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September 30, 2013

Are The Girls in Your Class Being Bullied?

Perhaps many of you have read the recent Letter to my daughter's high school programming teacher, a blog post from an impassioned journalist whose daughter was bullied in computer science class by the males in the classroom. The girl's prior enthusiasm and interest in computer science was dimmed by her experience in that class. While the author used pretty harsh language to admonish the teacher, she brought up some good points that I think all teachers should consider.

She had seven suggestions: recruit students, set the tone, enforce an anti-harassment policy, don't be boring, pay attention, check in, and follow up. I thought the last three suggestions were especially important. We all know teaching is not an easy job. Often the classroom is chaotic, with students asking for help at every turn. It can be difficult to detect harassment if it is not overt. We do need to pay attention to the culture of the classroom and check in with our students to make sure everyone feels safe and encouraged. According to the daughter in an update to the original blog post, she had talked to the teacher about the harassment and there was some follow-up with the principal, but it fizzled out. The girl finished the class, but is now discouraged from taking another computer science class.

I consider the introductory computer science class I teach a distinct opportunity to turn kids on to computer science. The mother wrote in her blog: "Sadly, you only get one chance to make a first impression, and you, sir, created a horrible one for girls in computer programming." We do have that one chance to grab the students, in their first computer science class. Creating a positive, welcoming environment in our classrooms is a powerful way to encourage and promote computer science as a field of study. Girls especially can feel threatened or intimidated when they are the minority in a class full of boys. I know I can do a better job of checking in individually with all my students. Although I have them journal during the class, face-to-face conversations can be a more effective way to really learn how students are faring.

What ways do you encourage a positive environment in your classroom?

Karen Lang
CSTA 9-12 Representative

Posted by cstephenson at 05:18 PM | Comments (0)

September 28, 2013

Share Your Ideas and Experiences at the CSTA Conference

The call for proposals for the 14th Annual CSTA Conference is now live. The conference will be held on July 14-15, 2014 at the Pheasant Run Resort in St. Charles, Illinois (just outside of Chicago).

Serving as a member of the conference committee the past three years, I have been constantly impressed and inspired by the quality of the presentations from you, our members. The 3-hour workshops sessions, which run on the first day of the conference, have provided time for learning through hands-on exploration and extended discussion. The 1-hour sessions, which run on the second day, have provided sufficient time for the presentation and discussion of new technologies, educational initiatives, and classroom experiences. As the CSTA Conference has grown over the years, so has the number of proposals we receive. In 2013, there were 98 proposals for the conference (37 workshop and 61 presentation sessions), up from 55 in 2012. Due to the number and high quality of the proposals, we were able to add more workshop sessions and accommodate even more attendees in 2013.

This year, we are hoping to expand the opportunity to contribute even more by introducing a limited number of 20-minute mini-sessions to the program. These mini-sessions, which will focus on pedagogy and best teaching practices, will allow teachers who have great ideas to contribute without having to fill an entire hour. The plan is to bundle related mini-sessions in groups of three, to conform to the 1-hour time slots. That way, we can get more contributors involved and provide an even greater variety of perspectives at the conference. So, if you have a great idea, a nifty educational tool, a new approach to teaching a topic, or just an interesting experience that you think would be of interest to your peers, consider submitting a mini-session proposal for CSTA 2014.

Whether you submit or not, definitely mark July 14-15 on your calendar for CSTA's premier professional development event.

Dave Reed
CSTA Conference Chair
College Faculty Representative, CSTA Board of Directors

Posted by cstephenson at 08:37 PM | Comments (0)

September 24, 2013

The Purple Voice is Going Green

As I sit down to work on the November 2013 issue of the Voice newsletter, it occurs to me what a significant transformation this issue represents. The CSTA Voice is going green! And along with a departure from nearly 10 years of print tradition, comes many new and exciting opportunities alongside the comfort and traditions you've come to expect.

