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August 29, 2011

Ethical Hacking

I attended the hackers convention in Las Vegas this month which was officially called DEFCON (DEFCON is military speak for Defense Condition) #19 (in its 19th year). Although the entire convention was interesting, the first-ever children's sessions (DEFCON Kids) were held at the convention. I attended these sessions which were really interesting and posed several questions for teachers of Computer Science to contemplate.

Representatives from Federal government such as the National Security Agency, Homeland Security, Navy, Air Force, NASA and National Defense University were present and not only held sessions regarding 'hacking', but provided children (I did get one of each of the materials) with materials and other information about what the process of hacking is, where hacking skills fit into government operations, and also the ethical import of hacking. The term "ethical hacker" perhaps is not an oxymoron.

I have attached a scan of the NSA (National Security Agency) children's booklet covers. here is the URL for DEFCON Kids:


The Info and Schedules/Classroom tabs have more details.

Several media have also can also published article on this issues, including related news articles from USA Today, Washington Post, PCWorld, PC Magazine, and TechNewsWorld .

One of the questions that kept coming up from some of those in attendance at the convention, especially teachers of Computer Science was whether there are or should be limits to the hacking skills we teach students. Learning to become a hacker, for example, entails learning how to to pick a lock. (There were lock picking kits with instructions available at the convention for purchase. I purchased one of those too.)

We know that there are future hackers in our classes. Do we teach and bring to student consciousness, a knowledge of ethics as it relates to Computer Science? And if yes, what is the instructional delivery method for doing that?

Gladys L. Phillips-Evans
CSTA Board Member

Posted by cstephenson at 06:13 PM | Comments (0)

August 25, 2011

What Does Auto-completion Say About You?

Word completion is a common feature in browsers and other text entry tools. When you begin the entry of a frequently-used word, the computer automatically completes it, or proposes a list of choices (Wikipedia). Code completion is welcomed by many of us in our Java IDEs. Well, email has this auto-complete feature as well. A colleague of mine did this little exercise and it was very clear that he was working way too much!

What does YOUR email auto-complete feature say about you? Try this little experiment: In the "To" field in a new email message, type each letter of the alphabet, one letter at a time. Choose the first option of the auto-complete choices offered by your email software.

What does your final distribution list look like?

What does it say about you? My list is below.

It clearly indicates the importance of CSTA!

A: Angie Thorn, CSTA Ohio President
B: Bergman, Doug, CSTA South Carolina President
C: Chris Stephenson, CSTA Executive Director
D: Bergman, Doug (again)
E: my 'spouse'
F: Fran Trees (myself-when I get bored, I guess I talk to myself!)
G: Ria Galanos, CSTA Georgia President
H: Henry Vo, CSTA Texas Greater Houston Area President
I: personal friend
J: Joe Pistone, CSTA San Diego, CA President
L: Lance Pederson, CSTA Alberta, Canada Secretary
M: colleague
N: Steve Nicollerat CSTA Missouri President
O: personal friend
P: Joe Pistone (again)
R: Rebecca Dovi, CSTA Central VA President
S: Susy Johnson, CSTA Colorado President
T: Tammy Pirmann, CSTA Southeastern Pennsylvania President
U: Chinma Uche, CSTA Connecticut President
V: Henry Vo (again)
W: Chris Winikka, CSTA Oregon Past President
Y: Don Yanek, CSTA Chicago, Illinois President
Z: Julie Zelenski, CSTA Silicon Valley California Past President

If you are not a member of a CSTA chapter, you can find the email addresses of most of the CSTA folks listed above on our CSTA chapter page (http://www.csta.acm.org/About/sub/CSTAChapters.html).

What does your email auto completion say about you? Have some fun! Share a summary of YOUR results! (Oh, there are ways to control the suggestions. Google "Auto complete email.")

