« January 2013 | Main | March 2013 »

February 27, 2013

CSTA Annual Conference News

Planning is well underway for 2013 CSTA Annual Conference, formerly known as the CS&IT Symposium. This year's conference will be held in Quincy, MA (just outside of Boston) on July 15-16. You can check out the program at:


as well as register for the conference and workshop(s). A few interesting tidbits about this year's conference:

  • The number and quality of proposals were impressive. We had 98 proposals (61 sessions and 37 workshops) this year, compared to only 55 proposals (38 sessions and 17 workshops) in 2012. The breadth of topics and quality of the proposals made the job of planning extremely difficult for the program committee, but the resulting agenda should provide something for everybody.
  • As a result of the number of quality workshop proposals, we were able to expand the number of workshops from eight to ten. There will be five workshops running concurrently on Monday morning, and five more in the afternoon session. This will provide more choice for attendees and allow us to cap workshops to optimal sizes. Register early to be sure to get the workshop(s) you want – some may fill up quickly.
  • There is a slight price increase for the conference and workshops this year, but we are making every effort to keep costs low. Conference registration is $60, which is well below most other conferences (and even includes lunch). Workshops are also $60, but if you sign up for two workshops, the cost is only $100. Quite a bargain!
  • On Monday evening, after the workshops, Microsoft will be hosting a tour and reception at their New England Research Development (NERD) Center. Transportation will be provided, but the number of seats is limited so you will need to sign up for the tour when you register.
  • Keynote speakers for Tuesday have yet to be finalized, but will be posted on the Web site when they are. Be sure to check the online agenda periodically to find out who will be informing/entertaining/inspiring you in the morning and afternoon keynotes.
  • Dave Reed
    CSTA Conference Program Chair
    College Faculty Rep, CSTA Board of Directors

    Posted by cstephenson at 06:35 PM | Comments (0)

    February 25, 2013

    Technology: Blessing or Curse? A Case Study from the Magic Kingdom

    I just got back from a week's vacation to what is supposed to be the happiest place on earth - Disneyworld. I come from a family that is not very technical or even technology oriented. Oh, they like to use it, but they have no concept of how any of it works. So these are the people I was vacationing with- and knew it would be a challenge but wanted to see what they would do when surrounded by technology.

    I decided that I would do a case study while there, and collect anecdotal evidence of when technology was presented and how my family reacted without my jumping to help or explain how it was used. Okay, perhaps it was for selfish entertainment reasons. But still, it is nice to renew that childlike faith in technology and see it from another's eyes.

    Our first encounter with technology was getting into our room. We had our magic key card but did not know how to use it. There was no place to put a key or card in. But there was this odd gray box on the door. After my sister pulled the cover of the gray box off, and realized it was some sort of computer, she quickly put the cover back on and realized that maybe we just had to swipe our card in front of the box and see what happens. Sure enough, the key lock is an RFID reader and just like that we were in the room.

    Another encounter we had with technology was at a show called Turtle Talk with Crush. Basically, you have an animated turtle on a screen, which interacts with the audience in real-time and can even call out things about people in the audience. My sister still cannot figure out how this works. "But he's animated and knows stuff about the people in there and talks about it on the screen. How?" I just could not bring myself to tell her there were still humans involved in the whole process. And that a computer can do that kind of stuff really quickly these days.

    A final story Ill share about our trip involved the dread of amusement parks waiting in line. My sister had not one, but two apps on her phone that tell you how long the wait is for certain attractions. Sure, you have the fast pass option. But you have to find things to do while waiting for your fast pass time for other rides. So out comes the app. It was funny to see how much confidence my sister had in the data on those apps being correct. Even though, each time we would look up a ride, it would give us an expected wait time and upon arrival to the attraction, inevitably the wait would be 2-3 times as long as posted on the app. What was even more perplexing is her amazement that the app could be wrong. "But the app said it was only 20 minutes. I don't know why it is so long now."

    Okay, so why am I sharing all of this? It is not to make me look like a technological genius and my family to look technologically incompetent. It reminded me of Douglas Rushkoff's book Program or Be Programmed. Are we allowing ourselves to be controlled by technology, or are we willing to master the technology and become the creators of it? I have worked with many schools and many different classrooms throughout my professional development experiences. And I often see teachers trying to use technology for the wrong reasons. Just because it is there and someone says they should. I kind of felt that way on this family vacation. Were we relying on the technology just because we could or someone said we should?

