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March 25, 2013

What' Not to Love About NYC Pilot Program

In February, I had the pleasure of attending Mayor Michael Bloomberg's announcement of the new Software Engineering Pilot Program for New York City schools. This program will begin in September, 2013, in 20 middle and high schools. It is a very interesting program in many ways, designed for students in grades 6 through 12. In the first year alone the curriculum topics include programming, embedded electronics, web design, e-textiles, robotics, and mobile programming. There are plans for elective courses in digital fabrication, 3-D printing, and animation.

What's not to love about this new program? Well, a few things.

First, the professional development does not yet exist for the teachers who will deliver the new curriculum. But somehow things are supposed to be in place by this summer.

Second, participating schools will have to apply for NY State Education Department approval, they don't start out with that approval. If they get approval, then graduating students will get a Career and Technical Education endorsement. While that endorsement can be very important for students, my reading of this is that the program is not considered an academic computer science track.

Third, this program does nothing to address two key issues that face the vast majority of states. Like many states, New York does not allow Computer Science to count as a math or science requirement for high school graduation. In addition, New York does not have any endorsement or certification for Computer Science teachers.

To be clear, I think it is wonderful that New York City is launching this new program, and I look forward to seeing how it works out. But I hope New York City will take advantage of the opportunity to provide significant leadership for the rest of the state, potentially pressuring the state Department of Education to make changes in how CS “counts”. I'd love to see elements of this program count toward students' math or science requirements, and align with either the Exploring Computer Science or CS Principles curricula. For now I'll just have to wait and see.

Valerie Barr
Candidate for College Faculty Representative

Posted by cstephenson at 06:29 PM | Comments (1)

March 22, 2013

Why am I Running for the CSTA Board?

Who am I and why am I running for the CSTA Board? I am someone who is deeply committed to computer science education. As an educator, as a software professional, and as someone who sees himself as a computer science education activist, I have been involved in the field of computer science my whole adult life. The field has been good to me and I want to give back. One way I believe I can give back is by working to support CS education and CS educators as a member of the CSTA board.

Roughly 18 years ago, following roughly 18 years working as a software professional, I entered the teaching profession. Over a 9 year period I taught computer science and computer usage to students from kindergarten through high school. Most of that time I taught high school computer science including the APCS course. During that time I was able to meet many wonderful teachers at professional development events and conferences around the country. In part that experience lead me to a 9 year sojourn back in industry where my job was to help CS educators with curriculum, some occasional hardware, some training and most of all a lot of free professional software. During this time I was able to meet with even more outstanding teachers, administrators and industry leaders in all parts of the country. This was an awesome learning experience for me. I have tried to share what I have learned with others as much as I can. I think we all need to share in order for the field of CS education to flourish.

These days I am back in the classroom trying to fill high school students heads with knowledge of and excitement for computer science. It is also time for me to get even more involved with CSTA. I have been involved in the CSTA Conference since the early years of the CS & IT Symposium as an attendee, as a speaker and a member of the program committee. I have attended and spoken at CSTA chapter meetings in several states as well. Today I feel that I can and should be even more active in the governance of the organization I respect very much.

With previous experience on education related boards (a school board, district budget committee) advisory board memberships for universities and career technical high schools and membership on working groups like the ACM/IEEE CS 2013 Curriculum task force, I bring significant experience to the CSTA Board; a working board if ever there was one. As an At large member of the Board it will be my responsibility to represent a broad cross-section of the CSTA membership. I feel as though it is a role for which I have been preparing for over the last several years. I hope you'll support me with your vote.

Alfred Thompson
At-Large Candidate for the CSTA Board

Posted by cstephenson at 03:10 PM | Comments (0)

March 20, 2013

Using the Code.org Video for Grassroots Advocacy

The code.org video has started a lot of conversations, but it takes you to bring that conversation home to your school district. Here is a 5-minute advocacy idea.

