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August 30, 2009

The Path to Forming CSTA of Ohio

Fellowship and community are the central foundations for the Computer Science Teachers Association of Ohio. The 2008-2009 academic year has been one of building collegial networks. ''

Several informal meetings were held throughout the school year with the goal of forming a CSTA chapter in Ohio. The first phase occurred in October and November of 2008. We held two meetings in central Ohio. During these meetings we discussed the future of computer science, recruitment of students, curricular issues, forming partnership with local businesses in order to support the technology revolution, certification requirements, and shared exemplary projects. Fourteen teachers attended at least one of these meetings. And talk about a diverse group: a couple of teachers nearing retirement; one first year teacher, teachers from both public and private schools; a college professor, and one teacher from a high school career center.

A third informal meeting was held in late January. Interest was spreading as just two people had attended one of the previous meetings. Topics of conversation were brainstorming on funding for our programs and labs, student recruitment and retention, cool projects, and we discussed course content. To this point, we had had personal contact with at least 20 computer science/information technology teachers and professors. We felt we were progressing nicely toward our goal of forming an Ohio chapter of CSTA. This being said, we really did not know how many people to expect at our next scheduled event, which was at the eTech Ohio Educational Technology Conference.

Prior to the conference we had established contact with conference representatives and were granted approval to dedicate one of the three conference days for computer science projects and initiatives. Several CSTA members presented topics such as Scratch, robotics, CS Unplugged, and shared cool projects in an introductory graphical technology course. At the conclusion of the day we held another informal meeting in which we shared the current goals of CSTA, recruited new members, and discussed the need to reduce travel time for meetings. We decided to have regional hubs and meet via video conference.

The first video conference was held in March with two different sites, one in northern Ohio and the second in central Ohio. Our main objective was to initiate formal conversations to form at least one Ohio chapter. We decided that we would have one more meeting in May (after the AP test) to complete the chapter application process.

Our most recent meeting was held on Wednesday, May 13th, again utilizing regional hubs for video conferencing. Officers were elected via Survey Monkey. The application was completed and accepted this summer! CSTA of Ohio has been formed and will have the first official meeting in September.

One of the things we discovered was that Skype is great for use when 2 sites are involved, but if more than 2 sites are used the conference will be audio only. They are working on video streaming up to six for free, but it wasn't ready in May. If this still is not complete, we will probably try using Oovoo instead of Skype.

Angie Thorne
CSTA Leadership Cohort (Ohio)

Posted by cstephenson at 11:06 AM | Comments (1)

August 28, 2009

Qualifications for Teaching AP CS

I got a panicked e-mail from a local school in August that they didn't have an Advanced Placement Computer Science A teacher for fall. They were planning to use the retired teacher who had taught it the year before, but he had an injury right before school and so wouldn't be able to teach it. They had a teacher who has taught Beginning Programming in Java, and he had signed up for College Board AP Summer Institute in Texas, but that was cancelled. They had the common misconception that a College Board Summer Institute somehow certifies a teacher to teach AP CS, so they were worried that they wouldn't be able to offer the course at all.

All you must do in order to teach an AP CS A course is pass the audit. Of course, to effectively teach an AP course you should have a good understanding of the material and the topics to be covered. A College Board AP Summer Institute is one way that you can learn the material, but you can also take classes at local institutions, or learn from on-line resources.

I am helping the person who has taught only Beginning Programming in Java teach the course. It meets Monday – Friday for 50 minutes each day, but I am only coming Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. On Tuesday and Thursday the students work on the computer to complete assignments. I am posting my materials at:


Georgia Tech just received a NSF grant to retrain unemployed IT workers to be high school computing teachers and pair them up with existing computing teachers during the first year of teaching. So, my co-teaching this course helps me see how this will work.

There are 28 students in the class. As we often see in an AP CS A course the majority are white and male. There are nine females and three African Americans in the course. This course is in marked contrast to the Business Essentials course just before it that is 75% African American. The school is actually very diverse with 41.2% White, 35.3% Black, 12.3% Hispanic, 8.2% Asian and 3.3% other racial groups.

One of the things I would like to do this year is recruit a more diverse class for next year. I also would like the school to offer at least two sections for AP CS A next year. I expect demand for AP CS A to increase greatly in Georgia in the next few years since it counts as one of the four years of science starting with students who were freshman in 2008-2009.

