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December 29, 2011

Top Ten CSTA Blog Posts of 2011

10. January 12, 2011- A Joint Call for Research Why Computer Science Education is Important for K-12. This post is well worth a second look to provide a good reminder that we make many statements about the necessity of CS for all, but we need to get more research behind that!

9. February 21, 2011- Election Data And Socially Relevant Computing. Something to think about with our upcoming National election in 2012.

8. March 9, 2011- Top 10 Reasons Why You Should Attend SIGCSE. Yes, a gratuitous self-re-posting of another Top 10 List. But let it serve as a reminder to think about attending SIGCSE in North Carolina this year!

7. April 26, 2011- CS Sock Monkey Begins Work. Lucky Guy! He gets to meet all the cool kids in CS Education! Look for him in other posts as he does his work meeting with key leaders in CS Education!

6. May 16, 2011- CS&IT And Summertime PD. A friendly reminder that YOU can still contribute to the program for the upcoming CS & IT conference in 2012!

5. June 19, 2011- Priorities. The never-ending question for teachers: How do you decide what's important?

4. July 10, 2011- E-Books for Learning (Or Not)?. Another hot topic for teachers! What's the best way to deliver your content to your students?

3. August 13, 2011- Free Course Gives Rise to Interesting Questions. Great questions raised by Steve Cooper on this post. Lots of free courses are being developed, but is it the best way to learn CS?

2. September 20, 2011- . Great reminders for us all, no matter what time of year!

2.1- OK- I decided to do one for each of the twelve months, but a Top 12 list just doesn't sound as exciting. So this is entry 2.1:

October 24, 2011- Activities for CS Ed Week. Even though we have just passed the 2011 CS Ed Week, it is never too early to start planning for next year!

2.2- November 30, 2011- Good Teaching is Not About the Programming Languages. You've heard it before, but let this serve as a great reminder to us all!

Drumroll Please!

Your #1 Blog Posting of 2011:

December 2011- Top Ten CSTA Blog Posts of 2011. Who doesn't love a good loop?

Here's to a great 2012!

Mindy Hart
At-Large Representative

Posted by cstephenson at 12:29 PM | Comments (2)

December 27, 2011

Computer Science Entrepreneurs

During the last few weeks I have been fondly reminded of the joys I experienced when teaching and working with a student organization and encountering that rare student who has a passion, as well as the initiative to see that passion come to fruition. I'm sure you know the type of student who can teach us teachers so much if we just have the good grace to allow them to take the ball and run with it. That is if the teacher can really be the guide on the side and not the sage on the stage. I was reminded of this pleasure when I read articles about young Computer Science entrepreneurs.

One of these young entrepreneurs was touted by network news as "the next Steve Jobs," and I have to agree that when I saw him on stage, he was rather impressive! He is a sixth grade programming guru that has been creating apps for the iPhone and iPad. He even formed a club at school so that he could share his knowledge of programming with students who didn't know how to program, giving him a place to share his passion. Thomas Suarez is a California middle school student who has been fascinated by computers and technology since before he started kindergarten. Thankfully, Thomas has been supported by his teachers, his family, and of course the good folks at the Apple Store. Once he has created the apps, they will be available free to local schools. Any revenue will go to local education programs. Thomas shares a philosophy much like mine: "students are a valuable new technology resource to teachers, and should be empowered to offer assistance in developing the technology curriculum and also assist in delivering the lessons." (However, I did realize that fact some 20 years ago; maybe not so new. You can learn a lot from your students!)

Lest you think that only young men are the entrepreneurs of the CS world, there are also some young women making strides in the app development world. Two girl scouts in Dallas, Texas, working on a science and technology badge, developed a mobile app titled Teachers Best Friend. Grace Swierenga, 12, and Lindsey Hettish, 13, developed the app to help teachers grade tests more efficiently. These young women were inspired to develop the app through the STEM initiative. They were to promote their idea to executives from AT&T and Alcatel-Lucent so their idea could be realized. Kudos to the Girl Scouts as well as to AT&T and Alcatel-Lucent for inspiring young women to enter the world of computer science! Maybe one of these young women will be "the next Steve Jobs!"

How gratifying it is to see young entrepreneurs using their computer science skills to make the world a better place! As we near CS Education Week, what are you doing to inspire young people to excel in the world of Computer Science? Hopefully, you are one of those educators who can learn a lot from your students, and you have the good grace to stand back and let them take flight.

