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April 29, 2014

The Bad Side of Good Publicity

As a teacher, I have spent the last eighteen years of my life dedicated to teaching technology skills and computer science. One of the most rewarding aspects of this work is when I am visited years later by former students who have become successful coders or engineers. It makes me happy to know that one of my classes helped introduce them to their chosen fields.

Over the years, organizations such as CSTA, ACM, NSF, WIT, and WITI (to name just a few) have made enormous progress. This past year, Code.org has also done amazing work. Billions of lines of code written by students, regardless of gender or ethnicity has been nothing short of inspiring for classroom teachers like myself. But we still face important challenges. Here are some of the hard truths. The glass ceiling for women in technology is real. The declining numbers in enrollments in CS and engineering programs by women is real.

And now we are seeing the ugly flip side of the good work that has been done. When you bring an issue to the forefront, you have to worry that some folks will take exception and satirize your accomplishments in name of humor. Enter codebabes.com, an organization brought to my attention by an article in the Washington Post. While not wanting to give it legitimacy by naming it, it is difficult to skip the opportunity to express my outrage. This organization and the website it has created flies in the face of the years I have spent trying to teach students to code for good.

Fifteen years ago, my school had a guest speaker from the Internet Crimes Task Force. He spoke about computer hackers and portrayed the typical hacker as a teenage male (yes, usually a teenager, but always male). I wondered why this was the case, and decided that either there weren't any female hackers, or they were so much better than their male counterparts because they had never been caught!

As a middle and high school teacher, I have taught several talented young men. Some of them had great potential as hackers. I always felt a sense of obligation when I worked with them to try to get them to understand their potential and show them that it as important to do good things with their code. Sadly, code babes presents the antithesis of this message, portraying coding as dangerous to women and dangerous to our future.

Too bad they couldn't create a site that would not be offensive to women and offensive to computer science teachers. It is clear that the authors possess a really immature sense of humor, and we can only hope that someday, when they grow up, they will be ashamed of their sophomoric actions. At the minimum, let's hope that if they pass on their coding skills to future offspring these offspring will all be girls, and that the antics of their fathers in their younger days will not dissuade them from bright coding futures.

Joanne Barrett
CSTA Member and Florida Chapter Leader

Posted by cstephenson at 04:44 PM | Comments (1)

April 28, 2014

Branching Out: Modeling Topics in Social Science

Santa Fe Institute's GUTS y Girls program, in partnership with Arizona State University professor Dan Hruschka, has developed a new curriculum to engage students in understanding how computing and complex adaptive systems play an essential role in the social sciences. In the curriculum, geared towards the high school level, students explore questions and test their own assumptions using methods and data from the social sciences (anthropology, sociology and psychology) and computer modeling in NetLogo, a text-based computer programming language. Student investigations center on the role of cooperation in human interactions and how cooperation plays a role in global issues such as resource management, health equity and climate change.

Last year, the curriculum was piloted with a set of 12 high school students in a weekend club context. This summer we will be offering the program as a one-week summer intensive workshop for GUTS y Girls alumnae. We sought to address the issue of continuation of engagement for young women (high school age) who were initially interested in computing through our middle school GUTS y Girls program. We found that after being exposed to computing and computational thinking in the context of an all girls middle school program, young women were resistant to joining co-ed computing clubs and teams. Rather than viewing this phenomenon as a failing of either the girls or the GUTS y Girls program, we sought to prolong engagement and continue to build the skills of the young women whom we have mentored over the past years. It was our good fortune that at the same time we were looking for continuation opportunities for GUTS y Girls alumnae, Dan Hruschka was seeking a partner to develop an education outreach component as part of his research on social closeness.

We are eager to share our resources and encourage other CSTA members to consider forming partnerships with social science teachers. The potential for integrating computing across disciplines through modeling and simulation is huge and largely untapped. These interdisciplinary projects and teams offer many routes to expose students to the breadth of computing, and demonstrate its connection to understanding and solving real world problems, while preparing students for future endeavors involving computing.