Fran Trees
CSTA Chapter Liaison

Posted by cstephenson at 11:59 AM | Comments (0)

August 23, 2011

AppInventor Goes to New Home

My heart sank a few weeks ago when Google announced that they would be dropping AppInventor as part of their decision to get rid of Google Labs. Like many of you, I found it to be a great tool for teachers and students alike. I had already been planning many of my workshops around it- not just as 'a' tool, but 'the' tool for the workshop. Then all of a sudden my plans came to a screeching halt! A bunch of thoughts and questions came to mind such as "What? For Real? How could they?"

So, it should come as no surprise that I was elated, happy, breathing a sigh of relief, jumping for joy, and all round excited to hear that Google had actually given AppInventor to MIT hand it will now become as part of MIT's Center for Mobile Learning.

Once I got out of joyous stupor, I realized there is something bigger going on here though. AppInventor is a good thing! People like it. And someone(s) were willing to do something about that. There is a community of people who support something and care about something. And we care about you caring about it!

So, we want to hear what you are doing and what some of your favorite AppInventor projects are!

Post below and share the wealth!

Help us make new fans of AppInventor so we can keep it around for many years to come!

Mindy Hart
CSTA At-Large Representative

Posted by cstephenson at 11:02 AM | Comments (1)

August 17, 2011

CSEd Week: The Power of Numbers

Mark the calendar, gather up resources, and make some plans!

Computer Science Education Week (December 4th through 10th) is the opportunity to be part of a unified force of CS teachers across the US and around the world to impact CS education.

What did you do last year?
What ideas do you have for this year?

We would love to hear about your 2010 CSEd Week successes, how you plan to build upon them this year, or your great new ideas for CSEd Week 2011. A few stories will be selected to feature in the November issue of the CSTA Voice newsletter.

You will find posters, flyers, classroom activities, videos and more on your own CSTA website:


If you are looking for ideas and resources, check out the CSEd Week website:


On the "Pledges" page you can read about these cool projects and many more!

  • Vicki Coffman (Dulles HS, TX): Pictorial CS history display outside of library.
  • Shannon Henderson (Kentwood HS, WA) Lunch time student demonstrations of their games/CS projects.
  • Evelyn Williamson (Norfolk Technical Center, VA) A school visit by middle school students to work hands-on with work with students in the CIS and Webmaster classes.
  • Crystal Furman (Brookwood HS) A school-wide scavenger hunt for GridWorld Critters in which students get a treat when they return them to the CS classroom.
  • Joshua Paley (Henry M. HS, CA) A fieldtrip to UC-Berkeley's CS Education Day for presentations on animation, games, and robotics.
  • Oladapo Adefilola (Regal College, Nigeria) A speech contest on the importance of ICT/Computing in the development of Nigeria as a nation.
  • Jane Krauss (NCWIT) Blogged about ways to encourage computational thinking through real-life projects.
  • Michele Leonard, Parent and National Center for Women and Information Technology, is going to wow my daughter's Brownie troupe with the card trick and sorting exercises outlined in CS Unplugged!
  • Cathy Ngo (Brownie Leader, 2nd graders) Teaching Brownies about data with secret codes that encode the phrase, "Brownies can do anything!"
  • Nayda Santiago (University of Puerto Rico) Sponsoring a contest for students to create their own song/dance/poem/promotional piece that promotes CS to middle/high school students and post them on YouTube.
  • Anna Alfano (Canada) Showed the CSTA CSEdweek videos in the cafeteria during lunch periods.
  • Leisa Thompson (NCWIT) Included a message within her email signature to promote CSEd Week.

    Tell us about CSEd Week in your school!

    Pat Phillips
    Editor, CSTA Voice

    Posted by cstephenson at 06:33 PM | Comments (3)

    August 13, 2011

    Free Course Gives Rise to Interesting Questions

    A colleague of mine, Sebastian Thrun, has decided that education should be free and open to all. Just over a week ago, he created a website:


    and has already had several thousand people sign up for an introductory artificial intelligence (AI) course he is teaching this fall. Of course, by only offering "instructor certificates", there is really nothing at stake for the online participants, so that cheating should not be a problem. But the reality is that participants will learn a "real" AI course, taught from some of the best AI researchers/teachers in the world.

