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February 28, 2009

Advocacy Action in Ohio

Ohio is on the move, or at least we would like to think so.

During the eTech State Technology Conference in February we were able to present four sessions on topics in computer science education. The eTech coordinators worked with us to schedule all four sessions on the same day in the same room. We had approximately 250 people over the four sessions. Topics included teaching with Scratch, programming with phidgets (small electronic devices), CS Unplugged, and teaching graphics and web design.

There were many teachers who stayed to ask questions and gather resources. Many also took CSTA membership forms. One particular teacher confided that the only reason her district allowed her to come was because there were sessions directly relating to her job. Her school district paid for her to attend on the one day that we were presenting. We feel that is a huge success. As we talked to other teachers and as we continue to make new contacts we find that most computer science teachers are isolated. Our hope through things like the day at eTech and through working to develop a chapter that we are able to provide contacts and resources for CS teachers.

We have also begun the conversation about forming a CSTA chapter in Ohio. This conversation will continue on March 10th at our next informal meeting. We hope to use Skype (or something similar) and have a pod of cs teachers meet in the Cleveland and a second group in the Columbus area. The primary goals of this meeting is to determine the structure of our proposed chapter. We also plan to talk more about the lines of communication that have been opened with the Ohio Department of Education concerning awarding a math credit for APCS when 4 credits of math are required with the new Ohio CORE initiatives. We will also discuss upcoming events for CS students and teachers.

The Cincinnati area will also have a meeting on March 17th as scheduling issues prohibit running it in conjunction with Columbus.

As you can see things are happening in Ohio. If you are interested in being a part of any of our activities visit:


to see what is coming up.

Angie Thorne & Stephanie Hoeppner
CSTA Leadership Cohort

Posted by cstephenson at 02:32 PM | Comments (0)

February 25, 2009

Why It is Time To Get Political

In the last year, CSTA has put s great deal of effort into developing a strong advocacy arm for CSTA and there are times when I wonder if this is a good use of our precious and limited resources when there is so much that needs to be done for computer science teachers. A blog comment by our member Tom Reinhardt (which I am including in its entirety below) however, helped me see once again why advocacy is not just important, but critical to our survival as a disciple.

With the launching of the CSTA Leadership Cohort we are now building an advocacy network in every state. And through our work on the ACM Education Policy Committee, we are getting our message to the key policy makers. In fact, several of our powerful CSTA members are on the Hill right now, lobbying for K-12 computer science education.

And these efforts are starting to show signs of success. More states are considering allowing computer science courses to count as math or science credits for mandatory graduation requirements. The National Science Foundation has opened up the Math and Science Partnership grants to include funding for computer science. And we are hearing rumors of a potential large-scale professional development plan for computer science teachers.

In the last year CSTA has also supported two germinal publications. The first is a CSTA publication called Ensuring Exemplary teaching in an Essential Discipline: Addressing the Crisis in Computer Science Teacher Certification. This publication has now been sent to over 500 educational policy makers.

The second book is by Jane Margolis. It is called Stuck in the Shallow End: Education, Race and Computing and we are doing everything we can to convince policy makers that they must read this book.

In his comments below, Tom talks about the seemingly overwhelming challenges that teachers are facing and the critical importance of changing the minds of the policy makers. His comments have convinced me that these advocacy efforts are, after all, something our members both want and need.

Chris Stephenson
CSTA Executive Director

Here is Tom's Comment

What's missing is "relevance." Unless or until someone who is in a position of authority deems Computer Science "relevant" we shall be relegated elective status. Pure and simple. That no one from ACM or any other organization was able to get CS into the "core" curriculum when they crafted that terrible piece of legislation called No Child Left Alive, sealed our fate---pure and simple.

Sure, we can argue the point, but, trust me (at least from what I've seen over the last six plus years) no one is listening. Unless your content impacts your Principal's career, you're irrelevant. In the best case, you're tolerated. In the worst case, you're marginalized to the point of collapse.

It gives me no pleasure to say this, but I'm growing weary of hand-wringing and the polly-annish attitude that if we could only make our case known, things would be different. Policy makers only convene meetings to hear opinions that confirm their decisions. Unless they have already decided that you are important, you are a not on the agenda.

