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December 28, 2010

Where in the World (of Career Clusters) is Computer Science?

Since I have spent most of the last twelve months of my work life aligning the proposed revision to our standard course of study to the career clusters, I seem to frame many of my thoughts around those career clusters. I can't help but try to put the entire career cluster initiative into perspective, and I wonder, where in the world of career clusters is computer science?

I have positioned the information technology courses in our standard course of study in the Information Technology Career Cluster:

  • programming courses in the Programming and Software Development Pathway;
  • Multimedia and Webpage Design and e-Commerce courses in the Web and Digital Communications Pathway; and
  • network administration courses in the Network Systems Pathway.

    Those are information technology courses, but are they not computer science? Is the Information Technology Career Cluster the home for computer science?

    I championed Valerie Barr's December 2, 2010 blog post and wholeheartedly agreed with her statement "We need to raise our voices to demand that the term STEM, when used by government people, must include computer science." STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) is actually one of the sixteen career clusters and computer science would by its very nature be a huge part of STEM. Since so many people in positions of authority strongly support the STEM initiative, one would logically hope that the same support would transfer to support for computer science.

    So, is the STEM Career Cluster the home for computer science? That would certainly seem a good place for computer science to reside. In our state, the Technology Education folks staked an early claim on in the STEM Career Cluster. They do have technology in their program name and they certainly teach technology in their courses. They even teach robotics and scientific visualization. Well, aren't robotics and scientific visualization computer science?

    One could argue, and I certainly agree, that computer science cuts across all sixteen career clusters. Computer science is obviously present in the Health Sciences Cluster in the Health Informatics Pathway as well as others. Computer science has a place in the Business, Management, and Administration Cluster in the Business Information Management Pathway, the Operations Management Pathway and elsewhere. Computer science is an integral part of every career in the 21st Century and beyond.

    One of the drawbacks that I noted early on in the career cluster initiative is that today's careers are so interrelated. It is difficult to pigeon-hole careers and disciplines into sixteen neat categories. Computer science is ubiquitous. It is the literacy for our time. Every student needs to study computer science in some format to be career-ready. Where in the world of Career Clusters is computer science? It is everywhere, in every cluster.

    Note: "The States' Career Clusters Initiative (SCCI) is an initiative established under the National Career Technical Education Foundation (NCTEF) to provide Career Clusters as a tool for seamless transition from education to career in this era of changing workplace demands. SCCI helps states as they connect career technical education (CTE) to education, workforce preparation, and economic development. To this end, SCCI develops new products and promotes information-sharing, techniques, and methods to aid the development and implementation of Career Clusters within states."

    More information can be found at http://www.careerclusters.org/index.php.

    Deborah Seehorn
    CSTA Board of Directors

    Posted by cstephenson at 11:53 AM | Comments (1)

    December 22, 2010

    CSEdWeek and Beyond

    Last week was an awesome week for Computer Science Education. A total of 1,693 people took the pledge on CSEdWeek.org to share information, participate in activities and spread the word of the essential role computing and Computer Science Education has in our society. Teachers participated in classroom activities, students designed websites and participated in field trips, and guest speakers tapped into the minds of middle and high school students. So what now? It does not have to end there.

    The United States House of Representatives endorsed December 5-11 as Computer Science Education week, however there are ways to advocate all year. Use last week as a momentum to develop programs, host industry partners, create a local task force and get things started in your area. I have provided a list below of suggested steps being used by CSTA's Leadership Cohort. You can select one to two items in support of Computer Science Education. Get on board! Contact the CSTA Leadership Cohort member for your state to begin the process of collaborating in efforts to gain support in your local area.

    Suggested Items:

  • Speak with a principal about supporting CS

  • Speak to parents about supporting CS

  • Speak to PTA about supporting CS

  • Host a school CS open house

  • Attend local CSTA chapter meetings

  • Send letter to state policymaker about supporting CS education

  • Call to state policymaker about supporting CS

  • Host state official at school

  • Call to local industry representative about supporting CS

  • Meet with local industry/business representative about supporting CS

  • Call a local higher education institution's computer science department (community or four year institution) about supporting K-12 CS
  • Computing in the Core released the Top 10 facts about Computer Science Education. These are great talking points to share during your journey.