    Will such an approach "work" at the collegiate level?

    What does it mean for this class to be successful with respect to the thousands of online participants?

    Should/could real credit be given, and if so, how might one assess student work?

    What are possible implications for K-12 CS education?

    Can we teach students to program in a non-apprentice-based approach?

    Steve Cooper
    Chair, CSTA Board of Directors

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

    August 12, 2011

    Summer Professional Development

    This summer I was able to attend three Computer Science conferences this summer which were CS4HS:


    at two different locations and CS & IT:


    CS4HS is offered at several different college and university campuses throughout the world and is sponsored by Google. CS & IT is the annual conference organized by CSTA that "provides professional development opportunities for high school and middle school computer science and information technology teachers". This year the sponsors were Microsoft Research, Google and Anita Borg Institute.

    The first CS4HS I attended was on the Cal Berkeley campus and hosted by Dr. D. Garcia. To attend a CS4HS held in the state where I am teaching was definitely an advantage. The conference attendees educated me about websites that are only available for California teachers. One website was Calaxy which hosts a website of tools and free Moodle hosting. I had been using Moodle but my current host informed me that they would begin charging for the service so this was a website I definitely did investigate. Additionally, I entered into a discussion about recruiting and was given a suggestion about using my students to recruit students through their membership in ethnic clubs on my campus. I also learned about BYOB which is an extension of Scratch. I have been practicing with BYOB this summer to use with my students when school begins in a few weeks.

    The second CS4HS I attended was on the Carnegie Mellon (CMU) campus and hosted by Tom Cortina. The participants were treated to: An introduction to AppInventor, a presentation from Eric Nyberg about Watson, a hands-on presentation about Finch Robots


    introduction to CS Unplugged activities and a presentation about Raptor (a free flowchart interceptor):


    I purchased a Finch Robot and plan to have my Data Structures students review Java with the Robot and I plan to use Raptor to have students verify their logic.

    Finally, I traveled from CMU to New York for the CS & IT Symposium. The conference was held over three days. The first day, the attendees could choose at most two workshops, the second day the attendees could choose at most four sessions and the third day the scheduled included 3 speakers and entrance to the Imagine Cup.

    In the morning I attend the workshop about BYOB. Dr. Dan Garcia and Josh Pauley presented a hands-on workshop about BYOB. If you haven't had an opportunity to try out BYOB, it is a free download from:


    The site also has links to the slides from the conference and sample lessons.

    The afternoon session I attended was trying out some labs using AppInventor presented by Hal Abelson, Betsy Dillard, Pauline Lake, Ralph Morelli, and Chinma Uche. You can download a copy of the slides from the presentation from the CSTA website.

    The second day of the conference began with a keynote speech by Douglas Rushkoff the author of Programmed or Be Programmed: Ten Commandments for a Digital Age. He was a very dynamic speaker and gave us some ideas to think about regarding the web and how we are manipulated by it. The closing keynote speaker was Ken Perlin, Professor of Computer Science NYU Media Research Lab and Director, Games for Learning Institute. He was another dynamic speaker who discussed, among other things, using Kinect to communicate with a computer.

    I also attended four great sessions during the day. You can review the slides of the sessions on the CSTA website as well as slides and videos from previous CS & IT Symposiums. In addition, Alfred Thompson:


    and Doug Peterson:


    discuss their experiences at CS & IT on their blogs. Additionally, I exchanged contact information with other CS teachers. I hope to collaborate with them on lesson planning during the school year.

    Another source of PD for me is Twitter. Through Twitter, I discovered Socrative:


    It is a "smart student response system" using web enabled devices. I plan to use it for "Checking for Understanding" and Exit Slips.

