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February 24, 2014

What Isaac Asimov Said About Computer Science Education in 2014

After attending the World's Fair in 1964, Isaac Asimov wrote about the world 50 years in the future, 2014. Fun to read, but I was especially interested in what he wrote about the state of computer science education in 2014. According to Asimov, by 2014

All the high-school students will be taught the fundamentals of computer technology, will become proficient in binary arithmetic and will be trained to perfection in the use of the computer languages that will have developed out of those like the contemporary Fortran (from "formula translation").

Right from the first word, we can see that Isaac Asimov would have been likely to support the ongoing efforts of CSTA. But in this one phrase: All the high-school students his prediction both fell short, because we have excellent computer science education in K-8, and overreached, because not all high-school students have access to computer science education.

Many high school students have had the opportunity to learn the fundamentals of computer technology, it is true. However, Asimov realized that being a user would not be sufficient. He finishes up with a sweepingly optimistic vision of every high-school student being able to write code in a high level language.

We may not be there yet, but it isn't for lack of trying!

In the 10 years since CSTA was founded, we have worked hard to make this prediction come true. If you were a teacher 10 years ago, or a student 10 years ago, take a moment to recall what the computer science education landscape looked like before CSTA got to work. No standards, no regional chapters, no national conference, no advocacy, very little research. We've come along way in 10 years but there is much more that needs to be done to achieve the future Asimov predicted for us.

Thank you to everyone who worked so hard for so long so we could come so far!

Tammy Pirmann
School District Representative

Posted by cstephenson at 07:59 PM | Comments (2)

February 20, 2014

Creating a Professional Learning Network

For the first time in my teaching career, I am teaching at a school with other computer science instructors. Not all computer teachers are as lucky; many are the only such teachers in their schools, and in some cases, even their districts. The availability of advanced placement computer science classes in some high schools makes finding other high school computer science teacher more likely. Sadly, communities of fellow K-8 teachers are much harder to find.

In an effort to find a professional learning network, I recently expanded my search to include virtual connections. For the past couple of years I had been attending professional conferences and workshops for computer teachers. As a result of my participation and attendance, I met a number of K-8 teachers. But, I soon came to realize that the once or twice a year contact that conferences provided was not enough. I needed this connection and assistance to continue throughout the school year.

My local pool of K-8 computer science educators is small, so I decided to explore additional ways to extend my contacts. My sister found social networking to be very helpful to her professionally, and I heard that I could expect similar results for education. As a result the #CSK8 twitter hashtag was born.

So what exactly is a professional learning network or PLN? A PLN is defined as "a system of interpersonal connections and resources that support informal learning" (from The Connected Educator: Building a Professional Learning Network by Allison Rossett). And why should you create your own PLN? Participation in a professional learning network helps teachers learn from each other in a self-directed and communal way. They are much more flexible, and personalized, than conventional, professional development programs, and, because they aren't limited by availability and location, educators can access their PLNs on their own time from their homes, during planning periods, or even at a local coffee shop. All of which makes, a PLN the perfect vehicle for "lonely" K-8 computer science teachers.

How to get started with PLNs

If you are new to twitter, it can be an intimidating experience. Twitter is not just about the latest fashion trends, or shout outs from celebrities. It has become a viable option for educators looking for ways to connect and learn from each other. For many educators, Twitter has made more of an impact on their professional learning than other professional development opportunities they've attended. The learning is real, the ideas are powerful, yet simple, and the connections to resources and people are almost infinite (from 21 things 4 the 21st Century Educator).

To start, simply go to Twitter and create an account. The first thing you will need to do is find fellow educators to follow. A number of CSTA board members are currently on twitter (see the list below).

Another good way to narrow your search is to use a #hashtag to locate topics of interest. Here are some common computing hashtags: #CSK8 (Computer Science in K-8), #KidsCanCode, #CS4ALL (Computer Science 4 All), #HourofCode, #BeyondHourofCode. You can also find organizations and conferences using twitter "handles" or hashtags. For example, CSTA has the hashtag #CSTA, handle @csteachersa, as well as a hashtag for this year's conference #CSTA14.

I am so glad I joined twitter. Being a K-8 computer science teacher can be lonely at times. Computer science for the primary grades is still in its infancy, so quality curriculum, pedagogy and classroom resources can be hard to locate. Belonging to a PLN through twitter has helped me navigate the resources that the web has to offer while simultaneously connecting me to other computer science professionals to share the journey.

