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January 30, 2013

Student Teacher Time!

Spring is the season of student teachers. Do you remember when you went out and worked with an older, experienced teacher to see what the job was really like? You probably started out sitting in the back of the room like a new student, taking notes and jotting down questions to discuss during the planning period. However, eventually, you would have taught a lesson all on your own. That may have been the day you decided that being a teacher was more than just a good idea, that it was your vocation.

I'm very curious how many computer science teachers did their student teaching in some other type of classroom, perhaps a math class or a business class, instead of a computer science class. When I was in college, I was discouraged from focusing on teaching computer science, even though I had already been hired as a CS teacher. In Pennsylvania, computer science is taught under either a math certification or a business certification, my district wanted me to get the business certification, and therefore I was expected to do my student teaching in a business class.

When you think about the 10,000 CS Teachers we want to have in classrooms in the very near future, it would mean we need each current CS teacher to host a student teacher. If you have never had a student teacher, you can get one by letting your local teacher prep college or university know that you are willing to host one. Many teacher prep programs now have a classroom component in several years, not just the last one. If we can get pre-service math and/or business teachers into our classrooms early in their post-secondary career, maybe we can convert some of them to be computer science teachers.

You are awesome! Share your classroom with an aspiring teacher!

Tammy Pirmann
CSTA School District Representative

Posted by cstephenson at 04:33 PM | Comments (1)

January 28, 2013

PAEMST Awards Now Include Computer Science

This year, for the first time, the prestigious Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching (PAEMST) specifically include computer science!

The PAEMST award is the highest honors bestowed by the United States government specifically for K-12 mathematics and science teaching. The PAEMST program authorizes the President to bestow up to 108 awards each year. Awards are given to mathematics and science teachers from each of the 50 states and four U.S. jurisdictions. The award recognizes those teachers who develop and implement a high-quality instructional program that is informed by content knowledge and enhances student learning. Since the program's inception, more than 4,200 teachers have been recognized for their contributions in the classroom and to their profession.

And thanks to the hard work and dedication of National Science Foundation Program Officer Jan Cuny, for the first time this year computer science teachers have been formally acknowledged and encouraged to apply. Eligible teachers must meet the following criteria:

  • Teach mathematics or science (including computer science) at the 7-12th grade level in a public or private school.
  • Hold at least a bachelor's degree from an accredited institution.
  • Be a full-time employee of the school or school district as determined by state and district policies, and teach K-12 students at least 50% of the time.
  • Have at least 5 years of full-time, K-12 mathematics or science (including computer science) teaching experience prior to the 2012-2013 academic school year.
  • Teach in one of the 50 states or the four U.S. jurisdictions. The jurisdictions are Washington, DC; Puerto Rico; Department of Defense Education Activity schools; and the U.S. territories as a group (American Samoa, Guam, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, and the U.S. Virgin Islands).
  • Be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident.
  • Not have received the PAEMST award at the national level in any prior competition or category.
  • Applications for nomination are due May 1, 2013 and if you know an exemplary computer science teacher, we strongly encourage you to nominate her or him.

    It is also important to note that, as technical guidance, the PAEMST award reviewers will be referring specifically to the CSTA K-12 Computer Science Standards.

    Chris Stephenson
    CSTA Executive Director

    Posted by cstephenson at 12:58 PM | Comments (0)

    January 23, 2013

    Training Critical Thinkers and Problem Solvers

    As a teacher I am always trying to find ways to encourage and interest my students in my class. I try to come up with innovative lesson plans that go according to what they like. I believe I must engage the students' interests so that the material I am teaching stays in their minds for the future.

    Lately, though, it seems that everything revolves around the question: Am I teaching and engaging my students to become critical thinkers and problem solvers? I live in a society where parents think that teachers are here mainly to serve students and insert information into their brains, holding the teacher solely responsible if that does not happen and not expecting any effort or work from the student. This applies to all subject areas, but in computer science it is really critical that we correct this misconception.