Deborah Seehorn
CSTA Board of Directors

Note: Articles referenced above may be accessed by following these links:



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

December 23, 2011

Time to Change the Conversation from Consuming to Creating

At a recent family gathering, my father-in-law delighted in the accomplishments of his four year old granddaughter who effortlessly navigated her mother's iPad. He was awed by the ease with which she used the technology and, on the surface, who could blame him.

My niece is not alone. Technology has become a mainstay in the lives of most American children. What began as an infatuation with computer games has grown into a multi-media explosion, affecting even the youngest children long before they can read or write.

According to a recent report Zero to Eight: Children's Media Use in America issued by A Common Sense Media Research Study - Fall 2011: "Computer use is pervasive among very young children, with half (53%) of all 2 to 4 year olds having ever used a computer, and nine out of ten (90%) 5 to 8 year olds having done so. For many of these children, computer use is a regular occurrence: 22% of 5 to 8 year-olds use a computer at least once a day, and another 46% use it at least once a week."

What does this obsession with using technology mean? Is it something to be envied, as evidenced by my father-in-law's pride in his granddaughter's dexterity, or should parents, grandparents and educators encourage, even very young children, to become creators, not just users, of technology? While on the surface, computer usage may be viewed as a necessity, I would argue that in today's techno savvy world, we should be celebrating the creative energies of our children, not extolling the virtues of using media that has been pre-selected and created merely to sell merchandise.

Elementary students are no longer too young or too inexperienced to understand rudimentary computer science concepts. The numbers speak for themselves. By the time they are 8 years old, 60% of children have used handheld games, 81% have played console games, and 90% have used a computer.

I expose my students to computer programming in kindergarten. While they are eager to play games and paint picutres on the computer, my students true successes occur when they effectively create their first computer program.

So maybe now is the time to change the conversation, from exploring how much time children spend consuming media to examing ways to enhance the quality of their experiences. According the 2011 report from the Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop entitled Always Connected: the New Digital Media Habits of Young Children: "the challenge going forward is in establishing new models of using technology in effective, developmentally appropriate ways with young children."

The time is ripe for change, and computer science is no longer the sole domain of adults. In the future, success will hinge not on how much our students know, but on their ability to think and act creatively. So why not help our children and our future by believing in them and by believing in their ability to learn. You are never too young to learn computer programming.

Patrice Gans
CSTA K-8 Representative

Posted by cstephenson at 03:44 PM | Comments (2)

December 22, 2011

Winter "BREAK": A Time to Relax and Reenergize

Most of us look forward to our winter breaks. After all, a break in routine is almost always a good thing. Most of us are conditioned to getting up at a certain hour, traveling to work following the same route, doing our last minute preparations for our classes, meeting with students during lunchtime, free-time and any other time, traveling back home, cooking (or eating) dinner, doing more preparations for classes, grading papers, MAYBE watching a bit of TV, and probably going to bed about the same time every day (never getting enough sleep).

Your routine MAY differ from this one, but probably not by much. It's easy to get stuck in that "routine rut." Some people like routine. They like everything to be predictable and without surprises. They like to know what to expect from their day. Well, the teaching profession offers diversity. No two days are the same. Each day offers different challenges and problems to solve. But we still follow a routine. In fact, most of us respond automatically to bells, whistles, buzzers, and fire alarms.

Well, now winter break is here (no bells or buzzers)! We have an opportunity to break our routine (if only for a week). We have time to catch-up on activities that we have put off. We have time to spend with our families and friends. We can actually get some well-needed and well-deserved sleep. We have time to play in the snow or relax by the fire or bask in the sun. OR DO WE?

I will admit that I look forward to my winter break to "catch-up" with my work. I use the time to finish tasks that I have not had time to complete or to get a job started so that I can be a step ahead when the new semester starts. And this is all so that I can go back to school without the pressure of feeling that I am behind. I know that many of you use your "winter break" to do work: to "catch up". Find time in this vacation week to play. Enjoy your life and the people special to you. Use this time to energize yourself. When vacation is over, go back to school refreshed and ready to tackle the world. Find ways to break your daily routine. Try something new each day. Fifty ideas can be found at:


Enjoy your vacation.

