinhardt
CSTA Member

Posted by cstephenson at 12:05 PM | Comments (3)

March 05, 2008

The Pros and Cons of Using Gaming to Teach CS

I have just returned from the Game Development in Computer Science Education (GDCSE) conference. I was lucky enough to be chosen as one of the 10 Electronic Arts Scholars. The conference was sponsored by Microsoft and Electronic Arts in cooperation with ACM and SIGCSE. It was an intense conference and I did learn some interesting things.

* The game industry is now larger than the music industry. It became larger than the movie industry about 4 years ago.
* Making a game can cost 30 million dollars and many years of development.
* There are many different types of games from 2D arcade-style games, to role playing games, to first person shooters, to web-based games, to movement games (like the Wii), to serious games that try to help people change their behavior.
* Game developers need to know about networking, artificial intelligence, machine learning, physics, parallel programming, and more. Games also need artistic and creative people who can create compelling and fun experiences.
* I was glad to see more women and minorities than I had expected, but still the majority of the attendees were white males.

Some of the ways people are using games in CS education:

* as a few assignments in introductory computing courses. Kelvin Sung
* as a context for early computing courses or AI courses. Wanda Dann, Alice Project, Douglas Blank
* as a platform for learning computing concepts by having the students play games Tiffany Barnes
* as a course on game design for non-majors to try to draw them into computing Dianna Xu, Jim Whitehead
* as a degree program centered on games Michael Zyda and DigiPen
* using the flight simulator 3D world as the basis to improve global STEM education David Gibson

Overall, many of the talks were about fairly new initiatives with little evaluation. Many of the talks expect to offer more results in the following year. Some of the results that I found interesting were:

* Students didn't like doing just the hard back-end of a game Kelvin Sung. They want to be creative and not just program. Kevin Bierre
* Some students were discouraged because creating games is much harder, time consuming, and more tedious than they thought. Women are much less likely to want to make first person shooter games than men. Dianna Xu
* Some students are highly motivated by the context and come early and have to be thrown out to make room for the next class. This context appeals more to men (80%) than to women (20%). Jim Whitehead

In summary, it seems that games can serve as a context for some computing courses. Games courses and degree programs can attract more students to computing courses. But, one concern is that women are not as attracted to this context as men. There was a call for the creation of a game platform that was easier to use for computing education purposes.

For more information on this conference see https://www.msadgd08.net/Main.aspx.

Barb Ericson
CSTA Board Member

Posted by cstephenson at 04:28 PM | Comments (0)