    Finally, my next step then is how to incorporate what I have been exposed to this summer into my computer science curriculum. That is the best part of summer professional development, relating it all back to the students.

    What PD have you participated in this summer?

    Myra Deister
    CSTA Board of Directors
    At-Large Representative

    Posted by cstephenson at 01:00 PM | Comments (0)

    August 08, 2011

    Exploring Collaborative Opportunities for Students

    Recently, Stephanie Hoeppner, CSTA Ohio Vice President, and I met with Dr. Rob Williams at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, near Fairborn, Ohio, to learn about a program that Wright-Patterson is currently conducting with high school and undergraduate students. The program is summer based and centers around research projects in Virtual Worlds, Smart Phones, and Robotics. Dr. Williams is looking to expand the program to teachers and students during the school year through a virtual world which the students in the summer program have developed.

    This exciting program opens up connections between the computer science classroom and the work world. Students in the program work with mentors from the Air Force Base to create applications which might be of interest to the Air Force. CSTA Ohio is currently working with Dr. Williams to find CS teachers who might like to work with Dr. Williams on a collaborative effort which could bring this program to others areas of the state during the school year. Participants in the no cost program could participate during the school day or as an afterschool activity.

    As CS teachers come in contact with exciting opportunities such the one mentioned above, we need to share the ideas with others within our community. While this program is currently localized to Ohio, there may be others who could bring a similar program to their area providing more opportunities for CS students.

    What collaborative opportunities for CS students exist in your area? The CSTA Blog is a great site to gain attention within the CS community about the programs being conducted in your area.

    Dave Burkhart
    Governance Task Force Chair

    Posted by cstephenson at 03:37 PM | Comments (0)

    August 04, 2011

    Sock Monkey and Computer Science Advocacy Specialists

    The CSTA Computer Science Advocacy Specialists play a huge role in advocating for K-12 computer science education at the state and national level.

    Here is Sock Monkey helping Computer Science Advocacy Specialists Stephanie Hoeppner with some brainstorming.


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

    August 01, 2011

    Is Computer Science Antithetical to the Liberal Arts?

    Many of us who teach college level computer science have been happy with the latest news about computing and IT related jobs. With the promise of fast growth in these job areas through at least 2018, we can expect to see our enrollments increase. And hopefully this will be the end of the spate of CS department closures that has been the response of some colleges to the current tight economic situation.

    At the same time, those of us who teach CS in liberal arts colleges sometimes have to argue vociferously for our place at the table. We've been challenged by colleagues and administrators. How dare we bring something so "vocational" into the liberal arts setting?

    A commentary in the Christian Science Monitor


    argues for the value of a liberal arts education. One key point: employers want to see analytical thinking, teamwork, and communication skills. These are all things that we focus on at liberal arts institutions, particularly the smaller colleges. Another key point: students need to graduate with "transferable skills" so that they will be able to adapt to a changing job landscape.

    I would add to this my own view that it is precisely CS students and those students who have experience with applications of computing in their own disciplines who are best prepared to adapt to the technology driven developments we will continue to witness in the coming years and decades. They will be well prepared to offer up innovative solutions to difficult problems. Consider disease spread, drug development, and the push to digitize medical records. A biology student who has experience with computing, who has taken courses in visualization, modeling and simulation, and bioinformatics will better understand and contribute to progress in these areas than will the student whose curriculum has remained static. The medical researcher whose undergraduate exposure included computing will be well equipped to collaborate with the computer scientist whose undergraduate exposure included bioinformatics. The interdisciplinarity, cross-fertilization, and critical thinking that are hallmarks of a liberal arts education will create graduates who are ready to embrace technology and utilize it to advance a host of fields.

    Valerie Barr
    Computational Thinking Task Force Chair

    Posted by cstephenson at 05:43 PM | Comments (1)