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May 26, 2009

Endings and Beginnings

Hurray! It's over! Another school year in the books. AP and IB testing are complete. Final exams are submitted, printed and ready to administer. It's time to sit back, relax, and enjoy life!

Wait, not so fast you say. What about next year? What about summer professional development programs? What about new textbooks, new programming labs, and new content? And, oh by the way, just what will I be teaching next year? No more AB level for my AP students. How many smiling faces will I see in September? What third prep awaits the unsuspecting Computer Science Teacher?

So goes the life of the high school computer science teacher. For many of us, teaching computer science is an avocation, not exactly a hobby, but certainly not our primary job. Many computer science teachers have two or more other classes they must teach in order to have that one section of AP or IB or just plain old Computer Science. How much effort is involved in our avocation as compared to our other classes? What can we do to better manage our time and control our destiny?

I don't have a solution. Unlike many of you, Computer Science has been my focus. However, looking ahead to the 2009 - 2010 school year, I see one section of AP Computer Science (20 students), one section of IB Higher Level Computer Science (6 students), 2 sections of Computer Programming with Alice (40 + students), and 2 sections of AP Statistics (40 + students). I see changes in both the AP and IB curriculum (though thankfully not major) and a new textbook (maybe one I can actually use). And don't even ask me about professional development this summer! Between AP, IB and CSTA commitments, I think I will get to relax for a week or two in August.

My school's total AP and IB examination numbers were up this year, over 1000 AP Exams and over 1200 IB exams (school population about 1800), and my AP and IB exam numbers showed some increase over past years. However, the Computer Science numbers are not growing as fast as other courses. We know there are major curriculum changes on the horizon for AP and IB Computer Science. How will that affect us?

What can we do? We need to be our own advocates, actively recruiting students by tying Computer Science to 21st Century Skills, touting the good jobs that are solving today's real-world problems in a collaborative environment. We need to break the stereotype of computer scientists as loner nerds who seldom bathe and eat only junk food. While that image sells movies, it isn't real and is hardly attractive to the kinds of students we want to recruit.

Where do we start? Join us in Washington, DC in June at the CS & IT Symposium (www.csitsymposium.org). Network with other computer science teachers to form professional learning communities, local CSTA Chapters, or just a valuable resource. Convince your guidance directors and building administrators that computer science is a viable career path for our talented students.

Personally, I intend to put my feet up, unwind, and enjoy the next few weeks as the school year winds down. Then, it's off on a whirlwind tour of the US, seeing old friends and making new in the pursuit of improving Computer Science education. Won't you join me?

John Harrison
CSTA Board of Directors

Posted by cstephenson at 05:14 PM | Comments (0)

May 22, 2009

Wisconsin Leadership Cohort Update

Hello from Wisconsin, land of Harleys, cheese, breweries and great ethnic festivals!

As part of our work on the CSTA Leadership Cohort, Sarah Huibregtse and I have been busy with many advocacy activities.

On May 7 and 8 at the Wisconsin Mathematics Council Annual Meeting, we assembled a strand of nine sessions - sort of a mini CS/IT Symposium. The most popular were the GameMaker, Website Development, Visual BASIC and the FANG game engine programming using JavaWIDE (25-30 at each). We had a great discussion at the certification session, which included one of the two DPI leaders for the statewide committee. The Robotics workshop featured four “play” stations, each with a different kind of robot. The sessions on Boolean Logic and on ideas to broaden participation were also great.

About a dozen teachers attended a session that focused on forming a state-wide CSTA chapter. After much discussion, we decided to develop a website where we could post materials from sessions like those at this meeting plus other potentially useful materials. We also discussed asking our statewide teacher organization to put together a one- day strand (it's a 2-day conference) dealing with CS and IT. Our immediate goal, though, is to continue to build our teacher network throughout the state.

Sarah and I have also been involved in a number of activities where a small group of us have been meeting with mostly guidance counselors in various parts of the state, trying to generate enthusiasm for CS/IT courses in their schools.

We also organized our 5th and 6th iFairs(sm), career fairs which feature an exhibit area set up in a trade show atmosphere. Businesses and a few post-secondary institutions sell IT and Engineering careers to visiting middle and high school students by showing how exciting and invigorating they can be. Over these 6 fairs, we had about 2800 student visitors from Milwaukee Public Schools. We're already planning out 7th and 8th fairs during the next school year. The general website for iFairs(sm) is


As members of the CSTA Leadership Cohort, we have also been involved with the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction in an attempt to establish a committee to deal with the original CS Endorsement certificate (from 1986) and to establish CS/IT standards for K-12. We continue to seek funding for this.

We also continue to involve groups of business leaders from Washington HS of IT, Milwaukee Public Schools Partnership, the Milwaukee Partnership Academy and PoweredUp in our attempts to expand the visibility of CS/IT in the schools throughout Wisconsin.