Irene Lee
CSTA Computational Thinking Task Force Chair

Posted by cstephenson at 05:45 PM | Comments (0)

April 18, 2014

Hackathons as Possible Student Motivators

A new phenomenon cropping up certainly among college age students that is trickling down to the K12 arena is the concept of a hackathon. Often the events take place over 24-48 hours and are sponsored by a college or university. Attendees are presented with an open-ended problem (or are left to come up with one themselves) and form teams to build a solution. Often, they revolve around mobile or web apps.

Recently, MIT sponsored a hackathon for K12, called Blueprint. A dozen or so students from my school attended, with varying reviews. Although the event was advertised as open to all skill levels, some of my students with limited skills felt left out. Some even left early. Others jumped right into projects with other students from other towns and really enjoyed the energy of the event. The swag from sponsoring companies and limitless food were other benefits students really enjoyed.

In my student population, there are a cadre of students, mostly seniors, who are beginning to regularly attend these hackathons, often traveling long distances to attend these weekend events. Because my senior students attend Worcester Polytechnic Institute, they are aware of most of the college level hackathons and can attend through their WPI connection. Hackathons seems to appeal to a certain type of student; one who is willing to work in a team, who likes meeting new people, and who is confident in his/her abilities! There is the option to work alone at the events, so some students will do that, but the majority team up with other attendees to collaborate on a project of interest to all of them. I have one female student who has been to several hackathons this year. Although a good Computer Science student last year, she never showed much interest in pursuing it as a career. Even though she currently intends to major in engineering in college, she has multiple programming projects that began at hackathons that she continues to work on in her spare time. She has made connections with other students around the country with whom she continues to network. She went out and bought an Android tablet so she can work on these projects. The hackathon connection has really changed her perspective on Computer Science. She sees limitless opportunities.

These hackathons are definitely a motivator for certain students. It is a different mode of learning from many classrooms: intense, collaborative, energized, real world, and unstructured. As a teacher, it makes me wonder (a) if this is how students today prefer to learn and (b) if I can take some of the elements of hackathons to make my classroom more energizing and motivating for students.

Karen Lang
CSTA 9-12 Representative

Posted by cstephenson at 11:46 AM | Comments (2)

April 15, 2014

Texas SBOE Requires Districts to Offer Two Computer Science Courses

This blog piece is reposted with permission from the TCEA Advocacy Network Blog. Please see http://tceaadvocacy.wordpress.com/2014/04/15/texas-sboe-requires-districts-to-offer-two-computer-science-courses/ for the original blog posting.

On Friday, April 11th, the Texas State Board of Education made some changes to the education code in the chapter that tells districts what courses they are required to offer.

The minutes for this meeting won't be published until the SBOE approves them in July. However, below are the changes they approved for the courses that are required in Technology Applications.

TEA has not updated the website to reflect the changes, but the change was made in Chapter 74. Curriculum Requirements, Subchapter A. Required Curriculum, 74.3, (b) (2) (I) as follows:

(I) technology applications - Computer Science I and Computer Science II or AP Computer Science, and at least two courses selected from Computer Science III, Digital Art and Animation, Digital Communications in the 21st Century, Digital Design and Media Production, Digital Forensics, Digital Video and Audio Design, Discrete Mathematics for Computer Science, Fundamentals of Computer Science, Game Programming and Design, Independent Study in Evolving/Emerging Technologies, Independent Study in Technology Applications, Mobile Application Development, Robotics Programming and Design, 3-D Modeling and Animation, Web Communications, Web Design, and Web Game Development;

This is the portion of education code where it lists what school districts are required to offer. This change requires districts to offer Computer Science I and Computer Science II OR AP Computer Science, and then choose two other Technology Application courses from the list, for a total of four courses.

Jennifer Bergland
Director of Governmental Relations

Posted by cstephenson at 06:48 PM | Comments (1)

April 14, 2014

CSTA Board of Directors Election

The election for six open positions of the CSTA Board of Directors is underway. If you were a CSTA member as of April 1, you should have received an email with a personalized link to the online ballot. If you did not receive your ballot email, then several scenarios might have occurred.

1. CSTA does not have your correct email.
2. The email was caught by your spam filter.
3. The email bounced due to some technical issue on your end.

We have tried very hard to get the word out about keeping your email address up-to-date. In addition to being a requirement for voting, a valid email address allows CSTA to contact you with information and professional development opportunities in your area. If you have not been receiving any announcements from CSTA in the past year, chances are your email address on file is not correct. Contact Chris Stephenson at c.stephenson@csta-hq.org and she can get your email corrected.

