September 22, 2014

CS EdCamp Anyone?

Some of the more interesting professional development events I have been to is recent years have been called EdCamps. Many of these are organized via the EdCamp wiki ( EdCamps are a form of unconference ( An unconference is a participant driven conference. Rather than the traditional format of a committee selecting speakers and topics in advance and attendees picking which to attend, the unconference is organized on the spot. Attendees arrive at the start and write down things they would like to present of facilitate. Other attendees vote, by indicating which events they would like to attend, and the various top selections are arranged into a schedule for the day. It works surprisingly well.

The other aspect of EdCamps is that they tend to be more interactive than traditional “pundit on the podium” presentations. Often presentations morph into broad or very narrow discussions depending on the participants.

The EdCamps I have attended have tended to focus very much on using technology in the classroom. Discussion of Maker Spaces, using social media in the classroom, and many more topics of interest are covered. What I see very little of is computer science related, or at least focused, presentations at these conferences. While I value the things I have learned at these EdCamps I keep thinking that a computer science focused EdCamp could be a valuable event for many of us.

These events are locally organized, very informal and require far less than the usual amount of resources a conference requires. Other they are held in schools, universities or even public spaces made available by companies. The Boston EdCamp has been held in space donated by Microsoft for example. All you really need is a couple of rooms for sessions and a central space to do the initial registration (always good to know who is there) and presentation selection. They can be large or small and run all day or part of a day. Personally I think they would make a great CSTA chapter event that would promote both professional development and community building. I’d welcome some feedback on the idea. Would you attend one? Have you attended one? What do you like or not like about this idea?

Alfred Thompson
At-large Member – CSTA Board

Posted by cstephenson at 05:27 PM | Comments (0)

September 19, 2014

Computer Science Reaches Students During Afterschool Clubs

Afterschool clubs can be a productive venue to introduce CS activities that enhance the K-12 experience for students. In addition to ventures into school day integration of CS (such as’s efforts), afterschool programs have many features/affordances that make them a promising venue whether or not CS is offered during the regular school day. In a webinar on Engineering and Computing in Afterschool (Feb 2014), the Afterschool Alliance recently highlighted three afterschool programs that feature computer science and engineering activities: Techbridge in Oakland, CA; Digital Harbor Foundation in Baltimore, MD; and Project GUTS: Growing Up Thinking Scientifically in Santa Fe, NM.

Directors of these programs provided insights into affordances of offering computing and engineering programs during afterschool hours:
- Afterschool programs engage and retain large numbers of students from diverse populations. According to Afterschool Alliance data, 24 percent of African American, 21 percent of Latino, and 16 percent of Native American children attend afterschool programs, above the national average of 15 percent.
- Students have time to build mastery of skills and new technologies. Often in an afterschool setting (that runs from 3pm – 6pm) students will have longer periods of time for project-based work than in a classroom.
- Afterschool programs offer more opportunity to build relationships with parent and guardians.
- STEM professionals and graduate students are often more available to come in or work as facilitators during the afterschool hours (near the end of the work day). Through using science graduate students and/or STEM professionals as mentors and role models, students get exposed to the variety of computing careers that exist. Subsequently, participants gain an increased awareness of career options.
- Afterschool programs can serve as a sandbox for teachers to try different content, approaches and pedagogy. With a less high-stakes environment, teachers have room to explore and learn.

While there are many potential benefits of working within after school hours, one recurring drawback is that afterschool programs do not reach all students and their families. Those who attend afterschool STEM and CS programs are often a self-selected group including many students who already have high STEM and computing interest. To attract a more diverse audience, significant effort needs to be put towards recruitment. For example, Project GUTS’ recruitment of diverse student populations has been achieved through reaching out to the local community at schools. A two-fold recruitment strategy was used. Family CS Nights were offered at a local elementary school to introduce families from underrepresented groups in CS (primarily Hispanic/Latino and low SES) to computer science through hands-on design and build activities in Scratch and StarLogo, and raising awareness of CS as a potential career track for their students. These evening events also served to prime students to look for Project GUTS clubs upon reaching middle schools throughout the city. At local middle schools, information booths were set up and presentations were made at back-to-school nights and school-wide assemblies. Older, near-peer Project GUTS student mentors served as recruiters, and middle school teachers were asked to refer students to Project GUTS. Further discussion of how to bridge from grassroots outreach, approaches to incorporate other methods to share information about CS programs, and resources with parents and students are issues to address in order to improve equity and access to CS programs during afterschool hours.