The primary goal of the Voice is to provide analysis and commentary on issues relating to K-12 computer science education issues, resources for educators, and information for member. That's not going to change.

If you value the printed copy of the Voice, you will be able to download and print a copy to slide on to the principal's desk or read and dog-ear at your convenience. That's not going to change.

I welcome your suggestions for topics and offers to write for the Voice. Your expertise and sights are what make the Voice a valuable resource for CSTA members. That's not going to change.

But some things will change:

  • Each month you will receive an e-mail notice (Voice Highlights) to will alert you that the next issue of the Voice is ready for you to read online or to download. The notice will include brief descriptions of articles with links to take you right to the content you are interested in.
  • Typically, article submissions are not accepted after about seven weeks prior to when you expect to find the print Voice in your postal mailbox. With a much shorter electronic publication process, the Voice articles can be much timelier.
  • CSTA will save nearly $60,000 in publishing and postage costs. That's nothing to sneeze at!
  • And of course, there are the environmental impacts to consider. In addition to the fuel savings from production and delivery, the electronic version will save over three tons of paper each year!
  • All things considered, this is the right move for us. I'm delighted with the change. I'm sure you will be too. Please let me hear from you soon with your topic ideas for the new green Voice.

    Pat Phillips, Editor
    CSTA Voice

    Posted by cstephenson at 01:35 PM | Comments (1)

    September 12, 2013

    CSTA Voice Moving to E-Distribution

    Like many non-profit institutions, CSTA is always looking for new, more efficient ways to do business and for ways to keep CSTA membership free of charge for individual members. We also try to be proactive when it comes to addressing member concerns. Both of these factors have contributed to our decision to distribute the CSTA Voice electronically starting with the November 2013 issue.

    The decision to cease printing and mailing the Voice was a difficult one for the CSTA Board of Directors. We know that there are a number of members who value receiving their printed Voice every two months. But rising costs and requests from our members to be more environmentally conscious made this change inevitable.

    CSTA's membership continues to grow by more than 25% per year and as a result, our CSTA Voice circulation is closing in on 16,000 copies per issue. This means we have to print 96,000 copies of the Voice per year and pay the postage for 96,000 mailings to 124 countries. With recent increases in printing and postage, our costs have already edged over $60,000 per year and were certain to keep increasing. Our choice was clear, start charging members for the CSTA Voice or change our distribution model.

    Over the last two years we have also been receiving increasing requests from our members to "green" our publication distribution processes and policies. And so we have moved to online distribution for all of our key reports, documents, and resources. Up until now, the Voice has been the only exception to this strategy. But as one member said in a recent email, "It makes no sense for a technology-focused organization like CSTA to keep killing trees to print and mail the Voice when most other organizations are going to electronic distribution".

    So as of the November issue, we are moving to online distribution of the Voice. Every two months CSTA members will receive an email with an electronic publication containing briefs of all of the Voice articles in that issue. You will then be able to click through to read the articles that interest you. If you want a complete copy of the issue, you will still be able to download it directly from the CSTA website and each e-issue will provide the download link.

    We know that this is a big change for CSTA members, but we hope that you will see it as proof of our commitment to making our community accessible, affordable, and environmentally responsible.

    Deborah Seehorn
    Chair, CSTA Board of Directors

    Chris Stephenson
    CSTA Executive Director

    Posted by cstephenson at 12:45 PM | Comments (3)

    September 09, 2013

    Barriers to More CS Teaching and Learning in Schools

    Many of us spend a lot of time trying to convince those around us (colleagues, school administrators, district leaders, politicians, etc.) of the importance of computer science education for all students. I have certainly staked much of my identity to doing just this, and I know many readers of this column are the same way.