Fran Trees
CSTA Chapter Liaison

Posted by cstephenson at 01:44 PM | Comments (0)

December 18, 2011

STEM and Humanities: It Isn't Either-Or

I think of STEM and humanities as being the bookends of a quality education. Everyone needs exposure to and experience with both, or their education is incomplete and inadequate. Why do I think this?

There's an interesting tension developing across the academic landscape these days. And it is playing out in industry as well. There's a basic statement being made that runs something like this: "we have a crisis brewing, there are not enough scientists and engineers, we need everyone to go into the STEM disciplines. Besides, since that's where all the jobs are, we should steer our children in that direction. The humanities are an unnecessary indulgence".

We can see this reflected, as well, in statements by various government officials, at least at the state level. For example, Rick Scott, Governor of Florida, said that tax dollars should not be spent to educate people in the humanities and social sciences, but only be spent on science and high-tech studies (see http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/chi-ap-us-defendinghumaniti,0,7325375.story).

We do ourselves a huge disservice if we write off the humanities. And those of us in STEM fields should not allow political figures, state departments of education, superintendents, or college and university presidents to pit us against the humanities. In some ways we can see this as a fundamental left brain/right brain issue.

On the STEM side, we want to help students develop the scientific, computational, and engineering knowledge to logically solve interesting problems. We want the students of today to become the problem solvers of tomorrow, we want them to learn how to apply the constant stream of technological developments and scientific discoveries to healthcare and sustainability and a host of other areas. But where does the creative aha moment come from? What makes someone decide that a problem exists? Or that a problem might be interesting to solve? Or that the solution might make a significant difference to people's lives? Or that the mashup of two areas might turn into a new powerful solution mechanism? What leads a medical school instructor to bring artists and art historians into the classroom in order to improve the observation skills of new doctors? What has motivated the explosion of work in visualization, which every day empowers deeper understanding of the vast amounts of data that can now be processed by computers? We need the humanities for these leaps.

Lynn Pasquerella, president of Mount Holyoke College, recently argued at:


that we have to reaffirm a commitment to develop humanistic tradition in ways that bridge scholarship with enduring questions. More simply, I would say that we need to provide a well rounded education so that those who excel in STEM understand that there are non-technical considerations that should guide their work, and those who study humanities understand that there are powerful problem solving mechanisms and tools that can open up new avenues of application for their knowledge. We need those with strength in the humanities to feel comfortable talking with those who have strength in STEM, and vice versa. This isn't either-or, we have to expose students to both.

Rather than allowing ourselves to be divided, at every level we should be making the argument that "the other side" is a vital component to what we are trying to do with our students. Given the skewed state of the economy right now, the burden is even greater on those of us in STEM fields to argue for the importance of the humanities.

Valerie Barr
CSTA Computational Thinking Task Force Chair

Posted by cstephenson at 06:46 AM | Comments (1)

December 16, 2011

CSTA Teacher Leader Champions Women in STEM at White House

CSTA was recently recognized by the White House as a Champions of Change. This blog piece by CSTA Leadership Cohort member Baker Franke is reprinted with permission from White House blog. Baker was invite to represent CSTA at this D.C. event. The original blog piece was posted December 13th at:


Baker is the Vice President of the Chicago chapter of the Computer Science Teachers Association, a group he helped establish in 2008.

I am something of an accidental champion of women in STEM fields. In 2008 two young women in my AP Computer Science class applied for and won the National Center for Women & Information Technology's (NCWIT) award for "Aspirations in Computing." When they won the award, I presented it to them at our school's annual award ceremony and it was the only award given by my department to anyone. These two girls were both excellent students and naturally inclined to computer science in the first place, but they were also really interesting people and what you might call "cool". The next year almost half of my AP class was girls, and again a girl in the class won the NCWIT award and I called her up on stage, alone, at the school's award ceremony. Since then I've never had a gender equity problem in class. Year after year many girls cite seeing those who came before them on stage as a big reason why they gave computer science a try.

As a teacher I have been really lucky to have outstanding female students who won this award, basically on their own, and who were able to influence other girls to try my class. However, once I had all these terrific girls in my classes, I was filled with dread that I would somehow screw it up. So, I began to look very deliberately at my courses to see if there were any differences between the boys and the girls, what they liked and what they didn't like. Quickly, my eyes were opened to the issues of both gender and racial equality that are crippling computer science, American education, and the nation's economic outlook as well. I don't really claim to have hard answers but I can tell you what I do in my classes, why I made some choices, and why I think these things work.