If your email address is correct but your organization has an aggressive spam filter, it may have caught the ballot email. Please check your quarantine zone and hopefully it will be waiting for you there. If your spam software has already discarded the email or some technical glitch prevented it from being delivered (e.g., a full mailbox), a second ballot email will be sent out around April 21. The email will come from elections@electionbuddy.com, so you may need to add this address to the white list for your spam filter.

The CSTA membership is a vibrant community of more than 16,000 teachers and administrators. Don't miss the opportunity to vote and help select the Board members who will represent your interests. The election ends May 5.

Dave Reed
Nominations & Election Committee
CSTA Board of Directors

Posted by cstephenson at 12:38 PM | Comments (0)

April 10, 2014

CS Team Testifies on California Bill 1764

Yesterday the California Assembly Committee on Education unanimously passed Bill 1764. This bill would encourage districts to expand computer science courses in high schools and its passage at the critical committee level is the result of the hard work of many individuals.

AB 1764 would allow school districts to award students credit for one mathematics course if they successfully complete one course in computer science approved by the University of California and/or the California State University as a "C" requirement. Such credit would only be offered in districts where the school district requires more than two courses in mathematics for graduation.

AB 1764 was jointly proposed by Kristin Olsen (Assemblymember 12th District) and Joan Buchanan (Assemblymember, 16th District) and both Buchanan and Olsen spoke eloquently about the importance of computer science in preparing students for future opportunities and meeting the needs of California's innovative industries. They also thanked the members of the committee for recognizing the need to better prepare students for the demands of the workforce.

Representatives from many organizations were on hand to support the bill, including Andrea Deveau from TechNet, Amy Hirotaka from Code.org, Robyn Hines from Microsoft, and Jullie Flapan from Alliance for California Computing Education for Students and Schools (ACCESS). The star of the day, however, was Josh Paley.

Josh is a teacher from Gunn High School and one of the founding leaders of the CSTA Silicon Valley Chapter (among many other volunteer duties). Josh spoke passionately about the importance of making computer science courses both available and attractive to high school students. He also gave examples of many of his students who have gone on to innovative jobs as researchers, scientists, and entrepreneurs.

Speaking on behalf of the bill, Josh noted: "This legislation should not only encourage young people to move toward good, open jobs, but great jobs that drive innovation."

Having been approved by the Education Committee, 1764 will undergo some minor edits and a significant number of additional Assemblymembers will be added as coauthors. It will then go to the Assembly floor and then (if it passes) to the Senate Rules Committee for a committee assignment (possibly the Senate Education Committee).

There is a long trip ahead for this bill but key support from the Assembly Committee on Education and all of the individuals and organizations working on behalf of computer science education in California have given it an excellent beginning.

Chris Stephenson
CSTA Executive Director

Posted by cstephenson at 02:01 PM | Comments (0)

April 07, 2014

Computer Science as a School District Marketing Tool

We are seeing many indications these days that administrators are realizing that a strong computer science curriculum for students is a critical aspect of providing high quality education. Now it seems that school district are beginning to use this message to attract parents as well.

The Crowley Independent School District in Texas is a great example of this new thinking. As CSTA member Lynne Ryan explained, a new toll road called the Chism Trail is about to be opened that will connect downtown Fort Worth with communities south. More than half of this new tool road will be in Crowley ISD. When the new road is opened, the community expects to see tremendous growth due to development. In expectation of these changes, Crowley ISD has launched a new marketing campaign to highlight the excellence of its school system.

The campaign consists of a series of five short videos that were created to "sell" the strengths of the district. The video topics include:

  • Developing 21st Century Learners
  • Real World Applications
  • Advanced Academics
  • Extracurricular Activities
  • Focus on the Future
  • The Developing 21st Century Learners video focuses on student access to new technologies to promote and expand learning and Lynne herself talks about the importance of tools for collaborative learning and exploration.

    The world is changing and parents have a lot more flexibility and power when it comes to school choice within many public school systems. The Crowley ISD videos demonstrate the importance of strong computing programs as an indicator of a forward-thinking learning environment.