    I think one of the biggest disservices we do to our students is to just let them use technology and NOT explain to them how it works. Sure, maybe that takes some of the magic out of it, and had I dispelled some of these things to my family, it might have taken the magic out of the Magic Kingdom. But to me the magic is not in the end product, it is in the understanding of how it works and dreaming of taking it one step further.

    So you be the judge. Technology: A blessing or a curse? Or just a fun experiment on a family vacation?

    Mindy Hart
    At-Large Representative

    Posted by cstephenson at 07:42 PM | Comments (0)

    February 22, 2013

    PD Points and Teacher Licensing: Chickens and Eggs

    I am nearing the end of my five year cycle for recertification, so I am reviewing what professional development activities I have participated in to see what qualifies for PDP's (professional development points) towards my recertification.

    Looking at the professional development I have achieved over that past few years, there is a quite a list, much of it thanks to CSTA. I have attended the CS&IT Conference (now the CSTA Annual Conference) for the last four years and have enjoyed an array of interesting and useful sessions on different computer science topics. I have attended SIGCSE, MassCUE, and ISTE. Multi-day workshops at MIT on Scratch and UMass Lowell on Appinventor and Finch Robots were especially exciting and integral to changes in my curriculum. My local CSTA chapter offers enriching activities and opportunities to network with colleagues regarding CS topics.

    However, when I try to align these fantastic professional development opportunities to my Professional Development Plan, it becomes a bit challenging. You see, my certification is in Mathematics. Yet, I teach Computer Science and in fact, have not taught math in 10 years (thankfully!) but, I need 120 of 150 PDPs in my content area, math.

    Now, one might argue that since CS often falls under Mathematics in many school districts, then CS professional development should fall under Mathematics content. In fact, that's my game plan and I find myself looking for CS courses that have mathematical terms in the title that could count as math content.

    The bigger issue here is that in my state, Massachusetts, there is no Computer Science license despite the fact that there are hundreds of CS courses being taught in schools across the state. This is indeed an issue in many states across the country. If we are to encourage students to pursue computer science courses and careers, we need teachers prepared to teach those students. It's a chicken/egg scenario. We need the courses. We need teachers prepared to teach those courses. Computer Science licensure for teachers would be a helpful step. Right now teachers like me must waste energy on professional development that is irrelevant to their jobs in order to retain their license to teach.

    Karen Lang
    CSTA 9-12 Representative

    Posted by cstephenson at 01:57 PM | Comments (0)

    February 20, 2013

    she++ Video Trailer Worth a Look

    A couple of undergraduate students here at Stanford have launched she++, an effort to get more women involved in computing at the undergraduate level.

    The clever name certainly doesn't hurt, nor does the location of their effort, being centered in Silicon Valley. But they are starting to get lots of folks to take note. They are running an annual conference, and have been drawing top women (and some men) as speakers/keynotes. They are completing the creation a video documentary, whose trailer is available at:


    I also recommend taking a look at their website.


    Steve Cooper
    Chair, CSTA Board of Directors

    Posted by cstephenson at 02:43 PM | Comments (0)

    February 19, 2013

    Equity, Policy, and and Why "Trickle Down" Doesn't

    As a non common-core subject, computer science relies on vigorous policy efforts to help our educational leaders understand the importance of including computing in the K-12 curriculum. In just the past few years, we have witnessed how collaborative policy efforts can lead to the inclusion of computer science in government grant funding, standards development, certification guidelines, and curricular credit. This policy work has been tremendously important in raising awareness about the low numbers of U.S. students studying computer science and providing the necessary foundation for working towards increasing the numbers of students who pursue computing in higher education.

    Now that these efforts have evolved to include various implementations and the CS10K movement is gaining momentum, there is a temptation to assume that "increasing" participation in computing will automatically lead to "broadening" participation in computing. As a subject with troublesomely low participation rates of both females and students of color, there is a real danger that without integration of equity-focused policy, general efforts to attract more students to computing will only extend the inequitable status quo.