If others in the CSTA community are interested in or currently offering Afterschool Computer Science programs, we’d love to hear from you!

Irene Lee
CSTA Computational Thinking Task Force Chair
CSTA K-8 Task Force Member

Posted by cstephenson at 01:27 PM | Comments (1)

September 15, 2014

Computational Thinking and Beyond

Since Jeannette Wing described computational thinking (CT) in her 2006 Communications of the ACM article, it has gone beyond computer science and now become a “hot topic” within educational technology communities of practice. A quick search for the keywords “computational thinking” in education conference proceedings, such as Society of Information Technology and Teacher Education, E-Learn, American Educational Research Association among others yields a growing number of papers on CT. The ideas presented range from computational thinking for teacher education to incorporating computational thinking for students in a wide array of content areas including science, mathematics, and language arts. Educators and researchers in educational technology have started adopting CT and are extending it beyond computer science to creativity and problem solving. As an example, teachers attending our Masters in Educational Technology program at Michigan State University have deep interest in computational thinking and how to expose their students to algorithmic thinking, data representation, and logical thinking across. These teachers are incorporating CT practices by exploring Maker Education (#makered) approaches that allow their students to tinker and play with tools (such as, MakeyMakey, Raspberry Pi, Paper Circuits, etc.). Through these projects students (and teachers) are developing core computational thinking dispositions that Valerie Barr and Chris Stephenson identified in their 2011 article on bringing computational thinking to K-12. Specifically, students in these classrooms are learning to work with “wicked problems” that are open-ended, complex, and often have more than one solution and multiple ways to arrive that the solution. The interest in computational thinking from teachers across disciplines provides opportunities for computer science educators to collaborate with fellow educators to show students how computational thinking ideas span subjects and overlap with core computer science concepts.

Aman Yadav
Twitter: @yadavaman
Teacher Education Representative
CSTA Board of Directors

Posted by cstephenson at 10:25 AM | Comments (0)

August 21, 2014

A first post from Fred Martin, your new University Representative

Dear CSTA members,

I am delighted and honored to be elected for a 2-year term to the CSTA board, which began this July.

I was with all of you who attended the annual conference in St. Charles this summer. Then I stayed the rest of the week for the CS Principles Summit and the board meeting.

As others have described on this blog, the annual conference was inspiring. Among all of the great sessions, one stood out for me. Floresa Vaughn (a math teacher) and Marisa Brown (a science teacher) led a conversation where they described using Bootstrap to teach mathematics to high school students.

When she introduced herself, Ms. Vaughn made sure we knew that she considered herself a math teacher, not a computer science teacher. Her interest in Bootstrap was exactly because it taught math, not computer science. As she described, statements in Bootstrap look like mathematical relationships, not variable assignments.

But also, Ms. Vaughn was thrilled by the idea of making her own video game. This was exciting, and Bootstrap would let her do it!

The two teachers work in a continuation school in Los Angeles, which is a school for 16 to 18 year old students who weren’t successful in regular high schools and are at risk for dropping out.

Floresa and Marisa work with students who have struggled with school, and particularly math. After learning about Bootstrap, and because “trying the same thing over and over and expecting different results is the definition of insanity” (their own words!), they felt empowered to try Bootstrap.

Working together, Ms. Vaughn and Ms. Brown taught a new special course based on the Bootstrap curriculum. As they described, they succeeded in helping their students discover that they have the ability to do math. And that they could even enjoy it. And they could make video games! (See more in their article in the CSTA Voice September 2014 issue.)

The teachers showed a video from their students’ final presentations, where one of the students presented her video game. They gently guided their student in discussing the mathematical properties of her game, and when she succinctly explained the ideas, the whole classroom audience cheered her success.

The video captured the teaching and learning that Ms. Vaughn, Ms. Brown, and their students accomplished that semester.

It also revealed the deep commitment that the teachers have to their students’ learning.

It was especially poignant because of Ms. Brown and Ms. Vaughn’s unwavering will to find a way of reaching students who didn’t have a lot of prior success in school.

To me, there are two lessons from this story:

First, being creative with computing is really different from other endeavors. People like making things and computing lets us make things that are relevant in today’s world (like video games). There are a lot of children (and grown-ups) who find joy and pleasure in making something that really works. There aren’t many experiences like this in the traditional K-12 environment.

Second, it all happens because of the deep commitment to your students’ learning—and your own learning—from teachers like you.

