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January 26, 2009

Some Very Interesting AP CS Numbers

The number of students taking the Advance Placement Computer Science A exam has been increasing since 2005. In 2008 15,014 students nationally took this exam. One might assume that the increase in students since 2005 is nationwide. But, that is not the case. It is especially striking that Maryland has steadily increased the number of students taking the CS AP A exam since 1998. Texas has been increasing since 2003. Both of these states have very strong teacher certification requirements. Some may argue that strong teaching requirements will reduce the number of students who take the AP CS exam, but the experience with Maryland and Texas would suggest otherwise.

The number of students taking the Advanced Placement Computer Science A exam for each state from 1998 to 2008 is available on the CSTA web site at:

This data was compiled from the summary data for each year on the College Board's web site at: http://www.collegeboard.com/student/testing/ap/exgrd_sum/2008.html.

On reviewing the data from 1998-2008, only ten states had their highest number of students taking the CS AP A exam in 2008.

Table 1 shows those states that reported their highest number of students taking the exam in 2008.

Table 1
State Num in 2008
Arkansas 117
Colorado 250
Georgia 585
Illinois 473
Kentucky 168
Maine 68
Maryland 895
Texas 2951
Washington 296
Washington D.C. 51

What is especially striking is that some of the states that one might expect to be strong in high school computing education have not recovered from the dot-com crash of 2001.

Table 2 shows some of the states that have a large difference between the number of students who took the exam in 2008 and the maximum from 1998 to 2008. As you can see from the table New York and California are still well below their maximums.

Table 2
State 2008 - Max (1998-2008)
New York -627
California -529
New Jersey -216
Pennsylvania -212
Massachusetts -160
Ohio -106

It is disappointing to see that 26 states have never had over 100 students take the CS AP A exam.

Table 3
State 2008 Max (1998-2008)
Montana 6
North Dakota 12
South Dakota 18
Kansas 20
Nebraska 27
Alaska 31
Wyoming 35
Idaho 37
West Virginia 38
Oregon 38
Mississippi 40
Louisiana 43
Vermont 45
Washington D.C. 51
New Mexico 53
New Hampshire 57
Nevada 58
Alabama 58
Rhode Island 60
Iowa 62
Delaware 62
Maine 68
Hawaii 77
Arizona 87

This data clearly shows that access to high quality computing education is very limited in most states. Our hope is that stronger teacher certification will broaden access and interest.

If you would like the complete set of state AP CS data, CSTA has made it available for download from this url:


Barb Ericson
CSTA Director

Posted by cstephenson at 06:55 PM | Comments (0)

January 23, 2009

Is Open Source Software a Choice For My School?

Computing classes in our schools cost money. We have PCs running Windows. We need programming languages as well as application software for basic functionality such as word processing, presentations, spread sheeting, database management, graphical editing. In good economic times specialized computing classes may be at risk for funding to purchase the latest and the greatest software titles.

Given the weakened economy and the financial crunch anticipated in many schools, should we encourage our schools to consider Free and Open Source Software (FOSS)? Is it time to trade Oracle for MySQL and Microsoft Office for Open Office? Should we consider deploying the Linux operating system?

Can you help those of us considering how our schools should fit into the open source environment by answering a few of these questions?

* Do you currently use and/or teach open source software? Are you satisfied with the software?
* What open source products do you currently use at your school?
* Are there open source titles you recommend to students for use at home? Which titles?
* What open source software would you like to consider for use at your school?
* If you use/suggest open source software, what is your primary motivation for doing so? Is it financial, quality of software, access to the program code, or some other reason?
* What are the impediments to including open source software in your class / at your school?

Anita Verno
CSTA Director

Posted by cstephenson at 07:57 PM | Comments (1)

January 21, 2009

CSTA is Looking Beyond the US

CSTA has as its main objective "to support and promote the teaching of computer science and other computing disciplines. CSTA provides opportunities for K-12 teachers and students to better understand the computing disciplines and to more successfully prepare themselves to teach and learn."

Approximately 80% of its membership resides in the USA. So naturally most of its endeavors and communications are US-centric. However, the recent international version of the New Educational Imperative reflects the outward looking nature of CSTA.