    A brief look at educational history highlights this point. Compulsory schooling allowed poor and working class children into American schools, but segregation remained. The Supreme Court ruling Brown vs. Board of Education was necessary to initially desegregate learning spaces, but without equal opportunity or purposeful inclusion, many public schools are more racially and socioeconomically segregated than ever. Before Title IX, girls and women were largely directed away from STEM fields and higher education altogether. In fact, many point to the subsequent gender balance in high school calculus as a direct result of Title IX legislation. These equity-focused policies were necessary because larger educational policies that benefitted majority students and boys failed to "trickle down" to students of color and girls. Yet, lessons from Brown and Title IX also highlight that equity-focused policies can open doors but do not in themselves lead to equitable access, instructional opportunities, or practices without purposeful inclusion at the state, district, school, and classroom level.

    Therein lies the necessity of maintaining a focus on equity as both policy and classroom practice even as we are pursuing policy changes that are directed at "universal" CS education.

    Additionally, the educational research that has been done in this area makes it clear that alongside "top-down" equity-focused policy work, equity work must simultaneously be addressed from the "bottom-up" at the classroom, school, and community level. We know from research that:

  • Development of a common course curriculum across schools fosters rich pedagogical collaboration amongst teachers;
  • Long-term professional development opportunities grounded in the courses teachers are teaching is necessary to develop pedagogical practices and strategies for effectively teaching computer science for diverse learners;
  • To maximize chances of CS learning opportunities to exist in the schools, clear pathways of study must be established for students from both academic and career tracks in computer science curricular decisions. School administrators, parents, and students need to see the trajectory of possibility of taking an introductory CS course in a series that might culminate in an Advanced Placement exam, a CTE certification, or another degree.
  • To address equity issues, we need to think about course pathways that culminate in, not begin with, AP courses. By definition, AP is a college-level course. Focusing on this class exclusively focuses attention and resources on a course that is available for predominantly high achieving, college-bound students from middle-class schools.
  • As well, there must be school-wide support and a belief system, from principal to counselors to parents to teachers, that all students are capable and belong in a computer science class. As Lucy Sanders stated at a recent NSF Broadening Participation in Computing community meeting, we need a social movement to reimagine the "norm" for who studies computer science. Changing belief systems cannot happen from a policy perspective alone but relies on the deep commitment and skills of our full community and computer science teachers in their own classrooms.

    There is too much at stake to hope that general educational policies aimed at increasing participation in computing will by themselves trickle down and lead to broadened participation. Instead, we need to hold steady our attention to all aspects of equity as we go forth to increase learning opportunities in computer science. This is a critical lesson from the educational history that has preceded us.

    Joanna Goode,
    CSTA Equity Chair

    Posted by cstephenson at 01:59 PM | Comments (0)

    February 14, 2013

    New Thoughts on App Inventor

    In September 2011, I posted about how much I like App Inventor as a tool to get students excited about computer science along with believing that they have the ability to create technology that could potentially change someone's experience. Since then, I have talked with more computer science educators than I care to admit who mention things about App Inventor like, "my students will find it too babyish", "the programming isn't advanced enough", and "they will get bored quickly." To them, and to anyone else who might be considering using App Inventor in their CS classes (of all levels), I want to share something that happened this week.

    A 9th grade student of mine who is also a member of the Mobile App Development Club I sponsor asked me if I could give him some advice on how he can convince his parents to buy him an Android smartphone. I chuckled as I recalled all of my failed attempts at convincing my own parents to buy me an Atari system, call waiting, or cable TV. (I was lucky enough to get an Apple IIE.) I suggested that if he could show his students that he was building apps for his phone that were useful to someone other than himself, then his parents would understand that he was creating with, and for, technology, not just using the technology. I asked him if he could think of an app that could help his parents in some way. He said he would think about it and walked away. About twenty minutes later, my student returned with a problem that he thought he could help his father with. His father works at a car dealership and often has to walk through the lot to find certain vehicles. The problem: his father is color blind. My student decided that he wanted an app that would enable his father to take a picture of the car he suspected was the right one and then announce the correct color of the car. Brilliant!