Barb Ericson
CSTA Director

Posted by cstephenson at 12:45 PM | Comments (0)

August 26, 2009

Issues Old and New

Monday August 17th was *our* first day officially back with classes starting Thursday and, as usual, the new school year is raising many issues, some new and some not so new.

Like many CS educators, I am trying to learn how to do a number of new things at once. I will be teaching a course in C++ this fall, so I have been spending a lot of time in that world. But I am also trying to learn how to program the Google Android mobile phone, and that's done in Java (with a lot of XML files to specify colors, formats, and display). It's not easy switching back and forth from one to the other.

I am also working with an industry consortium here and with some of the local school districts in defining and advertising their IT and CS curricula. It's an old story, and a hard sell. As a discipline we suffer from the riches of too many job opportunities. The school administrators seem to want to go for the numbers count rather than quality, and thus emphasize all the things you can do with as little educational effort needed as is possible. As one of the corporate collaborators points out, though, upper management won't be coming from the group that didn't go to college or university.

A recent study of "persistence" puts university computer science students at the absolute bottom for retention from the first to the eighth semester at university. The 38% persistence for CS is worse than engineering, business, social science, and other science majors. What are we doing wrong? Are we getting the wrong set of students coming into our programs? Are they coming in not properly informed? Are we at the universities doing a bad job? Probably some of all of the above. This was a study over 17 years, so it's not *just* the dot com boom or the dot com bust. There is something clearly different about computing.

The more I see and think of these issues, the more I realize how important it is that we are clear in our message, and how the Level I, II, and III courses present that message. Computing technology is everywhere (the word I picked up from the CS & IT symposium this summer was "everyware"). But how do you distinguish those who are simply users of the technology from those who might know how to construct the next version of the software? In becoming universal, the IT business has become extremely broad, and it's hard to convey the breadth to prospective students. I keep going back to the nature of the Level II course, which would cover some of the major applications to which computing is put, and then look a little deeper into the technology necessary to make those applications actually work.

And this takes me back to programming the Android phone. A phone, with a complete browser capability built in, and that can also be programmed for games. It's very slick, and to make this work there must be a great deal under the hood that the better students, who might become computer science majors, need to be aware of even if they never actually program an Android. It is enough that they know of and understand the existence of these layers of software that distinguish a modern mobile device from a paperweight.

Duncan Buell
CSTA Board of Directors

Posted by cstephenson at 11:24 AM | Comments (0)

August 24, 2009

Capturing Students' Interest in Computer Science

Hardly a day goes by without one of my e-newsletters posting a feature about special programs designed to interest students (particularly young students) in pursuing a career in Computer Science and/or the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) fields. As a lifelong educator with a love of the STEM disciplines as well as of computer science, this is so gratifying to me! We certainly need to interest students in all of these career fields..all students, but particularly female and minority students.

One such summer opportunity for young people is a camp in South Florida that teaches elementary school children the basics of robotics and computer programming (two of my most favorite subjects). The camp is taught by a former high school physics teacher who hopes to better prepare the students for high school science. What a great way to interest these young people in science and computer science! And elementary school children are certainly not too young to develop such an interest.

A similar opportunity took place at McKinley Technical High School in Washington, D.C. This summer enrichment program involved middle and high school students who developed programming and modeling for a prototype of an educational computer game called Immune Attack 3.0. The group of students had used the video game to learn last summer. This summer the students were using their programming and modeling skills to help update the game. Again, what a great way to interest young people in Computer Science by making science and computer science more fun and engaging through the use of video games! More information can be found by following this link:


The University of Washington had an innovative summer enrichment academy. This academy introduces deaf and hard-of-hearing students to careers in computer science. The academy is a nine-week intensive program for outstanding math and science students in the 16- to 22-years old age group. The students who participated were from Arizona, Indiana, Maine, New York, Texas, and Virginia, as well as from Washington. The students lived on campus and took a college-level computer programming course. They earned a certificate in computer animation. The students communicated innovative ideas with American Sign Language during class. This program not only interests more young people in computer science, but it strives to diversify the computer science field. Further information about this academy can be found by following this link:


Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology in Terre Haute, IN, also conducted a summer education program called Operation Catapult. Thirteen rising high school seniors participated in a variety of hands-on projects and attended lectures on a variety of topics. Students completed projects in such areas as entrepreneurship, Python computer programming, and embedded microcontrollers. The program is in its 43rd year of enticing young people to enter STEM (and computer science) career fields. More information can be found by following this link:


Educators and computer science professionals alike understand the importance of capturing students' interest in computer science at a young age. IBM conducted a STEM Camp for Girls in Burlington, Vermont this summer. During the camp, 40 young women learned to build robots with Legos as well as to design Web pages. While having fun in engaging activities, the seventh-grade students were honing their math, science, and technology skills. The girls will return to the IBM facility in February for Job Shadowing Day. What a great idea! Not only are the students engaged in activities that will attract them to computer science, they will also learn more about the profession when they return during the work-based learning activity in February. Again, the enrichment program will interest a diverse group in pursuing a career in computer science. You may find further information about this program by following this link:


All computer science educators and computer science professionals should take note of these programs. The United States has a critical shortage of professionals in all STEM and computer science professions. Students who are engaged in authentic projects and applications of science, math, and computer science are far more likely to follow a career path into one of these fields. Women, minorities, and individuals with disabilities are underrepresented in the STEM and computer science fields. Summer enrichment programs, job-shadowing programs, mentoring programs, and partnerships between education and business and industry are all investments in young people that will produce a great return (more young people and especially those from underrepresented groups) seeking career paths in computer science.

Deborah Seehorn
CSTA Board Member

Posted by cstephenson at 02:20 PM | Comments (1)

August 20, 2009

The 2009 International Olympiad in Informatics

I recently had the pleasure of attending the 21st International Olympiad in Informatics (IOI), held in Plovdiv, Bulgaria from August 8th to 15th.

The IOI brings together some of the most talented high school programmers in the world (80 countries were represented) to take part two contests over two days, each five hours in duration. Each country has a "team" of four students but the contestants are assessed as individuals. This year there were four problems each day. Each problem is judged out of 100, so the total score is 800. Typically IOI problems can be very difficult and each problem has a memory and time limit. The students must use either Pascal, C or C++.

Students are usually identified through national programming competitions, and further trained by enthusiastic volunteers. The students must have attended high school September through December of the year prior to the IOI and must be under 20. Like all the Scientific Olympiads there are gold, silver and bronze awards, shared out among the top 50% of contestants. This year the cut off score for a bronze medal was 399 marks.

This year's event was held in perfect weather in the picturesque town of Plovdiv, with the award ceremony taking place in a Roman amphitheater which was only rediscovered 20 years ago. The students and leaders were treated to five-star accommodation, food and excursions to an aqua park and the Black Sea. All the expenses from registration/ arrival day through to departure day were covered by the Bulgarian organizers. It seemed that no expense was spared and the organization was superb. The contest days ran smoothly with all problems having been accepted by the leaders with no major objections and there were no major appeals with the judging.

Some countries traditionally do very well at this event, although such success doesn't necessarily seem correlated to the teaching of Computer Science, or those particular languages, in high schools. While the contestants sit the exams, the leaders attend a conference and some of the papers presented indicate that the difficulties CS teachers in high schools have are shared around the world. Most leaders are from Universities, but there is a sprinkling of high school teachers and we enjoy the opportunity to share our successes as well as frustrations. (And I was particularly flattered that one leader recognized my name as belonging to CSTA!!)

All in all a wonderful week and, dare I mention it, two New Zealand students gained bronze medals.

The full results and task descriptions and solutions are available on:


Margot Philllipps
CSTA International Director

Posted by cstephenson at 02:14 PM | Comments (0)

August 14, 2009

Connecting Colleges & High Schools

It's hard to believe that summer is almost over and classes will be starting soon for most of us. I'd like to introduce myself to the blog - I am Dave Reed, the new College Rep on the CSTA Board of Directors. I am computer science faculty at Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska, and come to the CSTA Board after finishing my term as Chief Reader of AP Computer Science.