Finally through these groups and other contacts, we continue to involve a number of both two and four year post-secondary institutions in this quest.

Joe Kmoch
CSTA Leadership Cohort Member (WI)

Posted by cstephenson at 02:06 PM | Comments (2)

May 16, 2009

Update from the NCWIT Meeting

I just attended the May meeting of the National Center for Women in Information Technology (NCWIT). NCWIT is now 5 years old. The organization has two main goals: to increase the number of girls and women in computing and to make diversity in computing matter to individuals, organizations, and society.

The meeting had some wonderful talks. We heard from Vivian Lagesen who is researching why some countries, such as Malaysian, have a much higher percentage of women in computing than we do in western countries. She found several important differences.

1) The government ran a campaign to encourage women to enter computing fields.
2) The parents encourage the girls to enter computing fields.
3) The field is not considered to be a "male" field.

The researcher said that the women in Malaysia found it very hard to believe that computing is considered male in western cultures. They couldn't see why it would be perceived that way since you work indoors and sit. Roli Varma also told of research in India which shows that women there think of computing as a lucrative and female-friendly field. People who are in the field in India are considered to be smart and social.

Several speakers described projects that help the developing world. Bernadine Dias, the founder of TechBridgeWorld at CMU described the development of a low-cost digital device for blind kids to practice writing in Braille. It was very inspirational.

Joi Spencer talked about an intensive study into the differences between math education in the United States and other higher performing nations. One of the biggest differences was in how we teach math to students. In Japan for example the students are introduced to a new mathematical concept by leaning about a complex problem that they are asked to solve. The students spend many days thinking about the problem and trying to solve it in different ways. Then they might learn a new procedure for solving the problem. In the United States we first teach students the procedure for solving problems and have them practice but we rarely ask them to use it to solve a complex problem. Kids in the United States are also often taught that there is only one way to solve a problem. My own daughter, for example, gets mad at me when I try to show her more than one way to solve a math problem. She says, "the teacher wants us to do it this way."

NCWIT has also produced many high quality materials for teachers and parents. The Talking Points card, for example, provides suggestions and information for family members who want to talk to girls about computing. NCWIT also evaluates techniques for introducing girls to computing and have identified promising practices such as CS Unplugged, Scratch, Alice, and Media Computation. You might want to show your students some of the slides from some of the talks from this last meeting. You can download these resources and more from


Barb Ericson
CSTA Board Member
Co-chair, NCWIT K-12 Alliance

Posted by cstephenson at 02:08 PM | Comments (1)

May 12, 2009

Alternative Certification for CS Teachers

In the midst of budget cuts (which the politicians claim won't harm education), a colleague of mine reported that a local school system had declared that it would cut costs by dismissing all alternate entry teachers. After the initial shock, and the inevitable question, "Can they do that?" my colleague told me about research she had been doing on her doctoral thesis—concerning the value of in-depth induction programs for alternate entry teachers. She had come across a research study published by the Institute of Education Sciences (IES).

The study, An Evaluation of Teachers Trained Through Different Routes to Certification was published in February of 2009. The study reported several interesting findings. Before I continue with my post, I must state that the study involved 187 elementary school teachers (kindergarten through 5th grade) in 20 districts in seven different states (not middle school or high school Computer Science teachers). However, the study findings certainly give one cause to pause and think.

The study reported that students of alternative certification (AC) teachers did not perform statistically differently from students of traditional certification (TC) teachers. There were some "average differences in reading and math, but the differences were not statistically significant." The study explained that there were many differences in the preparation and background of AC and TC teachers, including, required coursework, whether or not the teacher was currently taking courses, the teacher's undergraduate major, and the teacher's SAT scores, differences that exist among any group of teachers (or other professionals for that matter). The study reported that such "differences in AC teachers' characteristics and training experiences explained about 5 percent of the variation in effects on math test scores and less than 1 percent of the variation in effects on reading test scores." In other words, the teachers' characteristics and required coursework "were not related to the effects of teachers on student achievement." The study concludes that there was "no benefit, on average, to student achievement from placing an AC teacher in the classroom when the alternative was a TC teacher, but there was no evidence of harm, either." The authors note that, of course, individual teachers have an effect on student achievement. The authors were NOT able to identify what specific characteristics of individual teachers have an effect on student achievement.

Interestingly enough, the study also concluded that "There is no evidence from this study that greater levels of teacher training coursework were associated with the effectiveness of AC teachers in the classroom." The statistical analysis showed that there was no evidence that the amount of coursework required of AC teachers produced more effective teachers. As a life-long educator, this surprised me; however, after reflecting on my recent experiences with so many alternative entry teachers and the current state alternative licensing requirements, I thought perhaps educators aren't really approaching the AC teacher with an open mind. There are many truly outstanding AC educators in many different content areas.