This is the view from the trenches, at least in Montgomery County, Maryland. I live from enrollment period to enrollment period. I teach 5 preps, 5 courses, run a department (whithering yearly) and participate in more meetings that I'd care to recount at this moment. I have more education and more experience than 90% of my co-workers. I teach a content area that our Science department treats as "what's the name of that course?" and our mathematics department sees as not-calculus: No one teaches properties and structures any more; we have calculators, we don't need abstract mathematics.

All the while, I have excellent relationships with my students who take my courses when they can free up the elective credits. And this is the only reason that I soldier on. Their parents make it a point to visit me on Back to School night; they really don't have to do that. (Their students could fail my course tomorrow and the Administration would likely expunge it from their records.)

If we really wanted to do something to promote CS, we'd be figuring out how to change the minds of policy makers, not educators because they are cows. We'd be actively engaged in political action, not intellectual hand-wringing. We'd be writing articles and books, exposing the shameful state of a youth abused and deprived of a truly relevant and world-class education.

Peace out.

Tom Reinhardt

Posted by cstephenson at 02:08 PM | Comments (0)

February 23, 2009

Where Are All the High School Computer Science Students?

I recently had a discussion with a professor from Virginia Tech on why can't we recruit more students for Computer Science majors at the university level, why can't we get women or minority students, and what can be done to turn this around? There is obviously a great deal of interest in recruiting students to our discipline, so why are we unsuccessful?

Why don't high school students take Advanced Placement Computer Science? There are a variety of "excuses": it is too hard, it is boring, I don't want to spend my life in a cubical writing code by myself or I don't want to be a computer scientist, there are no jobs, etc. Let's examine these rationalizations.
1. It is too hard. Certainly, Computer Science is a challenging discipline and is different in content and concept from any other high school course. But, is it too hard? AP Calculus is hard. AP Physics is hard. AP Spanish is hard. AP Government is hard. In fact, all AP courses are hard. They are college level courses high school students take. By their very nature, AP courses require extra work, cover advanced material, and proceed at a more rapid pace than their non-AP counterparts. AP Exam results support my contention that AP Computer Science is no harder than any other AP subject.
2. It is boring. Again, if all we do is write boring programs, AP Computer Science is boring. However, there are many interesting labs that AP students can do involving graphical applications and real life simulations. As teachers, if we were still teaching using the techniques we learned to teach Pascal, our course would be dull; but most of use are using modern tools and techniques. Even so, is computer science more boring than memorizing derivative forms or learning physical laws?
3. The last series boil down to the perception that there are no jobs or that the jobs are boring. Various agencies (Census Bureau, Labor Department) indicate that there is a growing demand for people with computer science degrees and that the jobs are good jobs that are unlikely to be off-shored. So why can't we get this message out?

Why do high school students take Advanced Placement (AP) courses? While there are many answers to this question, certainly the ability to achieve college credit or placement is a key factor. Can a student who takes AP Computer Science benefit directly in their college career? For most students, the benefit is indirect and intangible. Few colleges award general education credit for AP Computer Science. The typical student can satisfy those GenEd requirements with most AP courses (math, science, history, foreign language) but AP Computer Science does not fit in this mold. AP Computer Science students learn how to solve problems, how to think outside the box, and how to tackle a large project. These are all skills that lead to success in future academic courses. However, AP Computer Science does not lead to college credit for most students.

So, what can we do? We (High School Teachers) can't fix the college credit issue. However, we can tout the virtues of our course in developing 21st century skills and creating a more technologically savvy student. How many majors require either a formal programming class, expect the student to be able to write Excel spreadsheet macros, or create Visual Basic applications? As a student, do you want to do this as a college freshman when you are making the adjustment to college life or as a high school student when you are still in your comfort zone? As educators, we need to sell our course, not as making students computer scientists, but rather, exposing students to skills and knowledge they will need for the rest of their lives. How many other high school courses can make that statement?

John Harrison
CSTA Board Member

Posted by cstephenson at 01:02 PM | Comments (6)

February 20, 2009

Looking for Research Participants

As the chair of CSTA's Professional Development Committee, I recently received a request from Mara Saeli, a PhD student at the University of Eindhoven (in the Netherlands), who is seeking some experienced CS teachers to participate in some interesting new research.

