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November 29, 2012

The Power of 15

We all have them, it is the rare person who doesn't. I am talking about those dreaded days were our energy is low, where we can't get started, where even the simplest tasks seem like moving a mountain regardless if they are personal or professional. In short, you have the blahs.

Why are you blah? It could to many assignments to mark, administrators who just don't get it, too little sleep, a to-do list longer than your arm, or all of the above. Regardless of the reason, you have the blahs and now you have to figure out how to move past them.

I use the power of 15 to deal with these times. This is a trick I learned over a decade ago and one that I keep coming back to time and time again. I don't remember where I first heard about this technique. It is not new. I bet you already have heard about it and might even be doing it. If you look it up on the internet, you'll see a host of people claiming they invented it. Where it came from isn't important. Actually doing it is.

By now I can hear you saying, "Okay already, what is it?"

The power of 15 is a simple motivational technique. I set a timer and tell myself that I only have to do this "thing" for 15 minutes and then I can do something else. The "thing" is different for everyone. It could be a project you've been dreading, exercising, cleaning out the garage, whatever. It is your personal stumbling block. It doesn't matter what the something else is either. You can work on another project, have a cup of tea, do something you love; the something else is just a reward (mental bribe) to get you started on the "thing" you haven't had the umph to do yet.

The power of 15 technique has never failed me. I always accomplish something even if it is only for 15 minutes. If, at the end of the 15 minutes, I still find myself worn out, I just schedule another 15 minutes later in my day. And then I just think to myself, "Heck that was better than the avoidance I had going before." And what usually happens is that I find myself absentmindedly shutting off the timer alarm and continuing to work on the "thing" for quite a bit longer, sometimes to completion.

What motivates you to get started when you have the blahs?

Lissa Clayborn,
Director of Development, CSTA

Posted by cstephenson at 06:21 PM | Comments (0)

November 27, 2012

Try Going a Day Without Technology!

It's no doubt that most of us have become dependent (if not addicted) to technology. We rely on our cell phones, texting, Facebook, Twitter, and Internet searches each day. In fact, sometimes our work requires such communications. What is it like to go without?

If you live in NJ, you probably experienced this first hand. Sandy visited us on October 29th -- an unwelcomed visit by most in this state and surrounding areas. We were left without power for a week or more (some are still without power). And we found out just how well we deal without technology. Some were lucky enough to power up with generators but Internet was mostly out of the question. No power--no cable--no Internet. Even if you had power via a generator, that power didn't do anything for connecting you with the outside world. Our cell phones most of the time worked (if you could find a power source to charge them) so texting was a means of communication. Using your phone for Internet access was slow, at best. It seemed like everyone was trying to connect through Verizon! Some in my area have no cell reception and rely on VoIP for their phones. They were truly unable to communicate. So what do you do? You spend time with your family and your neighbors. It was candlelight parties with grilled food and great conversations!

Think about the times when you go out to a restaurant and people who are there to spend time with their companions pull out the cell phone and start texting. Think about your commutes using public transportation. I'll bet you pull out the cell phone or the Kindle or your laptop. Think about the times you browse to find the best deals for items you need (or want). Think about Cyber-Monday.

In our culture we rely on communication through some form of technology. But, do you really realize just how much you rely on and use technology? Try one of these two exercises with your class:

Spend an Entire Day Without Technology
As a class, define what "technology" actually means for this exercise. After the day is complete, have the following class discussions (or have the students record answers in a journal):

  • What were you forced to do differently?
  • How were your communications hampered?
  • What did you like about being technology-free?
  • What did you dislike about being technology-free?
  • How did this technology free day affect your overall mood?
  • Explore Your Digital Footprint
    In Blown To Bits, Chapter 2, Abelson, Ledeen, and Lewis discuss the data trails we leave every day. They define electronic footprints as data trails we leave intentionally; and electronic fingerprints as data trails of which we are unaware or unconscious of leaving.

  • Think about the digital footprints and fingerprints you leave behind in just one day.
    Keep a journal of ALL digital footprints and fingerprints you leave during that day. Footprints are pretty easy but you have to really concentrate on where, when, and how you might be leaving those fingerprints!
  • During the holidays, spend some technology free time with your family and friends.