My motivation in joining in CSTA originally arose from the poor state and recognition of CS as a valid high school subject in my country (eg: ignored by the national assessment system!). I was looking for affirmation of it as something worthy of study in high school and also to find resources, as well as hopefully making contact with some "like minds".

Now, as the International Representative but also a high school teacher, it is not easy to form a comprehensive picture of what "the rest of the world" does. I am fortunate to be involved in the Olympiad in Informatics community, and through that have some vague picture of what is happening in Computer Science teaching in a some other countries. However, most leaders at the Olympiad are University lecturers and are not necessarily the best spokespeople for what is happening in the lower echelons of the education system! It is somewhat disheartening to hear from some of the high school teacher-leaders at the IOI that, like my own, their country has in the past addressed algorithmic thinking but have now moved to an emphasis purely on "skills based" (or ICT) teaching - and what CS teaching that does happen is "shrinking".

On the other hand, there are "heartening countries' such as Lithuania, the same sized country as mine, which introduces algorithmic thinking to quite young students and countries like Croatia where there are gymnasiums (academic high schools) which specialize in Science, Maths and Informatics. Refer http://eurologo.web.elte.hu/lectures/dagien.htm and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Education_in_Croatia

For small countries, one of the things which helps in advocacy, is to be able to demonstrate that other countries with similar or smaller GDPs per head of population, are doing great things.

Whilst blogs are usually the opportunity to present a viewpoint, I would like to use this entry to potentially elicit informatio on "What does your country do?" And not to be exclusive to International members, it may be of interest to others in the US, "What does your school/school district/state do?"

Margot Phillipps
CSTA International Director

Posted by cstephenson at 03:27 PM | Comments (0)

January 20, 2009

Observations from New Zealand

My husband, Dr. Mark Guzdial, and I are at the ACSW 2009 conference in Wellington, New Zealand. Dr. Wayne Mapp, the Minister for Research, Science, and Technology opened the conference and announced that the government of New Zealand is going to spend money to upgrade the country’s access to high speed broadband internet. He said that computing knowledge is essential in today’s economy and that the increases in productivity and efficiency that come from innovations in computing will help pull the global economy out of the current recession.

What I found striking is that I can't remember any computing conference in the United States that had a politician of similar stature talk about the importance of computing. Most politicians in the United States don’t know what computing is and don't understand the value of it in our economy. Most of the discussion in the United States on how to get out of the current recession focuses on bailouts, tax cuts, preventing foreclosures, and money for physical infrastructure.

In Mark’s keynote on contextualized computing, he argued that everyone should learn some computing and programming. He also talked about how at Georgia Tech we do make everyone on campus take a course on computing. He talked about former students asking for reference letters to work as a legislative intern and for law school. Perhaps if we do improve the knowledge about computing in the general population, and especially in our politicians, we will generate more support for computing education and research. And, perhaps there will come a time when an American politician will come to a computing conference and talk about the importance of computing.

Barb Ericson
CSTA Director

Posted by cstephenson at 01:48 PM | Comments (1)

January 19, 2009

A Computer Science Honor Society?

Does your high school have chapters of any subject-specific honor societies, such as Mu Alpha Theta (math), Science National Honor Society, Tri-M (music), or one or more honor societies for specific foreign languages?

From time to time, CSTA has received inquiries about an honor society for CS students. We've done some research into how other subjects' honor societies operate, and we've discussed it at a couple of meetings of the Board of Directors. Our conversations have included discussions about what services that the sponsoring organization might provide (from defining membership standards to producing "official" certificates of membership), as well as any perceived value of such membership (to students, administrators, and colleges). We've also looked at the way some of the other subject-specific honor societies are managed, whether by a national organization of teachers of a subject, a university-level organization for a subject, or an organization of professionals in that field.

But we kept coming back to one question: would people (students, administrators, colleges) perceive value in selection for such an honor society? And we realized that the most important information needed to come from you, the teachers in secondary schools. You would be the most likely force for starting chapters of a CS honor society at your schools, as well as the most logical advisors for such chapters. So here are some questions that we would love for you to answer.

1. Would your school administration be likely to find value in hosting a chapter of a CS honor society at your school? Would students perceive value in being selected?