    Students now, are encouraged to be human filing cabinets, where a bunch of information is stored but really have no idea how to use it in the real world. As teachers, we are always faced with the question, why do we need to learn this? How and when will I use this information in real life? These questions were commonly found in math classes but now it has transferred to the computer sciences area. There are lessons that our students must learn about computer sciences that do not require the use of a computer or other technologic device. This, in our students' minds is inconceivable because they think that computer sciences without a computer are nothing.

    Part of my curriculum focuses on teaching my students how to use their common sense and their logic skills the best they can so that they can solve the "world's greatest problems", and most of the time I have been searching for lessons that include using a computer or similar device. However, this school year I changed that, and the response has been outstanding. Therefore I want to share my experience.

    I started using lessons from the program Exploring Computer Science. This program was created to encourage inquiry based instruction among other wonderful things. I especially love their unit on Critical Thinking and Problem Solving. I had the amazing opportunity to go to a workshop during the 2012 Summer CSIT conference called Exploring Computer Science:Teaching with Inquiry presented by Gail Chapman and Joanna Goode. This workshop was so amazing and provided so many wonderful ways to encourage our students to be thinkers and inquire about what they are learning. It was a hands-on workshop and I decided to apply several of the exercises with my students this school year. I learned two things from this: one, that this is a way to get to know the learning personality of each of my students and two, that I have been "spoiling" my students by blurring the line between helping them and actually initiating the work for them. I was not creating independent students but was being careful of completing my curriculum and having the output of good grades from my students.

    Needless to say, I am fixing that. It is an everyday job though. I have to take my students out of the bubble in which a story starter has to be given to them or a word wall is the beginning of creating an original piece of work. I was limiting their creativity and innovation; I was guiding their problem solving skills by providing them with the right answer. Now I can see my students blooming and creating amazing work. On the downside, I now struggle with some parents who believe I am pushing my students too hard. I have to break down the walls that students build instantly even before the topic is explained. I also have to teach my students that sometimes failing a task is part of the learning process. When success is not achieved the first time, it only means that they have to take a different approach to the situation, plan a strategy and try again. Whether this applies to programming, design, video games, robotics or simply living and performing their daily tasks, it is part of the learning process and this is a skill that will stick with them for the rest of their lives.

    I encourage other teachers to take a look at the Exploring Computer Science program since it has an easy to follow approach to teaching computer sciences, with units that are well thought and applicable to any level of students, plus it is also aligned to the CSTA standards. It is truly satisfying to see students embrace a new approach to the same material or skills. See it as a chance to practice what we seek to teach -- critical thinking and problem solving.

    Michelle Lagos
    International Representative
    CSTA- board of directors

    Posted by cstephenson at 04:24 PM | Comments (0)

    January 18, 2013

    CSTA Standards Now Aligned to Other National Standards

    Have you become familiar with the new CSTA K-12 Computer Science Standards? I'm sure you are aware that the standards were revised and published in December 2011. Do you know that the standards are organized into five strands: Collaboration; Computational Thinking; Computing Practice and Programming; Computers and Communications Devices; and Community, Global, and Ethical Impacts? The standards for learning are scaffolded in each of the strands, from Level1:3 (Grades 1-3) to Level 1:6 (Grades 3-6), to Level 2 (grades 6-9) to Level 3A (grades 9 and 10); and then to level 3B (grades 11 and 12). There are beautiful and descriptive graphics in the Standards Document that depict this scaffolding of standards.

    So, if any of this is news to you, you might want to download and read and download the CSTA K-12 Computer Science Standards from the CSTA website.

    Have you been asked to demonstrate how your Computer Science courses contribute to the teaching of other national standards? The great news today is that the CSTA K-12 Computer Science Standards have now been correlated with the Common Core State Standards, the STEM Cluster Topics, and the Partnership for 21st Century Essential Skills. The downloadable documents that match the CSTA standards to the above national standards are available on the Curriculum webpage of the CSTA website.

    Many thanks to Debbie Carter, former CSTA Board Member, who painstakingly compared the CSTA K-12 Computer Science Standards to each of the other three sets of national standards! Thanks also to the Curriculum Committee who reviewed Debbie's meticulous crosswalks and collaborated with Debbie on the final crosswalks.

