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January 31, 2012

A Question About Equal Access

I am currently serving on a committee where I am the only public school K-12 educator. The other members are college educators. The educators on this committee are spread throughout the U.S. During a recent teleconference, we were discussing mobile devices and one of the participants made the statement that within six months every student in school will have a mobile device. I was taken aback by that statement because I had hoped to use Poll Everywhere in my math class but not enough students have access to the Internet through a mobile device. I also mentioned to the committee participant that my school does not have wireless access. He seemed genuinely surprised. Additionally, I did not think that within six months all of my students will have a mobile device. I asked the question, "How can we deal with equal access?" My question was not addressed.

I spoke to Joanna Goode, CSTA Teacher Education Representative, about his statement and her response was that if it is question of owning a mobile device or putting food on the table, the family will choose not to purchase the mobile device. I also read an article in our local paper (the Orange County Register) which reiterates Joanna's comment.


The family that is highlighted in the article had given up nearly all of their technology because they just could not afford it.

I really thought my colleague's comment was isolation until I read the Winter 2011 issue of OnCUE, a publication for members of Computer Using Educators (CUE). In his article Mobile Devices and the Future of Learning David D. Thornburg states: "Educators are starting to realize that every child is coming to school with a powerful mobile device. If this is not true in your school, it will be in six months." Thornburg does not address Equal Access. I assume he did not feel he needed to since every student will have a mobile device.

In another article in the same publication, Tm Landeck makes the statement: "Of course this requires that all students have a cell phone, but then what happens when a student's cell phone is dead, forgotten at home, or they just don't have one?" That is a question I really needed an answer to, but his article never gave an answer.

Equal access is something I deal with in my computer class. I have students that don't have computers at home or have a computer at home and no Internet access. Is my school that unique? I supervise the computer lab at lunch and after school to accommodate these students. We don’t have a loaner problem and when I mention it to my administration I receive a negative response.

How do you deal with equal access?

What is your reaction to the statement, "All students will have a powerful mobile device within six months"?

Myra Deister
CSTA At-Large Representative

Posted by cstephenson at 12:50 PM | Comments (2)

January 26, 2012

Gender Imbalance: Participation by Women on the 2011 AP CS Exam

Each year, the College Board provides state-by-state statistics for each Advanced Placement (AP) exam, broken down by various demographics. The numbers of women taking the AP Computer Science exam in 2011 are illustrative of the continuing gender imbalance in computing. The table linked below organizes the 50 states and District of Columbia according to the percentage of AP CS exam takers who were women. The percentages of women across all AP exams are also listed for comparison, as well as the overall percentage of exams that AP CS constitutes for each state.

While nearly 55% of all AP exam takers are women, the percentage for AP Computer Science is much lower, only 18.9%, with a median percentage across all states of 15.4%. It is interesting to note that two states, Texas and California, account for more than 31% of all AP CS exams and both have higher than average participation by women (24% and 21%, respectively). If the numbers from these two states are omitted, the remaining percentage of AP CS participation by women for the rest of the country is 17.1%.

The numbers in this table are collected from the College Board state-by-state data files at:


The table of state-by-state results (both pdf and Excel versions) are on the CSTA website at:


Dave Reed
CSTA Board of Directors

Posted by cstephenson at 05:58 PM | Comments (0)

January 24, 2012

Fun versus Rigor: Getting Students Ready for the Next Level

One of my goals this year was to make my CS course more fun for my students. I felt as if (and received feedback from students that) some of my programming assignments became drudgery, due to my strict adherence to correct documentation and test cases. The joy of finding a solution to a problem, of seeing your program run without error, was overshadowed by the prospect of dotting all i's and crossing all t's. So, this year, I am trying to be more flexible with my approach, and to focus more on the process of problem solving and achieving good solutions, rather than just hammering home the documentation aspect of being a good programmer.