Twitter Resources:

  • Great Schools Partnership
  • 21 Things 4 The 21st Century Educator
  • Getting Smart's 20 tips for creating a professional learning network http://gettingsmart.com/2013/01/20-tips-for-creating-a-professional-learning-network/
  • Additional Twitter Resources:

  • List of Educators on Twitter
  • List of weekly Twitter Chats by #Hashtags
  • CSTA Board Member and Staff Twitter Accounts

  • Lissa Clayborn - @CSTALissa
  • Myra Deister - @shhsMath
  • Patrice Gans - @reesegans
  • Michelle Lagos - @mglagos!
  • Karen Lang - @kmclang
  • Irene Lee - @ProjectGUTS
  • Pat Phillips - @patjphillips
  • Tammy Pirmann - @tammypirmann
  • Chris Stephenson - @chrisstephenso
  • Alfred Thompson - @alfredtwo
  • Patrice Gans
    CSTA K-8 Representative

    Posted by cstephenson at 11:55 AM | Comments (0)

    February 11, 2014

    Celebrate Canadian Computing Education Day 2014 in Video (and in Song, If You Like)

    February 21, 2014 is the 2nd Annual Canadian Computing Education Day. It is an initiative of the Canadian Association of Computer Science/Association d'Informatique Canadienne (CACS/AIC) whose members are the universities across Canada that offer Computer Science degree programs. CACS/AIC has also been actively encouraging the formation of CSTA chapters (or equivalents) in each Canadian province and territory. CACS/AIC is just one of many organizations concerned with computer science education in Canada.

    Computer Science Education Week, focused on the United States of America though international in intent, is an important activity in Canada. This year, many Canadians took part in the Hour of Code. The anniversary of Grace Hopper's birth is a great time to celebrate computer science education: I enjoy showing my students a YouTube video of her appearance on a 1986 episode of Late Night with David Letterman.

    A week-long event in the United States seems appropriately scaled as a day-long event in Canada. The day in February was chosen at the end of what we call "Reading Week" at Canadian universities, which happens at the same time of year for many institutions. In several provinces, the week begins with a statutory holiday on the Monday. The rationale is that universities without students are better able to host visitors from the surrounding community during open house events. Last year, computer labs were full of kids eager to experiment with LEGO blocks and robots, arduino hardware, and vegetables as musical instruments using Makey Makey (all controlled by Scratch programs). We suggested that Canadian Computing Education Day could also be known as Scratch Day Canada (since Scratch Day always seems to happen on a very important long weekend in Canada). We will make the same suggestion this year, for all those Scratchers out there, and we will also have the wonderful resources from Code.org and the Hour of Code that will be sure to provide even more excitement with kids of all ages.

    Inspired by Hour of Code's videos, especially their Hour of Code kickoff video that featured Canadian singer Carly Rae Jepson, we decided to invite Canadians (wherever they may be) to submit short video segments (not more than about 30 seconds) talking about the importance of computing and computer science education in Canada.

    You can find out all the details about the project at: http://www.CanCompEd.ca/2014video. Links on that page will direct you to the great code.org videos for inspiration, in case you aren't sure what to say. Don't worry if don't have a videographer available. Your video messages captured on cellphones will also help to capture hearts and minds when the video is released on February 21

    As you can see, there is no time to waste: make sure that your friends, family, and favourite celebrities and movers and shakers know about the video project. We welcome submissions from everyone, and especially encourage students and teachers to take this on as a class project.

    For those on twitter, please retweet this to your followers:

    Are you passionate about #CS Ed? Submit your short video celebrating #compsci in Canada for #CanCompEd Day cancomped.ca/2014video/

    And follow @CanCompEd to help the video launch to go viral.

    Please visit http://www.CanCompEd.ca/2014video and make your submission no later than Tuesday, February 18.

    If you have any questions or concerns, please don't hesitate to contact me: hepting@cs.uregina.ca

    Daryl Hepting, Ph.D.
    CACS/AIC Outreach Committee Chair
    CSTA Saskatchewan Chapter President

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

    February 06, 2014

    Are We Preparing Our Children?

    CSTA Advisory Council Member Anita Verno of Bergen Community College working with students from East Newark Public School as part of an on-site Technology Day at Bergen.

    The next generation will interact with computers in ways we cannot imagine. Are we preparing our children?

    Today's children are high-level users of computers. Give them a tech toy; they can work with it. But, are they using it creatively? Do they have any understanding of the possibilities? When they send a text on their smartphone, do they ever think about the power in that device? I believe that the youth of today are using computers in a similar way they use a TV remote. While they can't imagine life without a remote, few use all the capabilities that are available. Computer Science education is a must for all students so they can head into the future, confident that they can move forward with the technology, take advantage of the computing power it provides, and use technical tools to carve out new and creative solutions to problems.