The first thing I noticed about my own classes is that we don't program many games. This is mostly because for some odd reason I don't play video games; it's a subject I know very little about and therefore have little interest in teaching. Yet, not programming games might be considered something of a controversial move in the CS education community where many schools, facing declining enrollments, have begun to teach game programming specifically as a way to attract students to their courses. But I think excluding game programming, especially for large assignments, has something to do with why I've been able to retain women in my courses: the people who are interested in programming video games are the same people who are interested in playing them - boys, mostly. It's not that women are incapable of programming games, or even uninterested in playing them, it's just that developmentally, at the high school age, boys are WAY more interested in games and gaming culture. When I did once gave an assignment for developing a small video game, the conversation and activity in class was immediately dominated by the boys in ways that seemed to exclude and alienate the girls. This was not the boys' fault. They were simply passionate about their gaming - but the semi-disgusted looks on the girls faces was enough for me to never try that again.

The big picture is that the discipline of computer science is facing a crisis in numbers. This is probably due to the fact that historically we only seem to attract white males into the field (note to the reader: I'm one of them). Beyond the obvious cultural problems that any field might face from a lack of diversity, there are dire national economic consequences to having such an important field as computer science dominated by one specific demographic. The cold hard economic fact is that white males make up a pretty fixed, if not declining, percentage of our population while the role of computing in virtually all fields is increasing dramatically. This means we don't have enough workers to fill these ambiguous "21st century jobs" that you keep hearing about. We need gender and racial equality in computer science in order for America to remain competitive economically. We need a way to open the doors to more people, and I'm not convinced that game programming is the way to do that.

So how to do this? There are two problems to solve: one is how to get people in the door and the other is how to keep them there. I think these problems need to be solved in reverse because the reality is you're never going to get enough women through the door unless you have some word-of-mouth street-cred from women that your class is not only fun and engaging, but can lead to success and a life-long passion. To get women in the door, in other words, you need to make the experience valuable for the women you've got right now.

My approach is rather simple. I do not pander to either gender, but rather I try to appeal to the innate human appetite for solving problems and being useful and helpful to others. More and more I've been trying to craft my programming assignments to be about solving problems in a variety of domains that are clearly just plain useful. For example, my school just switched to a new daily schedule that many find confusing and students seem to have a hard time figuring out when they have free time in common with their friends. So, some students in my class are writing a cell-phone application which compares two people's schedules and tells them what common free time they have when they bump their phones together. The satisfaction students gain from developing a program that has some higher purpose beyond mere entertainment, especially when it helps those in their community, is much more profound and might even convince them that they could do this for the rest of their lives and be happy. That's a pretty infectious feeling, and that's what I'm going for.

Almost every industry and walk of life these days has problems that need to be solved with computing. Computing problems and solutions are where 21st century jobs are, and it's also where America is losing its edge in the global economy. It is a something of a myth that computerization of industries has taken away jobs from Americans. There are jobs out there. The problem is that Americans are not trained to solve 21st century problems that require computation, and there are not enough people working to solve all the problems we've got. But we can do it! From where I sit I see a pretty dire need for schools to recognize the importance of computer science education and then for us teachers to do our job to make sure that we open doors to a much more diverse set of students than we currently have. Progress is being made, but it's not going to happen on its own. We need everyone on board. As a nation, the more diverse the population of computer scientists we develop, the more problems we can address and solve, and the more we can remain vital and relevant on the world stage.

Baker Franke

Posted by cstephenson at 11:55 AM | Comments (0)

December 15, 2011

Pre-Holiday CT Activities

Heading into the holidays and the end-of-semester, I was thinking about activities that have students engage in computational thinking but without involving a lot of work for the teacher and are engaging. These aren't as good as a class party, but hopefully you'll find them helpful.

1. Talk about modeling
I have had students do object-oriented design without programming. One of the great strengths of computer science is modeling real-world phenomena in the computer. That means abstraction. Pick some topic (e.g. pizza) and students have to figure out what the attributes are. My class came up with a list that was roughly: dough/bread base, sauce, cheese, toppings. There was a huge debate about the requirement of cheese, which led us to talk about how different people model things differently: there's a lot of power in being the model-creator. We also talked about how experience leads to us creating the models we do (i.e. value of diversity). We talked about inheritance by modeling "place setting" which was an attribute of "dinner table". You could model weather using Excel - what attributes of weather do they want to model? Temperature? Precipitation? Humidity? Get data from weather.com, put it into Excel, and graph. Or make tables. Use the data to make predictions, using formulas.