    These "crosswalk" documents will be exceedingly helpful to classroom teachers who are asked to state how what they teach reinforces national standards. Be the first in your school or district to check out these useful crosswalk documents and put them to good use. Then spread the word!

    Deborah Seehorn
    CSTA State Department Representative, Chair Elect
    Curriculum Committee Chair

    Posted by cstephenson at 07:04 PM | Comments (0)

    January 17, 2013

    Game Design Competition: The National STEM Video Game Challenge

    Competitions engage students, build excitement, and can push CS learning to higher levels. Here is an opportunity to enthuse your students with a competition using familiar classroom tools. No need to learn a new game development environment. My bet is that you are already using one of these listed in the competition.

    Inspired by the "Educate to Innovate Campaign," President Obama's initiative to promote a renewed focus on Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) education, the National STEM Video Game Challenge is a multi-year competition aiming to motivate interest in STEM learning among America's youth.

    The 2013 Challenge will open to submissions in January, 2013, with competitions for middle and high school students. Your students (and you) will love the variety of entry choices:

  • Written game design documents
  • Games made with Gamestar Mechanic
  • Games made with Gamemaker
  • Games made with Kodu
  • Games made with Scratch
  • Games made with any tool (Agent Sheets, Flash, XNA Game Studio, and several more) www.stemchallenge.org/resources/Other.aspx
  • Check it out!


    It might be just the spark plug you need for second semester.

    Pat Phillips
    Editor, CSTA Voice

    Posted by cstephenson at 02:40 PM | Comments (1)

    January 11, 2013

    HS Computer Club Works with the Community

    In our most recent CSTA Central NJ Chapter meeting one of our members shared activities that her HS computer club enjoyed. Our chapter members were very excited about possibly duplicating the activity that Carolyn describes below. Maybe you will give it a try in your community!

    My name is Carolyn Segreto and I am the Computer Science teacher at Brick Township High School. Two years ago three former AP Computer Science students of mine came to me and wanted to form a computer programming club, so that they could continue to program. We decided to make it a computer club so that any student that liked computers could join. We promoted the club through word of mouth, posters, and morning announcements and had a good showing at our first meeting.

    The students wanted to do community service so we contacted the senior communities in Brick and invited them to a workshop to answer any questions that they had about computers. The students prepared a PowerPoint presentation about basic topics with computers (searching the internet, internet safety, E-mail, Microsoft Office, Facebook, etc.) After the presentation, we had a hands-on computer lab to answer any individual questions the seniors had about computers (since they all were at different skill levels). There was such an overwhelming response we had three more workshops just to satisfy the waitlist. Administration appreciates the community outreach and the seniors that come to our workshops have nothing but praise for our students.

    What I found was that almost fifty percent of the club was girls who loved to cater to the seniors and help them with their computer questions. All of these girls eventually signed up for my programming classes. Since I have had the computer club, the enrollment for my programming classes has tripled and one third of my enrollment is girls. This is an incredible bonus!

    Feel free to contact me at csegreto@bricschools.org if you have any further questions.

    Carolyn Segreto
    Computer Science Teacher
    Brick Township High School 
    Brick, NJ

    732-785-3000 x6857

    What involvement does your computer club have with your community? Share your stories!

    Fran Trees,
    CSTA Chapter Liaison

    Posted by cstephenson at 08:34 PM | Comments (1)

    January 09, 2013

    How to Do a Computer Science Open House

    Like many of you I wanted to hold a Computer Science Open House during CSEd Week in December to showcase the work of my students and to educate parents, administrators and other guests about computer science. I utilized my Computer Science Club to organize and host the event which, including 20 club members had over 75 attend. I was very happy with how the event turned out and it did not take a huge effort on my part.