Write an email to the superintendent of your school district. Start with the link to the full 9 minute version of the code.org video. If your district is the one in ten currently offering a computer science class, make sure the superintendent knows that the community would like to hear that from them. If not, ask about plans to include computer science classes.

This may be an opportunity to start a conversation with the person at your district who controls what courses are offered. If your district has only the AP Computer Science A course, or equivalent, without any preliminary courses, this video could help you start a conversation about why it is important to offer entry-level courses in this discipline. Share the CSTA K-12 Computer Science Standards with them and the cross-walk to the common core standards. Alternatively, if your school does not have any rigorous computer science courses, this may help you get them on the roster for an upcoming school year.

Real change takes time, but all change has to start somewhere. Start a conversation, start real change.

Tammy Pirmann
CSTA School District Representative


  • Code.org 9 minute video (http://youtu.be/dU1xS07N-FA)
  • CSTA K-12 Standards (http://csta.acm.org/Curriculum/sub/K12Standards.html)
  • CSTA K-12 Standards Crosswalk with Common Core (http://csta.acm.org/Curriculum/sub/CurrFiles/CSTA_Standards_Mapped_to_CommonCoreStandards.pdf)
  • Posted by cstephenson at 01:53 PM | Comments (0)

    March 18, 2013

    The Changing Face of Education and Computer Science

    Any person involved with education today can tell you that it is an ever changing field. What was common place just a few short years ago has been replaced by something new. One of the biggest challenges teachers face is keeping up with this constant change.

    When I started teaching, we were responsible for preparing our students for Pupil Performance Objectives (PPOs) which were tested through Proficiency Tests. The Proficiency Tests were then replaced with the Ohio Achievement Tests (OATs) and the Ohio Graduation Test (OGT) which assessed the Ohio Academic Standards. Now, the Ohio Academic Standards are being replaced by the Common Core Standards and the End of Course testing or Student Learning Outcomes (SLOs). And all these changes have happened just since I began teaching 14 years ago.

    Just as the standards and testing have changed, so has funding. School districts are now dealing with major budget cuts impact which courses get funding and which get eliminated. While core courses continue to get the lion's share of the resources, electives such as Computer Science are the first to be cut. In this kind of environment, Computer Science teachers are being challenge to demonstrate that their courses are important because students are gaining critical knowledge and skills.

    This is where CSTA comes in. CSTA provides a number of powerful tools that help teachers show that Computer Science learning is critical for all students. With the help of the new curriculum crosswalk documents, we can show exactly how our curriculum aligns with the CSTA K-12 Computer Science Standards. We can rely on CSTA to fight for Computer Science in K-12.

    I may be only one teacher in a classroom, but as a CSTA member, I have a community. CSTA links us all together and gives us a powerful voice at the regional and national level. Because of CSTA, Computer Science is now part of the national conversation about what students need to know to be prepared for the future.

    I hope that all of our members will take action and become involved in some way to promote Computer Science on the local, state, or national level. What can you do within your school to further promote your Computer Science classes? Have you checked out the opportunities offered by your state or local chapter of CSTA? Have you become involved in the state or local CSTA chapter?

    Please join me in looking for every opportunity to promote Computer Science in these ever changing times.

    Dave Burkhart
    Candidate for At-Large Representative

    Posted by cstephenson at 02:20 PM | Comments (2)

    March 15, 2013

    K-8 Take Aways from SIGCSE

    I just returned from my first SIGCSE conference inspired and renewed. After listening to Dr. Margolis' closing keynote session, where she confirmed that computer science education is truly for all students and that early exposure is key, I knew that, as a K-8 computer science educator, my role was more important than ever. Validation that a CS education needs to start pre-college, and that K-8 teachers are an important part of the discussion, is slowly gaining support. But in order for K-8 teachers, or for that matter, any teacher, to be successful, proper professional development is essential.

    Another session at SIGCSE, Expanding Access to K-12 Computer Science Education: Research on the Landscape of Computer Science Professional Development examined the current state of high school computer science professional development (PD). The researchers found that only "49% of the participants for the professional development were in-service computer science teachers" and the providers "designed and delivered their PD with little or no involvement from local schools and/or districts". While PD for high school teachers is far from ideal, professional development for K-8 teachers is almost non-existent.