    If you're like me, you've also wondered why it is so hard to show people something that seems so a priori obvious: that computers and digital technology have changed the world so profoundly that for the foundational knowledge that makes this technology possible to affect education in something besides a superficial fashion is inconceivable.(1)

    Thanks to recent efforts like those of Code.org the public view of computer science, or at least technology education in schools, seems to be shifting from the view that mere exposure and access to technology (the "if you build it, they will come" model) is some kind of magic bullet that will make students "better with computers." As educators, we know that increasing and improving both the teaching and learning of CS is going to be essential if we are to truly meet our nation's need for computer science talent. But, what exactly needs to be in place for that to happen?

    The results of a study just released by the University of Chicago's Center for Elementary Math and Science Education (CEMSE) and Urban Education Institute might help shed some light on the necessary supports needed, and what the barriers are to providing quality computer science education learning opportunities for students. The CS in Schools report builds off the results in the Teacher Capacity Survey which surveyed nearly 800 CS teachers, with in-depth interviews with both administrators and teachers. In interviews, both teachers and administrators signaled that misconceptions about computer science, low prioritization of computer science as a course, and limited availability of CS teachers are three huge barriers to providing CS opportunities to our students.

    In addition to these three common barriers, teachers also identified two other challenges they face: isolation and lack of instructional materials. Interestingly school administrators identified another: the competition CS courses face "against" other courses in their schools. Teachers and administrators both agreed on the importance of teacher professional development. And teachers also identified the five other important supports: professional networks, online resources, school-provided materials, support from universities, and student interest.

    Read more and hear responses from teachers and administrators in their own words here. Do these barriers and supports to ring true to your school?

    Baker Franke
    CSTA Leadership Cohort Member

    (1) This is almost a verbatim quote from John Dewey who was struggling with similar changes brought about by the industrial revolution 100 years ago. See: John Dewey. "The School and Social Progress." University of Chicago Press (1907): Chapter 1: The School and Society. pp 20-21.
    University of Chicago Laboratory High School (Chicago, IL)

    Posted by cstephenson at 07:02 PM | Comments (0)

    September 05, 2013

    State Assessment Requirements and the CSTA Resources

    How have you used the resources on the CSTA website? Have you read the new reports? Are you familiar with the CSTA K-12 Computer Science Standards? The crosswalks to other standards and skills? I think it is important to familiarize yourself with these resources as you never know when you will need them or when you can use them to advocate.

    Just recently, I have had to rely heavily on the CSTA standards and the crosswalks. Ohio has created a new teacher evaluation piece that is directly tied to student achievement. For that piece teachers have to give pretests, write a student learning objective (SLO) for the class based on pretest results, and then give a post test at the end of the course. Your student growth results from that posttest are 50% of your teacher evaluation. The SLO piece must tie to the common core, state and/or national standards. Armed with the computer science standards and the crosswalks I was able to show relevance for what I do in my classroom. I also showed relevance to other teachers because what I do also relates to the common core.

    This process required me to relate each pretest question or a section of the pretest directly to standards. Consequently, when the test was completed I was able to show what standards the students were not proficient with. As part of the SLO I had to address how I will bring the students to a level of proficiency. If I had not had the resources from CSTA I would still be combing through other standards trying to find something to use.

    As a secondary result of matching the standards to test questions, I realized I was focusing a little too much in one area and maybe not enough in another. I was able to take a look at the overall view of my class, what I was teaching, and evaluate my content. It was a valuable experience to reevaluate what I am doing and why. Sometime we get so bogged down with the daily things and the other school requirements we forget to see the overall goal of our courses.

    If you are thinking, "well that is great but it doesn't apply to me" you may want to think again. This type of evaluation system is being piloted and considered in several states. Ohio is not the first and will not be the last. One of my favorite quotes about education is "there are three things to remember when teaching: know your stuff; know whom you are stuffing; and then stuff them elegantly" (Lola May). Given the current direction of education in the U.S.; I would say we must now add "prove your stuffing worthy" and because of the CSTA K-12 Computer Science Standards I can do just that.

    Stephanie Hoeppner
    CSTA Board 9-12 Representative

    Posted by cstephenson at 12:52 PM | Comments (0)