    The first thing my CS Club members did was to identify what they wanted to showcase. Their list included:

  • Cisco Binary Game for guests to play
  • Scratch games and stories written by students
  • Java games and programs written by students
  • CyberCIEGE (gaming environment that teaches cyber security)
  • CTeLearning DarkBasic video games by students
  • AppInventor apps written by students
  • Make a Network Cable (yep, they wanted to crimp their own network cable)
  • Trophies and awards from competitions
  • NCWIT winner and Google CSSI participants
  • Now that we knew the what, my students mapped each to specific computers and locations in my lab and the lab next door. Club members then divided themselves into small groups to take care of the various tasks needed to make the event happen such as, develop an invitation to be sent via email, develop a list of refreshments to provide, make colorful page-sized labels to place at each location explaining what guests were seeing/doing, and a flier that was placed in every intermediate, middle, ninth and high school campuses in the district advertizing the event. They also updated an existing PowerPoint presentation that defined computer science, showed statistics on the shortage of computing majors for the number of jobs openings, described computer science courses offered in the district and highlighted successes and achievements of my students.

    The invitation was created as a PowerPoint slide that I saved as a PDF file. I emailed the PDF invitation file as an attachment to:

  • parents of all my students (done through our grade book software)
  • faculty and staff at my high school
  • district superintendent, cabinet members and public information officer
  • district technology and secondary curriculum directors
  • school board president and members
  • college computer science professors (local contacts I made through CSTA)
  • local newspaper editor
  • local city councilmen and state representative and senator (district public information officer assisted to find these)
  • As I said, CS Club members were the hosts and therefore were required to attend. They wore their club t-shirts and were expected to hang out at the various stations to answer questions and explain what guests were seeing. Several were assigned to be photographers and several others were assigned to man the refreshment tables outside the classrooms. We served several finger foods along with bottled water and lemonade to drink. We also had a sheet cake with "Happy Birthday Ada and Grace" written on it. One trip to Costco was all it took for all of the refreshments. I made a PowerPoint slide for each lady with their name and accomplishments listed that we taped to the wall above the cake. I also put a framed picture of each lady on the table as decoration. Some club members were also assigned to clean up at the end of the event.

    During the open house, I watched my students enthusiastically show programs they wrote to their parents. I heard my students describe to the district superintendent the design process they went through to come up with their application of "intelligent fabrics" that took second place in a state-wide competition. I smiled as my students demonstrated to the district technology director how CyberCIEGE uses gaming to teach cyber security. And it thrilled me to see my students comfortably answering questions from college computer science professors about what they had learned and what their future plans were regarding computer science.

    If you have not held a computer science open house I strongly encourage it. The kids really take ownership of it. The cost is minimal; mostly for the food and the positive press your students and your program gets makes it well worth it.

    Gerri Lynne Ryan
    CSTA Leadership Cohort Member
    North Crowley High School
    Fort Worth, TX

    Posted by cstephenson at 04:28 PM | Comments (0)

    January 07, 2013

    On Being a Technology Teacher in Newtown

    Editor's Note: This special blog piece was written by our Board member, Patrice Gans, who teaches at an elementary school in Newtown Connecticut, five miles from Sandy Hook Elementary School and deals with her experiences during the terrible events that resulted in the deaths of so many students and the educators who gave their lives to protect them.

    I live and breathe technology. I have a laptop computer, iPad, cellphone, digital camera, flip camera, and a wide assortment of flash drives. The first thing I do in the morning is check my e-mail, twitter and Facebook accounts. I always believed that technology would never leave me wanting for information.

    On Friday, December 14, 2012, when an unimaginable horror was unfolding less than five miles away at Sandy Hook Elementary School, I sat huddled in a classroom with a fellow teacher for 2 and a half hours, clueless. When our head of school announced the lock down at 9:35 am, the first thought I had was "Why?". Assuming it was only a drill, I followed standard lockdown procedure and made my way across the hall to a more secure location, where I closed the door behind me, and waited quietly for the drill to end. However, it was only after I heard numerous sirens passing by the school that I began to believe that something may have actually happened and that our practice was real.

    Then, as the time stretched from a half hour to an hour, I became convinced that something awful must have occurred. I had no idea where to turn for answers. I could not pick up the phone and call someone, nor could I turn on the television. My only recourse, as I sat crouched below the glass wall in a locked classroom, was to turn to my iPad for an answer. I eagerly surfed the web searching for answers. I was convinced that technology would quickly yield them and provide me with a course of action. However, I felt powerless. No answers were to be found.

