July 09, 2014

You Can Be An Advocate!

Yes, you can! If I can be an advocate you can be one too! It is not difficult to get started. I began by advocating at my school site for computer science with the counseling staff and the administration to help grow enrollment. I continue to advocate with administration because, as we all know, they are more mobile than teachers.

You can be an advocate at your school site. My school has a new principal coming on board in a few days. He held site meetings after he was informed that he was hired for the position. He was reviewing with the faculty all of the “programs” that he was aware of on the campus and what they were accomplishing. I reminded him that he had failed to mention my program. When asked about my program I filled him in on what was happening with computer science and I continue to send him short informative emails about computer science news.

You can be an advocate with your local legislators. I tried unsuccessfully last year to have the California state legislature recognize Computer Science Education week. I was told that I had contacted my local representatives too late. This year I started earlier. My local legislator agreed to take on the task of getting legislation passed. I was asked to supply some sample language. I found sample language on the CS Ed Week website and sent it to him. I learned a couple of weeks ago that it passed! For those in California the legislation is ACR 108 and here is a link to the press release: http://goo.gl/mCeGmx

You can be an advocate with teachers. The ed tech community is a great place to start. I attend Ed Camps because they are free and you can self-select the sessions. Each of the Ed Camps I have attended has had at least one session on coding. I make a point of attending that session and I urge the teachers to join CSTA to get more resources. I also add information about free resources for teachers. For more information about Ed Camps and their list of Conferences go to: http://edcamp.org/

Another teacher group you can be an advocate to is your local ISTE affiliate. For California, that group is CUE. I have spoken at their local conferences on integrating computer science into the elementary and middle school curriculum and have urged the teachers to join CSTA. They also included me on a Twitter Chat devoted to Hour of Code when I asked what CUE could do to support CS Ed Week and Hour of Code. After Hour of Code, the state organization devoted their entire magazine to coding. I wrote a letter to the editor thanking her for the great issue but I also suggested that they had missed some good resources. I was surprised when she offered to let me write a follow-up article. With the help of Patrice Gans and Chris Stephenson I wrote the article. Here is a link to the article: http://goo.gl/YaTYfl

The teacher’s union is another group that I advocate to. I have not been as successful with that group, but I have attended sessions on CTE and have shared CSTA to their teachers at the session. I am also a member of the National Education Association CTE Caucus and will be attending the NEA Conference which begins in a few days in Denver. The CTE Caucus will have an information booth and I will have CSTA brochures and my business card available.

I have a listed a few things that I have done to advocate for computer science and CSTA. Please respond with what you have done to be an advocate.

Myra Deister
CSTA At-Large Representative

Posted by cstephenson at 05:54 PM | Comments (0)

July 01, 2014

Do Your Students Still Surprise You?

As my year concluded I was reflecting on the students, my courses, and the changes I need to make for next year. I was thinking about what students surprised me and which I thought could have done more. That led to me thinking about why some students surprise me. What was it that gave me the impression that they may not do well or like computer science? Mostly the answer was lack of response on the students part or their demeanor in the classroom; however, as the class went on their spirit and their faces lifted. That proverbial "light bulb" turning on is what surprised me in some. 

So why would these students surprise me? I was making an assumption that when they walked in my room the attitude or lack there of that they gave me was accurate. I took their first reaction as an true representation and it was a bias of a different sort on my part. It was not a gender, ethnic, privileged, etc bias it was simply a bias based on what they gave me the first few days of class.  

While I am excited and completely tuned into computer science I forgot that my students are not initially that way. I forgot that they are used to typical classes and have a preconceived notion what will occur in a classroom when they walk in. I live in my own little world of CS bliss and forgot that not everyone else does ( What? Not everyone else does? Crazy, I know!).

The good thing is that I proceed full steam ahead in my bliss and most if not all students jump on board somewhere along the way. My class plays with toys, makes things, tries new things, eats worms (gummy ones that is, for a project), and many other non-typical classroom activities. This is when the light bulb comes on for some and the students "surprise me".  

So this fall I vow to not believe the opinions and attitudes of the students. I vow to believe that all students love CS and it just has not manifested itself on their faces yet. I vow to excite and challenge them all and expect great things out of them. While this may sound a little fairy-tale-ish, I don't want to judge any student as I fear it may subconsciously affect how I deal with them. In my reflecting I do not feel there was anything really different in my teaching but I want to look at my students differently and I want to look at them in such as way that they do not surprise me if they do well or really get into what we are doing.  