Thank you for all of your work, and I look forward to being part of your community over the next two years.

Fred Martin
CSTA University Representative

Posted by cstephenson at 12:23 PM | Comments (1)

July 28, 2014

What’s Changed and What’s Stayed the Same

As I drove home from the 2014 CSTA Annual Conference last week, I reflected on how things have changed in my 33 years of teaching computer science. CSTA is beginning its 11th year and it has been an invaluable resource for those of us who remember the days when there was little to no support from anyone in our field. It is still too hard for us to make sure that others in our school communities know and appreciate how important computer science is, but at least we have each other.

Every time I attend any form of Professional Development, I am overwhelmed with how much I still don’t know about. In just the past 5 years, I’ve learned SNAP, HTML and JavaScript, C# with XNA Studio, Greenfoot, Calico including Scribbler robots, Scratch, Alice, Processing, GameMaker, Python 2.7 and 3.3, AppInventor, and much of the content for the new AP Computer Science Principles course. The AP Computer Science A course has been taught in Pascal, C++, and JAVA with object-oriented programming being a brand new paradigm. However, what I learned in high school in 1973 about using 3 control structures and lists/arrays to represent data is still the foundation for any program development. Designing algorithms is still the hardest part of programming and using pencil and paper still works better than simply starting to code. My involvement in the American Computer Science League reminds me of this as students use newer languages to solve hard problems, but still need to know about computer number systems, recursive functions, graph theory, bit strings, prefix and postfix notation, binary trees, stacks and queues, FSAs & regular expressions, Boolean algebra, and digital logic gates.

As Michael Kölling said in his closing keynote, “Every generation needs a new language. Languages grow or die.” He didn’t mention how exponential the growth is. The Hour of Code did wonders in promoting computer science and CSTA has been instrumental in equipping teachers of all ages and levels K-12 to keep pace and make a difference for the next generation.

Carlen Blackstone
Computer Science Teacher, Emmaus High School

Posted by cstephenson at 12:06 PM | Comments (0)

January 09, 2013

How to Do a Computer Science Open House

Like many of you I wanted to hold a Computer Science Open House during CSEd Week in December to showcase the work of my students and to educate parents, administrators and other guests about computer science. I utilized my Computer Science Club to organize and host the event which, including 20 club members had over 75 attend. I was very happy with how the event turned out and it did not take a huge effort on my part.

The first thing my CS Club members did was to identify what they wanted to showcase. Their list included:

  • Cisco Binary Game for guests to play
  • Scratch games and stories written by students
  • Java games and programs written by students
  • CyberCIEGE (gaming environment that teaches cyber security)
  • CTeLearning DarkBasic video games by students
  • AppInventor apps written by students
  • Make a Network Cable (yep, they wanted to crimp their own network cable)
  • Trophies and awards from competitions
  • NCWIT winner and Google CSSI participants
  • Now that we knew the what, my students mapped each to specific computers and locations in my lab and the lab next door. Club members then divided themselves into small groups to take care of the various tasks needed to make the event happen such as, develop an invitation to be sent via email, develop a list of refreshments to provide, make colorful page-sized labels to place at each location explaining what guests were seeing/doing, and a flier that was placed in every intermediate, middle, ninth and high school campuses in the district advertizing the event. They also updated an existing PowerPoint presentation that defined computer science, showed statistics on the shortage of computing majors for the number of jobs openings, described computer science courses offered in the district and highlighted successes and achievements of my students.

    The invitation was created as a PowerPoint slide that I saved as a PDF file. I emailed the PDF invitation file as an attachment to:

  • parents of all my students (done through our grade book software)
  • faculty and staff at my high school
  • district superintendent, cabinet members and public information officer
  • district technology and secondary curriculum directors
  • school board president and members
  • college computer science professors (local contacts I made through CSTA)
  • local newspaper editor
  • local city councilmen and state representative and senator (district public information officer assisted to find these)
  • As I said, CS Club members were the hosts and therefore were required to attend. They wore their club t-shirts and were expected to hang out at the various stations to answer questions and explain what guests were seeing. Several were assigned to be photographers and several others were assigned to man the refreshment tables outside the classrooms. We served several finger foods along with bottled water and lemonade to drink. We also had a sheet cake with "Happy Birthday Ada and Grace" written on it. One trip to Costco was all it took for all of the refreshments. I made a PowerPoint slide for each lady with their name and accomplishments listed that we taped to the wall above the cake. I also put a framed picture of each lady on the table as decoration. Some club members were also assigned to clean up at the end of the event.

