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October 31, 2011

Getting Ready for CS Ed Week

CS Ed Week is just around the corner, December 4 through 10, and now is the time to prepare for this week in celebration of Computer Science education and the impact of computing. I am serving on the CS Ed Week outreach committee and am excited to learn of the enormous amount of behind-the-scenes work that is going into making this a successful week.

The first thing you should do is go to the website www.csedweek.org and pledge your support. It's easy to do, and will help to increase the growing number of pledges on the site. Encourage your students, fellow teachers, and administrators to do the same. The website is full of useful information, well organized according to interest groups: K12 students, K12 teachers, parents and community, colleges and universities, and companies and professionals.

In the works for the site is an event planning toolkit to help you with the logistics of planning an event that week. But it's not too early to start to think about little things you can do, either within your classes, or within your school, to promote Computer Science education that week. A good place to start is to read the excellent article in the latest issue of the Voice that has ideas for how to participate, organized into length of time commitment.

Last year, my most successful event was a school alumni panel that presented how they use computer science and computational thinking skills in their current position. I put out a generic email to our alumni list and got an overwhelming response, so overwhelming that I could not accommodate all who responded. I even had several alumni on the west coast who were eager to talk to our students in Massachusetts. Everyone who contacted me was very excited about his/her career, how it related to computing, and each person was very enthusiastic about sharing his/her experiences with younger people. And the careers were varied. They included college professor, marketing professional, medical student, and software developer. It helped to make the case that all careers use computing skills and that learning computer science can be useful in so many occupations. I am hoping to make this an even bigger event this year, maybe like a science fair, where students can walk around and have conversations with alumni in there area of interest.

Any other great ideas for how to celebrate CS Ed Week? You can post them here, but post them on the CS Ed Week website too!

Karen Lang
CSTA 9-12 Representative

Posted by cstephenson at 05:16 PM | Comments (0)

October 27, 2011

A New Analogy

Last month I was able to attend a regional conference conducted by the National Girls Collaborative Project. The keynote speaker was Dr. Chris Sahley from Purdue University. She is a biology professor and Director of an NSF ADVANCE grant. The purpose of the ADVANCE program is to "increase the representation and advancement of women in academic science and engineering careers, thereby contributing to the development of a more diverse science and engineering workforce." Thus, her talk focused on the analogy of the still shrinking pipeline to get women into the STEM disciplines with Computer Science being one of them which is heavily hit.

She showed some of the historical data about women in STEM careers and then also showed that the need to increase the pipeline has been a long fought battle, with very little headway being made. She then proposed that perhaps we need a new analogy. The pipeline model may represent the lack of females in the STEM disciplines, but we certainly have not found a way to open that pipeline and clear the path.

So what analogy would you propose? With the rerelease of The Lion King, the natural analogy that came to me was one of the "circle of life." We raise up these girls who show promise, but when you least expect it, they get devoured by something bigger or unexpected. And the rest of the world goes on the same as it has been before, with little more than a moment's pause to reflect on the loss of another female who could have been a computer scientist.

Perhaps a bit dramatic? Maybe.

So what analogy would you propose?

Is there an analogy that captures the phenomena better than the pipeline?

Only with full understanding of the problem, can we ever begin to imagine a solution.

Mindy Hart
At-Large Representative

Posted by cstephenson at 11:19 AM | Comments (0)

October 24, 2011

Activities for CS Ed Week

CSEdWeek (December 4 through 10) is quickly approaching. This is an opportunity to spotlight your students and your program. Don't delay in making some plans and pledging your commitment at www.csedweek.org.

Every effort makes an impact. Activities can big or small, in your school or in the community, involve just a few or hundreds. You will find ideas to fit the time you have in the November issue of the Voice available online now at:

http://csta.acm.org/Communications/sub/CSTAVoice.html

You can participate with a 15 minute task as quick and simple as creating a CSEdWeek e-mail signature. It's easy! Visit www.csedweek.org and copy the image at the top of the page. Re-size it and add some accompanying text such as: "I support CSEdWeek.org. Ask me how you can support Computer Science education too."

Do you have 30 minutes? Check out the CS magic tricks.

www.sc4fn.org/magic

You will have fun impressing your students. Or you could create a fun CS student activity. Assign students to learn one of the magic trick on the site and then demonstrate to their friends or family along with an explanation of how it relates to what they are learning in computer science class.

In an hour you could contact your local school or government to ask for their support in having December 4 through 10 declared CSEdWeek or put up a display in the school hallway. Three hours is enough time to guide students in planning a classroom open house for parents or potential students, or organize a field trip.

Have fun planning CSEdWeek events. It is your time to shine!

