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April 30, 2013

The Sexiest Job in the 21st Century

According to the Harvard Business Review and reported in the New York Times data science is "the sexiest job in the 21st century." Experts expect that this hot new field promises to revolutionize industries from business to government, health care to academia.

According to Rachel Schutt, a research scientist at Johnson Research Labs who taught an introduction to data science course at Columbia, a data scientist is "a hybrid computer scientist software engineer statistician."

The exciting news for CS educators is that is data science offers that exciting blend of CS with real-world problems to be solved in medicine, social media, business -- basically everything. Universities are busy creating courses and programs to fill the growing demand. It is estimated that there will be almost half a million jobs in five years, and a shortage of up to 190,000 qualified data scientists. In addition, 1.5 million executives and support staff who have an understanding of data will be needed.

Want to explore the concepts a bit yourself or invite students to take a test drive? Check out the free online course Introduction to Data Science, offered by the University of Washington.

Pat Phillips, Editor
CSTA Voice

Posted by cstephenson at 06:39 PM | Comments (0)

April 28, 2013

Digital Natives Providing Connections Other Generations

Once again, my family has come through just in time for another blog posting. This past weekend, we were able to celebrate my grandfather's 97th birthday. It was a momentous occasion- more than 40 family members there to celebrate with him, including his 90 year old sister! My grandparents have 9 children, most of which are within driving distance to visit.

About a week before the event, I received a message from my aunt who lives many states away wondering if I might be able to help them FaceTime with my grandfather during the party. Their 12 year old grandson had taught them how to do it, and they thought since I worked in computers, I could be the one to help them figure it out on the other end. They could then have their whole crew of 8 grandkids there to celebrate alongside the real festivities.

So the time comes for us to connect- and success! We put the computer in front of grandpa, and the Colorado crew begins to give him their well-wishes, one by one popping up in front of the camera. All the while, grandpa (and his sister) looks perplexingly at the screen. We encourage him to wave and talk to them, which is met with scoffs and quizzical glances, followed by some half-hearted waves. (as seen in the photo below).


We asked grandpa quite a few times if he realized what was going on and he still thinks he was just watching a pre-recorded video of everyone saying hello. For a man who has seen so many inventions in his life, from not even having electricity to being able to video chat with someone 1,000 miles away, that's quite a jump for someone to make.

However, the point that we are missing is that this all happened because of a 12 year old boy. I certainly would not have thought to set this up. I'm in the generation that emails to communicate. But this is how a 12 year old communicates with everyone. His friends, family. It just comes naturally. There are no technology boundaries for him. It would have never occurred to him that video chatting with a 97 year old might be out of the question.

These kids that are born as digital natives are going to be the ones who shape our future. Technology opens up a world of opportunities to them. This is the generation that is finally realizing technology is a tool they need for survival. So what is it, that when we are 97, these kids will have developed that we will no longer be able to understand or comprehend could actually be happening? Is there a point where we will shut ourselves off to the possibility of technological advances? Longing for days of simpler cell phones, having to do math in our heads instead of having it easily calculated for us on a computer, or going to a physical store to purchase our music in hopes that the new album has not sold out. I can honestly say, I hope not. Most technology is developed to fill a need. As times change, needs change. I gladly commit my technological future into the hands of the digital natives and cannot wait to see what comes of it.

Mindy Hart
At-Large Representative

Posted by cstephenson at 03:12 PM | Comments (0)

April 17, 2013

Are Parents Supporters or a Challenge for Computer Science in K-12?

As a K-12 Computer science teacher I am often presented with different challenges and they all vary depending on the grade level. Most of the time when we think about challenges, we focus on school budgets, school administrators, and curriculum challenges, but we usually don't stop and think about the challenge that starts at home.

Often, the biggest challenges with the younger K-8 grades are the parents' perception of what computer science is and what their kids should be learning in the computer science class. One of the phrases that I commonly hear when a student is struggling with a CS skill is: "But my child is so good with computers, he spends so much time on it and uses it so well, you should see him using the iPad, he uses it even better than me." These parents simply do know that playing online games and using iPad apps is not really computer science. So, I find myself explaining over and over again what computer science is and why our school wants our students to become producers and not consumers. This is why our kindergarteners are learning about developing simple games and our first and second graders creating games using KODU.