2. Take off from the CS Unplugged on image representation
Do that activity, which digitizes black and white images. Then give the kids a color palette (I used 8-colors), graph paper, and transparency grids (I had 3 sizes of squares available). Have them pick a picture either that they bring in or from magazines, and have them digitize color pictures. Then they should swap the digitized version and decode someone else's. You can have them decode more than once - once with the same palette, once with a "reverse" or "grayscale" or "sepia" or other palette to see how the computer can do those effects. In my classes, this led to discussions about how computers are really good at some things that people are bad at and vice versa. It also led to discussions about the different algorithms we used to choose which color to label a box, since a single square often had multiple colors. I let them make their own compression algorithms, so we could talk about that. Also the size of the transparency grid led to a discussion of pixels, file size (that was a LOT of little numbers for them to write down!) and how the resulting picture looked.

3. Other activities
The one-day CS Unplugged activities:


are terrific. They also have extensions linked at the bottom as well. The Mathemaniacs website


is also really good.

What activities do you use to keep kids' attention at high distraction times?

Michelle Hutton
CSTA Past Chair

Posted by cstephenson at 01:48 PM | Comments (0)

December 12, 2011

National Models of CS Education

While in Costa Rica running an Alice workshop at the Foundacion Omar Dengo (see my earlier blog posting), Alberto J. Canas came to the foundation to give a talk entitled "Creating an identity-based infrastructure that fosters learning and collaboration: Experiences with Project Connect to Knowledge in Panama." He described his experiences with helping to run a 2 or 3-year project in Panama. This project in Panama received a great deal of government funding in 2006 to get computers and networking equipment for schools throughout Panama. There may also have been some money available for teacher professional development. However, when the government changed in 2008, the new government wasn't interested in technology and technology education in K-12, and killed the program. And, it sounds like the use of technology in Panama has largely died down in K-12 over the past 3+ years. (I don't think the Panamanians actually seriously integrated computer science into the K-12 curriculum, but I'm less confident about this last statement.)

I compare what happened in Panama with the computer science/technology education program in Costa Rica. In Costa Rica, the K-12 computing program has grown much slower than it did in Panama, and over a period of 25 years rather than 2. I get the impression that funding for computers and teacher professional development isn't at risk in Costa Rica. Talking with the Project Development and International Relations Officer from the Omar Dengo Foundation, I learned that the Foundation has survived several changes of government, and while nervous with each change, the longstanding establishment of computing education as a value in K-12 education in Costa Rica has always led to continued funding of the foundation's efforts.

I think of many of the recent K-12 CS education efforts in the US. I wonder if we are behaving more like Panama and less like Costa Rica. I hope that we all will think more strategically and longer term, as we hope to change the role of CS education in the K-12 arena in the US and in the rest of the world.

Steve Cooper
Chairperson, CSTA Board of Directors

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

December 09, 2011

Can Coding Really Change the World?

Is there any question that technology-based innovations like PCs, the world-wide web, social media and smart phones have fundamentally changed the way we work, communicate, govern, educate and so much more? While Apple and others may wax poetic about the magical properties of their latest devices, all these technological innovations are possible because there were programmers who could write code. Why is it then, that if technological advancement is so rapid and so integral to our society, the study in the field of computer science (CS) has not been keeping pace? And by not keeping pace, I'm not just talking about the overall numbers studying CS being a mere trickle in the higher education pipeline, I'm talking about an epic failure to engage women and minorities in this field. I'm learning that its somewhat of a mystery and theories abound. Some theories lay blame on a dysfunctional educational system that's moved away from the sciences in favor of going back to the basics of reading, writing and arithmetic. Others suggest it's the persistence of the lonely, pocket protector-wearing, cubicle-occupying nerd programmer stereotype that is not an appealing career path. I think the answer is all of the above and more.

Efforts to reverse this trend and address the crisis have also been underway, but strategies abound here too. Many highlight the income potential and the projected need. Some work on widening the pipeline to increase participation from women and minorities. Others work specifically on gender equity issues. Again, I think all of these strategies are important, but I don't think they will really motivate girls, especially middle school girls, which is really where you need to capture their interest because by age 13 girls determine a positive or negative attitude towards subjects like CS. I think deep down, girls and minorities want to change the world because frankly they are living in a world where they are not valued as they should be. I think this is where CS is an exciting avenue, as it really does have the potential to change the world in so many innovative and creative ways.