    Advocacy Resources:
    Computer Science Teachers Association
    Computing in the Core

    Computer Science Rocks!

    Shemeka D. Shufford
    Board of Directors

    Posted by cstephenson at 01:05 PM | Comments (0)

    December 20, 2010

    Learn C# Programing in a Social Gaming Environment

    Check out Pex for Fun (http://bit.ly/PexLearn) for a challenging and engaging way for students to practice their programming skills. Pex for Fun enables programming in C#, Visual Basic, and F# right within the web browser.

    Students can write your own code and immediately check the results in order to:

  • Learn programming concepts
  • Practice your coding skills
  • Analyze the behavior of code interactively
  • The Coding Duels add another level of engagement with interactive puzzles in which the task is to implement the Puzzle method to have exactly the same behavior as another secret Puzzle method. There are over 200 of built in puzzles and coding duels, many rated by users.

    On the site you will find instructional video tutorial and plenty of teaching resources. There are even a few short "courses" that keep track of student progress as they learn C# and other CS concepts. The course starts with the traditional Hello World program and guides you through the language constructs all the way to Exception Handling.

    All and all, a worthwhile browsing, playing, and learning activity for CS students.

    Pat Phillips
    Editor, CSTA Voice

    Posted by cstephenson at 12:34 PM | Comments (0)

    December 16, 2010

    CS Ed Week a Success!

    The 2nd annual Computer Science Education Week (CSEdWeek) wrapped up last week, and thanks to some incredible partner support and engagement from the computing community it was a smashing success. With a new website providing targeted resources and more than 270 CSEdWeek-related events and activities we were able to engage students, parents, teachers and the computing community around the world.

    What started out last year as an idea by Professor Joel Adams (Calvin College) has grown into a full fledged community effort supported by the United States Congress. This year's effort, Chaired by Debra Richardson (one of the authors of this article), was a collaborative effort of the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM), National Science Foundation (NSF), Computer Science Teachers Association (CSTA), National Center for Women & IT (NCWIT), WGBH, Computing Research Association (CRA), Anita Borg Institute for Women in Technology (ABI), Microsoft, Google, SAS, Intel, and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). CSEdWeek is also a major awareness building activity of a new coalition called Computing in the Core, a non-partisan advocacy coalition of associations, corporations, scientific societies, and other non-profits that strive to elevate computer science education to a core academic subject in K-12 education.

    This year we asked the computing community and our partners to get out in their communities and spread the word about the impact of computing and the dire need for better computer science education. They answered the call. We had a diversity of pledges from around the world to hold events and carry out activities. Here is a small sampling:

  • The University of California, Berkley hosted more than 250 students at an all-day event featuring activities and speakers

  • In Woodridge, Illinois a teacher launched a tech club in her junior high school.

  • Microsoft in Cambridge, MA hosted 50 technology- and accounting-focused high school students.

  • A K-12 teacher in India conducted an activity called Inter-House Computer Science Quiz, which was designed by students to test the level of computer science knowledge in high school students.

  • The ACM Student Chapter at The City University of New York (CUNY) visited the CUNY High Performance Computing Center.

  • Multiple campuses of the University of Toronto hosted approximately 340 9th grade students and their teachers for a full-day event exploring computer science with hands-on workshops and large-group sessions.
  • The Canadian universities were particularly active, with more than 25 campuses hosting CSEdWeek events ranging from computing camps to public videos and various student competitions to CSUnplugged sessions.

    We also saw some major national coverage of CSEdWeek this year. The White House blog featured CSEdWeek as story of the week  and tweeted a celebratory message in binary! The US Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, highlighted CSEdWeek on his blog. And our major corporate partners spread the word with Microsoft's CTO, Google's Director of Education, and SAS's CEO highlighting computer science education week to their employees, customers, and the public at large.

    CSEdWeek received almost 1700 pledges of support from 45 states in the US (in addition to DC, Guam and Puerto Rico) and 34 other countries. 45% of the pledges came from Massachusetts and California, while the highest pledging cities included Marlborough and Shrewsbury, Massachusetts and Irvine, California. Over 33% of the support pledges came from K-12 students, 17% from college students, and 15% from K-12 teachers. These statistics indicate that we achieved our goal of engaging students and teachers as well as the computing community around the world.