Then we have the parents who insist that our curriculum is too difficult and the students should be coming to the computer lab to play games and have fun. I once had a parent conference in which the parent insisted that we should review the computer curriculum because we were actually trying to fail all kids by asking them to learn and do thing that were beyond their ages. Some parents still think that a computer science class should be a fancy typing, word processing, creating electronic worksheets and slideshows course or that it should be a course that students can take just to raise their GPA. Some parents have a hard time understanding that their kids are capable of so much more.

I have the privilege to work in a private school where most of my kids have access to different kinds of devices at home. This is a good and bad thing at the same time, because this makes parents think that their kids are expert computer scientists. They are experts at downloading apps, creating movies with iMovie or moviemaker, downloading songs from YouTube (copyright infringement is whole separate topic). I do not want to discredit these skills or applications, but my kids are also completely capable of coding or designing their own games. We just have to give them a chance!

This week I have the opportunity of addressing parents at a school assembly and explaining to them the importance on learning computer science in K-12, so let's hope that opens the door to have more parent support and rise to that challenge.

Michelle Lagos
CSTA International Representative

Posted by cstephenson at 12:46 PM | Comments (1)

April 16, 2013

Because We Are a Community

I believe it is only human nature that, when something terrible happens at a distance from us, we immediately ask ourselves "Are our people there? Are they safe". Twice in the last few months, I've come to understand that because CSTA has grown to encompass more than 13,500 members in 126 countries, the chance of our people being touched by disasters of all kinds has greatly increased.

Not too long ago we heard of the terrible tragedy in Newtown, CT. One of our Board members, Patrice Gans, teaches at an elementary school in Newtown. It is impossible to describe how the CSTA staff felt until we were able to determine that she was safe.

And yesterday, when those of us on the west coast learned of the bombings in Boston, we were instantly afraid for our Boston-area chapter leaders Padmaja Bandaru and Kelly Powers, and their families, students, and colleagues. And even now that we are sure that they are safe, I find myself filled with a kind of terrible anger that someone would put these friends and teachers who are so dear to me in harms way. Perhaps it is just human to feel angry at these times and to want someone to blame.

But like Newtown, Boston is a wonderful town full of strong and resilient people. I think this is best expressed by Padmaja in these words she sent to me last night:

This is the time to show that we are all strong and will not back down with these kind of attacks. We feel the pain, become stronger, and keep going with what we are supposed to do although we are still thinking about the people we lost. People still believe that even though this happened, we are all still united to face any adversities.

CSTA is a community and we are stronger because we care about each other.

Chris Stephenson
Executive Director

Posted by cstephenson at 02:36 PM | Comments (1)

April 12, 2013

Writing Apps to Empower Girls and Help the World

There has been a lot of discussion lately about the dearth of computer scientists in the workforce, and the corollary, the need to teach computer science to help fill that shortage. At the same time, a lot of people argue that software engineering (design) is being outsourced to India (and other places), so the real picture can be rather confusing. A recent program on NPR, Who's Hiring H1-B Visa Workers? It's Not Who You Might Think added more fuel to the debate. However, as a K8 computer science teacher, my impetus for teaching CS, is not about long term career opportunities, but about the actual power of computing and its impact on society.

My experience last December at the Global Random Hacks of Kindness event, brought the idea into focus, when I developed an app called Empowering Girls with Trinity College student, Pauline Lake, for the World Bank as part of the Sanitation Hackathon. The goal of the hackathon was to encourage "citizen-designed and technology-enabled solutions to sanitation challenges in the developing world." This event was not about landing a job. It was about helping people. I also did not know at the time, that there were other computer programmers from around the world, who would be developing their own solutions as well.