We started off using Scratch this year, which set the tone early, that programming is fun. Students were enthusiastic, were buzzing about what they could create, and ready to show off their programs. We transitioned to BYOB, which allowed students to build their own blocks, or functions, as a lead-in to functional programming with Racket. Not only did this sequence set a more playful atmosphere, it alleviated some fears of this scary subject, computer science. I found it was a good method to ease students into what many find to be an intimidating subject.

As we move through the curriculum, there is the inevitability that topics go deeper and the work becomes more difficult. Computer Science is not an easy subject to study. It is difficult and students at some point, have to realize that. I have had more than a few students who leave my class with an interest in going further in the subject. As they move on to college (our seniors take college courses at WPI), some are overwhelmed by the difficulty of the college classes, don't perform well, and lose interest in the subject. What can I do to better prepare them for the challenge of CS at the college level?

I want to encourage interest in the subject, make it appealing to all students, but not at the cost of academic rigor. Or is that just the nature of moving deeper into a subject – some will discover that it is not for them, for whatever reason?

Karen Lang
CSTA Board of Directors
9-12 Representative

Posted by cstephenson at 04:48 PM | Comments (2)

January 13, 2012

Shut Down or Restart: New UK CS Report

The Royal Society in Great Britain has just released a ground-breaking new report called Shut Down or Restart: The Way Forward for Computing in UK Schools which clearly demonstrates that the current challenges we face in K-12 computer science education are indeed global challenges..

The work behind this impressive report was carried out by the Computing at School project which did a comprehensive review of computing in UK schools. According to the Royal Society, the key points of the report are as follows:

1. The current delivery of Computing education in many UK schools is highly unsatisfactory. Although existing curricula for Information and Communication Technology (ICT) are broad and allow scope for teachers to inspire pupils and help them develop interests in Computing, many pupils are not inspired by what they are taught and gain nothing beyond basic digital literacy skills such as how to use a word-processor or a database. This is mainly because:

a. the current national curriculum in ICT can be very broadly interpreted and may be reduced to the lowest level where non specialist teachers have to deliver it
b. there is a shortage of teachers who are able to teach beyond basic digital literacy
c. there is a lack of continuing professional development for teachers of Computing
d. features of school infrastructure inhibit effective teaching of Computing

2. There is a need to improve understanding in schools of the nature and scope of Computing. In particular there needs to be recognition that Computer Science is a rigorous academic discipline of great importance to the future careers of many pupils. The status of Computing in schools needs to be recognised and raised by government and senior management in schools.

3. Every child should have the opportunity to learn Computing at school, including exposure to Computer Science as a rigorous academic discipline.

4. There is a need for qualifications in aspects of Computing that are accessible at school level but are not currently taught. There is also a need for existing inappropriate assessment methods to be updated.

5. There is a need for augmentation and coordination of current Enhancement and Enrichment activities to support the study of Computing.

6. Uptake of Computing A-level is hindered by lack of demand from higher education institutions.

The text of this report is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike and you can download the entire report from:


It is well worth reading.

Chris Stephenson
CSTA Executive Director

Posted by cstephenson at 01:50 PM | Comments (0)

January 10, 2012

Of Movie Stars and Great Inventions

I write this having just read Richard Rhodes' biography of Hedy Lamarr, Hedy's Folly. It isn't a long book, and it was an easy read. Rhodes writes well (as we would expect for someone who has won a Pulitzer), and the book covers an interesting history of how an actress and a composer came up with an idea that has changed the world.

The story is becoming better known, but is still not common knowledge. Lamarr and a musical composer colleague George Antheil patented in 1942 the basic notion for what is now known as frequency hopping spread spectrum communications. In a frequency hopping system, the devices hop rapidly from one frequency to another to prevent an adversary from jamming the signal. This is a basic technology for much of wireless and cell phone communications; in addition to the anti-jamming capability, spread spectrum methods allow for a larger number of devices to share the radio spectrum without undue interference. Because the patent was assigned to the US government for patriotic purposes, the technology remained classified for years and did not become commercially usable in the United States until a change in the FCC regulations in 1985.