For those of you who attended the CS&IT Symposium in Washington, D.C., I hope you were able to attend Steve Cooper's informative and entertaining session on funding for CS education. One of the points that Steve made, that I heartily concur with, is that many opportunities currently exist for connecting college and high school teachers. I know numerous college teachers who would love to network with their counterparts at local high schools - to share ideas and resources, or simply find kindred spirits interested in computer science education. Unfortunately, making the connection has not always been easy. Tenure-track faculty at colleges are often under pressure to do scholarship, and time spent away from research or direct student contact may negatively impact chances for promotion.

Two things have changed the culture of connection in the past few years.

1) One positive consequence of the drop in college CS enrollments is that college administrations are now more receptive to outreach. In addition to providing professional development for college teachers, partnering with high school teachers helps them to better understand the students that they are hoping to attract. Furthermore, introducing high school students to CS career opportunities and the specifics of their college program can be effective in raising the number of college CS students.

2) CSTA has stepped up and provided a simple but effective framework for building local networks. Forming a CSTA Chapter is a fairly straightforward task (see http://csta.acm.org/About/sub/CSTAChapters.html for details, or email chapters@csta.acm.org). Once formed, regular CSTA Chapter meetings provide a forum for interested college and high school teachers to get together. The CSTA Chapter Liaison will provide advice and support, and will even provide the chapter with contact information of local CSTA members.

So, if you are a high school teacher interested in knowing how to better prepare your students for college and/or CS careers, or a college teacher who would like the opportunity to better understand and attract high school students, I encourage you to look into organizing a CSTA Chapter.

Dave Reed (davereed@creighton.edu)
CSTA Board of Directors

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

August 12, 2009

Arbotics Workshop Provides New Tools to Engage Students

Summertime is a time to rest after a long school year. It's also a time to rejuvenate and breathe new life into your teaching by accessing professional development opportunities.

I had the opportunity to attend a two-day workshop offered by the University of Massachusetts in Lowell in June, called Artbotics. The idea behind Artbotics is to blend art and robotics, and in the process, promote computer science to students who otherwise might not see it as a relevant discipline.

The workshop was exciting, fun, and engaging. Using Cricket Logo and a SuperCricket device, we created interactive pieces of art that lit up and/or moved. The participants were varied - some folks taught art, others computer science. Middle school through university was represented. Everyone jumped right in, no matter what their background and creative and unique projects resulted. Even those people with little or no computer science background were able to write simple scripts that made their art come alive, showing me that this was a good way to make computer science more accessible to novices. It appeared as though people left motivated with ideas and ways to implement some of the ideas/curriculum into their programs.

I came away excited that I have another tool to engage my computer science students and to add relevance for them, especially my female students. In addition to teaching computer science, I teach art electives. Most of the students in my art electives are female. If I can hook one or two girls via this bridge between art and computer science, I will be happy.

For more information about Artbotics at UMass Lowell, see:


Karen Lang
CSTA Board of Directors

Posted by cstephenson at 11:26 AM | Comments (0)

August 10, 2009

Building Partnerships and Creating Community

Building community partnerships can impact a computer science program in many ways - seen and unseen. And there is motivation for such relationships on the part of community organizations such as colleges and businesses, as well as schools. Both have much to gain.

Building these community partnerships and creating "community" in CS education is the focus of the September issue of the Voice which you will be receiving in just a few weeks. In the Voice you will read about schools in Ohio, California, Washington, Pennsylvania, Illinois, and others that have created unique community relationships.

We would like to hear about your experiences with building partnerships.

Who is part of your "CS community?"

How has the partnership impacted the learning opportunities of your students?

What did you learn from the experience?

In addition to the success stories in the Voice, don't miss the latest CS Snipits podcast. Alfred Thompson has years of experience with building community partnerships as both an educator and as a K-12 CS Academic Relation Manager for Microsoft. He offers sounds advice on building these relationships and some "first steps" for getting started. Listen to Alfred at:


Pat Philllips
Editor, CSTA Voice

Posted by cstephenson at 12:35 PM | Comments (0)

August 07, 2009

The Worst That Could Happen

No doubt CS teachers in the USA are aware of the Julie Amero case, where the Connecticut substitute teacher was convicted on four counts of risk of injury to a minor or impairing the morals of a child when students in her class were exposed to pornographic materials that were somehow downloaded to her computer. So it may come as no surprise that a similar case has happened elsewhere.

