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June 25, 2013

CS2013 and K-12

Are you interested in what the future of computer science and computer science education at the college level looks like?

Roughly once per decade, the Association of Computing Machinery (ACM) and IEEE-Computing Society form a joint task force to identify important developments and future trends in computer science, and to recommend best practices in CS education. The latest such effort, Computer Science 2013 (CS2013), is nearing completion with a final report scheduled for the fall of 2013 (drafts are currently available at http://cs2013.org).

While CS2013 is focused on college-level education, awareness of its content, including changing expectations of computing careers and evolving practices in college curricula, will empower K-12 educators to better prepare and advise students.

The CS2013 Task Force consists of educators and industry representatives, including two members of the CSTA Board of Directors: myself and Alfred Thompson. If you plan on being at the CSTA Annual Conference in July, be sure to come to our session on CS2013 and its impact on K-12.

Dave Reed
College Representative
CSTA Board of Directors

Posted by cstephenson at 12:34 PM | Comments (1)

June 20, 2013


When you are a Computer Science teacher there is a universe of knowledge that you can transfer to your students, depending on the interest they show. You can teach how to code, design video games, robotics, Web design and many other things. The universal language for computer science software and applications is English, so when you are a computer science teacher teaching outside the U.S. or any other country where English is the native language, new challenges appear. Such is my case. I teach in a Latin American country where Spanish is the native language but my school is an American School and therefore 90% or more of the subjects are taught in English. What does this mean and why is it important?

As an American School, we have a clear mission to prepare our students to be able to succeed in any college or university around the world but because of our geographic proximity to North America, most of our students envision themselves in a college in the United States. For this reason, we teach the "American Way". This means that inside our campus, the English language and a U.S.-based curriculum are standard. At the same time, however, we must comply with national Education Ministry requirements.

As a Computer Science teacher, I deal with a triple threat very few teachers face:

  • I teach in a non-native language
  • I teach in a subject matter or field that is not very traditional or whose teachers rarely have the same type of qualifications required from other subject matter teachers in Latin America
  • I must work with software that is purchased almost exclusively in the original language it was designed.

  • In addition to these challenges, professional development in my area is scarce and basic compared to that provided for other subjects. So it becomes pretty easy to feel isolated and with no support system even in this social media and Internet era.

    So, what to do? I went to my old reliable friend, the Internet, and started researching for blogs, forums, or associations that would help a K-12 Computer Science teachers whether U.S. native teaching abroad or local teaching in English or in American schools. I needed to find quality professional development, standards that could grow with my school's expectations, resources and ideas to use with my students. I also needed all of these benefit to be accessible to all teachers, regardless of their location.

    Fortunately I found CSTA and I immediately applied to become an international member. Why was CSTA different than other associations? Although CSTA is U.S.-based, it supports more than 14,000 K-12 Computer Science teachers all around the globe. Within CSTA's webpage you can find a treasure of resources, articles, blog posts and documents to make your life easier and your class, better.

    Reading the posts in CSTA's Advocacy blog made me feel like I belong now to a larger community within my field and that the challenges and adventures that CS teachers live are similar no matter what part of the world you are in. I am not alone. I also found a set of standards that can be applied to any level my students are currently at and aligned with other sets of standards to make the CS instruction more complete and comprehensive.

    CSTA also offers great professional development opportunities especially during the CSTA annual conference. This conference takes place in the U.S. since the majority of the members reside there but, if, as an international member you are unable to attend, most of the information and presentations are later posted on the website and you can make great use of it. If you can get your school, your administration or department to send you to the CSTA Conference this summer, you are in for a treat. Check out the agenda on the website to know what will be going on. As a preview, I can tell you from my past summer experience that the annual CSTA conference is a great venue to make great connections with other teachers and supporters, attend hands on workshops and get a feel of what other teachers are experiencing in their classrooms or labs plus ways to approach different challenges we face every day as CS teachers. Every year CSTA invites great speakers and presenters to make the conference as broad and useful as possible. As far as professional development goes, it is a great opportunity to have some face time with leaders and advocates of CS education in K-12 with invaluable information to take back to your schools and students.

    CSTA also participates in several conferences sponsored by similar associations or affiliates in different countries and provides presentations so we keep in touch with our international audience to bring feedback and work on resources to support our international members.

    If you are reading this, you probably are a member already so it might seem that I am preaching to the choir but I am writing about it because it took me quite a while to explore all the information available for me by CSTA.

    Michelle Lagos
    CSTA-International Representative

    Posted by cstephenson at 07:43 PM | Comments (0)

    June 17, 2013

    New Code.org Video Released

    Code.Org has just released a new video promoting computer science that may be especially effective for creating broader public awareness among policy leaders and parents.

    The video, Code - the new literacy is shorter than the previous Code.org video and is focused specifically on the importance of computer science knowledge.