Mara is hoping to:

"uncover the Pedagogical Content Knowledge (PCK) of Programming (in the sense of Software development) and use this knowledge to broaden the actual knowledge about didactic of Programming for secondary level."

Mara continues:

"In order to do so I will use two instruments designed and used by researchers in Australia in the context of Science education for secondary school (CoRes and PaPers). The idea is to collect around 40 experienced teachers with well developed PCK and Computer Science background in different countries."

This sounds like a fascinating project that could provide considerable insight into the teaching of programming, as well as help us to refine our definitions of desired outcomes.

If you would like to consider participating in this project and would like more information, please contact Mara directly at:


Debbie Carter
Chair, CSTA Professional Development Committee

Posted by cstephenson at 02:56 PM | Comments (0)

February 18, 2009

An Effective ELL Strategy for Computer Science Classes

I'm sitting in my office printing out cards to send to students to invite them to enroll in a computer course. I am using the AP Potential list from the College Board provides. It includes the students that the College Board believes should be successful in an AP Computer Science class. Fortunately, one of the school's secretaries was kind enough to look up some additional information about the students to help me deliver the cards.

While waiting for the printer to chug out the cards, I was thinking about a strategy that I recently used in my computer class. As a mentor for two beginning teachers (PT), I am invited to attend the workshops that my PTs are required to attend. The PTs are required to implement a strategy and then collect evidence to show its effectiveness. I decided that since they had to do it, I should at least implement something that was suggested during the "Teaching Academic Language to English Learners" workshop. I decided to implement the "same and different" strategy.

During the workshop, the speaker walked us through "same and different." She had us divide ourselves into pairs. In our pairs we selected who was A and who was B. The As received one picture and the Bs another. We were told to discuss the picture with our partner in terms of how the pictures were the same or different, but were could not show the picture to our partner. For instance, in my picture there was a couple, a man and a woman. In my partner's picture there was also a man and a woman. In my picture both were standing, but in my partner's picture the man was leaning and the woman was standing. We continued our comparison for 5 to 10 minutes.

I decided I could also use this strategy in my AP Computer Science class. I gave my As a method that returned a value without parameters and the Bs were given a similar method except that it did not return a value and had parameters. The students discussed the methods for 5 to 10 minutes then we had a whole class discussion about return types, parameters and method calls. The students felt that this help solidify return types and parameters. I am looking for an opportunity to use this again.

Give it a try with your students and let us know how it works.

Myra Deister
CSTA Board Member

Posted by cstephenson at 01:26 PM | Comments (1)

February 16, 2009

How the CSTA Elections Work

It is election time for the CSTA Board of Directors. This year, the K-8 representative, two 9-12 representatives, the school district representative, the college faculty representative, and the at-large representative need to be elected. Each member of the Board of Director serves for a two-year term.

We get a lot of queries about the election process at the CSTA. Here is the process we follow...

We get many applications for the various Board of Director positions. Each application is required to include a CV and a 130-word statement to be shared with the membership about the candidate's vision and/or qualifications. It is amazing how many folks get confused between 130 and 1300 for the length of the statement, and how many applications we receive after the deadline.

Once the valid applications are received, the Nominations Committee, headed by the Vice President, must select the top two candidates for each position. This is a challenging and important task because it involves choosing the people who will provide the vision for and lead the organization in the future. As a result, the committee considers many factors when choosing the candidates, including: educational and volunteer experience, commitment to CSTA's mission, leadership potential, and vision. The committee also has to look at the entire Board as a working group, with the goal of building a team that will work hard and in harmony but with a sufficient diversity of opinion and experience to ensure that all perspectives are well represented.

In this current election, that meant sorting through nearly 40 valid applications to choose the top 12 candidates (two for each of the Board of Director representatives that are up for election). This was a fairly exhausting meeting, as there were far more highly qualified candidates than we had positions for.

Once the Nominations Committee has made its top-two choices for each position, CSTA mails out an official election ballot to all current CSTA members along with a document that provides all of the candidates' statements. The completed ballots must be mailed back to CSTA and must be postmarked no later than May 1, 2009.