Pat Phillips
CSTA Voice Editor

Posted by cstephenson at 02:29 PM | Comments (0)

October 21, 2011

Portals, Passwords, and Cloud Computing

Several of the Computer Science teachers in one district have established a portal which uses a "cloud concept" to provide information for parents of students in their classes. Some of the content is FERPA protected and in this particular district, there is also a strong Blackboard Connect system that is well used by parents. The issue that is hotly being debated is whether or not the teachers should distribute new passwords to parents to use this new portal. At this moment, there are no legal precedents for or against sending these passwords via email, but thoughts for and against doing this are starting to surface.

Any thoughts pro or con, or legal issues to look out for that may have been encountered elsewhere?

Gladys Phillips-Evans
CSTA Board Member

Posted by cstephenson at 04:05 PM | Comments (1)

October 19, 2011

Motivating Students and Teachers While Raising the Bar

During the past year, a good deal of my work time has revolved around revising our state Business, Finance, and IT Essential Standards. We have organized our standards around three of the States' Career Clusters: Business Management and Administration, Finance, and Information Technology. At the state level, we have really created a mind-shift for our administrators, teachers and students.

In the previous "Standard Course of Study" students were considered concentrators in our Business Technologies Pathway if they completed four courses, one of which was a second-level course. We had students becoming concentrators after completing Computer Applications I and II, and various other course offerings. Even though we ramped up our Computer Applications II course to focus on Multimedia and Webpage Design, we certainly were not preparing our students for life in the 21st Century. Needless to say, many teachers and administrators in our local school systems were not all thrilled with our new Essential Standards (even the name had changed!). Of course there were some who embraced the change.

My firm conviction that we were on the correct path was reinforced recently when I read an article about schools in the United Kingdom testing a new curriculum in which the students write their own computer software programs. The plan was to shift the IT curriculum away from computer literacy to software development and computational principles. How refreshing! I have long been an advocate that computer applications skills are productivity skills (that everyone needs to have) and they are NOT IT skills or knowledge. It's a hard sell when some teachers (and many students!) are quite comfortable with the productivity software products and activities. (You may read the entire U.K. article by following this link:

http://www.theregister.co.uk/2011/09/16/uk_school_it_curriculum_trials_teaching_students_to_code/

As part of our new state Essential Standards, I have been working with a team of teachers to revise our Computer Programming I and II courses. We have a decent enrollment in the first-level course, but the enrollment drops significantly for the second-level course. The revision is still a work in progress, but our plan is to offer computer programming basics in the first course and to teach the students Visual Basic programming. Students wishing to expand their knowledge during the first course can apply the knowledge and skills using C#.

We want to expose all the students to C# in the first course, because we plan to apply the knowledge and skills in the second course by teaching the students C# programming and XNA Game Studio. Hopefully, this will entice the students to continue with a second programming course. (Students can also choose to study SAS Programming after completing the first-level course.) Students who complete the second course will have a good foundation to succeed in AP Computer Science. And, the teachers teaching in the pilot of the new courses are quite excited, and that's a big step in the right direction.

Our state has formed a partnership with Microsoft, and our former Computer Applications courses are now centered around the students achieving MOS certification in Word, PowerPoint, Excel and Access. These courses reach almost every high school student in our program. We are also piloting two Network Administration courses that teach Microsoft curriculum. The first course is composed of curriculum for four MTA exams (Operating Systems Fundamentals, Networking Fundamentals, Windows Server Administration Fundamentals, and Security Fundamentals). The second course also teaches Microsoft curriculum for Installing and Deploying Windows 7 (Microsoft Official Academic Courseware). In both cases, students can take Microsoft certification exams that are actually written for students. Right now the enrollment in the Network Administration courses is very limited. Hopefully, we can increase the enrollment after the pilot is complete. The students and teachers participating in the pilot are enjoying the curriculum. That's a good sign!

Through our new Essential Standards we are working to motivate our students and teachers by raising the bar in our IT courses. In the Network Administration courses, the "carrot" to attract students (as well as parents and teachers) is the industry certification exams. In our Computer Programming courses, the "carrot" is the XNA Game programming. Carrot or not, the students are getting a good foundation in a specific IT pathway. That's good for students, and that's good for the IT industry.

What are you doing to entice students to study rigorous IT or Computer Science courses?

Note: A recent CSTA Blast included some very good resources for teaching XNA Game Studio. This was great news for me and the Computer Programming Curriculum Development team. Excerpts from the CSTA Blast are below.

Revitalize your Computer Science program with Game Development with XNA: Semester 1. This exciting and engaging computer science semester course enables students to apply a basic foundation in programming to create games and simulations for social causes using C# and Microsoft XNA Game Studio. Teaching resources and C#/XNA software are free.

