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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

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