Then the work begins.

Michelle Hutton
CSTA President

Posted by cstephenson at 05:30 PM | Comments (0)

February 11, 2009

Leadership Cohort Update - February 2009

Since the beginning of January, Leadership Cohort members have been instrumental in establishing new local chapters for the Southern New Jersey Shore and Houston.

Several members of the Leadership Cohort participated in the Rebooting Computing Summit held in Mountain View, California January 12-14. Rebooting Computing is a project sponsored by the National Science Foundation, through Dr. Peter Denning at the Naval Postgraduate School, to develop awareness and an action plan to tackle the issues surrounding the decline in computer science in the United States. Many of the goals of the project are aligned with the goals set by CSTA for the Leadership Cohort, so participating in the summit allowed us to join the conversation and raise awareness in the broader community of the activities in which we are already engaged.

To learn more about the cohort, join us at the CS & IT Symposium in Washington, DC on June 27. We will be presenting a panel: Building Effective Leadership at the Grass Roots

For more information on the CS & IT Symposium, visit:


Gail Chapman
Director: Leadership and Professional Development

Posted by cstephenson at 07:56 PM | Comments (0)

February 06, 2009

Why Computer Science?

I used to say that high school students should take computer science because it helps them be better problem solvers and critical thinkers. I'd go on to say that what they learn in computer science will serve them well no matter what they choose to study or what career path they take in the future.

I don't say that anymore.

Not that I don't believe it. Of course I do. But how does this argument differentiate computer science from any other academic high school class or discipline? The fact is that *every* high school teacher can claim (and rightly so) that taking classes in their discipline will help students be better problem solvers and critical thinkers.

So what then is the compelling reason to take computer science in high school?

I think we can only answer this question by looking at what it means to be a well-educated citizen in today's world. Most would agree that, at the minimum, we need to be able to read and write with understanding, have a knowledge of mathematics that includes algebra and geometry, understand the basics of science including the fundamentals of biology, chemistry, and physics, and have a historical perspective on our own culture and the culture of others.

I'd argue that we must have computing literacy as well.

Now, by computing literacy I don't mean knowing how to keyboard, word process, or use software. These are all important skills but fall into the realm of either basic foundational skills taught in elementary school (such as handwriting typically is) or extracurricular education (such as driver's ed).

Computing literacy is also not information literacy. While essential, information literacy is about critical reading and analysis rather than computer science.

Finally, computing literacy is not just about knowing how to program any more than mathematical literacy is just about knowing how to use a calculator or chemistry literacy is just knowing how to do a titration or history literacy is just about memorizing a bunch of dates and events.

Computing literacy *is* about knowing and understanding the fundamentals -- the big ideas, if you will -- of computer science. It is about understanding how computing simulates the real world by modeling real world processes. It is about understanding basic algorithms and algorithmic techniques and how we can solve complex problems using simple concepts. It is about understanding abstraction and how it helps us manage complexity. It is about understanding the theoretical and practical limitations of computing, knowing that they affect what types of problems we can solve and how quickly we can solve them.

When we talk about computing literacy in these terms, it gives us a compelling case for making computer science a required part of the high school curriculum so that our students are well-educated citizens and productive members of society. Given the ubiquity of computers and computing and how they are both integrated with and integral to every other discipline, it's hard to argue otherwise.

Robb Cutler
CSTA Past President

Posted by cstephenson at 06:14 PM | Comments (2)

February 04, 2009

Great K-12 Outreach Videos Now Available

In the two years, CSTA has launched a number of programs to help college and university faculty and staff in their K-12 outreach efforts. One of the most successful of these project was the CSTA/SIGCSE Roadshow Workshop and CSTA is delighted to announce that the videos from several of the workshop presentations are now available for viewing on the CSTA website.

The Roadshow Workshop (funded by NSF under the DUE program) was intended to bring together the community of post-secondary faculty, staff, and students who were organizing and delivering K-12 Roadshows or who were interested in starting Roadshow programs. Our goal was to begin building a community that could share information and resources, and where more experienced sites could mentor programs that were just starting their outreach effort.