    Fran Trees
    CSTA Chapter Liaison

    Posted by cstephenson at 06:51 PM | Comments (0)

    November 21, 2012

    Seize the Professional Development!

    The Philadelphia Area chapter started providing professional development workshops to our members because they asked for it. We regularly query our membership as to how we can best serve them, and providing professional development is a perennial favorite.

    This summer we were lucky enough to have received funding through CSTA and Google to provide a three day workshop for area Computer Science teachers. While I am sure that our attendees learned something valuable to them from our workshop (via survey results), I am happy to say that we learned a lot too!

    One of the questions on our survey was "What topic would like to see CSTA>>Philly offer in future workshops?" The two responses that came to the top were CS-POGIL and Robotics. We were very glad that two topics were clearly chosen, because it made choosing the subject of our two Saturday workshops very easy!

    We just had a Saturday workshop on CS-POGIL at Drexel University. Process Oriented Guided Inquiry Learning in Computer Science is quite the mouthful and many of the individual words are fraught with multiple meanings in CS, but it is a pedagogical approach to teaching computer science that has been proven to be successful in other STEM fields. It is a student centered approach that puts the teacher in a very different role in the classroom. At the end of our workshop, we had several groups of teachers and professors working together to create or convert lesson plans to this model.

    It was great to spend a day with computer science teachers discussing HOW to teach computing concepts, not just WHAT to teach. I think we need to remember that teaching is an art and that the best way to teach Computer Science may not be the same as the best way to teach Language Arts or Algebra. We are a unique discipline.

    Too often, school districts provide a "one-size-fits-all" type of professional development. This is for several very real reasons,not the least of which is cost. Therefore, when you have a chance to participate in professional development that is targeted and relevant to your field, take it!

    Tammy Pirmann
    School District Representative

    Posted by cstephenson at 02:47 PM | Comments (0)

    November 19, 2012

    Code Literacy: A 21st-Century Requirement

    This blog piece is reprinted with permission of its author, Douglas Rushkoff. It was originally published at http://www.edutopia.org/blog/code-literacy-21st-century-requirement-douglas-rushkoff. Douglas is the author of Program or Be Programmed and a good friend of CSTA.

    As I see it, code literacy is a requirement for participation in a digital world. When we acquired language, we didn't just learn how to listen, but also how to speak. When we acquired text, we didn't just learn how to read, but also how to write. Now that we have computers, we are learning to use them but not how to program them. When we are not code literate, we must accept the devices and software we use with whatever limitations and agendas their creators have built into them. How many times have you altered the content of a lesson or a presentation because you couldn't figure out how to make the technology work the way you wanted? And have you ever considered that the software's limitations may be less a function of the underlying technology than that of the corporation that developed it? Would you even know where to begin distinguishing between the two?

    This puts us and our kids -- who will be living in a more digital world than our own -- at a terrible disadvantage. They are spending an increasing amount of their time in digital environments where the rules have been written by others. Just being familiar with how code works would help them navigate this terrain, understand its limitations and determine whether those limits are there because the technology demands it -- or simply because some company wants it that way. Code literate kids stop accepting the applications and websites they use at face value, and begin to engage critically and purposefully with them instead.

    Otherwise, they may as well be at the circus or a magic show.

    More generally, knowing something about programming makes us competitive as individuals, companies and a nation. The rest of the world is learning code. Their schools teach it, their companies are filled with employees who get it, and their militaries are staffed by programmers -- not just gamers with joysticks. According to the generals I've spoken with, we are less than a generation away from losing our technological superiority on the cyber battlefield, which should concern a nation depending so heavily on drones for security and electronic trading as an industry.

    Finally, learning code -- and doing so in a social context -- familiarizes people with the values of a digital society: the commons, collaboration and sharing. These are replacing the industrial age values of secrecy or the hoarding of knowledge. Learning how software is developed and how the ecosystem of computer technology really works helps us understand the new models through which we'll be working and living as a society. It's a new kind of teamwork, and one that's under-emphasized in our testing-based school systems.

    Click here to see the full blog piece.

