« March 2009 | Main | May 2009 »

April 30, 2009

Attracting Young Women and Minorities To Computing

As part of my work on the CSTA Leadership Cohort, a Southern New Jersey Shore Chapter of CSTA has been created. On Tuesday, March 26th Dr. David Klappholz from Stevens Institute of Technology spoke to our chapter at its monthly meeting regarding ways to attract young women and minorities to computing majors. His talk was titled The Real Projects for Real Clients Course ( RPRCC) Initiative: Attracting Young Women to Computing Majors: An ACM-W Project.

Dr. Klappholtz spoke to the group of high school teachers and college professors that were present about the overall low numbers of females in the computing fields and how the female point of view is necessary in the design and development of everything from consumer products to defense related systems. It is feared that the rate of production of software development will be far lower than necessary to fill job openings over the next five to fifteen years, especially given the baby boomer generation will be retiring soon.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts a large increase in the need for B.S. and M.S. computing graduates in the next decade. The largest untapped pool of potential computing majors and, eventually, computing professionals, is science- and math-talented high school students, but only about 10% of entering undergraduate majors in computing majors are female. Despite the many initiatives aimed at attracting young women, the number of female computing majors keeps dropping.

Gender equity in computing has long been a national goal advanced by those concerned with fairness and by those who know that the female point of view improves the design and development of software systems. Unfortunately, though, the percentage of young women entering computing-related majors keeps falling, and the female dropout rate is higher than the very high male dropout rate

The intellectual underpinning of the RPRCC Initiative is a 35 year psychological Study of Mathematically Precocious Youth (SMPY) that followed 3,000 + MPYs from middle school into middle age. They focused on understanding the career and life paths of the MPYs. SMPY discovered that MPY females chose STEM fields involving organic things (fields involving people, helping people). Female MPYs have considerably higher verbal skills than MPY males, accounting for their preference for inter-personal interaction, rather than solo work. MPY males chose STEM fields involving inorganic things (fields involving machines, software development, computer hardware, physics, engineering, chemistry, abstractions).

The point of the initiative is to recruit young women into and to retain them in computing-related undergraduate majors. Only 30% of the typical software development project involves solo inorganic work (writing code). The majority of the remaining 70% has a highly organic, teamwork and interpersonal interaction based nature. Women are better at listening to what their client is saying and understanding what they want. This is especially true if the software's client/customer is a socially relevant agency (such as an adoption agency, a child-care agency, or a poverty agency).

The RPRCC Initiative is a based on courses in which students work in teams – initially on the 70% to produce real software for real clients. There are three aspects to the initative: The High School- Level (for recruitment), the Pre-Choice of Major (for recruitment), and the Post Choice of Major (for retention). For more information, contact Dr. David Klappholz at davidk6@gmail.com

Debbie Klipp
CSTA Leadership Cohort

Posted by cstephenson at 01:38 PM | Comments (2)

April 27, 2009

Organizing Internationally

CSTA's membership continues to grow, and as it does, we strive to find better ways to serve all of our members no matter where they happen to live.

At present, about 13% of CSTA's members live in countries other than the United States and as you might guess, the state of K-12 computer science education varies enormously from country to country as does the level to which CS teachers have organized themselves professionally. In some countries, there are already highly active organizations. Israel, for example, has a top-notch Computer Science Teachers Association which provides a wide variety of services for its members. In other countries, there are organizations which serve the needs of technology-using teachers, but which provide very little for computer science teachers. And in some countries of course, there is nothing at all.

Last week, I met with several members of the CSTA Board to discuss how we could best serve the needs of these international members. What we discovered is that the situation is even more complex than we thought. Not only do we have to ensure that whatever we do does not conflict with or undermine the efforts of local organizations and educators, we have to ensure that we protect CSTA from risk. For example, there is considerable fiscal liability associated with international chapters and, at this time, CSTA does not have the resources to manage this liability.

So we have decided for the present to put our efforts into building affiliate relationships with organizations that already exist in countries other than the U.S. and to providing expertise to interested members where no organization presently exists to meet the needs of K-12 computer science teachers. Our plan is to "package" the collective experiences and wisdom of those involved in setting up CSTA as an effective voice for CS teachers into a kit that teachers from other countries can use to set up computer science subject associations that will meet the needs of their teachers and students.

This is an ambitious project and it may take us a while to complete, but we believe that the potential for all parties is exciting.