A documentary (The Worst That Could Happen) has just been screened highlighting the case of a New Zealand primary school principal who lost his job and therefore income (and then his house) because pornography was downloaded onto his school laptop. The story seems all too familiar. The Board of Trustees of the school (the principal's legal employer) did not do a proper forensic investigation of the hard drive. They also misled him on the direction he should take (advising him to resign). The Teacher's Council (the body that certifies all New Zealand teachers) then threatened to take away his right to teach.

Voluntary help arrived in the form of forensic IT specialists, Warren Anderson and Skip Parker and a lawyer, Andrew Hooker, who all provided their time for free. This computer forensic team was able to show that the pornographic images were downloaded onto the computer by a trojan during a time that the principal could prove that he wasn't even at the computer. As a result, the New Zealand principal was able to keep his teacher registration (certification).

What has been happening in increasingly frequent similar cases has been compared to the Salem Witch trials. Certainly it would appear that totally innocent teachers are losing their livelihoods and professions through no fault of their own.

Julie Amero's treatment at the hands of the law was much more severe. The impact on her personal life was devastating. She lost her job, her health, and a longed for baby. When she was shown the documentary about the New Zealand principal, her reaction was: "He should run for the hills. No teacher should have a computer in their room." Given her experience, her advice is totally understandable.

But as CS teachers, this not advice we can take. It's also not advice we can ignore. Often the computing teacher is considered the school expert on all things computing so we need to be especially cognizant of these issues and as informed as we can be.

Thankfully, Warren, Skip and Andrew have produced a wonderful guide (which I have been lucky enough to see advance copy of) that guides everyone in the process (the teacher, the employer, and the IT Department) to ensure no evidence is destroyed and that the teacher involved is afforded natural justice. I'm sure once it is published, they would be happy for it to be made more widely available.

Margot Phillipps
CSTA Board of Directors

Posted by cstephenson at 12:20 PM | Comments (0)

August 04, 2009

Learning about New Resources

Sometimes there just isn't enough time in the day to get everything accomplished. It can be hard for me to balance my family, career, and personal life. So how can I find time to search for new resources that I need next month for the start of school? Here are a few of the resources than I am relying upon to get me started for the new school year.

CSTA Source: Have you checked it out lately? I have to admit that this was a resource that I had sparingly used in the past. Why? Well, I get into the pattern of using a new variation of lessons from last year. This year, I have changed jobs and there aren't any last year's lessons to rely upon. The CSTA Source is a great place to find new resources for the classroom. When was the last time you checked it out? Now might be a great time to add a resource of your own or search for a new one.

Social Networking Sites: It sounds strange, but you can use social networking to find resources for the classroom too. A friend of mine posted a status update that referred me to a Web site which helps to introduce students to algorithmic thinking. You might want to check it out at:


Another friend created a networking site for teachers to share ideas. I usually think of social networks as social communications tools but I am now finding them good for professional resources as well. By the way, did you know that CSTA is on Facebook? Just go to


and search for CSTA.

Blogs: Blogs are becoming more important to me. I have a few favorites that I follow and check periodically. The CSTA Blog is one that I follow more than others. Barb Ericson's blog entry from July 22 shares several online resources that will be of help to those of us returning to the classroom in a few weeks. It can be a great place for others to share their ideas too. Where do you find your resources?

Summer Activities: This is the time of the year that I think back to all the activities that I have participated in over the summer. I think back to the GameMaker:


session at CS&IT 2009:


by Fran Trees. This is an idea that I hope to use with my upper middle school students who have no previous programming experience. GameMaker makes it very easy for students to create interactive games.

My wife will be adding a standalone technology course to her elementary school this year. While at NECC, I saw previews of Kodu which will be great for her to use with her third through fifth graders. Kodu is a graphics based, drag and drop coding application that allows students to create games using the Xbox 360 system on the PC. While the classroom version of Kodu hasn't been released I have heard it is to be released sometime in August. You might want to check into it if you teach in an elementary or middle school classroom.

What are some of the things that you learned this summer and plan to take back into your classroom? I would love to hear about some of your experiences in the comment section. Remember, I too use this blog as a resource for my classroom ideas.

Dave Burkhart
CSTA Board of Directors

Posted by cstephenson at 12:11 PM | Comments (0)