    During the open house, I watched my students enthusiastically show programs they wrote to their parents. I heard my students describe to the district superintendent the design process they went through to come up with their application of "intelligent fabrics" that took second place in a state-wide competition. I smiled as my students demonstrated to the district technology director how CyberCIEGE uses gaming to teach cyber security. And it thrilled me to see my students comfortably answering questions from college computer science professors about what they had learned and what their future plans were regarding computer science.

    If you have not held a computer science open house I strongly encourage it. The kids really take ownership of it. The cost is minimal; mostly for the food and the positive press your students and your program gets makes it well worth it.

    Gerri Lynne Ryan
    CSTA Leadership Cohort Member
    North Crowley High School
    Fort Worth, TX

    Posted by cstephenson at 04:28 PM | Comments (0)

    December 04, 2012

    The Importance of Funding

    More than five years ago, my school expressed an interest in adding computer programming classes to the curriculum. Since I had not taught programming in over ten years, I wasn't sure what languages to pursue and exactly where to start. As a technology coordinator, I was a member of ISTE and emailed some of the folks there for advice. They pointed me in the direction of CSTA. I emailed Chris Stephenson, and received excellent advice. Not only was Chris able to provide great information, she connected me with other educators and provided her entire organization's worth of support. I joined CSTA and within the year I added Introduction to Programming to our curriculum, and students wanted more!

    The summer after I joined CSTA, I decided to attend the CSTA CS&IT Symposium. The information I learned through that, and successive symposiums has been the best professional development I have had since becoming a teacher. It became clear that while ISTE was widening the net, to appeal to a broader audience, including classroom teachers and administrators, the shift displaced the resources for computer science education. CSTA on the other hand, has provided great professional opportunities and surpassed the value of ISTE, in my opinion, for a computer science educator. The two days spent at Google in Mountain View two years ago, were the best professional development I have had.

    While in Mountain View, I noticed that CSTA was sponsoring and encouraging the formation of local chapters. When I discovered there was no recognized chapter for our state, I seized the opportunity, and with Chris's help, reached out to Dr. Jan Yates. Well, Florida is a big state, and it is safe to say that computer science has not been a priority. Indeed, most Florida schools do not offer computer science courses.

    Through Jan's access at the university, we were able to form a virtual chapter, and we have been working and lobbying the state's Department of Education to recognize the importance of computer science education and to keep it for our students. The fight is ongoing, and it is exceedingly difficult to get folks who do not understand what computer science is all about to understand why it is important to keep and expand in our schools.

    The majority of computer science educators, if they are lucky enough to teach computer science full time in our state are often the only members of the staff at their schools. The ability to share and collaborate with a colleague in person on a daily basis is something that we, unlike our colleagues in math, science and most other disciplines is one of the shortcomings of our chosen profession. For these reasons, the formation of our chapter has been important to me.

    I have been fortunate to attend CSTA events, and last year was elevated to the Leadership Cohort. The learning, sharing and camaraderie I have experienced in this group have been amazing. Last year, when I was offered the opportunity to have funding to provide professional development for our chapter members I seized it.

    I knew it was going to be a lot of work, and this endeavor was going to take me way outside my comfort zone, but I felt in my heart it was the right thing to do for many reasons. I dove into the process of developing a training opportunity. Again, because of the size of our state, I felt that if I could team up with an existing conference, then I wouldn't have to deal with every detail of lining up housing, travel and designing the conference. I approached the Florida Council of Independent Schools, and they allowed me to create a "track" at their existing annual November conference. Because we had our own funding secured from CSTA and Google, they allowed us to pursue our dream of a professional day for CS educators. Without the financial support it is doubtful that they would have allowed us to participate.

    FCIS agreed to let us invite non-FCIS members, and I spent months planning, designing, and executing the event. Many independent schools do not offer computer science. I was lucky enough to have two speakers, Drs. Guzdial and Ericson from Georgia Tech speak about the importance of CS education, and timed it so that many of the administrators from all of the FCIS member schools would be able to hear them speak. Even if only a couple of the administrators that heard them speak expand their computer science curricula in any way, then we have achieved a lot with our opportunity. While working within the confines of an existing conference was not without its challenges, the gains to students and educators in our state made it worthwhile.

