« February 2011 | Main | April 2011 »

March 30, 2011

No More Excuses for Lack of Access

One of the concerns we frequently hear from our members is that administrators and policy makers are not convinced of the need for students to have access to rigorous computer science courses in high school. I think perhaps the best evidence for this need comes from industry.

The figures on jobs provide ample evidence of the growing need for highly skilled computer scientists. According the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the IT workforce has grown steadily:

  • As of May 2009 employment in the IT fields has increased and is significantly above the levels of the dot-com boom, 1999-2001.
  • The professional IT workforce added 316,520 jobs between 2002 and 2004, a significant turnaround from the period between 2000 and 2002, when the workforce shrank by 150,150 jobs.
  • The professional IT workforce has increased by 18.7 percent from 2000 to 2009, adding 559,480 jobs.
  • Between 2008 and 2018 the total US employment is projected to increase by 15.3 million jobs, or 10 percent, which is about the same as the 15.6 million jobs or 10 percent increase that was projected from 2006 to 2016. While overall job growth is expected to slow, the increasing retirement of the aging baby boomers is also expected to create a significant number of job openings (which are not counted in the projections of new jobs). Of these 15.3 million jobs, the professional IT workforce is projected to add a little under a million new jobs, (814,900) an increase of about 22 percent.

    But what is the connection to high schools? Recent information provided by Google and Microsoft indicates that exposure to computer science in high school is critical.

    In the summer of 2010 Google conducted a survey of a sample of its U.S. employees about their exposure to computer science prior to college. They compared the results of those who majored in CS in college to those who majored in another subject. Here are the key findings:

  • Nearly all CS majors (98%) reported being exposed to CS prior to college, compared to less than half of non-CS majors (45%). The nature of the exposure varied from reading about CS in books or online, after-school programs or summers camps, to middle or high school CS classes.
  • Those who went on to major in CS were more likely than non-majors to have had a CS class offered in their high school.
  • CS majors were more likely to have known that CS was a possible career path when they were in high school.
  • Based on these findings, Google concluded that exposing students to CS before college is crucial to growing interest and enrollment in computer science majors and careers.

    When I asked Kevin Schofield, General Manager for Strategy and Communications at Microsoft Research if this conclusion was consistent with Microsoft's employment research, Kevin said:

    Microsoft sees early exposure to computer science as critical to getting kids informed and excited about both the importance of CS to the national economy and the career opportunities it provides. The company supports thousands of its own employees to share their knowledge and expertise with local school districts as frequent visitors and speakers at schools through a program called EduConnect.

    Over the past few years Microsoft and Google have been extremely active supporters of CSTA's efforts to support and improve computer science education in K-12, precisely because they know that early exposure to CS is critical for students, for companies, and for the national economy.

    Maybe it is time for administrators and policy makers to be required to explain how they can continue to deny students access to critical skills and career opportunities.

    Chris Stephenson
    CSTA Executive Director

    Posted by cstephenson at 01:33 PM | Comments (1)

    March 29, 2011

    Spring is Here!

    The calendar has now reached the beginning of spring. With the arrival of the birds singing and flowers blooming also comes eighth graders and high school students choosing classes for the coming school year.

    Attracting students to Computer Science classes can be a challenge. Computer Science teachers are working against the stereotype that CS is geeky and only for boys. With school funding becoming an issue nationwide, keeping students enrolled in CS classes has become a possible lifeline for not only the offering of the classes but the teaching position.

    Where have seen success in attracting students to your CS classes? Share what works for you so that others can duplicate your success.

    Dave Burkhart
    CSTA Board of Directors

    Posted by cstephenson at 08:13 PM | Comments (0)

    March 24, 2011

    Putting Money Where it Counts: Teacher Salaries

    President Obama wants to spend $90 million on ARPA-ED, an Advanced Research Projects Agency for Education. The goal is to fund porjects that will "transform teaching and learning in ways similar to how the Internet, BPS, and robotics have transformed commerce, travel, warfare, and the way we live our daily lives." This is generally interpreted to mean "let's put more technology into education."

    My view? Before we put more technology into education, let's make sure that educators and the existing educational process are valued. Let's put $90 million (and then some) into increasing teacher salaries. If teachers were paid what some lawyers are paid (if teachers were paid even half of what some lawyers are paid!), we'd have amazing schools, and we'd turn out incredible students. All the cool technology in the world won't improve education if we don't have high quality well paid teachers delivering education in well supported schools.