Margot Phillipps
CSTA International Director

Posted by cstephenson at 01:11 PM | Comments (0)

April 13, 2009

Communication Skills for Computer Science Students

Becoming an effective problem solver is an important skill for our students to master. And, just as important is developing strong interpersonal skills. Our students must be able to communicate effectively with human beings as well as with their computers. They should be able to effectively communicate with technical and non-technical colleagues. As computer science teachers we stress that computer science is more than programming. Yet in some of our courses, most of the assignments are programming assignments.

Writing across the disciplines is a focus at all levels of education. How can we incorporate writing into our computer science curriculum? What are examples of good writing assignments? How do we grade a writing assignment?

I find that the most successful writing assignments are those that give very specific requirements and offer some ideas for research. I try to follow the format below.

The Assignment: State exactly what you expect as a final product.
Example: You will write a 3-page paper (double-spaced, 11-12 point font, 1 inch margins) that addresses one (or more) of the topics listed below. The paper will be graded for content and clear presentation of material. This paper must have content that is supported by references; therefore, include bibliographic references. It should be your own work based on your research. The paper should be submitted (uploaded) by day and time.

Goals: Why are you assigning this paper?
* to explore concerns about topic
* to research a bit of history and some of aspects of the potential problems of topic
* to practice your writing skills by preparing a paper expressing your opinion about this topic based on your readings and research
* to take notice of your how your environment fits into the picture of your research

Possible Questions/Topics for Paper Focus: List here a few possible start points.
* Much of the controversy about topic focuses on something here. Why is topic such an important issue now?
* Topic can be an effective tool for learning because...
* Reflecting on the intersections of real-life and topic....
* What are the pros and cons (or advantages and disadvantages) of topic
* List the impact of topic as it relates to your chosen area of interest (art, literature, medicine).

Some resources: List at least 5 resources here.

Writing assignments take longer to grade than math problems but they are no more difficult to grade than computer programs. And, most times, the logic is easier to follow! Although the following procedure might take some time, I find it works quite well.

1. Require the student to complete an almost final version of the paper. This version should follow the requirements listed in the assignment.

2. Now conduct a peer evaluation. Pair your students. Have them swap papers. The goal of this peer review is to improve the paper. You can choose to do the peer review in a variety of ways, I alternate between the two listed below.
* Require the reviewer to complete a comment sheet that you provide. See the following url for an example. http://euclid.butler.edu/~sorenson/teaching/comments.html
* Have the reviewer list three things the paper does well and then offer three suggestions for improvement.

The peer reviewer is also responsible for checking that the paper meets all the requirements set in the assignment description. You can collect the peer review with the final version of the paper or you can informally read them over before the final version of the paper is due.

3. Base your grade on:
* content and correctness (most weight here)
* grammar and mechanics
* clarity and style

Presentation, both written and oral, should be an integral part of any course, including computer science. You may follow the written assignment with an oral presentation or the oral presentation can be a separate assignment on a second topic of interest. Some guidelines for giving (and grading) an oral presentation are listed below and can be found at: http://www.dcs.gla.ac.uk/~johnson/teaching/research_skills/basics.html

The Presentation

1. Does your opening gain the group's attention?
2. Does it establish rapport with the group?
3. Does it indicate what you intend to explain?
The Key Points
1. Are your key points clearly expressed?
2. Are your examples interesting?
3. Are your qualifications of the key points clearly expressed?
4. Is each key point summarized?
5. Are the summaries clear?
6. Are the beginnings and ends of the key points clearly indicated?
The Summary
1. Does the summary bring together the main points?
2. Are your conclusions clearly stated?
3. Do you come to an effective stop?
1. Can the group hear and see you?
2. Do you use eye contact to involve but not threaten?
3. Do you use audio/visual techniques effectively?
4. Are you fluent verbally?
5. Is your vocabulary appropriate for the group?
6. Do you make use of pauses and silences?
7. Do you vary your intonation?
8. Is the organization of your material clear?
9. Do you avoid vagueness and ambiguities?
10. Is the presentation as interesting as you can make

Students at all these levels need to communicate effectively. They must gain experience in reading and critiquing papers, both technical and non-technical. They should learn to organize knowledge in written form and be comfortable and confident with oral presentations. Students should to be able to evaluate their own work and openly defend their own ideas and opinions. It is our duty as teachers to help them learn the communication skills necessary to accomplish these tasks.