    The video includes new footage from high tech industry leaders such as Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg and Code.org founder Hadi Parvoti notes that, like the previous release from Code.org, it is intended as an advocacy tool to help raise public consciousness about how critical these skills are for all students.

    "This short 2-min video is focused on computer science education as a matter of literacy. It is a great tool for engaging administrators and policy makers to pitch the case for teaching CS to all students, especially at an early age."

    Code.org has stepped up to take a leadership role on state-level advocacy to ensure that all students have access to rigorous computer science in schools. CSTA is part of a community of CS education organizations working with Code.org on this critical initiative.

    Chris Stephenson
    CSTA Executive Director

    Posted by cstephenson at 04:24 PM | Comments (2)

    June 14, 2013

    AP CS Principles Course Moves One Step Closer

    This morning the College Board announced that the National Science Foundation has committed $5.2 million in funding to support the continued development of the Advanced Placement Computer Science Principles course with the goal of officially launching the new course in the 2016-2017 school year.

    Most CSTA members are aware of the ambitious development project that has been underway to create a new computer science course that is more engaging for all students and rigorous enough to receive AP credit. This work began in 2007 and has been supported by computer science educators from all levels and most recently by the universities and high schools that have been pilot testing the course and assessment approaches.

    When development is completed, the course package will include a curriculum framework, a digital portfolio, and a final assessment. The final assessment will not be tied to a particular programming language, enabling teachers to select the language of programming instruction that they believe best meets the learning needs of their students.

    This continued commitment of NSF funding is critical because it supports important next steps, especially the provision of professional development for teachers. As the NSF's Jan Cuny has noted since she launched the CS10K project supporting its development, successful implementation of this new course will require a large cadre of well-trained teachers with sufficient computer science expertise to teach the material. Through programs such as the NSF's Broadening Participation in Computing and Computing Education in the 21st Century and Google's CS4HS, universities across the country are now offering an unprecedented number of workshops focusing on K-12 computer science.

    Over the last year, CSTA (with help from Google and Oracle) has also been working with its 46 chapters to build local capacity for offering professional development, with the expectation that CSTA chapters will serve as supportive learning communities for teachers adopting and implementing the AP CS P course.

    Wide-scale adoption will also requite the development and dissemination of teaching and learning resources. Toward this end, the College Board has committed an additional $1.5 million for the creation of support materials and professional development and an additional $2 million for the development of a platform that will deliver the digital portfolio assessment.

    These new funding commitments are a clear indication of both the deep need for the new course and of the tremendous commitment of the computer science community.

    Karen Lang
    CSTA 9-12 Teacher Representative

    Posted by cstephenson at 06:31 PM | Comments (0)

    June 04, 2013

    The Challenge of Teaching Computer Science (in Brazil)

    I just got back from a week in Brazil. My Portuguese isn't very good (I need to take a Portuguese word, figure out its Spanish equivalent, and then try to translate that word to French -- any many in Brazil speak quicker than I can do my double translation), so I'm not sure I fully "get" the status of computing teachers in Sao Paulo, the city where I was. Computer science is taught in high school, but it seems primarily limited to the technical high schools, many of which are co-located on college campuses. I had a great deal of sympathy, however, when the teachers complained about the challenges of keeping up to date with technological and pedagogic change as well as the challenges they faced trying to change courses they were teaching.

    At both the high school as well as at the college level teachers I spoke with indicated that they typically taught four different classes per semester. That didn't seem so bad until they told me that many/most had a second full-time job (either teaching at another school, or working in industry). The cost of living in Sao Paulo is quite high. Imagine spending more than $30 for a pizza, not to mention the fact that taxation results in electronic equipment costing more than double what it does in the US. And, these teachers are teaching two or more jobs simply to make ends meet.

    I recall recently reading an online article describing the plight of adjunct instructors at colleges in the US, and their need to teach at multiple institutions, and thinking that those teachers who teach CS are probably "protected" from such conditions.

    Well, I guess in other areas of the world, teaching in CS doesn't afford such protection.

    Steve Cooper
    Chair, CSTA Board of Directors

    Posted by cstephenson at 05:35 PM | Comments (1)

    June 03, 2013

    Maybe Centralizing Education Isn't the Best Idea

    A year and a half ago, after I had returned from Costa Rica, I extolled the virtues of a centralized (i.e. national) education system. In Costa Rica, an intelligent government, could make the introduction of computer science into the K-12 curricula work. Having just returned from spending a week in Brazil, I see the opposite side of centralizing education. In Brazil, there are many teachers who would like to see computing curricula, and indeed the teaching of computer science, rolled out at scale to K-12. But without a strong supporting voice in the Ministry of Education, it is unlikely to ever happen.
    As I sit in the U.S., and think about the decentralized approach we have towards education, perhaps the grass isn't greener on the other side.

    Steve Cooper
    Chair, CSTA Board of Directors

    Posted by cstephenson at 12:34 PM | Comments (0)