    Douglas Rushkoff

    Posted by cstephenson at 01:35 PM | Comments (0)

    November 16, 2012

    What Computer Science Means to Students

    I've been thinking a lot about computer science education as it applies to my students. As the K-8 CSTA board representative and a member of the CT CSTA chapter, I'm aware of the complexities of computer science education. Unfortunately, this understanding does not always extend to my students. During a recent conversation with my 6th graders, it became clear to me that what compter science means to my students, and what it means to my colleagues, is not always the same.

    Many of my students self-identify as technology experts. They believe that, when confronted with the question of what constitutes computer science, they have all the answers. "Of course," they exclaim, "computer science is social networking, surfing the web, gaming, cell phone apps and on-line shopping. Isn't it anything and everything that you can do with a computer?

    It stands to reason that my students would have that impression of computer science. Elementary and middle school students grew up with computers. They are confronted with technology continuously, and as digital natives, their level of comfort with technology far exceeds that of older adults. According to the Pew Research Center's Pew Internet & American Life Project 95% of teens ages 12-17 use the internet compared to 85% of all adults. That number drops to about 60% for adults over 65. The prevalence of computer usage is equally high for children ages 5-12.

    Another data point to consider is cell phone ownership. Cell phones are an integral part of kids' lives. According to the Center on Media and Child's Health, 22 percent of young children (ages 6-9), 60 percent of tweens (ages 10-14) and 84 percent of teens (ages 15-18) own a cell phone.

    At the same time, computer science is the only one of the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) fields that has actually seen a decrease in student participation over the last 20 years, from 25% of high school students to only 19%, according to a study called called Can We Fix Computer Science Education in America? published by the National Center for Education Statistics and reported on by the Center on Media and Child's Health.

    The data speaks volumes. No wonder my students believe that technology and computer science are one and the same. So what is a computer science teacher to do?

    In only a matter of weeks, computer science educators from across the United States will be celebrating Computer Science Education week. This annual event, held during the week of Grace Hopper's birthday (December 9, 1906), recognizes the critical role of computing in today's society. Studies have shown that K-12 education does an inadequate job of preparing students with basic computer science skills. Thankfully, the CS Ed week website contains a wealth of resources related to introducing basic computer science concepts.

    One of the most engaging activities featured on the CS Ed week website, is the CS Unplugged curriculum. CS Unplugged is a collection of free learning activities that teach Computer Science through engaging games and puzzles that use cards, string, crayons, and lots of running around. It is an excellent introduction for computer science concepts for elementary students. I am looking forward to utilizing this resource to teach my students a sample of basic computer science concepts (ie., binary numbers, algorithms and data compression).

    By taking cues from my students, I am better equipped to address deficiencies in their understanding of computer science. Together, we will continue to explore what computer science education is and why it is so important. Computer science, and not computer literacy, underlies most of today's innovations. Noted author Douglas Rushkoff said it best:

    "When human beings acquired language, we learned not just how to listen but how to speak. When we gained literacy, we learned not just how to read but how to write. And as we move into an increasingly digital reality, we must learn not just how to use programs but how to make them."

    Computer science education week (12/9 through 12/15), is the perfect time to join together with other CS individuals to celebrate the power of computing. Let's bring more students into the fold. Join me in celebrating the joy and beauty of computers!

    Patrice Gans
    CSTA K-8 Representative

    Posted by cstephenson at 01:31 PM | Comments (1)

    November 10, 2012

    I Can't Cook, But I Can Teach CS

    Almost everyone I know can cook. And what I mean by cooking, is that they can make themselves some semblance of a balanced meal that tastes good. I, on the other hand, am completely useless in the kitchen. I think cooking is an art and that some people are naturally gifted in this area. I don't believe I have this gift. Many friends and colleagues have scoffed at my claim that I'm unable to learn and think that I haven't really tried. Believe me, I've tried. I've followed a countless number of recipes just to make creations that were tasteless or overcooked. Trying to teach myself just hasn't worked. Clearly I need formal lessons and support, despite what others may think.