Our app was the direct result of the "Sanitation + girls = education + empowerment" problem that was posted to the Sanitation Hackathon site. The problem called for a text-based app that could be used to track girls' attendance in Cameroon schools, before and after gender-friendly facilities were introduced into these schools. As both educators and females, Pauline and I found that the "Sanitation + girls = education + empowerment" problem hit close to home. Also, with previous experience using mobile app creation using App Inventor, we felt that we could use our expertise to make a useful app to address the sanitation problem in Cameroon. Thus our app, Empowering Girls, was born.

The objective of our app is to help determine the impact of an NGO by tracking girls' attendance in conjunction with the implementation of a school-based health education program, improved girl-friendly sanitation facilities, and the introduction of proper feminine hygiene products. By empowering the girls at the local schools to record their own attendance, the app would help the NGO evaluate the effectiveness of these interventions.

Sadly, many girls in developing countries do not get a proper education. According to a 2005 report from UNICEF, Sanitation: The Challenge, 1 in 10 school-age African girls drop out of school when they enter adolescence or miss school approximately a week a month because of poor sanitation facilities in their school.

The lack of proper sanitation facilities and timely health and hygiene education has been shown to play a significant role in the attendance rate for young girls. It has been theorized that with proper mitigation attendance rates would rise, thus helping girls get the education they deserve.

I had no idea, when I created Empowering Girls last December, that the app would become part of a bigger project, the Sanitation Hackathon App Challenge. Over 30 apps were developed and submitted to the World Bank for review. On March 22, the World Bank announced the finalists for the Sanitation Hackathon App Challenge. Much to my surprise, our app was in the top 10.

Now we wait. The Grand Prize Award winners of the Sanitation Hackathon App Challenge will be announced on April 19, on the eve of the World Bank's Spring Meeting. In the meantime, I am thrilled to have been able to participate in such an important event. My first experience "hacking for humanity" was very inspiring. I was not looking for fame or fortune, however, I was looking to have an impact, and by participating in the global event, I did just that.

No matter how this ends, the journey is one I look forward to repeating and one I can't wait to share with my students. Hopefully they will walk away from their first Random Hacks of Kindness event with the same feeling of accomplishment, because I want more than anything for my students to believe they can make a difference.

For additional information about the finalists and to watch the videos check out:


Patrice Gans
CSTA K-8 Task Force Chair

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

April 10, 2013

Computer Science as a Teaching Strategy

Recently one of my Facebook friends, Rebecca Dovi, computer science teacher in Virginia, posted an article from Education News, Julia Steiny: Promote Algebra by Teaching Basic Software Programming. The article was a reaction to an opinion piece from the New York Times by Professor Andrew Hacker titled "Is Algebra Necessary?"

Ms. Steiny recounts her experience serving as a member of a school board and mandating that students take pre-Algebra in the sixth grade and for the students that progressed successfully they would finish Geometry by the 8th grade. Those that didn't were remediated and the failure rates for Algebra I was lower. She also states that only about one-third of the students learn out of context and that "Fully two-thirds needed to see the problem and think it through to grasp the abstract concept embedded in the answer." That is where computer science comes in. She says that her two grown sons state that computer science is "algebra, only infinitely more fun and interesting.

Ms. Steiny gives an example of where this is happening now, Advanced Academy of Math and Science in Marlborough, Massachusetts. Students from grades 6 through 11 take computer science in conjunction with math and science so they see the application. She states that the students' tests scores are "off the map."

I am not only a computer science teacher but I also teach advanced math classes. Every day, in my math classes I see how students just don't remember the basics such as calculations with fractions and factoring trinomials. They need to see the application to remember how to do the math. My computer science students see this when they are writing a programs. Recently when the students were writing a method to reflect a digital picture, I pointed out to them that they must see the pattern and translate it into an equation so the computer can repeat the operation many times. They try out their "equation" and can see if their reasoning worked.

She ends her article with "Can we really not see the value of computer science as a compelling teaching strategy? Who are the slow learners here?"

Ms. Steiny has more blog posts related to computer science at www.juliasteiny.com.

What do you think? Can we convince the education reformers that computer science is an important teaching strategy?