    Chris Stephenson
    CSTA Executive Director

    Posted by cstephenson at 01:00 PM | Comments (1)

    April 04, 2014

    Helping Students Get a Handle on Data

    A day never goes by that I don't hear some mention of data (big or otherwise) that has create problems or is being used to solve a myriad of problems. "If only we had more data on Flight 370" or "The government has too much data on our citizens".

    So in a world that simultaneously experiences too much and not enough data, how do teachers help their students understand what all the hub-bub is about and to feel in control of data rather than victimized by it?

    The topic of data is not one that we, as CS educators, can ignore. Data Science is a part of Exploring Computer Science (ECS) curriculum and in the upcoming AP CS Principles course. It's popping up in many other curricular areas and you might be called on to help colleagues incorporate it into their areas as well. The challenge is that that many of us need nearly as much help in learning about data as our students do!

    While the topic of data is not exactly new to CS curricula, the availability, abundance, and the importance of data, not to mention the tools for powerful analytics and visualizations, are certainly beyond anything most CS classrooms and K-12 teachers have typically been equipped to handle. The list of data topics and skills that our students will need to be effective citizens is long.

    But there is good news! CSTA is going to be part of the solution in providing resources and opportunities to members. Take a look at the agenda for the 2014 CSTA Annual Conference in July. There are several sessions on data. In addition, a set of professional development kits will be coming online soon. While the kit resources were specifically created to enhance ECS, the lessons, teaching tools, and ideas for student activities will enhance any classroom. The kits will be perfect for Chapters to offer two to six hour workshops. My guess is that it won't only be CS teachers knocking at the door!

    Watch for news about these new PD resources in the next month. We'll let you know when they are ready.

    Pat Philips
    Editor, CSTA Voice

    Posted by cstephenson at 03:47 PM | Comments (0)

    April 02, 2014

    NJ CSTA Chapters Join Forces!

    CSTA-Central NJ and CSTA-Northern NJ are working together with their advocacy efforts. A few members from each chapter focus on state-wide advocacy. The mission of this small advocacy group (CSNJ) is to establish K-12 Computer Science as an essential academic discipline in NJ. CSNJ believes that all students should take Computer Science classes to help develop logical thinking, problem solving and computational thinking skills necessary for the jobs of tomorrow.

    The state of NJ requires students to complete three years of math and three years of science to graduate. CSNJ is proposing an additional STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) graduation requirement. They call this proposal 3+3+STEM. The STEM requirement can be satisfied by a Math, Science, Computer Science, or Engineering class. CSNJ has their first meeting with members of NJ Department of Education scheduled for next week.

    In addition to the efforts of CSNJ, both NJ CSTA chapters have been awarded CSTA grants promote CS Education statewide. With funding provided under a mini-grant program sponsored by the ACM SIG Governing Board, they will co-sponsor an informational booth at the New Jersey Educational Association (NJEA) convention in November to advocate for Computer Science education in New Jersey and are submitting a proposal for a professional development (PD) workshop on CS education to the NJEA. If the workshop proposal is accepted, members of the chapters will present a PD workshop on the state of Computer Science in New Jersey and the impact of CS on student achievement and future career prospects.

    The two chapters will also co-sponsor an informational booth and a half hour presentation on Computer Science education in New Jersey at the New Jersey School Boards Association (NJSBA) conference during October 2014. The workshop will focus on the state of Computer Science in New Jersey and the impact of CS on student achievement and future career prospects.

    Funds from the grants will also be used in support of CS advocacy activities such as meetings with legislators, business leaders, educators, parents, administrators, members of local school boards, other education professionals, the commissioner of education, the State board of education and any other stakeholders who can influence the direction of CS education in New Jersey. Both chapters will work together to develop the materials for the booths and the workshops/presentations. Both CSTA NJ chapters will be represented at these state conferences to show cohesiveness and statewide initiative.

    NJ CSTA chapters have worked very hard to advocate for CS Education in our state.

    For more information on CSTA in NJ, visit: http://www.cstanj.org/home

    If you haven't started advocacy work in your state, now is the time!!!

    Fran Trees, CSTA Chapter Liaison
    Proud member of CSNJ!

    Posted by cstephenson at 12:05 PM | Comments (0)