    Many school system officials and school administrators think that teaching CS is like cooking; anyone can do it if they just try. Since there isn't a nationally accepted test for a licensure in computer science, states and districts have widely varying criteria for letting teachers teach computer science courses. I worked in a place where first a math certification was required, then they switched the requirement to a business certification, and then they said any secondary school certification was sufficient. In all three situations, no proof of any knowledge of computer science was required in order to teach any of the computing courses, though I was forced to take the Business Praxis exam at one point in order to continue teaching a course I had been teaching for several years. (Hooray, I'm now credentialed to teach accounting, economics, and marketing, even though I've had no formal training!) How many of you work in places with similar situations?

    Just this week, I discovered that in order to teach a financial literacy course in my county, certified math teachers have to attend a six-hour training, complete an online course, and pass a test in order to be deemed knowledgeable enough to teach this course. These same math teachers can teach computer science without any such training or demonstration that their college coursework included computer science courses. The message that I'm hearing is that anyone can teach themselves what is necessary to teach computer science, but teachers need additional support in order to teach finance. This is crazy! We need to be recognized as a rigorous subject that requires teachers to be knowledgeable in both content and pedagogy. If we really wish to increase the number of teachers in our country to 10,000 by 2015, we have to have school system officials and administrators recognize us as a subject of rigor and one that requires training and support.

    Ria Galanos
    9-12 Teacher Representative

    Posted by cstephenson at 03:18 PM | Comments (1)

    November 08, 2012

    Seeking Deaf and Hard of Hearing Students Interested in Computing!

    Do you have a deaf or hard of hearing student in your class who is interested in math, science and/or computing? Encourage your student to check out the Summer Academy for Advancing Deaf and Hard of Hearing in Computing, a summer program that explores careers in computing while receiving academic credits in a computer programming course, and developing an animation short.

    The program, funded by the Johnson Scholarship Foundation and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, with support from the National Science Foundation, provides tuition, room & board and transportation expenses at no cost to selected applicants. The Summer Academy, located on the University of Washington campus in Seattle, begins on June 21 and ends on August 24, 2013.

    The program is open to high school juniors and seniors as well as college freshmen and sophomores. Application deadlines are December 21, 2012 and January 25, 2013 (the latter deadline is on a space available basis). Visit:


    for details.

    For more information, please contact Rob Roth at robroth@cs.washington.edu.

    Rob Roth
    Dept. of Computer Science & Engineering
    University of Washington

    Posted by cstephenson at 05:24 PM | Comments (1)

    November 03, 2012

    There's Nothing Like a Good Book!

    I understand there are good reasons to push for more digital texts, and for the "fully immersive digital experience". But there is nothing like a good book, there is nothing like being lost in a good book. I worry that kids will lose all creativity, all ability to use their imagination. And where will the great leaps come from, the aha moments, if people don't use their imaginations. Sure, I'm all for kids being able to pull out an iPad or notebook computer, pull up text for a classroom discussion, not kill their backs lugging five tomes around school all day, save millions of trees. But let's not give up on books altogether. Turning pages, letting the mind wander, flipping back and forth between chapters, revisiting a character or an idea in an early section, being able to find on page 30 the formula you need on page 50. These are the activities that actually underly critical thinking. I love technology, but reading on a screen enforces linearity. And it promotes loss of focus. Yes, you can follow a hyperlink, but in some ways you then risk never coming back to the starting point. You get sucked into the vortex of the Internet. You forget why you were following the link in the first place.

    My two favorite ways to read; sitting with just a book, or sitting with a book and a computer. Then I can look up things on the computer, but the book is still my touchstone, always calling me back. I still read with pencil or pen in hand. I make notes, mark up things. I still return to the books I read in college for English and political science, I reread, and I also read my notes. I would never dig around to find some electronic file of ruminations, but when the notes are right there I can easily revisit the thoughts of my younger self.

    Arne Duncan, rethink where you take us. Sure, use digital text in some circumstances, use it in ways that make sense. But don't use it 100% of the time, don't create a generation of young people who don't appreciate the value of a good book in all its papered glory.

    Valerie Barr
    Computational Thinking Task Force chair

    Posted by cstephenson at 05:09 PM | Comments (0)