A few of my favorite writing assignments have been:

1. Electronic Voting Machines: Based on the HBO video Hacking Democracy. This is a great assignment to give around election time.
* The video Hacking Democracyis available at http://video.google.com/videosearch? q=%22hacking+democracy%22&hl=en#q=%22hacking+democracy%22&hl=en&emb=0
or do a Google Video Search for "Hacking Democracy"
* The story is available at http://www.hbo.com/docs/programs/hackingdemocracy/synopsis.html

2. Job Outlooks:
Career overview:

3. Second Life: I actually have my students sign up and create an avatar in Second life and then use the following outline:
Your paper should have a clear thesis and supporting discussion. You should include your own experience on Second Life. Some possible choices for topics (or choose your own area of interest):
a. Second Life can be an effective tool for learning because...
b. Artists in Second Life are making effective use of the medium by...
c. There are serious social implications of Second Life....
d. Reflecting on the intersections of real-life and "virtual" economies...
e. The virtual world of medicine has influenced....
f. Is Second Life a place for religious organizations to open virtual meeting places
g. Live music on Second Life enables....
h. Literature has taken an interest in virtual worlds and Second Life
Resources include:
Models of Learning:
Social Implications:
Artists: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/08/magazine/08flunot.html_r=4&pagewanted=1&ref=technology
Information on grading writing assignments:
Example of a peer review comment sheet:

Information and tips for oral presentations:

Fran Trees
CSTA Chapter Liaison

Posted by cstephenson at 12:05 PM | Comments (2)

April 07, 2009

Scratch Day

May 16, 2009 is Scratch day! This is an international celebration of Scratch, a software environment designed to help students create, learn, and program. Developed by the MIT Media Lab, students ages 8 and over can use Scratch to design their own stories, animations, music, and art. Students can share their projects with fellow "Scratchers" online. And the software download is free!

I have seen Scratch used in education in two places—both successfully. In a low-income community in South Los Angeles, the Computer Clubhouse provided urban youth assistance with Scratch and students created unique projects which incorporated their own images and music. Creating "low-riders" caught on as a popular activity. Computer science teachers I work with in Los Angeles public high schools have integrated Scratch successfully in their courses and report a high level of student engagement as students learn fundamental computing concepts. For either informal or formal computing experiences, Scratch is a wonderful way to introduce young people to computer science.

For Scratch Day events near you, check out the map at http://day.scratch.mit.edu/. If there are no events near you, consider hosting one. It's a great way to meet fellow educators interested in teaching students to use Scratch.

Scratch can be downloaded at:


Joanna Goode
CSTA Board of Directors

Posted by cstephenson at 11:58 AM | Comments (0)

April 02, 2009

Presidential Awards for Excellence in Science, Mathematics, Engineering Mentoring

If you know an organization or an individual who is doing outstanding work mentoring underrepresented students in computing, you might want to nominate them for this important and prestigious award.

The Presidential Awards for Excellence in Science, Mathematics, Engineering Mentoring (PAESMEM) is the highest federal recognition award for mentoring in the country. The award is made to recognize individuals or organizations that have made significant contributions to mentoring of students at any of several educational levels from underrepresented groups in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Nominations can be made for individuals or organizations. Awards are intended as a symbol of recognition at the highest level and to highlight the achievements of individuals and organizations that serve important function of developing our future scientists, engineers and mathematicians.

Awardees are invited to Washington, D.C. for a visit to the White House, photos with the President (his schedule permitting), presentation of a citation signed by the President and a working session on mentoring at the National Science Foundation.

For more information about this award, go to:


The nominations deadline is April 21, 2009.

If you have further questions, please do not hesitate to contact Daphne Rainey.

Daphne Y. Rainey,
Ph.D. Program Director
Division of Undergraduate Education
Education and Human Resources
National Science Foundation
4201 Wilson Blvd
Arlington, VA 22230
Phone (703) 292-4671 FAX (703) 292-9015

Posted by cstephenson at 12:28 PM | Comments (0)

April 01, 2009

New AccessIT Web Design & Development Curriculum

The University of Washington and a team of high school web design teachers have put together some free curriculum that is well organized, up to date, and full of resources. The curriculum is called AccessIT Web Design & Development I and is an introduction to the design, creation, and maintenance of web pages and websites. Students learn how to critically evaluate website quality, learn how to create and maintain quality web pages, learn about web design standards and why they're important, and learn to create and manipulate images.

