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CS is Featured in the Kahn Academy

Normally when preparing to write a post for the Advocate Blog, I collect my thoughts for several days prior to starting to write. I had collected some great ideas about the Gender Gap in STEM fields (as well as the dearth of other underrepresented groups in STEM), particularly in Computer Science. But we are all too familiar with those shortages. Then I came upon some great news about new resources for Computer Science educators. And so I thought, maybe that's what I should write about...and so it will be.

The first news I encountered was the announcement that the Kahn Academy had a new Computer Science site. The Kahn Academy posts free videos about hundreds of topics related to core subjects. How nice that Computer Science is being included with that group! Then, upon exploring the site, I found that it was much more than just videos. Instead of videos, there are two vertical panes; the left pane allows students to enter code, and the right pane displays the output. Now this is something like the W3Schools tutorials for teaching students HTML and CSS, and is done very well indeed. The changes to the code affect the output dynamically (immediately without any extra effort on the part of the learner). This is an interactive site and not a video! The students learn to create graphics, animation, and to develop games. Students will love it! Salman Kahn is the creator of the Kahn Academy and has the backing of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. In reading the article, I learned that Mr. Kahn has degrees in Computer Science and Electrical Engineering from MIT. So what took him so long?

This is a great way to teach Computer Science! Students begin with experimentation and creativity and then delve deeper into concepts. As John Resig wrote in his blog post last week: rather than starting Computer Science education off by explicitly teaching how a computer works or fundamental programming concepts (like variables, logic, control structures, etc.) you put the student into code of graduated complexity and encourage them to manipulate, explore, and write their own programs. What fun! It has even been suggested that perhaps math should be taught using a similar method. Hmm, that might really increase the interest in students studying STEM subjects! And apparently, I was not the only person who found the Kahn CS site really good news. There are a multitude of praises available on the Internet. Casey Brown wrote for OpenSource.com:

As the world demands more and more computer scientists, Khan Academy's computer science program could not have been introduced at a better time. The new curriculum was debuted yesterday in a video featuring John Resig, Khan Academy's Dean of Computer Science, and Sal Khan, Founder of Khan Academy.

But my favorite quote is this one from Liz Dwyer in the August 17 Good Education:

Given that knowing how to code is increasingly seen as essential in the 21st century as knowing how to read or write, Khan's effort joins a handful of existing learn-to-code platforms, like the popular Code Academy and Udacity. Given that millions of people around the world view Khan Academy videos every month, the potential to ensure that even greater numbers of learners have the computer science skills they need is pretty exciting. Besides, with so many great options, now you really have no excuse for not learning to code

So it seems that people other than CSTA do indeed know that Computer Science is a 21st century skill! CS has indeed come of age in 2012! Have some fun exploring the Kahn Academy Computer Science site and reading the multitude of blog posts about it.

In addition to the Kahn Computer Science site, other news I came across this week concerned the National STEM Digital Library http://nsdl.org/. "NSDL is the nation's online portal for education and research on learning in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics." Once I read about that, I decided to explore the site to see if CS was included in STEM on the site. It is! A simple search of computer science produced about 60 links, including one to CSTA's home page. Clicking on the left-hand navigation bar for Resources for K12 Teachers produced additional links to NSDL Collections, including one for Computational Science. Clicking on that brought me to more links, including links for Tutorials (including Java programming tutorials), Code Libraries, and Algorithms. Users can browse the system based on a number of different fields. Users can also register for a Computational Science Education Reference Desk (CSERD) User Account at the site. CSERD is a Pathways portal of the National Science Digital Library and funded by the National Science Foundation. Resources at CSERD may be of more interest to our higher education faculty CSTA members.

It was truly gratifying to read so much good press about computer science all in one week. And it was wonderful to find good resources for CS teachers available at the click of a mouse. There are so many resources available to teachers available and becoming available. There is indeed a renewed emphasis on computer science. I would definitely say that Computer Science has made the big time.

Websites:

Khan Academy to Launch Computer Science Curriculum, PC World, August 14
Coders Get Instant Gratification With Khan Academy Programming, Wired, August 14
Khan Academy Wants to Teach You Coding, Good Education, August 17
John Resig's Blog Post
The Kahn Academy
Computer Science at The Kahn Academy
National Science Digital Library
Computational Science Education Reference Desk

Deborah Seehorn
CSTA State Department Representative

Comments

Having videos that you can access any time on websites such as Khan Academy or MathTB.com are great tools for self paced learning.

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