    So, we went to work. His job: start to sketch the user interface and make a list of the functionalities the app would have. My job: make sure he had learned the appropriate computer science concepts to build this particular app. The concepts I came up with:
    1) take a picture with the camera or select a picture from the phone's gallery
    2) get the color of the pixel selected by the user when he/she touches the picture on the screen
    3) perform string concatenation
    4) initialize a list and fill the list with values
    5) create a method that traverses a list using a for loop, find the index number of the minimum value in a list, and then return that value

    And that's just off the top of my head. Now, to address the issue that App Inventor is too elementary, item #5 is very similar to one of the free response prompts that shows up every few years or so on the AP Computer Science exam. Do we think that writing procedures or finding the minimum or maximum in a list is babyish?

    At the end of the day, what remains is that this 9th grader created a program to help someone, designed a user interface that was simple but had all of the needed functionality, worked with variables, value-returning methods, lists, for loops, and performed both pixel and string manipulation. Now he's off to perform user testing, solicit feedback, and refine his program.

    The look on my student's face this week as he was working on a program that will help his Dad was priceless. This experience made me remember why I became a teacher and gave me the much-needed boost I often need during the gray sky season. If the student ends up with an Android phone, that will just be the flower on top of the icing on the cake.

    Ria Galanos
    CSTA 9-12 Representative
    Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology
    Alexandria, VA

    Posted by cstephenson at 07:15 PM | Comments (5)

    February 12, 2013

    On Grades and STEM

    The other day I was reading () Desire2Learn Acquires Course-Suggestion Software Inspired by Netflix and Amazon. The article discusses a program that uses information in a student's transcript, along with historical information about other students, to "generate individualized course suggestions based on a five-star scale". I don't have much of a problem with that. I'm fine with software reminding students of the courses they need for their major, what courses they still need to complete graduation requirements. What set me steaming is that the program will also suggest "what courses they will more easily pass, even offering estimated final grades." What do we think a student will do if the program says the student might get a B or a C in a course?!?

    I don't want to discount that grades indicate something about mastery. But I don't think grades can tell us everything. Unfortunately, parents, teachers, and students at all levels have bought into the idea that anything below an A is a death knell. This is doing real damage to our ability to recruit and retain STEM majors. We've had grade inflation in STEM fields, for sure (see http://gradeinflation.com for loads of information on the subject), but I like to think we are buffered a bit by the quantitative nature of many of our assessment tools (exams, certainly, tend to be graded in a completely quantitative fashion).

    This leads to an unfortunate situation. A student who is passionate about a STEM discipline will change fields if he or she is getting Bs and Cs in STEM courses but finds they can pull off higher grades in other courses. Or a student won't even consider work in a STEM field because "it's hard", or because "I can't afford not to keep up my GPA". I think of all the C students I've had in computer science whose grades do not reflect their ability in the field, but might reflect that the student was too busy building their own mail server to study for the exam. I think about the B students who were enthusiastic and passionate about computing and who I am certain will perform admirably in their jobs if they have good managers.

    I miss my elementary school days when we got a grade for the quality of our work and a number for effort. At least then you could differentiate between the B-1, meaning a student tried hard and only achieved B level mastery, and the B-2, meaning the student probably could have done A work with more effort. I don't think we can afford to scare away the B-1 and B-2 students, or the C-2 students. But we'll always struggle to keep them if grade inflation continues to be rampant. When 95% of a high school class graduates with an A- average, when almost 45% of college grades are As, we have very serious problem, and it's doing serious damage to our ability to recruit and retain students in STEM disciplines.

    Valerie Barr
    Chair, CSTA Computational Thinking Task Force

    Posted by cstephenson at 12:28 PM | Comments (0)

    February 08, 2013

    Promoting Computer Science

    Computer Science is an elective class in my high school district and in many other districts. The simple truth is that elective teachers must promote their courses to attract students. This year I have begun early promoting computer science. My promoting activities began during Computer Science Education Week and are continuing until student registration which is the beginning of March.

    During Computer Science Education Week, I hosted an open house in the computer lab offering food, door prizes and tours during lunch time using my computer science students as “tour guides”. During Winter break, I mailed over 150 letters to parents of students using the AP Potential List inviting them to Open House and to consider enrolling in Computer Science. (AP Potential is a research-driven, free Web-based tool that will help you identify AP students that have the potential to score 3 or above on the Computer Science A AP test . My Open House activities included a continuous presentation displaying student work and showing the CSTA Computer Science Education Week movies. Additionally, I gave away candy and computer science wristbands. Current computer science students volunteered to pass out brochures and speak to attendees about computer science.