    These were all noteworthy accomplishments for CSEdWeek, which is really still in its infancy, but our work isn't over. We need the computing communities support and engagement over the next 12 months in building to next year's celebration to make it even bigger. There a few things you can still do to support CSEdWeek:

    Thank you to all those involved in this year's celebration, and we look forward to even bigger and better CSEdWeek in 2011!

    Debra Richardson
    Chair, Computer Science Education Week 2010
    Chair, CSTA Advisory Council

    Cameron Wilson
    Director of the Office of Public Policy for ACM

    Posted by cstephenson at 12:59 PM | Comments (0)

    December 15, 2010

    They're not dumb. They're different. How do we keep them?

    One of my favorite little (really little) books, published in 1990, is Sheila Tobias' They're not dumb. They're different: Stalking the Second Tier. Yes. In 1990. In a related article, Tobias summary of her work states:

    Unappealing media depictions of science discourage women and minorities from entering the field. In the author's opinion, college-level science teachers should take responsibility for the high dropout rates in science programs (40% of students drop out of the sciences after the first course taken; 40% more leave before graduation). And key to salvaging the "second tier" of students, she claims, is the following: 1) Engaging teaching practices, 2) Efforts towards recruitment and retention, 3) Increased dialogue and demonstrations in class, 4) Greater emphasis on independent thinking and context, 5) Encouraging cooperation rather than competition among students.

    Her work with college students revealed that only 31% of students who drop out of science majors in college do so because the courses are too difficult. The greatest percentage of students leaving the sciences (43%) leave the field because they find other subjects "more interesting."

    Although Tobias' work was specific to science, as I read the book and the related articles, I related them to computer science. Some of my best students are art majors and theater majors and music majors. It's my responsibility, as a computer science teacher, to make sure they do not drop computer science because their other classes are more interesting. In fact, I find it refreshing, although sometimes challenging, to have a diverse classroom population (diverse in interests).

    I immediately recalled Tobias' work when a colleague shared a November 2010 article from Wired: Clive Thompson on Coding for the Masses. Here are some excerpts:

    ".... He was a creative-writing major at the University of San Francisco, not a programmer. But he'd enrolled in a class where students were learning to use Google's App Inventor, a tool that makes it pretty easy to hack together simple applications for Android phones by fitting bits of code together like Lego bricks."

    "A grassroots movement is creating tools that let even liberal arts majors hack together a program."
    "Got a problem you need to solve? When you can program it yourself, there's always an app for that

    So, how do you make sure your students do not drop computer science because their other classes are "more interesting?" Have an app for that?

    Wired article: http://www.wired.com/magazine/2010/11/st_thompson_wereallcoders/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+wired%2Findex+%28Wired%3A+Index+3+%28Top+Stories+2%29%29

    They're not dumb. They're different. A new "tier of talent" for science. (summary of article in Change, 1990: http://www.cirtl.net/node/5534
    They're Not Dumb, They're Different: Stalking the Second Tier. http://www.amazon.com/Theyre-Not-Dumb-Different-Occasional/dp/0963350404

    Fran Trees
    CSTA Chapter Liaison

    Posted by cstephenson at 10:11 AM | Comments (0)

    December 14, 2010

    Lady Gaga and Computer Science

    Recently I heard a British author on the radio lamenting that the world is more obsessed with what Lady Gaga wears (I would think it probably goes beyond her clothes!) than that the oceans are dying. How to turn that around? I don't believe that young people are less idealistic than when I was young. So how do we transform that youthful obsession into action?

    On a recent trip to the U.S., I saw a program on California schools taking students to glean a harvest (collecting the undersize, misshapen, slightly spoiled produce). The produce that the students collected was subsequently used in the school cafeteria to provide nutritious meals for the students. The farmers were happy, the students and teachers doing the gleaning were happy, and the whole school population benefited through healthier eating. Clearly this experience went far beyond the Lady Gaga range of engagement.

    There is an opportunity to appeal to the more altruistic side of our students through computer science. The series of videos produced for CS Ed week (http://csta.acm.org/Advocacy_Outreach/sub/CSEdWeek.html) showcased the diversity of endeavours using and dependent on computer science. It would be great to build on that and reinforce the message that CS can be linked to doing good and solving the world's problems.