    Although there is consensus is that capturing students' attention early is important, accomplishing this is close to impossible without teachers to make it happen. Computer science is not a required course in the elementary/middle school landscape, so most K-8 teachers integrate computing into their courses as a direct result of personal interest or prior industry experience. Unlike other disciplines that provide consistent professional development with vetted curriculum and methods classes, computer science relies on the motivation and initiative of the individual teacher to bring this material into the classroom.

    Thankfully, there are K-8 educators that have embraced computing and school districts that are mandating integration of computational thinking into the elementary classroom. One such district is the Ramapo Central School District (RCSD) in Suffern, NY. RCSD implemented Scratch in five of their 3rd grade classrooms as part of their unit on computational thinking. (See Scratch at RCSD.) In order to make this venture successful, the school district provided the teachers with training prior to implementation and continued support during the school year; two crucial elements to help insure success.

    Professional development is an important component of CSTA membership. Local chapters host workshops throughout the year. CSTA's annual conference is another excellent source of PD. This year's conference will have a variety of sessions for middle school teachers.

    Unfortunately, attending a workshop or conference is not enough support in the K-8 arena. Identifying computer science learning objectives for the youngest of our students is just as important as learning what to teach and how to teach it. A lot has been said lately about 21st century learning. In my case, I want my students to truly understand the power of computing, and become proper digital citizens, and I'm thankful for CSTA's vision and support as I navigate a path towards becoming a successful computer teacher. Join me and other K-8 CS teachers, no one need travel alone.

    Patrice Gans
    CSTA K-8 Rep,
    Chair, K8 Task Force

    Posted by cstephenson at 02:14 PM | Comments (2)

    March 07, 2013

    Where Are the Teachers in Code.org?

    Earlier this month, computer science education fever spread throughout the nation as promotional videos from code.org were publicly released. The media frenzy can be linked to the endorsement of 84 "Leaders and Trendsetters "from government, academia, industry, and entertainment who endorse the organizational vision that "every student in every school should have the opportunity to code".

    The leading paragraph of the Department of Education blog, shows the publicity value of the endorsements by beginning a discussion of code.org with the following paragraph: "Where can you go to find - in one place - Arne Duncan, Mark Zuckerberg, Marco Rubio, Stephen Hawking, and Snoop Dogg agreeing with each other? Not sure? Now add into the mix Dr. Oz, Richard Branson, and Michael Bloomberg. Give up?"

    But a visit to the statements of support from these 84 "Leaders and Trendsetters" left me feeling incredibly unsettled. Though Sheryl Sandberg, Lucy Sanders, and Jane Margolis highlight the need to explicitly including girls and other underrepresented groups in this computing education movement - only ONE person (Dennis Van Reeked, President, National Education Association) mentions teachers in their support of computing education!

    If we believe coding should be accessible to all students in all schools, shouldn't computing teachers contribute and have a voice in these important discussions? I found this visible absence of any mention of supporting teachers disappointing and short-sighted, as I feel that computer science teachers have much more experience, wisdom, and ideas of how to actually implement these admirable access goals than, say, Ashton Kutcher.

    Joanna Goode
    Equity Chair, Board of Directors

    Posted by cstephenson at 03:55 PM | Comments (4)

    March 04, 2013

    President Obama Answers Question About Computer Science

    If you haven't seen it yet, check out the two and a half minute video of President Obama on Google+ Hangout.


    When asked directly about whether requiring CS programming in high schools would be a good thing, he emphatically says yes. He also talks about getting programming, Web design and other computing skills into high school to make students aware of career options, whether for immediate employment after high school or further study on college. Now, the question is: how do we leverage this type of support in the abstract into actual policy at the state level?

    Dave Reed
    College Faculty Representative
    CSTA Board of Directors

    Posted by cstephenson at 09:28 PM | Comments (0)