    During the next few weeks, I will mail additional letters home explaining the computer science program and the advantages of enrolling in computer science. The letters will be mailed to parents whose students have received grades of B or better in Geometry for the fall semester.

    Recently, a discussion about promoting computer science appeared as a thread on the AP Computer Science A Discussion Board. There were many good suggestions that I had not considered. Some of the suggestions were:

    From Baker Franke, University of Chicago Laboratory High School (Chicago, IL)
    Small thing I did that garnered some attention: I invented an award at my school called "Achievement in Computer Science". Then I shelled out $500 to make a fancy looking plaque and hung it in the halls. I retroactively decided former students who should have won the award had it existed and put their names on the plaque to get it started. Since I hung it up, student interest has piqued and now other departments are copying me.

    From Kathleen Weaver, Hillcrest High School (Dallas, TX)
    I volunteer around the school a LOT. All the other teachers send their students to me with computers questions, and especially password reset questions. I do the website for the PTSA. So EVERYONE knows me and knows I know everything about computers. I also mentor the Robot Team, and encourage the kids to drive the robots down the hall.

    In the past I would attend the lesser sports. I haven't had to do that in awhile, but go to the sports and watch ones that others don't go to. Go to open house, go to PTSA events, etc.
    Word of mouth is the best thing ever.

    From Rebecca Dovi, Patrick Henry High School (Ashland, VA)
    I do a lot of art in Computer Science projects and hang them in the halls. So we do one around recruiting time where the prompt is "I use computer science to..."

    The fold a 3x5 index card in half - do a collage about their theme on the outside and then finish the sentence inside. It is interactive and we get lots of kids stopping to look.

    Also - where I can I let my current students sell the program. This year we invited kids with high PSAT scores into the lab for ice cream sundaes and a tour. I let my kids show off what they do. I then mail home a follow-up letter to parents. Saying things like "your student has been nominated for computer science" plays well.

    Personally I wear my robot skirt every time I go out and volunteer - but that might not be your first sartorial choice.

    In other words, I try to have a high, visible presence with excited kids

    From David Herman, New Albany High School and Eastland-Fairfield Career & Technical Schools
    1. Create a CS/STEM Girls Club! Ask a few girls to bring some like-minded friends to a meeting. Challenge them to support each other in their CS/STEM excitement, promote and recruit, and find ways to support Middle School girls to ensure they maintain their CS/STEM interest in the face of peer (and often parental) pressure.
    2. Promote the National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT) "Aspirations in Computing Annual Award Program". As girls start to win National and State awards, promote the heck out of it in local and school media.
    3. Involve your students in free third party CS/STEM activities, then publicize their involvement and results. Examples:
    IBM Master the Mainframe competition
    Zero Robotics (NASA/MIT) programming challenge
    US Air Force Discovery Lab "Virtual Reality Academy"

    I am looking for more ideas. What have you done that has been successful?

    Myra Deister
    CSTA At-Large Representative
    Sunny Hills High School
    Fullerton, CA

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

    February 06, 2013

    It Is the Little Things That Count

    Most of us look at advocacy from a larger perspective. We think of it in terms of Districts, States, National, etc and we sometimes forget it is the little things that matter most sometimes.

    Currently I am enrolled in a graduate course and the other teachers in my course questioned me when I mentioned that technology and computer science are not the same thing. I had the opportunity on a discussion board to explain the difference between the two. I also have had the opportunity to make mention about CS education through some of the assignments. I didn't think of this as advocacy at first but then I began to think about the 32 teachers and their circle of influences. What if one of them was able to articulate the difference in her/his own school district? What if they began to think more about computer science and made a reference to it in their school? What if they just asked someone why they don't have computer science courses?