    I remember trying to convince a couple of girls who were in my programming club to take computer science as a subject the following year. "But I want to be a doctor", "I want to do things for others" were their responses. I clearly did a poor job of letting them see that CS was in fact a means to bettering society.

    It takes imagination and energy on our part as educators to go beyond, for example, the teaching of syntax or hardware specs. I heard recently of a volunteer program in Canada, for example, that uses Alice to help native students tell their history and incidentally learn to program. The volunteers are modeling the altruistic nature of education and helping students realise that their history is valued and valuable.

    So the challenge is there for all of us. How can we use this amazing discipline we teach to excite the minds of young people to be more interested in saving the oceans, saving lives, saving the planet?

    If you have any ideas or suggestions, please share them.

    Margot Phillipps
    CSTA International Director

    Posted by cstephenson at 11:19 AM | Comments (3)

    December 08, 2010

    CS&IT Workshops

    Some of the most popular activities at CS&IT conferences in past years have been mini-workshop sessions - in-depth, hands-on sessions where attendees could learn about teaching tools, new pedagogies, funding opportunities, or whatever. Unfortunately, attending one of these sessions meant missing out on other talks taking place at the same time.

    To help address this, the upcoming 2011 CS&IT conference, to take place July 11-13 in New York City, is expanding to include a full day of workshops. The call for proposals will be coming out soon, but it's not too early to start thinking about taking your innovative ideas and practices and developing them into a CS&IT workshop.

    In the meantime, I'm curious what characteristics you look for in a workshop. Think about the best workshops you've attended:

    How were they structured?

    Did you leave feeling you had a blueprint of something you could apply, or was it more the inspiration that the workshop provided?

    Likewise, what characteristics kill a workshop, turning it into hours of pain and tedium?

    Are there particular topics you would like to see covered at a CS&IT workshop this summer?

    Inquiring minds want to know!

    Dave Reed
    CSTA Board of Directors

    Posted by cstephenson at 05:47 PM | Comments (1)

    December 07, 2010

    Computer Science Education Week is Here!

    We are now in the middle of Computer Science Education Week 2010 (December 5 to 11, 2010). What plans to you have to involve your school in this historic event?

    If you are still looking for some ideas, you might check out the Computer Science Education Week web site at:


    This web site is host to a collection of resources for you to use in promoting computer science education within your school community.

    And if you are planning an event, be sure to join educators, students and supporters all over the world and take the pledge.

    nother great idea for those schools with live announcement programs is CSTA's CS Ed Week videos. These videos can be found on the CSTA web site at:


    The videos are great two minute commercials to promote CS Education to your students. They can be downloaded in QuickTime or Windows Media Player versions for use with in-house video productions and broadcast out to the entire school. The set of five videos were produced by the University of California Irvine (UCI) for CSTA. CSTA would like to thank Debra Richardson, Bobby Farmer and the students of UCI for their great work on this project.

    So what other ideas do you have on promoting CS Education in your school that you could share here with others?

    Dave Burkhart
    CSTA Membership Chair

    Posted by cstephenson at 12:58 PM | Comments (0)

    December 02, 2010

    Talking Across the K-12/Post Secondary Boundaries

    This post is based on remarks I gave at the Town Hall session on K-12 CS-Ed at the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing, Atlanta, October 1-2, 2010.

    My job here today is to make a case for talking across boundaries within the context of K-12 CS education, to make the argument that the complex problem of changing K-12 computer science education is best addressed by the combined forces of K-12 teachers AND college and university faculty AND people who work in the computing industry. We need to do a lot of talking across perceived boundaries, and make sure we do it effectively, along the way letting go of any suspicion, any disdain, any fears we have of the other. In particular, there are times when college people can be paternalistic and dismissive in comments about and treatment of K-12 teachers. Instead, we all must be respectful of the knowledge and experience our colleagues bring. We have to learn the meaning familiar terms have when they are used in a different context than we might be used to, learn the meaning of a new lexicon, and map known experiences and concepts into new venues.

    We can make big changes happen in K-12, especially if we all get together and work on it. But I have come to understand over the past year that it is complicated and change will be slow. There are really two parts to changing K-12 CS education: curriculum, of course, and infrastructure. And there are roles we can all play in both of those.