I teach technology to 4th thru 8th graders and as a career-switcher with a CS background, it seemed only natural that coding would be one element of my curriculum to foster computer fluency. As I thought about how to get my students excited by the idea of coding, I considered how I got interested in CS. It certainly wasn't the prospect of studying algorithms or learning about logic. It started with my gadget-loving dad bringing home a TRS-80 desktop computer. That's when I taught myself BASIC because really there wasn't much else you could do on a computer with a whopping 4K of memory and a cassette tape drive for storage. I was sold on CS after I created my first program in Assembly Language. Although, Assembly is no doubt a very tedious form of programming, the idea that I was in control of the very essence of the computer, that was empowering! I was converted from a mere Astroid-playing computer user to a technology creator.

Over the years, I have introduced students to coding not with the goal of understanding what CS is, but really with the goal of letting them get a peek "under the hood" of technology. I want my students to understand it’s not magic that makes this technology stuff work. Northwestern University, MIT and Carnegie Mellon provide amazing programming tools for free including NetLogo:




and Alice:


that I use with students all the time. I must admit, I'm not really that great of a programmer. My CS strengths lie in planning, design, testing and documentation. So while I may be more comfortable getting my students started with these programming tools than a teacher without a CS background, I really do just give them the bare minimum of introduction and I'm working on tutorials to share those introductions with others (http://techkim.wikispaces.com/tutorials). It doesn't take long for a student to surpass my knowledge in one of these programming environments and I look forward to that moment when I become their student. I want my students to get as much hands-on experience as possible and once they are on, they really fly. It may start slowly, but once they figure out how to do one thing or their classmate does, then they think of the next thing and teach each other and experiment and collaborate and make mistakes and figure out alternate solutions. I see them doing all these things that I think we really want them to learn how to do. Things that will prepare them to be the change they want to see in the world.

I'm not expecting everyone will want to be a programmer when they grow up; I just want anyone to know they can. I want to convert technology users into technology creators, collaborators and activists.

Kim Wilkens, Technology Activist

Posted by cstephenson at 07:30 AM | Comments (0)

December 08, 2011

It Is All About the Celebration

CSEdWeek is all about the celebration. We celebrate the teachers who share the challenge and the excitement of the discipline with their students, we celebrate the students who, through their study of computer science, are transitioning from passive users and consumers of technology to creators of technology. And we celebrate the great pioneers of computer science such as Grace Murray Hopper (creator of the Cobol programming language) whose birthday falls in this week.

The beauty of CSEdWeek is that there are an infinite number of ways we can celebrate all of these things. One of our CSTA members, Bill Dunklau, sent us a message about how a couple of activities his school has done so far this week.

For Monday, Dec. 5, the school announcements included:
December 5-9 is Computer Science Week, so chosen to honor Grace Hopper, Rear Admiral, US Navy, an early computer pioneer and developer of the first compiler, whose birthday was December 9. Watch the computer science bulletin board for new student programs to be added throughout the week.

For Wednesday, Dec. 7, the announcements included:
In honor of Computer Science Week, December 5-9: Computer Science graduates now get more offers of employment than any other major. "There are many different types of companies that need to hire computer scientists,' said Mimi Collins. "One computer science grad may have 10 offers. Annabelle Evans graduated as a computer science major from the University of Southern California in 2008. [Annabelle]...now works at Google." [From SD Times, August 2011.]

Everything we do to celebrate CSEdWeek is important because it celebrates how far we have come and how far our students can go. As Buzz Lightyear said "To infinity and beyond!"

Chris Stephenson
CSTA Executive Director

Posted by cstephenson at 11:10 AM | Comments (0)

December 07, 2011

Getting Students to Think Beyond the Classroom in CS Ed Week

During CS Ed Week I thought I would find some things that may not be what I normally "teach" in CS. I thought I would find things that would make my students think about the world, think about things bigger than themselves, and think about "things that make [them] go hmm" (yes that was a sad 90's music plug).

So in my quest I remembered Luis Von Ahn who I had the privilege of hearing speak twice in the past couple of years. I found this interview from 2009 at:


It profiles him, captchas, and re-captchas. I thought that this was extremely revelant since all of my students have had to type one at some point.