2. Would you be willing to serve as the advisor for a chapter of a CS honor society?

3. How many students would you expect to induct in an average year?

4. In what kinds of activities (in addition to an induction ceremony) would you expect such a chapter to engage?

5. What services would you need the sponsoring organization (CSTA or another group) to provide (as a minimum)? What else would be on your wish list?

Please also tell us at what level (middle or high school) you teach.

We eagerly await your responses. Thanks!

Debbie Carter
CS Teacher, Roxbury High School, NJ
CSTA Board of Directors

Posted by cstephenson at 10:24 PM | Comments (2)

January 16, 2009

Resources for Addressing Equity Issues in 2009

As we begin a new year, we can only imagine what new technological innovations will be created this year that will change the way people live their lives. In just the last decade, we've witnessed how computer science has impacted political processes, changed modes and styles of communication, and deepened scientific inquiry across many areas. While these developments certainly have a profound impact on most of society, the developers come from a relatively homogenous group.

As computer science educators, we often witness the same patterns in our classroom. Why are there more boys than girls enrolled in classes, especially in more advanced computing courses? Why are there more White students and Asian students studying computer science than African American, Latino, or American Indian students? And, what can we do about it?

I challenge all computer science educators to commit to addressing equity issues in 2009. We must think beyond the gender equity gap and work to make our classrooms reflect the cultural diversity found in our schools, as well.

The CSTA and related affiliations have provided a variety of resources to help you recruit and retain more diverse students in computer science classes. So far, these resources target mostly girls, but could be modified to recruit and retain students of color, as well. These publications, brochures, videos, and digital media address two aspects of the equity issue by providing career information to students and exposing students to diverse role models.

1) Provide Information about Computer Science & Careers:

Gotta have IT toolkit of brochures, posters, and information
Gotta have IT is an all-in-one computing resource kit designed for all students, but particularly girls. A select set of high-quality posters, computing and careers information, digital media and more, the resource kit builds awareness and inspires interest in computing. The set includes CSTA's Careers in Computingposter and CSTA'sThe New Educational Imperative: Improving K-12 Computer Science publication.

Imagine Your Career in Computingbrochure for middle school students
Available in both English and Spanish, this CSTA brochure shows the connections between the technologies middle schoolers use every day and the courses and the career opportunities available to them.

A Day in the Life,Power to Change the World, and Pathways in Computer Science Videos
These videos highlight the lives of real computer science graduates from the University of Washington. A Day in the Life follows five female computer science professionals, Power to Change the World documents the variety of reasons why students choose computer science as a career, and Pathways in Computer Science shows the interdisciplinary applications found in computer science.

2) Exposure to Diverse Role Models

Role Model Toolkit
This toolkit contains a guide for field trips and classroom visits to help plan the interaction between professionals and students. The toolkit also contains icebreakers and activities for visits. This toolkit is geared towards girls, but can be used for all students.

Spelbots: The First All-Female and African American Robotics Team
Provides videos and other stories about the rise of the Spelman College Spelbots and their international successes.

Besides these resources, do any of you use additional resources for broadening participation in computer science classrooms?

Joanna Goode
CSTA Equity Chair

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

January 14, 2009

The Beauty of Computing is Not in Problem Solving

As part of a recent discussion on the Rebooting Computing listserv Rosemary Michelle Simpson made the following comments in response to a discussion about the discovering the beauty of computer science. We thought her comments were particularly profound and well stated, and so, with her permission, we are sharing them with our CSTA community.

My perspective on computer science is perhaps somewhat different from that of many people in computing and the sciences. I believe that problem solving is not the only approach to computing, mathematics, and science.

Much has been said about the social and special domain interests of many women, but less about those women who are solitary explorers and pattern seekers. Their rewards are centered about the joys of seeing relationships emerge, new connections, grouping and classifying them, forming new abstractions and relationships among different levels of abstractions, representations, and their criteria.

I'm an explorer, a naturalist in the 19th century sense - like Darwin on the Beagle, or a naturalist on Mars - not a problem-solver. I'm curious about what I'm seeing, enjoy gathering data, describing it, and watching patterns emerge. I hate hierarchies, as limited structures that have consumed computer science because they are easy to work with - like Nasrudin looking for his lost keys under the lamppost because it was easy to see in the light. I love the power of general bi-directional graphs for modeling complex, dynamic ecologies of ideas.