    The support that I received from CSTA needs to be recognized as one of the most important components of our event's success. Having someone answer questions, no matter how tedious, and then be present to lend a hand during the event clearly elevated the quality. The CSTA and Google funding provided many of the educators in attendance their first opportunity to spend a professional day of learning devoted solely to computer science topics. Our sessions were extremely successful and well attended. Our efforts to invite people outside of membership (emails to every school in the state) brought in folks who have become new members. In addition, the networking opportunity for attendees is something special our virtual chapter meetings cannot provide.

    This funding was exceedingly important to our Florida CSTA chapter, and we would like to express our gratitude to CSTA and Google for making it happen.

    Joanne Barrett
    CSTA Florida Chapter, President

    Posted by cstephenson at 11:14 AM | Comments (0)

    October 23, 2012

    Let Me Buy You a Beer: A Message from a CSTA Advocate

    While I'm truly honored to be the first recipient of the CSTA Leadership Cohort APP (Advocacy Points Program) award, I wish to recognize members of CSTA Chicago Chapter whose sustained advocacy efforts over the past few years have contributed to this more than any individual action on my part. I didn't do this on my own and I couldn't have. So I share this honor with Don Yanek, Jeff Solin, Dale Reed, Lucia Detori, Terry Steinbach, Gail Chapman, Brenda Remes and Wilkerson, Diane Bell, Ron Greenberg, and dozens of other hard-working teachers and advocates in Chicago.

    I didn't do anything special to receive this award beyond what I do on a daily basis; working with my teacher-friends to convince anyone who will listen of the importance K-12 CS education. I know many of you out there do the same thing, day and in and day out, and I hope that you will be similarly recognized.

    At the CS & IT Symposium in July, I talked about "Baker's Rules for Advocacy," which served as a gimmick for organizing the presentation. But in the months since then I've realized that, with a few modifications, these rules are powerful strategies. While situations vary from one district or state to another, my hope is that teacher advocates will find these ideas applicable. So here we go: Baker's Rules for CS Advocacy:

    Rule #1: You must believe (in your heart of hearts) that our country and the world would be a better place if every student learned something about CS before graduating from high school.
    I really believe this, and quite frankly, the fact that many of the people I come into contact with on daily basis don't, drives me to work even harder. This rule, above all others, is the most important one. You won't be an effective advocate for K-12 CS without this belief and without being able to articulate this belief to others. There are many good reasons to believe why CS Education for all students is important; I was fortunate enough to find a group of similarly-minded people in Chicago to work with who helped each other articulate exactly what that belief meant for our community. If there is any "secret sauce" to our success in Chicago it's that despite our numerous failures to make an impact over the years, we kept returning to this core belief and trying until our message stuck with policy makers who could help us make a difference.

    Rule #2: Beer. It works.
    This is my tongue-in-cheek way of saying that we're in a people business, both as teachers, and advocates. To make an impact you need friends, and you have to be closer to the other CS teachers in your community than just professional acquaintances. A small group of passionate people can make huge changes, but that group must trust each other, like each other, and be driven by the same goals. We're not used to doing this, either as computer scientists or teachers, so it helps if some kind of social lubrication is applied, for me, beer works.

    It's funny that the members of CSTA Chicago rarely socialize in Chicago. At home, CSTA chapter meetings are mostly business and, of course, we have families and daily teaching responsibilities and obligations that always seem to prevent us from getting together. Almost every good thing that has come out of CSTA Chicago was started at an out-of-town conference, including meeting each other in the first place. While it's often a struggle to make time for it or pay for it, there is nothing like an out-of-town conference in terms of efficiency for getting together with colleagues from home, unencumbered by typical distractions. You have to get out there into the broader community and make yourself known.

    Rule #3: Location, Location, Location
    Imm reluctant to go into detail about any specific effort we made in Chicago because the reasons things worked or didn't is inextricably linked with local politics and realities. The same will be true for you. Our chapter essentially started by indentifying a need for Chicago schools (more CS courses) and then set about figuring out who we needed to convince of that need, how we were going to convince them, and what could actually be done to solve the problem. Four years later, we've really made an impact. Your community also has a need for more and better K-12 CS. But the reasons your community needs it might be different from ours, and certainly figuring out who you need to convince and how to work your way through the maze of details will be different. That is your work as an advocate: to figure out the path to success. While the challenges and solutions will be unique to your situation, you won't be alone in your quest. There are a growing number of teacher advocates out there, like me, who can help you. Just ask, and see rule #4.