C# is a modern, professional object-oriented programming language which when combined with the Microsoft XNA framework creates the XNA Game Studio – a professional game development environment for PC, Xbox 360, and Windows Phone.

Lessons are aligned to CSTA, ITEA-STL, and ISTE-NETS standards.
Success Scenario: Students who have had experience with a structured programming language and a basic understanding of variables, conditionals, loops, and object-oriented design.

Download today!
Teacher Roadmap (http://www.facultyresourcecenter.com/curriculum/pfv.aspx?Id=8856)
Part 1 Basics (http://www.facultyresourcecenter.com/curriculum/pfv.aspx?Id=8858)
Part 2 Games for All (http://www.facultyresourcecenter.com/curriculum/pfv.aspx?Id=8859)
Appendix (http://www.facultyresourcecenter.com/curriculum/pfv.aspx?Id=8857)

Contact innovativeteachers@microsoft.com for additional information.

Deborah Seehorn
CSTA State Department Representative

Posted by cstephenson at 11:40 AM | Comments (0)

October 17, 2011

Inspiration

Nearly every Sunday morning I try to read the Sunday paper to help me get charged up for the week and relax for a few quiet moments before starting my day. This past Sunday I was drawn to the Parade section because the feature article was "Born to be Wired" (You can view the article at: http://www.parade.com/health/2011/10/generation-wired.html). As a high school teacher, I am drawn to articles that discuss the behaviors of our today's youth. As I read these articles I compare what they claim with my observations.

One question the article did ask was "Should Teachers Use Twitter in the Classroom?" The discussion that followed included statistics gathered in a survey concerning how teachers felt regarding the job their districts were doing educating students about online safety, security, and ethics. I had incorporated these topics into my curriculum five years ago. Finally at the conclusion of the section, they quote the director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse. She says, "If you can use Twitter to maximize the likelihood that these kids will be proficient in a subject matter, why not?" Honestly, I am not convinced that many of my students are actually using Twitter. I do know that most of them use Facebook.

Another point this article covers is that researchers are suggesting that due to "nonstop connectivity" that it maybe "rewiring their brains." One researcher has suggested that due to this constant connectivity, students have "a diminished ability to focus on one thing for long." After I read that, I reflected back to when I was a college student learning to program. I had to preserve at writing programs to be successful. For the most part, I do not see that trait in many of my computer science students.

After I finished reading the article, I reflected on the question, "How can I use this information to improve my computer science classes?" If students only have a ten minute attention span, do I need to offer more activities? Should I add Twitter or Facebook to the online tools I am currently using?

I will continue to ponder more about these questions as well as consult with other computer science teachers when I attend the next local CSTA meeting.

What are your thoughts?

How are you addressing the shorter attention span?

How are you using social media in your classrooms?

Myra Deister
CSTA At-Large Representative

Posted by cstephenson at 01:02 PM | Comments (1)

October 14, 2011

My Goal: Inspiring Students

Unlike the solar calendar which marks January as the beginning of the new year, my new year, like that of all teachers, begins in September. A new school year means new beginnings and new opportunities. I couldn't wait for this school year to start because I was determined to make a difference in how my students perceived computer science.

My goal for the 2011-2012 school year was to inspire my students to consider computer programming as a viable creative outlet. I felt that over the past three years, while I had been successful at teaching them programming concepts, few had fully embraced the medium. What was I doing wrong?

I decided to explore the question of inspiring my students in further detail. I began by scouring the internet for inspiration. Not surprisingly, I found plenty of generic suggestions on how to engage students in the learning process Some examples were to:

(1) make it real by creating learning activities that are based on topics relevant to students' lives,
(2) provide choices so that students feel some sense of autonomy in the learning process, or
(3) provide students with role models that help them to identify with the subject matter.

Not bad. I could work with these recommendations.

Unfortunately, I had another hurdle. How could I overcome the negative stereotype of the computer programmer as a socially awkward young man who spends his days hiding in his parents' basement working 12 to 16 hours a day on his computer? (McConnell, Steve. Orphans Preferred. Chapter 7. http://www.stevemcconnell.com/psd/07-OrphansPreferred.pdf) In addition, USA Today reported that because the techie nerd stereotype is so well entrenched, students in every grade ranked computer jobs near the bottom of their lists of career choices. (USA Today, February 16, 1998, pp. 1B - 2B.)

How was I to overcome decades of negative stereotypes and gender type casting? How was I to reach my students? All of them. Not just the ones who already found computers exciting.

I went back to the internet. This time I focused my research on locating articles that would provide insight into what students like and how computers could support these preferences. I discovered that I could tap into recreational activities that my students were already enjoying, specifically computer games, to capture their attention. By leveraging students' interest in video games, I hoped to replace the negative perception of computer programming with the allure of computer gamming. At the same time I hoped to entice students to explore computer programming in more detail while possibly helping them to discover a new passion.