    Valerie Barr
    CSTA CT Task Force Chair

    Posted by cstephenson at 01:17 PM | Comments (0)

    March 18, 2011

    What is the Big Deal With Java?

    What is the big deal with Java?

    I teach at a public school of excellence that can best be described as a magnet school for the state. We are currently in our recruiting season where we have information sessions and students visiting for the day. I feel like I am constantly on defense when I tell prospective students (and their parents) that the language we use in our course is Racket, formerly Scheme. I tell them the reasons why we use Racket: that it is an incredibly effective introductory language with simple syntax. I also explain that in their second year with us, when they are seniors taking courses at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, they will use Racket in their introductory freshman CS course. I explain that language is irrelevant, that what they are learning is how to problem solve using a particular tool. I tell them that they are 11th graders in high school and that they will have many years to learn many languages, but the concepts are what are important.

    Often, I experience the prospective student who has taught himself Java and has programmed numerous advanced programs. He looks at me dumbstruck, like I just dashed all his dreams by telling him he'll be learning an obscure language that is not used by Apple and Microsoft and Electronic Arts so why would it ever be useful.

    The students who seem to get the most out of the course are the ones who don't have any pre-conceived notions of programming, who have heard of Java and C++ but don't really have a clue what those terms mean. I think many of the experienced programmers just feel as if they are biding their time to get through my course in order to move on to the more mainstream languages they'll learn at WPI and in college. They don't see it as an opportunity to learn something new, but a penance they have to bear to move on. I do get the occasional uh-huh moment with some students when they finally see some of the benefits of a functional language like Racket. But those are few.

    What has been your experience with choosing a language to teach?

    I know introductory language choices are up for discussion on many CS education listservs.

    Do you have any thoughts on talking points that I can use with my students?

    Karen Lang
    CSTA Board of Directors

    Posted by cstephenson at 01:54 PM | Comments (6)

    March 09, 2011

    Top 10 Reasons Why You Should Attend (or Should Have Attended) SIGCSE

    Top 10 Reasons Why You Should Attend (or Should Have Attended) SIGCSE

    10. It has a long tradition (42 years to be exact!) of bringing together people from all around the world to discuss computer science education!
    9. Where else can you got that everyone laughs at quips such as "there are 10 types of people in this world..."?
    8. Everything is bigger in Texas!
    7. And in a similar vein... You do not want to mess with Texas by not coming to SIGCSE!
    6. Special tracks (and prices) just for K-12 teachers!
    5. Awesome Keynote speeches by Matthias Felleisen, Susan Landau, and Luis Von Ahn
    4. Two Words: Tex-Mex and Barbecue!
    3. For a large number of us... Better Weather!
    2. Great resources and ideas available for every interest!
    1. And the number 1 reason to attend SIGCSE 2011 is... (intentionally left blank for you to comment on your favorite things about SIGCSE)!

    Mindy Hart
    CSTA Board of Directors

    Posted by cstephenson at 12:06 PM | Comments (0)

    March 07, 2011


    I was inspired recently by the keynote speaker at a Computer Using Educators (CUE) conference that I attended near the end of first semester. The speaker discussed Visual Literacy and how its use can help students become more successful. One example that she demonstrated was a cube with 6 pictures about her niece. The demonstration was to show us how pictures can be powerful tools to help remember information.

    After viewing that example and the ability to recall several facts about the speaker's niece, I decided that I should have my students make cubes to help me learn about them and assist me in learning their names. Second semester I had a new group of students in my Visual Basic class so that would be perfect. I searched for a program that was free that I could have my students use. I found cu3ox which does not make a cube but does have some of the same features of a cube. I asked my students to create their "cube" and I demonstrated one that I had created. I have not had an opportunity to have the students show the class their cubes yet because 5 more students have been added to my class, but I do plan to have them show the class their cubes over the next two weeks. I am looking forward to learning more about my students.

    I was also inspired by the presenter to use more visuals. She stated that people process pictures 60,000 times faster than words. She recommended that we Velcro the words around the pictures. My Visual Basic class is very diverse with several English Learners and special education students. I will be preparing a presentation today to use as a review for the first unit that will include many pictures and screen shots spread out on many slides with very few words. I will show the presentation to the students over 2 days and the students will have the presentation available through the LMS to study and use as a reference for their review assignment. This is an experiment to see if they will be successful in learning the new vocabulary for the upcoming test.

    Where do you find inspiration? What has inspired you lately? Share your inspiration.

    Myra Deister
    CSTA Board of Directors

    Posted by cstephenson at 02:59 PM | Comments (1)