    Rule #4: CSTA is the force that binds us together.
    While a lot of the advocacy efforts in Chicago have come from a variety of sources, our CSTA chapter is the glue that binds them all together. A local university received a large NSF grant to convert an introductory technology course in 35 schools into a real CS course because of the efforts of CSTA Chicago members. Several teachers are Co-PIs on the grant. Google, Oracle, Microsoft, and other companies that want to sponsor events for teachers in Chicago, now know to contact our CSTA chapter to coordinate their efforts. When the mayor of Chicago announced the formation of some new STEM schools in the city, CSTA was there pushing for required CS, and it looks like that will become a reality. No single person in our chapter made all of these things happen; the work in the trenches was done by teachers like you and me wearing our CSTA hats.

    Follow four simple rules to be an effective CS Teacher Advocate:
    1) believe K-12 CS should be a part of every student's education
    2) find other teachers in your community who believe the same thing
    3) figure out what's important to your community, and
    4) and tap into the support and resources of CSTA. Along the way, you'll make great friends, have an important impact in your community, and maybe, enjoy a beer or two.

    Baker Franke
    CSTA Leadership Cohort

    Posted by cstephenson at 01:59 PM | Comments (0)

    July 16, 2012

    Cure for the CS Blues

    Are you the only CS Teacher in your district? In your area? Are you feeling the pressure of trying to promote a curriculum that the schools/states do not always recognize? Do you need a friendly face that understands your struggles and even your successes? If you answered yes to any of these then I have the cure for you - CS&IT.

    Having just attended the 2012 CS&IT I was reminded how important it is to meet with other CS teachers. I have a renewed sense of purpose, excitement, and gained many new ideas from the other attendees. There always is a great selection of workshops (first day) and sessions (second day) to choose from. Beyond the sessions there is always time to just sit and talk with other teachers. I had two great dinners where I was with different people sharing about our situations, classes, goals, etc. It was so refreshing. It isn't all just shop talk either as we do get to know each others families, likes, dislikes, interests and in the process become friends. I love having friends that share the same passion about CS as I do. The conference gives me a chance to recharge before I start my school year again in the fall. It helps me get my "geek on" and it reminds me that I am not alone.

    This year there was also the opportunity to go to the University of California Irvine to see what research and advancements in computer science are happening there. We were greeted by enthusiastic students and faculty who are pouring their efforts and passions into different areas of CS. I appreciated seeing examples of where the future of CS is headed. It is valuable for K-12 teachers to understand what is going on at the university levels and what opportunities our students have after they graduate. We need to be able to give examples to our students of current research and development. So a BIG THANK YOU to all involved at UCI!

    We were also treated to a great closing speaker from ILM (Industrial Light and Magic). Alex Suter is a Stanford Computer Science graduate who is working in a prominent entertainment company. ILM brings computer graphics and simulation to life in the movies we all love to see. Not only did he share how their work is done but he was also an example of what a great career a CS university graduate can have. Again this gives me an example for my students of what you can do with computer science and where you can go with it. I could not give my students a better "real world" example than Alex.

    CS&IT does a great job of giving attendees information K-16 and beyond. The camaraderie and friendships that are developed are priceless. The opportunities to learn new things or just to hone your knowledge base is invaluable. If you were not able to attend I encourage you to look on the CSTA website for the presenters slide and/or information. Also look and see if your state has a CSTA chapter or a Cohort leader. Look for those contacts and resources now and then next year I hope to see you at CS&IT 2013!

    Stephanie Hoeppner
    Ohio Cohort Leader
    Ohio Chapter Vice-President

    Posted by cstephenson at 11:56 AM | Comments (0)

    August 02, 2010

    Students Benefit from Programming Contests

    "Go to a programming contest? Me? Never! I'm not good enough. I'm not fast enough. I'd never win. Why bother?"

    That's what I'd always thought. I started programming later in life (after I was 20) than all those really fast thinking, really "smart" programmers I met in grad school. Oh sure, I learned how to do some Basic programs on the Apple IIGS in 11th grade (yes, I'm dating myself), but my undergraduate degree was in Theoretical Math. And although I had managed to get a job as a programmer between college and graduate school, but I didn't feel like I had the skills to compete. After all don't these things reward the quick thinkers?