According to Allyson Peerman, president of the AMD Foundation (the philanthropic division of Advanced Micro Devices, a computer chip manufacturer), "We know from research that playing games provides some STEM skills, but when [students] get involved with creating games, those skills [and interest] go up exponentially".

I decided to tap into my students' love of computer games by assigning them the task of creating computer games using Scratch that would teach either mathematics or language arts skills to younger students. I was surprised at how quickly they embraced this goal. They couldn't wait to get started. One student (a fifth grader) even eagerly suggested a programming competition, where students would present their projects to the younger students, who would then decide which games they enjoyed the most. I was thrilled with their enthusiasm. Is real learning occurring? Yes it is. And are my students having fun? Yes they are.

It is too soon to know how successful the computer games will be at teaching the younger students, but I hope that once the programs are completed and presented, both groups will have benefited from the experience. The older students will have a sense of accomplishment for having created real-world applications and the younger students will have a new and exciting game to use for drill and practice.

Recently, I complemented one of my younger students (a third grader) on his computer skills, and he responded that he loves computers, and that he wants to be a computer technology teacher when he grows up, just like me. So it seems that developing computer games with an educational purpose definitely motivates my students.

Will this interest last into middle school and beyond? I don't know. All I do know is that it seems to have captured their attention for the moment, and for that I am grateful. Maybe their excitement will inspire administrators, parents and teachers to consider computer science an important educational directive for the future. Because, as I see it, computer science is more than just programming computer games. But don't tell my students.

Patrice Gans
CSTA K-8 Representative

Posted by cstephenson at 09:53 AM | Comments (1)

October 06, 2011

Computing Across Disciplines

I'm teaching two courses this term that have me thinking a lot about the ubiquity of computing across disciplines, and about the ever increasing need for young people to understand about computing. Even if they themselves will not be involved in computing, it is increasingly likely that they will be working in a field that requires computing. They may have to talk intelligently with implementers, be comfortable pushing computational tools, be skilled at interpreting results.

One course is a research seminar on disasters and technology. Each student has to choose a topic that explores either a disaster caused by technology, an almost-disaster mitigated by technology, a technology used in disaster recovery, or the way in which technological advances inform policy and planning for disasters. We are defining "technology" rather broadly in the course, so the engineering of the Mississippi levee system counts in our context. But many of the students are looking at more modern developments, such as search and rescue robots, cellphone communication system recovery after earthquakes, use of social networking in disaster recovery, and use of social media for notification. I have, of course, been looking for nifty uses of technology. An area that is very interesting is the use of computer modeling for wildfire prediction and interdiction. If you want to take a look at this, and maybe interest your students in this application area, check out the many research projects of the Fire, Fuel, and Smoke Science Program:

http://www.firelab.org/research-projects

In my next post I'll share some of the interesting applications I've found for my Taming Big Data course, an introductory CS course that focuses on how we handle large amounts of data.

Valerie Barr
CSTA Computational Thinking Task Force Chair

Posted by cstephenson at 01:18 PM | Comments (0)

October 03, 2011

The Value of a Local CSTA Chapter

I teach in a rural high school where I am the only person to teach computer science as well as computer technologies. Collaborating with others within my building isn't something that I am able to accomplish because I feel sometimes like I am on an island of my own. I do enjoy the time between class changes because I get to talk to the Science teachers across the hall from me as we are on hallway duty. While I do enjoy my fellow teachers' company, it is nice to have others who can help you out with specific questions or just to share ideas.

Two years ago, Angie Thorne and Stephanie Hoeppner took the initiative to start a local chapter of CSTA here in Ohio. This local chapter brought together a handful of computer science teachers from around our state and provided me the opportunities that I was looking for outside my school building. It is great to be able to attend the CSTA Ohio meetings and meet my colleagues from around our state. I now have a support system of teachers who can help me out and offer suggestions when I have questions.

CSTA Ohio, under Angie and Stephanie's direction, has offered me and others several professional development opportunities as well as social gatherings. I look forward to the eTech Ohio Conference each year as CSTA Ohio provides several informational sessions dealing with computer science topics. Plans are in the works for another eTech conference again this year.

If you aren't a member of a CSTA local chapter, check out the listing of the current CSTA Local chapters at:

http://csta.acm.org/About/sub/CSTAChapters.html

f your area doesn't have a chapter, why not check into creating one. What could be more rewarding than helping others within your area and within your field. Join a CSTA local chapter today!

Dave Burkhard
CSTA Governance Task Force Chair

Posted by cstephenson at 12:46 PM | Comments (0)