The Roadshow Workshop was held at Google headquarters in Mountain View last May and as part of their generous support for the workshop, Google provided staff who videotaped all of the workshop activity. The presentations and panels were then edited and made into individual streaming videos. You can now view these videos on the CSTA website at:


Here is a description of the videos you can view:

* 5from5 (Time: 56:10): This video features presenters from five exemplary K-12 CS outreach programs giving a brief synopsis of their outreach programs and presentations. The presenters include Carol Frieze (Carnegie Mellon), Bill Hogan (Cornell University), Katie Siek (University of Colorado Boulder), Sonya Harris (University of Illinois), Suzanne Menzel (Indiana University).
* 5 Minute Madness: Part One (Time: 50:10): In this video, three panelists answer three key questions that every Roadshow organizer must answer. The questions include: "Why should we do a roadshow?", "How do you find teachers and students?", and "What kind of outreach activities and materials do you need?". The panel is facilitated by Katie Siek (University of Colorado Boulder). The panelists are Robb Cutler (Former CSTA President), Suzanne Menzel (Indiana University) and Chris Stephenson (CSTA Executive Director).
* 5 Minute Madness: Part Two (Time: 28:33): In this video, three panelists answer three key questions that every Roadshow organizer must answer. The questions include: "How do you find funding for start up and maintenance?", "How do you manage roadshow programs for the long term?", and "How do you build long term relationships?". The panel is facilitated by Suzanne Menzel (Indiana University). The panelists are Michelle Hutton (The Girl's Middle School and CSTA President), Tiffany Grady (UT-Austin) and Katie Siek (University of Colorado Boulder).
* What Research Tells Us (Time: 47:08): In this video, Lecia Barker (National Center for Women in Information Technology) discusses research on best practices for outreach to young women and minority students. Lecia looks at the research evidence underlying the choices you need to make when doing a roadshow presentation, specifically why you choose the messages and the activities that you choose.
* Google Tools (Time: 31:13): In this video, Gabriel Cohen (Product, Manager Google Apps Education Division) demonstrates a number of tools that Roadshow organizers (and in fact all educators) can use to make their work much easier. These tools include: Google spreadsheets, Tiny url, Google groups, Google Apps, Google sites, Google calendar, Google docs, and App engine.

We believe that these videos are a great resource for any site that is interested in improving its K-12 outreach and encourage you to check them out.

Chris Stephenson
Executive Director

Posted by cstephenson at 01:55 PM | Comments (0)

February 02, 2009

Geek Chic

A recent article in the New York Times In 'Geek Chic' and Obama, New Hope for Lifting Women in Science offered hope that the new administration would act on efforts to attract and retain more women in science. Though the author fails to consider race in her discussion, I believe this is also a prime opportunity to attract more ethnically diverse scientists in the U.S.

The article queries why women are equally represented in many scientific fields (mathematics, biology, chemistry) but are missing in physics, particularly at the college level. We can extend this same question for computer science. Why, compared to other scientific disciplines, are females and students of color missing from computer science classrooms? Studies show that girls have equal performance to boys on standardized mathematics tests, squashing any hypotheses about differences in aptitudes. So, what is it about the nature of physics and computer science that seems to repel all but a few girls and women?

The author suggests that perhaps the abstract, cold nature of physics turns off women (a complaint of many in computer science, too). Both fields have undergone significant developments under the auspices of warfare. Though today's applications of physics and computer science benefit humanity in sweeping ways, these applications are not visible in public perception. Nor are they typically highlighted in introductory courses.

When conducting research for our new book, Stuck in the Shallow End: Education, Race, and Computing, I spoke with dozens of high-performing Latina mathematics 12th graders. Many had taken computer science courses. Though many of these girls were on their way to college to study math or science, none were interested in pursuing computer science. When asked why, they expressed a desire to major in a field which would allow them to improve their community. These young girls were unable to imagine how obtaining expertise in computer science could possibly benefit their desire to change lives for the better.

As computer science educators, we should try to make explicit connections between computer science and solving local problems. Moving away from the public perception of computer science as cold and abstract requires engaging pedagogy and more active participation of students. Perhaps then we will be able to attract a more heterogeneous "geek chic" image of computer science.

Joanna Goode
CSTA Equity Chair

Posted by cstephenson at 07:33 PM | Comments (0)