    When does computing education begin? At birth? Pre-school? Elementary school? Middle school? High school? College? The earlier the better. I am attempting to target elementary school. Is this possible? Can we teach computer science concepts to young children? The answer is unequivocally yes. However, the expectations must be realistic and the approach simple.

    College faculty can help expose elementary children to CS by providing workshops for teachers, visiting schools to help deliver lessons, and inviting schools to participate in Technology Day activities on-campus. Elementary teachers often are not able to determine what CS content is appropriate to offer or they may not have sufficient technical background to deliver computing lessons. The workshops help teachers understand the possibilities and consider ways to fit CS activities into their existing curriculum. A college faculty visit to a local school to help deliver a lesson provides a higher level of support as a teacher begins teaching CS. And a visit by elementary children to a college campus permits young students to engage in CS activities that enhance current learning. In addition, it exposes children to the college environment and may encourage some to consider continuing their education, possibly to include a career in computing.

    A bonus for the college faculty members participating with young children is watching the "awakening". "Wow! I can do that?" Additionally, I often find myself reevaluating approaches for teaching my college students as I learn how to break down content to the most basic level. Ultimately, if I can prepare lessons and teach programming or web development to a 10 year old, I can employ similar techniques to engage my college students.

    How to get started? Here's an approach that has worked for the Information Technology faculty at Bergen Community College. Approximately once a year we invite teachers, including the CSTA-NNJ members, to attend a Saturday morning workshop that is also serving as a meeting of the Community College Computer Consortium (CCCC-NJ). The CCCC membership is primarily comprised of CS and IT community college faculty from around the state. This workshop provides the opportunity for networking as well as serving as an educational event. The networking at the workshop, outreach activities through various areas at my college, and inquiries from local teachers often serve to pair teachers with college faculty for continued discussions of CS education.

    When there is interest in bringing CS education to a class, particularly an elementary class, I will work with a teacher to determine the best approach based on available equipment at their school. One approach that has worked well is to plan a Technology Day event at the college based on a future curriculum topic. Students love a field trip and the CS lesson will be delivered by college computing faculty rather than the elementary teacher. Once the topic and the Day are set, one or more pre-event lessons are developed together to prepare the student for Technology Day. The lessons include preparatory info about the CS activities that will be part of Technology Day. Follow up activities for after Technology Day should also be planned. To ensure the Technology Day event will run as smoothly as possible, I invite a few of my college students to assist as teacher aides. The more help the better.
    Benefits to the students: Exposure to the college campus, exposure to computer labs (if there are no labs available at school), and participation in introductory CS activities.

    Benefits to the teachers: Help with planning and delivering CS instruction.

    Benefits to the college faculty: Exposure to new ways to structure and present engaging lessons. The methods can be scaled and used with the appropriate modification for instruction to college students. Additionally, modeling outreach activities for college students helps them understand that you "do" as well as "say". And for community college faculty, community service is often a bonus when applying for promotion since one role of community colleges is to provide services to the community.

    I believe helping young children understand that computing is only limited by their imagination is one of the most rewarding activities of my professional career.

    Anita Verno
    Associate Professor, Information Technology
    Bergen Community College
    CSTA Advisory Council Member

    Posted by cstephenson at 03:56 PM | Comments (0)

    February 04, 2014

    Lessons Learned While Implementing a Dual Credit Course.

    I'd like to share with you some of the opportunities and barriers we encountered while implementing a dual credit CS course in high schools across New Mexico.

    New Mexico Computer Science for All, an NSF-CE21 funded CS10K program, recently completed its first cohort year. The program was designed to prepare high school STEM teachers to serve as learning coaches or TAs during the lab portion of a dual credit University of New Mexico CS151L course offered at their high schools. Using a flipped classroom paradigm, high school students watched videos outside of class time then participated in design and build computer modeling experiences during the school day at their local high school. Students received both high school and college credit for completing the course.

    Here is what we learned that may be of benefit to other educators and policy makers.

    1) Access issues still exist even though many schools have computer labs. We found schools that were using netbooks as dumb terminals and running apps off a server, then blocking access to server and internet access during the course so bandwidth could be reserved for State Test takers. One solution was to provide thumb drives loaded with videos and the NetLogo executable.

    2) Our content/assignments need to be sensitive so as not to trigger negative reactions from students and teachers. For example, one video used the term "drunkard's walk" to describe random walks but this hit too close to home for some students. We substituted the term with "lost puppy". On another occasion, we rewrote an assignment to avoid focusing on individual pride because it counters some students' cultural values.

    3) Course expectations need to take into account teachers' and students' realities. Using possibly new vocabulary during quizzes or exams is unfair to students whose first language is not English. We found that, unlike our personal educational experiences in earlier times, students today do not have access to dictionaries in the classroom (and are not allowed to go online during quizzes and exams).