    For curricular change, the K-12 teachers know their students, their age groups, their grade band. They have a frame of reference that the rest of us don't have, and are often quite expert in student engagement and the use of a range of pedagogic practices. They can help college faculty be realistic about what we can expect from entering college students, what their knowledge base will be. As we develop better working relationships that span K-16, we can all contribute to a curricular continuum vis a vis computer science education.

    People in the academy or in industry must keep in mind that, even in tough economic times, you have institutional resources that K-12 teachers and schools do not have. Invite area K-12 CS teachers to your campus or company, provide breakfast or lunch, give teachers a chance to connect with each other and with you. Join CSTA yourself and encourage the area teachers to join. Encourage them to form a CSTA chapter. Offer them a place in which to hold chapter meetings.

    What's involved with infrastructure change? First of all, people outside K-12 need to understand that change has to happen state by state, and will likely require a different process in every state. We need to raise our voices to demand that the term STEM, when used by government people, must include computer science. We need to agitate for colleges to list high school computer science among the expected courses taken by applicants. We need to encourage states to allow high school CS courses to satisfy a requirement for graduation, as is the case in Georgia. We need to inform the appropriate officials in our states about the teacher education programs in Georgia and Indiana that lead to endorsements for teaching CS.

    When possible, take advantage of the opportunity to talk across groups. Discuss what the needs are in K-12 and how to help and how to ask for help. There are exciting efforts now underway: Exploring Computer Science is a wonderful high school CS curriculum developed in the Los Angeles Unified School District and available through the CSTA web site; keep an eye out for the new AP Computer Science course and test. The course is being prototyped this year at a number of schools, and there is also information on the CSTA web site about that effort; CS/10K is an effort to develop 10,000 high school CS teachers for 10,000 schools; another NSF effort is the solicitation released on Monday of this week, Computing Education for the 21st Century, which has a goal of engaging "larger numbers of students, teachers, and educators in computing education and learning at earlier stages in the education pipeline." NSF is looking for efforts that target middle school, high school, and the first two years of college so today's discussions are a great opportunity to begin to look for ideas and collaborators!; keep an eye on the Dot Diva / New Image for Computing (NIC) initiative, sponsored by WGBH and the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM), which is trying to create an exciting and positive image of computing for high school girls; check out National Lab Day and volunteer at a school near you; and lastly, help bring CS Ed Week activities into a school near you or into a school where you work in order to raise awareness of the role of computing and help increase student exposure to CS education.

    Finally, a few words directly to those of you who are not K-12 teachers.

    Consider some employment and salary data. Among women workers in the U.S. there are a lot of teachers. In fact, there are over 2 million women teaching in just elementary and middle schools. There are way fewer women in computer science and IT related jobs. But women in CS and IT jobs earn considerably more money than the teachers do, and more than half are among the top 10% of all full-time women earners in the country. In America, I think it is safe to say that the salary paid for a job category usually correlates with the prestige accorded to that job. The more you earn, the more prestige accorded to your job. The more prestige accorded to your job, the more people are likely to listen to you.

    Unfortunately K-12 teachers earn much less than they should, and are accorded much less prestige than they should be. I want to argue that those of us not in K-12 should go against the tide, and set an example by valuing the contributions of our colleagues in K-12. But we can also exploit the fact that people may be more inclined to listen to us because we have job titles like software engineer, or information systems manager, or network systems analyst, or professor. Use the bully pulpit you have by virtue of position to fight for K-12 CS education. Help in the trenches with technology and curricular issues. But also engage with the infrastructure issues. Be a voice for K-12 CS education within your technical community, and within your political community, your local school board, your state. For those of you in industry, communicate to your company about how they can have an impact, encourage them to give money and support to efforts that really make a difference, not just to easy feel good activities. Ask people from the K-12 world, in what ways could corporate support help them. Become informed through collaboration with K-12 educators. When you use your position to advocate for K-12 CS education, people will let you talk because you are a technical person with expertise, but they will really listen to you if you are informed by collaboration with K-12 educators and you are passionate, truly passionate, about K-12 CS Education.

    Valerie Barr
    CSTA CT Task Force Chair

    Posted by cstephenson at 06:02 PM | Comments (1)