The study further concluded that "There is no evidence that the content of coursework is correlated with teacher effectiveness." The study found no statistical correlation between student test scores and the content that the AC teacher had completed—including pedagogy and fieldwork. The authors state "there was no evidence of a statistically positive relationship between majoring in education and student achievement." That will certainly shake up conventional wisdom in the world of education. I'm not sure that I can even grasp the implications since one of the responsibilities of my current position is to plan the preparation needed for these alternative licensure teachers. At least I do have the educational foundation that many teacher education institutes are now embracing (in part due to NCLB). I have a bachelor's degree in my content area. I took education courses in addition to the BS degree requirements to obtain a teaching license. My master's degree is also in the content area rather than in education, and I had to jump through many hoops to add that content area to my teaching license (it's not quite as strenuous now!).

So, why would a school system want to dismiss all their alternative certification teachers? That's a very good question. I don't think that action would be prudent at all. I have come to the conclusion that we need to encourage and embrace alternative certification in all areas of education, but particularly in the areas of Computer Science (CS) and Information Technology (IT). What better preparation can a CS or IT teacher have than to have a degree in the content area and related work experience? What a wealth of knowledge and experience these AC teachers bring to the classroom! Who better than an AC teacher to help our students with authentic, rigorous and relevant learning in the 21st Century? What better time than a financial downturn than to encourage these well-qualified individuals to seek a second career in education? We need these well-qualified alternative certification teachers in Computer Science and Information Technology education—and we need them now. (CSTA has included alternative entry teachers in the recently published white paper, Ensuring Exemplary Teaching in an Essential Discipline: Addressing the Crisis in Computer Science Teacher Certification, available at http://csta.acm.org/Communications/sub/Documents.html.)

The research study, An Evaluation of Teachers Trained Through Different Routes to Certification, was conducted by Jill Constantine, Daniel Player, Tim Silva, Kristin Hallgren, Mary Grider, John Deke of the Mathematica Policy Research, Inc.; and Elizabeth Warner, Project Officer, Institute of Education Sciences. A pdf file of the research study can be found at the ISE, US Department of Education, website: http://ies.ed.gov/pubsearch/pubsinfo.asp?pubid=NCEE20094043.

Work Cited:
Constantine, J., Player D., Silva, T., Hallgren, K., Grider, M., and Deke, J. (2009). An Evaluation of Teachers Trained Through Different Routes to Certification, Final Report (NCEE 2009-4043). Washington, DC: National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education.

Deborah Seehorn
CSTA Board Member

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

May 09, 2009

Student Speaks Out About Computer Science Curriculum

CSTA has spent the last several years arguing for rigorous computer science courses in high school, for emphasizing critical, computational thinking skills, and for standards-based curriculum. Many teachers have told us of their struggles in these areas. At the XImplosionX blog, Patrick Godwin has written High School Computer Science: A Student's Perspective echoing our thoughts.

While some of the problems he outlines are outside our ability to fix, some of them are achievable. What do you think about his call to emphasize style over syntax and teaching theory before practice?

Michelle Hutton
CSTA President

Posted by cstephenson at 12:11 PM | Comments (2)

May 04, 2009

Professional Development Opportunities for Computer Science Teachers

I feel very fortunate that I am a member of CSTA. My membership has made me aware of many professional development opportunities. I am been notified via email, CSTA website, and CSTA Voice regarding professional development opportunities that have been low cost or no cost. My students have been the ones who have gained through my attendance at such events as CS4HS, Alice Symposiums, CSTA CS & IT Symposia, Media Comp Workshops, UC Irvine Southern California Computer Science Conference, and more recently the Microsoft Pre-Conference Game Development Workshop. Each time I attend a conference, my goal is to apply something from the workshop in my classroom and to show the other teachers that attend my local chapter's meeting what I have learned.

For example, as a result of attending a TECS workshop during July 2006, I was introduced to Alice 2.0. I decided that my programming students needed to start with Alice because they begin AP Computer Science with no programming experience. It was a success. I feel that this has been one of the reasons I have been able to attract students to my class even with the increase in credit requirements for graduation.

Additionally, a recent conference I attended gave me insight into some resources that are available that make game development possible for beginning programming students. After the AP test on Tuesday, I plan to offer some beginning exercises in game development as one option for a project that I received at the conference. I also plan on demonstrating the lessons to teachers that attend my chapter's meeting in two weeks.

Another professional development opportunity that I look forward to is the CS & IT Symposium. I want to encourage anyone that has been thinking about attending the CSIT09 to register and attend. This year's schedule looks better than ever with many sessions that can inform and enhance your teaching resulting in enhancing your students’ educational experience. You can view the sessions and register for CSIT09 at:


Myra Deister
CSTA Board Member

Posted by cstephenson at 11:57 AM | Comments (0)