    4) It is important to make it clear to all constituents and partners that this is NOT a weed out course. The course can be a "college prep" course / a dual credit course without being a weed out course. We argue that any computer science that a high school student learns IS preparation for college and future endeavors.

    5) The role of NM-CSforAll instructors, facilitators and program managers, is to be problem solvers, not gate keepers. Instead of first imposing university or program expectations, collaboration with teachers has helped us design a program that will work in their setting (while at the same time maintaining most of the program's goals).

    6) We've learned that even students with low GPAs can succeed in our course. Students' past academic performance is not necessarily predictive of performance in our CS course. We found that students engage in a different way with learning computer modeling and simulation. Dropping the GPA requirement for taking the dual credit course has allowed many students to take the course.

    7) Positioning the course as an Introduction to Computer Science through modeling and simulation has shown broad appeal. While we don't have a similar course positioned as a "programming course" to compare it to, we believe NM-CSforAll's approach had broad appeal because of the students who took the course. Seventy-four percent of students taking the CS151L course were from underrepresented in STEM and Computing (including underrepresented racial/ethnic groups and young women).

    8) The option to receive dual credit was a draw for students but high school students also needed to be able to gracefully withdraw from dual-credit. If not, failing students would be in danger of getting an F on their college transcript before even getting to college.

    If others in the CSTA community are interested in or currently attempting to offer Computer Science via the dual credit route, we'd love to hear from you!

    Irene Lee
    CSTA Computational Thinking Task Force Chair

    Posted by cstephenson at 12:07 PM | Comments (0)

    February 02, 2014

    Why Counting CS as a Foreign Language Credit is a Bad Idea

    Sometimes what seems like a very good idea in principle, even a good idea put forward with the best intensions, can turn out to be a very bad idea in practice. This is definitely the case with the idea of allowing students to count a computer science course as a foreign language credit.

    If you have not been living under a rock for the last year, you know that there is an incredible amount of discussion concerning the need for all students to have access to computer science knowledge and computer science courses in schools. There are lots of different words being used to describe this knowledge (coding, programming, computing, computer science) but the intention is the same and CSTA has been one of the organizations pushing hard since it was created in 2004 to get this message across.

    And now people are listening, especially politicians who see the job projections (more than half of the jobs in STEM by 2020 will be in computing), who see that other countries are far ahead of us in preparing their students for these jobs, and see people in their own constituencies struggling with unemployment and underemployment.

    When these policy makers look at schools, they see that computer science is not part of the "common core" of prescribed learning for students. And then they hear that Texas has just passed legislation to enable students to count a computer science course as a foreign language credit and it seems like a great idea.

    But all we have to do is to look at Texas to see how this idea could, at the implementation level, turn out to be an unfortunate choice for computer science education. Here are the unintended consequences

    1. If a course counts as a foreign language course, it will be suggested that a new course must be created.
    2. If a new course is created, chances are that it won't fit well into any of the already existing course pathways for college-prep or CTE.
    3. This new course will be added to the current confusing array of "computing" courses which students and their parents already find difficult to navigate.
    4. There will be pressure brought to ensure that that course focuses somehow on a "language". For the last ten years we have been trying to help people understand that computer science is more than programming. Programming/coding is to computer science as the multiplication table is to mathematics, a critical tool but certainly not the entire discipline.
    5. If this new course is going to be a "language" course, we have to pick a language (just one). And so the programming language wars begin.

    This cascading set of ramifications happen because counting computer science as a "language credit" completely obscures the fact that computer science is a complex discipline with deep roots in both mathematics and science.

    It is critical to point out that there are no bad guys here. The people proposing and supporting these legislative initiatives are just trying to figure out how to make computer science more accessible to students. There are, however, better solutions that will, in the end, be far better for computer science education and, more importantly, for our students.

    The best ways to ensure that more students have the opportunity to take richly rigorous computer science courses in their schools are to:

  • Make computer science count as a math or science graduation credit in every state
  • Fix the broken computer science teacher certification system that makes it twice as difficult and sometimes impossible for computer science teachers to be certified as computer science teachers, and in this way increase the number of well-prepared computer science teachers in our schools
  • Support the Computer Science Education Act at the federal level
  • Please reach out to your political representatives and help them understand why what may seem like good legislation goes very wrong at the implementation level. Encourage them to focus their good intentions and energy on solutions that really will help us achieve what we are trying to achieve.

    Chris Stephenson
    CSTA Executive Director

    Posted by cstephenson at 02:41 AM | Comments (3)