    I am not alone in believing in the power of technology. Most people share my perceptions and cling to the assumption that technology provides us with instant access to information that would have been difficult or impossible to find previously (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Information_Age#cite_note-1). From what I saw on the 14th of December, stories were not hard to come by. But as the scene began to unravel at Sandy Hook Elementary School, I slowly came to the realization that accurate information was not readily forthcoming. Rumors quickly filled the school, fueled by smart phones and unlimited internet access. It was more frightening than comforting.

    As an educator, I want to teach my students the importance of effective digital information literacy skills. Thankfully I am not alone. Many organizations recognize the need for students to be able to navigate the digital landscape intelligently. The Partnership for 21st Century Skills includes information, media and technology skills as some of the key elements in their Framework for 21st Century Learning.

    A recent study conducted by the Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project entitled How Teens Do Research in the Digital World also supports the critical nature of incorporating digital literacy into the K-12 curriculum. Two main points from the study's summary confirmed my recent experience with technology.

  • 76% of teachers surveyed "strongly agree" with the assertion that internet search engines have conditioned students to expect to be able to find information quickly and easily.
  • Fewer teachers, but still a majority of this sample (60%), agree with the assertion that today's technologies make it harder for students to find credible sources of information.
  • Three weeks have passed since that fateful day. Students and teachers have returned from holiday break, and life is slowly returning to normal. We find ourselves with many questions and few answers. When the event first occurred, the abundance of misinformation was staggering and crippling. I found myself obsessed with finding out what had really happened. Now that some time has passed, I can go back and sort through the media frenzy and re-examine the information with a clear head. At the same time, I can put to use the critical thinking skills that I stress in my classroom on a daily basis.

    As a teacher in Newtown, CT, the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School hit home. As I try to come to terms with the horror, I find myself looking for a way to move forward. If nothing else, my experiences, during the lockdown and its aftermath, reinforced the importance of acquiring reliable information. I saw firsthand how important good information is to the understanding of a situation and the ability effectively deal with a crisis. Now is the time to take that lesson and pass it on to my students. Using technology is not enough. They must critically examine information and use it to make educated and informed decisions. Crises and emergencies demand accurate information, and I want to make sure my students are prepared to obtain it.

    Aside: An excellent resource for teaching information literacy Common Sense Media (www.commonsensemedia.org)

    Patrice Gans
    CSTA K8 Representative

    Posted by cstephenson at 05:18 PM | Comments (1)

    January 03, 2013

    Share Your PD Experiences

    As every computer science teacher knows, professional development is critical to keeping our knowledge up to date, our teaching skills sharp, and reinforcing our sense of community and common purposes; not to mention some modicum of keeping abreast of the latest technological innovations that our students seem to absorb through their skin!

    A wide variety of PD is available to all teachers; we have all witnessed the good, bad, and ugly. In an upcoming issue of the Voice newsletter we will focus on planning and executing computer science PD that meets the unique needs of CS teachers. The goals will be to:

  • Highlight upcoming quality events (including the CSTA Annual Convention to be held in Boston, July 15 - 16 and local CSTA Chapter events).
  • Share successful PD event planning strategies.
  • Learn techniques for executing valuable hands-on PD workshops.
  • Explore pitfalls to avoid.
  • CSTA members have a wealth of knowledge, insights, and perspectives to contribute. Your experiences are valuable and can help us all create dynamic PD that fellow CS teachers will long remember. We'd love to hear from you. Please contribute.

  • Tell us about your chapter plans for the spring, summer, and into the fall. We certainly want to include your events on the CSTA Voice calendar!
  • Share your experiences in planning and executing an event; we can learn from your success and disappointments.
  • Guide us step-by-step through planning and conducting hands-on workshops with lasting impact.
  • Provide an outline to delivering a memorable presentation.
  • Speak up about the topics you'd like to learn about in PD events.
  • If you have a story to tell please contact me at cstapubs@csta.acm.org. It's easy!

    Pat Phillips,
    Editor, CSTA Voice

    Posted by cstephenson at 11:42 AM | Comments (0)