    Recently I found myself as a high school computer science teacher and associated with the Puget Sound chapter of Computer Science Teachers Association. Under the the leadership of Crystal Hess of Tahoma high school, the group has spearheaded programming contests in the last two years for high school students based on the A+ Computer Science Contest Materials. I advertised the contests in my class and encouraged students to participate, trying hard not to project my own past reservations. Three of my students attended the first contest on their own in December of 2008. More students participated in the other bi-annual contests, and even more *want* to but can't because of conflicts with other activities.

    Students tell me they participated because they know they will come away with more practice (some even like the pressure aspect of it!) and confidence, some are nudged into it by peers, and still others like to thrill of competition (the free food and raffle prizes appear to be a bonus, not an enticement). One student mentioned that there is a freedom in working in a short time period and generating code for one time use without worrying about it being elegant and fast. Students also like the contest format where there are problems of varying degree of difficulty where the novice (first year) students can start with the easier lower point problems and gain confidence, while the more advanced students could jump to the more difficult problems for more of a challenge.

    I have been incredibly impressed by what my students have learned from the process, above and beyond the thrill of hacking. They have learned to work efficiently as a team to solve a problem and overcome the "challenge" of sharing only one computer. A few of the students have received medals for placing 1-3 in either the novice or advanced division, but all of them are winners. Will I recommend the contests to my students again this year? For sure! In fact I plan on having my advanced students write problems for the novice student contests as one of their assignments. That way everyone can get involved.

    Lauren Bricker
    CSTA Member

    Posted by cstephenson at 09:24 AM | Comments (3)

    November 27, 2007

    Can Bloggers Rescue America's Dropout Factories?

    CSTA member Milt Haynes is looking for teachers and students in the Chicagoland area who are interested in using web 2.0 social networking technology (e.g. blogs, wikis, podcasts) as a teaching tool to get high-risk students more engaged.

    A recent Chicago Tribune article by: Tara Malone called Bleak future seen for dropoutshighlights the growing number of inner-city students who are not completing high school and the social costs of failing to prepare students to be successful and engaged in today's society.

    Milt also sees schools in the United Kingdom who are successfully engaging potential drop-out students with blogging technology and Milt believes that it is entirely possible to have the same kind of successes in our schools. Nodehill Middle School, for example, may be the most bloggy school in the UK. (

    Milt is looking for some Chicagoland teachers and students interesting in making their own mark in the bloggosphere.

    You can contact Milt at:
    Milt Haynes

    Chris Stephenson
    CSTA Executive Director

    Posted by cstephenson at 12:10 PM | Comments (1)

    October 02, 2007

    If We had a Million Dollars or Even Two

    "What would CSTA do if it had unlimited financial resources? What projects would it undertake that would truly improve K-12 computer science education and address our current enrollment crisis?"

    CSTA is now beginning its third year of operations and once again we are doing extensive strategic and financial planning. Yesterday I presented an early draft of our sustainability plan to the CSTA Advisory Council and the Council members asked me these questions.

    First, it is important to note that I am quite conservative when it comes to fiscal planning. I don't like to spend money I am not sure we have. Also, I think that after having spent more than 20 years in K-12 education, I am so used to being told we have to do more with less, I have forgotten how to dream really big.

    So I am turning this question over to you, the real experts, our member and colleagues in K-12 and asking for your ideas and dreams.

    If CSTA had unlimited funds, what could we do that would truly impact K-12 computer science education for the better?

    Chris Stephenson
    Executive Director

    Posted by cstephenson at 05:10 PM | Comments (3)

    July 28, 2006

    Tells Us What You Need

    Our research has consistently told us that what teachers want and need are resources, resources, and more resources but it is not always clear what kind of resources are most helpful.

    First, what you need depends upon what you teach. The kinds of resources you need if you are teaching an introductory computer science course are very different from those needed by someone who is teaching AP CS.

    Second, teachers use different teaching strategies and the students in their classes are very diverse. This makes it challenging to ensure that the activities and outcomes are engaging and achievable for all students.

    So how do we decide what kind of resources would be most helpful to teachers?
    Well, I guess we ask.

    Here is the situation.

    This Spring we completed a terrific project with IBM involving the creation of three new modules for teaching and learning: a module on web design for introductory courses, a module on learning object oriented programming by designing a pong game for more advanced students, and a module on project-based learning for teachers. This project was a great success for CSTA and IBM and we would love to work together to create more of these resources, but we need your guidance.

    We are not talking about textbooks, or whole courses here. Rather, we would like to develop units that address a select number of key learning outcomes and can be easily fit into your exiting courses. You can expect that each resource would include a teacher's guide, sample worksheets or assignments, a Powerpoint presentation on key concepts, and an assessment tool.