I started each class with the question " what is a captcha?" To my surprise at least one student in each class knew. Actually all of my students knew what they were its just that not all knew they were called captchas. After the video we discussed the idea of CS solving a problem that couldn't easily be solved with just math, science, or another discipline. We talked about what happens behind the scenes with a database, how the words have to be compared and how a computer can create something it cannot solve itself. I saw wonderment in some of their eyes. I saw my students connect real world with CS. I also had one student that said he was going to be more careful when he did a recaptcha since he was actually working on digitizing books. He said he wasn't going to just type stuff until one of them worked. While it may seem small to some, when a student wants to change a behavior because he has learned something about his world I think it is time well spent.

I told the students that this week we would look at things that were just to make them think and understand the computing world they are living in. It appears to be working and even though it is not "testable" material they may be learning more than on a regular day.

I hope all of you have had a positive experience during CS ED Week!

Stephanie Hoeppner
Ohio CSTA Cohort
Ohio Chapter Vice-President

Posted by cstephenson at 12:31 PM | Comments (0)

December 06, 2011

Happy Computer Science Education Week!

All of our preparations have come to this week, the 2nd CS Ed Week, the celebration of Computer Science in K-12 education.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank all those involved in making this celebration possible including the law makers and leaders within the CS community. Dedicating a week for the celebration of CS Education helps to bring our subject area onto the front lines, giving it the prominence it deserves.

I hope that you have been able to make use of the CS Ed Week website:


and the many activities and ideas listed within the website.

Please feel free to comment here on the activities that you feel worked best for you to spread the word about CS Ed Week in your classes and or school. Share your triumphs and successes with others here so that they can build upon you success.

I look forward to reading about your experiences with CS Ed Week!

Dave Burkhart
CSTA Policy Task Force Chair

Posted by cstephenson at 11:49 AM | Comments (0)

December 05, 2011

Our CS Teachers: A CS Ed Week Poem

As we embark on the week to celebrate CS Education
Let us pause for a moment in order to make mention

Of computer science teachers, our educational heroes
Who do so much more than teach about ones and zeroes.

Our CS teachers go beyond just the bits and bytes
And help to set off in students many, many lights

So that they may explore, make connections and create
And realize that thinking like a computer scientist is great.

Our CS teachers teach students about Problem Solving and HCI
Programming, Data Analysis and Web Design oh my

And in the process students realize that they can do
So much more than Word and typing and Facebook too.

Our CS teachers help students to become computational thinkers,
collaborators, innovators, and persisting tinkerers

Who are breaking down barriers of who does CS
And showing the world that CS is for all of us

So, "Hello world" lets give a salute
To our CS teachers who help us all to really compute!

David Bernier
Program Manager for the Exploring Computer Science Project at UCLA

Posted by cstephenson at 03:36 PM | Comments (1)

December 03, 2011

Creating a CS Presence at My School

When I started work at North Gwinnett High School a year and half ago, I was asked to teach two computer science courses: AP Computer Science and Computing in the Modern World. Budget cuts had me teaching 3 pre-engineering classes with 30 students in each. I was told that the only way to teach more computer science classes was to increase my school's CS awareness and interest.

I started by rebuilding our school's website with a group of students who had already taken AP computer science. I taught them to design sites using Joomla, a stable content management system. The entire school was involved in the project. The computer art teacher helped with the aesthetics of the website, and yearbook and newspaper staff used our site to post their publications online. The new website was very well received, and increased computer science visibility among our administrators.

As a next step, I created a computer science pathway. I drew up a table and a chart of the various computer science courses and their prerequisites. I created flyers and brochures with details on the courses and handed them to all administrators, counselors, parents and students. I placed brochures in the counseling and curriculum offices and at the local middle school information desks. I emailed letters home to all parents about AP Computer Science. I used the College Board's AP Potential to help me recruit students with strong math skills.

My hard work was rewarded when the recruitment season ended. This year, 120 students have enrolled in Computing in the Modern World, 40 in Beginning Programming, and 30 in AP Computer Science. Our school currently has 3 CIMW teachers, and I teach the other computer science courses. We face the same daunting challenges we faced last year, but we certainly have made progress.

Deepa Muralidhar
North Gwinnett High School
CSTA Leader : Georgia

Posted by cstephenson at 01:05 PM | Comments (0)