The course progresses from introductory work on web design to a culminating project in which students design and develop websites for local community organizations. The Units cover the following material:

Unit 1: Designing and Planning Web Pages
Module 1: Website Evaluation and Rubric Creation
* Lesson 1: Surveying the Possibilities http://www.washington.edu/accessit/webdesign/student/unit1/module1/lesson1.htm
* Lesson 2: Developing a Website Evaluation Tool
Module 2: Color Theory
* Lesson 1: Color Theory in Web Design http://www.washington.edu/accessit/webdesign/student/unit1/module2/lesson1.htm
* Lesson 2: Selecting a Color Scheme
Module 3: Web Standards & Accessible Design
* Lesson 1: Web Standards
* Lesson 2: How People with Disabilities Access the Web
Module 4: Planning a Website
*Lesson 1: Organizing a Website

Unit 2: Creating Pages with HTML
Module 1: Pre-Coding
* Lesson 1: Pre-coding
Module 2: Basic HTML Markup
* Lesson 1: Elements of Tags
* Lesson 2: Essential Tags
* Lesson 3: Common Tags
Module 3: HTML Lists
* Lesson 1: Unordered Lists
* Lesson 2: Ordered Lists
* Lesson 3: Nested Lists
Module 4: Creating Links
* Lesson 1: Linking to External Internet Sites
* Lesson 2: Linking to Pages Within Your Website
* Lesson 3: Special Types of Links
Module 5: Creating a Data Table
* Lesson 1: Creating a Data Table

Unit 3: Formatting Web Pages with Style Sheet
Module 1: Introduction to Cascading Style Sheets
* Lesson 1: Anatomy of a Style
* Lesson 2: Applying Styles
* Lesson 3: Applying Styles to Data Tables
Module 2: Page Layout Techniques
* Lesson 1: Layout with CSS
* Lesson 2: Layout with Tables

Unit 4: Graphics
Module 1: Introduction to Web Graphics
* Lesson 1: Introduction to Web Graphics
* Lesson 2: Copyright Law and Graphics on the Web
Module 2: Creating a Web Photo Album
* Lesson 1: Understanding Web Graphics
* Lesson 2: Acquiring Images for Web Graphics
* Lesson 3: Cropping and Resizing
* Lesson 4: Adding Images to Your Web Page
Module 3: Creating Navigation Buttons
* Lesson 1: Basic Shapes and Colors
* Lesson 2: Working With Text
* Lesson 3: Layer Basics
* Lesson 4: Optimizing GIF Images
Module 4: Creating a Web Page Banner
* Lesson 1: Basic Image Manipulation
* Lesson 2: Selection Tools
* Lesson 3: Layer Effects and Blending

Unit 5: Overall Site Design and Management
Module 1: Website Navigational Systems
* Lesson 1: Testing the Usability of Navigational Systems
* Lesson 2: Creating Your Own Navigational System
Module 2: Using an external style sheet
* Lesson 1: Linking to an External Style Sheet
* Lesson 2: Stylizing a Navigational Menu
Module 3: Scripts and Server-side technologies
* Lesson 1: Scripting and the Web
* Lesson 2: A Simple Javascript Program
Module 4: Validating a Website
* Lesson 1: Validating Your HTML
* Lesson 2: Validating Your CSS
* Lesson 3: Validating Your Accessibility

Unit 6: Introduction to Web Authoring Software
Module 1: Creating a Web Page using Web Authoring Software
* Lesson 1: Basic Features of Web Authoring Software
Module 2 : Controlling Style using Web Authoring Software
* Lesson 1: CSS and Web Authoring Software: Controlling Presentation
Module 3 : Site Management using Web Authoring Software
* Lesson 1: Overview of Site Management Features

Unit 7: Client Website
Module 1: Client Website
* Lesson 1: Planning the Client Website
* Lesson 2: Constructing the Client Website
* Lesson 3: Quality Control of the Client Website

I was quite impressed that the creators of the curriculum made it so that it teaches standards-compliant web design and is itself grounded in national industry skills standards and national education standards.

Finally, the curriculum comes with video lessons for students and teachers to review. You can view the curriculum at http://www.washington.edu/accessit/webdesign/.

Brian Scarbeau
CSTA Board of Directors

Posted by cstephenson at 03:34 PM | Comments (2)