    We have recently had spirit week at our high school. One of the days was dress like a super hero day. I have made a joke in my programming course for a couple of years now that when we work with Greenfoot we "Save the World". This is because there is an option to "save the world" once you have your objects placed in it. So on super hero day myself and the other CS teacher wore our Greenfoot shirts. Our motto was "we save the world one program at a time". What happened is that we were able to tell other students not in our classes why we were wearing those shirts as super heroes. We also shared with some staff members about cs. While we received quite a few laughs we did get several - "that's cool" comments. On an average school day we made a statement about computer science to other students and staff. Who knows, maybe we will get a few more students in our classes.

    So these two things may be simple or silly but they both told people something about computer science. Also, both showed that I am completely sold on computer science education and am willing to tell anyone or interject it into any situation.

    So if you inclined to worry about all the "big" advocacy items, find a way to just advocate in your own circle of influence and see where that leads.

    Maybe we can all "save the world one program at a time".

    Stephanie Hoeppner
    Ohio Cohort Leader

    Posted by cstephenson at 12:57 PM | Comments (0)

    February 04, 2013

    Wally Addresses Computer Literacy

    As a teacher, I love it when real-world events seem to come together and influence my teaching. Just the last week, I ran across a great Dilbert comic in which Wally refers to bits and their value, which was the perfect conversation piece in my seminar class where we are reading Blown to Bits. It also reminded me of an old xkcd strip that I then pulled up and used in a lecture on efficiency and nP-hard problems. Dilbert and xkcd are great sources of computer and technology humor that can liven up many computing topics.

    What are your favorites?

    If you have a great comic that you think other teachers could use in the classroom, please share. I'll even throw in another interesting one I found: a semi-historical comic book biography of Ada Lovelace.

    Dave Reed
    College Faculty Representative
    CSTA Board of Directors

    Posted by cstephenson at 06:28 PM | Comments (2)

    February 01, 2013

    SAS Stepping Up But What About Others

    Although the number of corporations taking action to address the growing shortage of STEM) graduates, particularly in computing, some companies, such as SAS are asking themseleves a critical question: how can corporations provide schools with current information about STEM careers? What is the corporate role in priming the STEM "pump"? Here is a segment of a recent blog piece where Caroline McCullen of SAS addressed this question.

    SAS took on this challenge recently by partnering with Reedy Creek Middle School to launch the first SAS STEM Career Day. By all accounts, this event stimulated interest in STEM, helped students think more broadly about their career goals and engaged students in activities that helped them see the relevance of what they do in school every day.

    Before the event, students watched a video, The Choice is Yours. In the video, SAS computer programmers, engineers and statisticians enthusiastically describe their careers, reminisce about their favorite high school courses and talk about how their schooling prepared them for the work they do. The video generated rich classroom conversations, and when SAS volunteers arrived at the school later, students were already curious. Volunteers taught lessons that made the school-to-STEM career connection even more directly. They showed how computer programming provides the foundation for every product that comes from SAS.

    Each lesson began with a video of SAS customers talking about how technology helps them be more successful. The use of SAS by the Orlando Magic, WildTrack (which tracks endangered species using digital images of their footprints), and North Carolina Criminal Justice Law Enforcement Automated Data Services (CJLEADS) provided relatable and compelling examples.

    Based on the difference in the pre- and post-surveys, students not only learned about current STEM careers, but they really connected with the enthusiastic SAS volunteers who delivered the lessons. Students were asked if they felt school would prepare them for a STEM career. In the pre-survey, only 56 percent said “yes.” In the post-survey, it was 84 percent. They now know real-life STEM role models, and see more relevance in what they do in school every day.

    We believe this event was well worth the time and effort involved. Our return on investment will emerge as more students see the relevance of computer science specifically and STEM, in general. This kind of activity could provide a valid role for any corporation wishing to increase the number of STEM graduates who will fuel a stronger economy for a better tomorrow. And yes, that is a challenge.

    The complete blog piece can be found at:


    In my experience with CSTA, I've seen the profound benefit that companies can have when they engage with organizations such as CSTA and our more than 13,000 members to improve access to computer science education in K-12. Google, Microsoft, Oracle, and SAS are making major contributions.

    But this leads us to ask, where is everyone else? Where are the companies that rely on the power of computing and the people who create the applications, run the networks, and make the systems secure?

    It is an interesting question and one we should ask of every business leader we meet.

    Chris Stephenson
    CSTA Executive Director

    Posted by cstephenson at 01:39 PM | Comments (1)