I couldn't care less about 'finding my question', solving puzzles, playing games, or learning problem-solving techniques except as an adjunct to my primary interests - seeing surprises, patterns emerge. I don't like competing with anyone, including myself. What drives me is primarily an aesthetic sense of the beauty of multi-dimensional patterns. Soaring abstractions, and their representations and relationships. Connecting things for the sake of seeing connection spaces, as an end in itself.

In College, I started out as an advance-placed chemistry major, but before the end of my freshman year had switched to history with a combined philosophy and english minor. I made the change because history's timeline provided an organizing structure around which all the various themes I was finding/discovering could play. Along the way I learned about critical thinking, analysis, synthesis, research strategies, and other skills through the vehicle of papers and exams. They helped me to structure my thinking and writing, and to uncover new insights and relationships. A good exam was one where I walked out knowing more than I did when I walked in.

This led me into hypertext: dynamic, emerging, changing relationships and fluid structures to support and model them. For me the process is what counts. In my hypertext development days, links were first-class functional objects, the relationships were foregrounded, not the end-points.

Thus, I'm relationship-centric, not object-centric. I hated/hate the rigidity and object-centricity of the object-oriented paradigm, much preferring a functional approach that foregrounds the relationships, not the objects. In short, I was concerned with fluid, emergent behavior and structures that modeled evolving change in the environment, in which objects and behaviors morph, merge, diverge, and interact with each other in time and space.

Rosemary Michelle Simpson
Brown University

Posted by cstephenson at 12:02 PM | Comments (2)

January 12, 2009

Empowering Students to Explore By Linking CS and Writing

As part of a recent discussion on the Rebooting Computing listserv Ursula Wolz made the following important observations about how to do effective outreach to K-12. We are posting her comments here with her permission.

The College of New Jersey in partnership with Fisher Middle School in Ewing NJ is running an NSF demonstration project Broadening Participation in Computing Via Community Journalism for Middle Schoolers.

In the design of our outreach program, we looked at the relationship between "real math" and "computing." We chose to focus on writing because there was good research-based evidence (not thought experiments) that we could reach under-represented groups through writing. This was in response to assertions in the video games industry that "girls like stories and boys like games." If traditional approaches to CS appeal to the gamers (regardless of gender), then how could we engage the "storytellers" in substantive computer science? And we did indeed try to avoid "air guitar" by focusing on a particular discipline of writing that, it turns out, has methodologies and constructs that resonate with software engineering and programming. (It didn't hurt that I had a colleague in journalism who is my 'dual').

In determining our target audience, we chose middle school for some very pragmatic reasons (not the least of which is that we didn't think we could get funding for a K-6 project). We agree that "real computing" needs to start earlier than middle school, but we had to start somewhere. Kindergarten is no longer kindergarten. It is 1st grade. There is way too much pressure on the kids to learn to sit still and become "good listeners" for us to cram one more thing in that they should listen to. And now that they are tested on standards in the 2nd grade the pressure on teachers to teach to the tests has only gotten worse.

The predominance of standardized tests cause a real challenge for those of us interested in giving students a richer experience of computer science in school, raising difficult questions such as:
Do we stuff computing into the standards?
How does normative testing of content promote the joy of computing?
How do you teach to a "creativity" test?

I would hope as a community we do not pursue this path. Instead our project is looking at how we can gently and effectively empower teachers to be courageous learners themselves and model attitudes about computing and technology that inspire students to explore rather than shy away. Our project, as tiny as it is, is producing very tidy results that show that if you empower the teachers you can empower the kids. And when they are empowered they produce creative results with technology.

Whether they end up looking like the archetype of the computing fluent individual is definitely an open question. But then so is the question that perhaps by empowering those who least see themselves as "computer types" we will change the nature of who can do and wants to do computing.