I have often in my smaller classes assigned to students the names of those who have contributed to computing, and then asked one of them in the next class for a quick statement of why that individual should be remembered as part of the history. Hedy Lamarr is one of those names that students don't recognize, but one they should. Rarely does an individual have such diverse accomplishments as she did, from being labeled "the most beautiful woman in the world" to being recognized by the Electronic Frontier Foundation with a Pioneer Award (1997) and having a web posting on the IEEE Global History Network (http://www.ieeeghn.org/wiki/index.php/Hedy_Lamarr).

Duncan Buell
CSTA Board of Directors

Posted by cstephenson at 07:01 PM | Comments (1)

January 05, 2012

Computer Scientist Appears on America's Got Talent

Inaccurate stereotypes about what computer scientists look and act like abound. Our students see them in popular media and hear about them from friends and family. The good news is that if we look a little bit we can find a wealth of diverse examples of computing professionals for students to identify with. Let me point you to a few. Tell us about your favorites and how you incorporate them into your classroom activities.

The latest CSTA podcast at:


is an interview with Miral Kotb, a dancer, choreographer, entrepreneur, AND a computer scientist. You may have seen her in the iLuminate performance that placed third in the final competition of America's Got Talent television. Invite your students to listen to her describe how she has combined her passion for dance with computer science to create an innovative new form of dance and an exciting career.

Check out the "I Learned to Program because" site at:


Each time the site is refreshed a new quote appears. Many have links to the professional sites of the authors with photos, resumes, and current projects.

Explore the videos from the University of Washington at:


and listen to students and professionals in A Day in the Life and Reasons to Choose CSE talk about cool CS careers, the job market, and new technology careers.

NCWIT provides NCWIT Entrepreneurial Heroes is a series of magazine-style audio interviews highlighting women entrepreneurs in information technology (IT) careers at:


NCWIT Heroes are women innovators from startups, small companies, and non-profits, whose ideas and products are changing the way we think, work, play, and communicate. Listen as these successful, creative, and technical women discuss their lives and their work – how they first get involved with technology, why they chose to be entrepreneurs, and what advice they would give to young people interested in IT or entrepreneurship.

Women in Technology (UK) invited members to share their stories. Learn about their careers in the United Kingdom at:

The Black Collegian Online lists 10 African-American Role Models in Science and Technology who are phenomenal individuals holding top-level management positions in cutting-edge disciplines. They make decisions that affect the quality of our daily lives. You can find more information at:


Are you thinking about setting up your own mentoring program or just interested in inviting computer scientists from the community into your classroom to share their stories? Take a look at the Resource Guide and Toolkit from Techbridge at:


This is a resource guide to help role models and corporations host effective classroom visits and worksite field trips. A toolkit CD supplements this guide, containing sample hands-on activities, icebreaker activities, a Future Engineer Certificate, and other resources to make outreach fun and engaging.

Check out Career Forward Review Guide interview lesson plan on DigiGirlz site at:


And don't forget the other CSTA resources for teaching about computing careers. Posters, brochures and videos are ready for your classroom at:


You will find several described in the January CSTA Voice newsletter, now available online at:


Pat Phillips
Editor, CSTA Voice

Posted by cstephenson at 12:56 PM | Comments (0)

January 03, 2012

Is It Smart to Use Smart Phones

While not the latest trend, I find that more of the teachers in one district I serve are using 'smart' phones among their educational tools for learning. One teacher in particular, has found some success reaching students in a low income area high school. She uses text polling and other methods for pre- assessment, regular assessment and summative assessment. She started using 'smart' phones because almost 85% of her students have phones and knowing that, she created assessments and even projects that could completed through the use of the phone. Some of her colleagues think that by using these tools, the students may not attend class regularly. For this teacher however, she has not seen such a drop off and still (and strongly) believes that whatever means she can find to get and keep students involved, especially in an area that has at least a 33% drop-out rate, is the best tool to use.

Are there others who are using such tools who may have suggestions or advice?

Gladys Phillips-Evans
CSTA Board of Directors

Posted by cstephenson at 12:17 PM | Comments (0)