Myra Deister
CSTA At-Large Representative

Posted by cstephenson at 04:35 PM | Comments (0)

April 08, 2013

It's a Rosie the Riveter Moment!

Ayna Agarwal and Ellora Israni, Stanford University computer science students who refer to themselves as "good girls gone geek," are the founders of she++.

She++ is a catchy title, exciting challenge, and clever ideas for engaging more women in CS. On the website (http://sheplusplus.stanford.edu) you will find information about an upcoming second conference, several interesting videos, several links to classroom resources, news of a recently released documentary and -- most interesting to me -- opportunities for one-on-one mentorships between high school girls and undergraduates, graduate students, and recent graduates majoring in CS or related technical fields. According to Ayna and Ellora in the "Word from the Founders" video, role models were the keys to their transformation into 'femgineers.' Perhaps some of your students who would value this opportunity; maybe some of your former students would be perfect mentors.

Shee++: the Documentary, with inspirational pieces on Silicon Valley's unsung heroes, was written and directed by Ayna and Ellora. The Documentary "encourages the future CEOs, the innovative engineers, the techies and the fuzzies, the sisters, cousins, and daughters, to break away from the stereotype into a revolutionary field. As technology is becoming increasingly ubiquitous, all demographics must harness new ideas to transform and empower technology." They invite girls to think of what more 'femgineers' could do. Watch the documentary trailer; Jocelyn Goldfein, Director of Engineering, Facebook, cites the numbers that reflect a dire need for more computer scientists and an invitation to grab the opportunity for a "Rosie the Riveter" moment.

Pat Phillips
Editor, CSTA Voice

Posted by cstephenson at 02:58 PM | Comments (0)

April 04, 2013

She++ Is a Winner

Yesterday evening, I saw She++, one of the most amazing documentary videos. Two of my students, Ellora Israni and Ayna Agarwal, produced this documentary on young women and CS/IT. They obviously got a good deal of professional help, as computing students don't, on their own, produce such a professional quality documentary.

My understanding is that it is free for K-12 schools who would like to arrange a viewing. (I believe it has been shown in a half dozen countries in the past 24 hours.) I had previously blogged about the trailer (which has been seen more than 20,000 times in the 6 weeks it's been available), and the entire documentary is, in my opinion, better than the trailer.

While the majority of the women in the video are college age or professional, there is a nice scene involving three high school girls.

Do contact She++, and show this documentary to your students and colleagues!

Steve Cooper
Chair, CSTA Board of Directors

Posted by cstephenson at 02:35 PM | Comments (0)

April 01, 2013

We Are the World

There have been several posts to this Advocate Blog that chat about the lack of diversity in computer science classes and STEM related fields. Quoting from Deborah Seehorn's blog post last October:


"There have been articles about Women in Computer Science, Computer Science in K-12 Education, Computer Science in STEM, Business and Industry Involvement in Computer Science, Interesting our Youth in Studying Computer Science, the Computer Science Employment Outlook, and the list keeps growing." I'd like to add another resource to that list that appears in the October Blog.

Today, March 27, 2013, an interview with Ed Lazowska was posted in Science Careers from the Journal Science. Dr. Lazowska holds the Bill & Melinda Gates Chair in Computer Science & Engineering at the University of Washington. The title of the article says it all: "We Are the World."

It is best that you read the entire article as it refers to an interview done with Greg Andrews in 2004 and asks some of the same questions of Ed Lazowska now. The article focuses on careers in computer science, PhD degrees in computer science, and how numbers might be interpreted then and now.

Perhaps the most meaningful quote from the interview is Lazowska's final remark:

"Science policy in this nation, and STEM education, is in the iron grip of chemists, physicists, astronomers, and biologists. They don't want any interlopers. But increasingly, advances in these fields are being driven by computer science. There is no field that is more important to the future of the nation and the world.

All of our national and global challenges -- education, health care, transportation, energy, national security, scientific discovery, you name it -- rely on advances in computer science.

Let's recognize this, and act accordingly."

Fran Trees
CSTA Chapter Liaison

Posted by cstephenson at 10:57 AM | Comments (0)