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July 22, 2011

Sock Monkey and Michelle

Here is Sock Monkey with Michelle Hutton. Michelle is stepping into her new role as CSTA Past Chair after serving for two years as CSTA Chair (President). She will continue serving on the CSTA Board for another year and will be advising new CSTA Board Chair Steve Cooper.

Here Sock Monkey is thanking Michelle for all her years of service as a CSTA volunteer leader.


Posted by cstephenson at 01:58 PM | Comments (0)

July 18, 2011

Competitions Spark Fires of CS Enthusiasm

Students love competitions!

* Show off their skills
* Earn public recognition for their work
* Collaborate with other students
* Solve deep and typically meaningful problems

And teachers should love them too.
* Self-motivating activities
* Opportunity for developing problem-solving and team-work skills
* Combine a variety of student skills and knowledge
* Opportunities for differentiated learning
* Showcase your CS students
* Spotlight your CS courses and department

Competitions can be sponsored local within schools or districts, regionally by CSTA branches or colleges, nationally by organizations or companies, or internationally. The challenge is to learn about them in time to prepare and participate.

Summer is a great time to explore the possibilities and dig up the details on contests so your students will be ready to jump in when the details are announced for the next school year.

Please add to this list short list with the a few details about contests your students have participated in or others you know about.

* Bliink Web Design Competition www.bliinkcontest.com/
* Microsoft Imagine Cup www.imaginecup.com/
* NCWIT Aspirations in Computing www.ncwit.org/award/award.index.php
* TCEA Robotics Contest www.tcea.org/collaborate/robotics/Pages/index.aspx
* VisFest Film & Game Festival, Kent WA School District, www1.kent.k12.wa.us/KSD/IT/visfest/index.htm

What are your favorite student competitions?

Pat Phillips
Editor, CSTA Voice

Posted by cstephenson at 07:49 PM | Comments (1)

July 10, 2011

E-Books for Learning (Or Not)?

Summer is here. My textbooks are neatly placed on my bookshelf and my Kindle comes out. I rarely have time to pleasure read during the school year. What did I just write? It's true. I most often use paper textbooks for educational needs and e-books for pleasure. I have mixed feelings about e-books. I own and love my Kindle but I have been known to purchase a paper copy of a book I have on my Kindle for easier reference to diagrams and such.

Many of the texts I use in class are available to students in the e-book format. Some students take advantage of this offering. Many of the reference texts I list for students are free on-line texts. Personally, I find it cumbersome to read a Java program that is pages long "on a screen". With most e-books it difficult to print pages for easier reference.

In some CA school districts, e-texts have been used and administrators boast that "The greatest immediate observable result is how quickly the kids get engaged." Yet several university students believe that e-book devices are good if you're using them on "a beach or on an airplane," but "not fully functional for a learning environment."

I teach computer science. What does my ideal textbook look like? Ideally, it is an "interactive" e-book. I read sections, take self-check quizzes that give me immediate feedback, watch videos of algorithm animations, see diagrams of data storage, link to current events having that deal with computer science in the world today (I mean TODAY as in the day I am reading my text) , have the ability to highlight text and write in the margins, submit and/or answer questions to a blog or wiki, have the ability to print pages from the e-book, etc. Current technology provides all of this in different formats through different course delivery systems. I just haven't found MY ideal e-textbook yet.

In most K-12 school districts, this type of e-textbook might be somewhat of a dream. Providing access to e-book devices for every student is costly and districts are finding ways to cut costs. Access to on-line materials for current events is not permitted in many public schools.

But, wouldn't it be nice? Your thoughts on e-books?

Fran Trees
CSTA Chapter Liaison


Reading from paper versus screens: http://www.ischool.utexas.edu/~adillon/Journals/Reading.htm

Pros and Cons: E-books and E-book readers: http://nssea.wordpress.com/2009/08/07/pros-and-cons-e-books-and-e-book-readers/

Book Smarts? E-Texts Receive Mixed Reviews From Students: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970203577304574277041750084938.html

Tablets make digital textbooks cool on campus: http://www.usatoday.com/tech/news/2011-06-17-digital-textbooks_n.htm

Posted by cstephenson at 02:29 PM | Comments (4)

July 06, 2011

Making Changes in Response to Student Complaints

It is summer and time to reflect upon the past school year. Course evaluations are in, and provided some interesting insight into how my students perceived my class. The standard complaint is there. They don't like the language I use (Racket). But two other recurring themes appeared that will change the way I teach next year.

The first negative came from the weaker students; that I assumed they knew what programming is and that the start of the year went too quickly for them. I have the luxury at my school that all students (high school juniors) must take computer science. The students are all high achieving students, yet computer science is a new subject to the vast majority of them, and many are intimidated at the beginning of the year. So, I intend to slow it down in the fall.

The second complaint came mostly from the more advanced students, but I saw it in many of the evaluations, so it struck a chord. The students complained about my strict requirements for thorough documentation and complete testing of their functions. My usual reaction to this complaint is, "you'll thank me in ten years when you are out in the work world", but my reaction this year is that I might be turning some students off to computer science because I am battering them with the not-so-fun aspect of computer science. Since it is the first time many of my students have been exposed to computer science and to programming, I believe I have to focus more on the fun aspects of computer science, that is, the problem solving. It will be a shift for me, but I want my students to end the year thinking, "that was fun, I want more", rather than, "testing is unbearable, biology is looking good".

I intend to let them play more, explore, get joy out of seeing their program finally execute and find satisfaction in arriving at a good solution to a given problem. I think I’ll have more fun too! What about you?

Karen Lang
CSTA Board Member

Posted by cstephenson at 01:29 AM | Comments (2)