    So here is your chance. Tell us what kinds of units would be most helpful to you and what key learning outcomes it should address.

    We really want to know.

    Chris Stephenson
    Executive Director

    Posted by cstephenson at 04:25 PM | Comments (5)

    January 11, 2006

    More Certifcation Insanity

    No article in the CSTA Voice has generated more reponse than our article by David Devine on his attempts to become certified as a computer science teacher in Florida. Here is a great letter from another member, Tony Gianquinto, supporting David's exasperating experiences and adding some new twists.


    My name is Tony Gianquinto and I teach computers/computer science at a private school in Miami, Florida.

    I am sending you this letter in response to the article written by Mr. David M. Devine titled Certifiably Insane that was published in the December 2005 CSTA Voice issue. I too am having an extremely difficult time getting my professional certification in Computer Science from the Florida Department of Education.

    I have been teaching for five years and it is incredible what the Bureau of Educator Certification has put me through. I have a Bachelors Degree in Biology from the University of Miami and a Masters Degree in Computer Science from Barry University. Getting my Masters was easier than getting certified from the Florida Department of Education!

    Back in June of 2001, the Bureau of Educator Certification sent me a Statement of Status of Eligibility along with a three year temporary certificate. I received the temporary certificate in February of 2002, which now makes it a 2 years and 4 month certificate. They informed me that I met the subject area requirements for Computer Science/(Grades K-12). For them to issue a Professional Educator's Certificate I have to complete the following:

    * Achievement of a passing score on the General Knowledge test. It is very similar to the CLAST and consists of four subtests: English Reading, English Language Arts, English Essay, and Math. I took the test and passed

    * Demonstration of professional education competence submitted by my employer verifying that I am competent to teach.

    * Achievement of a passing score on the professional education subtest of the Florida Teacher Certification Examination. I completed this test and passed.

    * Achievement of a passing score on the Computer Science (K-12) subject area examination. Also completed and passed.

    * Completion of a Florida approved alternative professional preparation program OR 20 semester hours in education courses to include 6 semester hours covering the sociological and psychological foundations of education. I completed and passed two courses in the above from Miami Dade College.

    * 6 semester hours in general methods, curriculum, school administration or school supervision.

    * 4 semester hours of teaching computer science in the elementary and secondary school.

    * Completing the Practical Teaching Experience requirement by completing 6 semester hours in a college student teaching (internship) program in an elementary or secondary school or two years of full-time teaching experience in an elementary or secondary school.

    Two years of my teaching experience was used to satisfy 6 semester hours of college credit in lieu of special methods of teaching computer science in the high school and 3 semester hours of general methods. The remaining three years of teaching experience cannot be used because I have utilized the maximum amount of teaching experience allowed by Florida State Board of Education Rules in this area.

    So what's left? My most recent Statement of Status of Eligibility states that I need to complete 3 additional semester hours in general methods, curriculum, school administration or school supervision and 2 semester hours in teaching Computer Science in the elementary school. I believe the 2 credit course is the same course that Mr. Devine states from his article as the Special Methods for Teaching Computer Science K-6 and a class that doesn't exist.

    I contacted the Bureau of Educator Certification to find out what to do about the 2 credit class and the response was they don't know and to check with the University of Phoenix online programs. I also asked them why they simply did not just have a 6-12 Computer Science certificate and they said that they do not make the rules. I don't think there is a school in the United States that teaches Computer Science to a child in Kindergarten!

    I don't even want to get into how much money I have spent on classes, applications, tests and finger prints.

    As you can see, a Masters Degree is easier to obtain!

    Tony Gianquinto
    CSTA Member

    Posted by cstephenson at 09:41 AM | Comments (8)

    January 03, 2006

    Help Us Identify Contests for Computer Science Students

    Some of our members have suggested that a central listing of contests would be very helpful since many teachers use contest participation to motivate and engage students.

    We would be happy to collect and disseminate this information but we need your help in identifying contests that already exist at the state, regional, national, and international level for high school computer science students. This would include contests in all related areas (programming, robotics, etc.).

    If you know of any contests that would fit in these categories, please post the information in this strand - including any contact information you might have.

    Your assistance in this matter will be especially appreciated.

    Thank you,

    Charmaine Bentley
    Membership Chair

    Posted by cstephenson at 10:05 AM | Comments (8)