Ursula Wolz
The College of New Jersey

Posted by cstephenson at 07:26 PM | Comments (0)

January 11, 2009

Gender and Race Issues in Computing

On several mailing lists that I monitor when the issue of gender and/or race is brought up there is a group that responds that any attempt to increase the percentage of women or underrepresented minorities in computing would be disastrous. They typically seem to think that this means "watering down" the content, or forcing people to study something that they aren't really interested in and don't have the aptitude for. They also seem to be under the impression that there are no barriers to studying computing.

They couldn't be more wrong. As Jane Margolis points out in her new book "Stuck in the Shallow End" there are many barriers to computing, especially for under-represented minorities and women. The biggest barrier highlighted in the book is the lack of access to high quality computing courses in most high schools. Often only private schools and high-end public schools offer computing courses that teach problem solving and critical thinking instead of the cut and paste type of learning found in some low end computing courses. Even when a high quality course is offered, access to it is often limited by the misconception that only white and Asian males have an aptitude for computing. Teachers, administrators, and counselors often perpetuate this myth.

One of the stories in the book is about a female student with excellent math grades and an interest in computing who gets placed in a low-end computing course instead of Advanced Placement computer science by her counselor. She isn't even informed that the AP CS course exists. I have heard of similar problems. A teacher once told me that she had a girl in middle school who was on the robot competition team and excelled at programming, but her high school counselor wouldn't let her sign up for AP CS. The counselor told her it, "wasn't for her" and "not something she needed for college." Her parents had to demand that she be allowed to take it.

One of the saddest parts of the book is that teachers and administrators claim that the students at a majority minority school aren't interested in computing courses, but interviews with students at the school show that there are many who are interested. I have seen similar attitudes in Georgia. There is a teacher at a majority minority school who has a master's degree in computer science and who has been teaching an introductory programming class. When I visited his class the students (all under-represented minorities) showed me some amazing animations they had built in Alice, and they were also learning Media Computation in Java. But, when I asked if the teacher would offer AP CS he said his principal wouldn't let him because the principal said, "these kids aren't going to college and something like Cisco or A+ would be better for them."

Women and under-represented minorities often have less experience in computing, but this doesn't mean that they have less aptitude. When Carnegie Mellon University changed their admission requirements to give less weight to previous programming experience they were able to greatly increase the percentage of women in computing at CMU (see Unlocking the Clubhouse, also from Jane Margolis).

Let's not blame the victims of our educational system for their lack of access to and experience with computing. Let's instead try to provide high quality computing courses for all students. And, let's work to educate everyone that computing isn't just for white and Asian males.

Barb Ericson
CSTA Board

Posted by cstephenson at 03:28 PM | Comments (2)

January 05, 2009

Leadership Cohort Update

During the time since the first Leadership Cohort Workshop in July, members have been busy with advocacy efforts in their various states. Previous blog posts by individual members have reported on some of those activities. In this first of future monthly updates, I want to share some of the highlights from the Fall.

One of the key efforts that we have encouraged is the creation of local CSTA chapters. Local chapters provide a support network for computer science teachers to share their ideas, plan outreach efforts and professional development, and work with local colleges and universities. Leadership Cohort members have been instrumental in establishing new local chapters in the following areas: Arizona, Buffalo, Chicago, Southeastern Virginia, and Southern California.

In addition, some activities of particular note are:

* Texas: Local area Computer Science contests and CS related conventions are being used to build interest in chapters and recruit members.
* Maryland: Meetings with the Director of Curriculum for the state have led to conversations with a variety of stakeholders regarding recognition of computer science as a core discipline.
* Silicon Valley and Oakland, California: Meetings with superintendants and principals have raised awareness of the need for a more substantive computer science curriculum
* North Carolina: Meetings with the Department of Public Instruction are being used to discuss the state of computer science in the state.
* Wisconsin: A presentation to local businesses was used to raise awareness.
* Oregon: The Oregon chapter of CSTA hosted three Fall SuperQuest conferences. One was held in the Portland area and one in southern Oregon covering game design/contests and robotics. The third was in Salem covering Gridworld. (For more information visit http://www.techstart.org/superquest.html
* Ohio: A computer science strand has been scheduled for the state educational technology conference.

These are just a few of the activities that are beginning to have impact.

Gail Chapman
Director: Leadership and Professional Development

Posted by cstephenson at 12:13 PM | Comments (1)