So I challenge you to think about how you look at your students when they come in to your room this fall. What do you believe of them, what do you want from them, and will you make them play, stretch their minds, and just expect that the light bulb comes on?

Stephanie Hoeppner
9-12 Rep

Posted by cstephenson at 05:39 PM | Comments (1)

June 22, 2014

What YOU Think of CSTA

Once a year we send out a survey link to members. We alternate between a survey that focuses on the landscape of Computer Science education (the National Computer Science High School Survey) and one that focuses on how CSTA is doing to meet the needs of our membership.

As the chair of the Membership Committee, I had the fun task of compiling the results of the membership survey into information for the organization. Along the way, I read every single comment that our respondents wrote. One of them asked if this information would ever be made public, if he would ever get to see how everyone else answered these questions. So here are the highlights:

Why did you join CSTA?
To belong to a community dedicated to excellence in K-12 Computer Science education and for access to resources and instructional materials (tied at 73%). Followed by access to cutting-edge research about current teaching practices and technologies at 70% and preferred access to vital professional development opportunities such as national symposia and workshops at 63%. Having a say in the development of critical policies concerning curriculum, standards, and certification came in last at 53%.

Of all the resources that CSTA provides, which are the most useful to you? And the ranking is...
1. CSTA K-12 Computer Science Standards and resources
2. Careers in computing resources (posters, brochures)
3. CSTA Regional/Chapter Workshops
4. CSTA Research (National Computer Science High School Survey)
5. Advocacy information
6. White papers (New Imperatives, Equity, Certification)
7. CSTA Annual Conference

The CSTA Board has a lot of good ideas of resources that would be useful to our members. We asked you to tell us which of our proposed membership benefits was most important. Here are the results:
1. More computer science curriculum resources
2. Regional conferences and workshops
3. Teacher mentorship program
4. More information for administrators
5. More brochures for students and parents
6. More classroom posters

What do you think of the Website, the Voice, the Advocate Blog?
Almost all members use the CSTA website "once in a while" and rated it "good" in all categories. Most of the respondents read the Voice, in fact only 38 respondents said they never read it. Of the respondents who do read it, most rated it "good" in all categories. This blog, however, did not fare as well. Almost half the respondents have never read the blog and 86% have never posted a comment. The half that have read it, rated it "good" in all categories.

How do you use the CSTA K-12 Computer Science Standards, the Crosswalk documents, and our research?
It turns out that there is still a significant population that is not aware of these resources or does not use them because they do not know where to find them. Thirty-five percent of respondents do not use the CSTA K-12 Computer Science Standards, and 63% of them indicated that they either are not aware of them or do not know where to find them. Only 21% of respondents have used the Crosswalk documents. The respondents who have not used them indicated that the reason was because they were not aware of them (56%) or do not know where to find them (26%). The results were similar for the research papers.

But, overall, what you do think of CSTA?
Only 1% of the respondents indicated that CSTA does not provide value to them as a professional. The same 1% would not recommend membership in CSTA to a colleague. Has membership in CSTA facilitated connections with other computer science educators? 63% say Yes!

Tammy Pirmann
School District Representative, CSTA Board of Directors
Chair of the Membership Committee

Posted by cstephenson at 08:55 PM | Comments (0)

May 23, 2014

Moving From "CS for a Few" to "CS for All" to "CS For Each"

When I first joined CSTA almost a decade ago, computer science education was absent from most school districts. Rigorous computer science courses were often tucked away in the classrooms of exclusive private schools and affluent public schools. Even then, the myopic focus on programming languages attracted a very narrow and homogenous subset of students. Computer science education was for the very privileged few.

The past few years have revitalized computer science education. Multiple groups including the NSF, non-profit education organizations, and industry have joined the policy efforts of CSTA with the shared mission of elevating computing education. This united public messaging echoes what teachers already know - computer science education is important knowledge needed for all students to participate in 21st century democratic and economic society. Indeed, CS for All has become a powerful policy movement.

But, as all the students gain access to computer science learning, teachers are charged with the task of teaching each student based on the lived experiences, prior knowledge, and the wonders of the world that the child brings to the classroom. Developing a computer science classroom that welcomes each child requires a culturally responsive pedagogy that views diversity as a strength that should be integrated within the curriculum. Additional instructional supports for English language learners and students with disabilities should be developed and shared to support teachers in a CS for Each model.

To see this in action, we can observe how our CSTA colleagues in the Chicago Public Schools focused on supporting teachers as the key component of increasing access and equity for students. Both before and after ensuring a district commitment to provide CS for all, the teacher corps in the city has committed to bring high quality professional development and curricular resources to their colleagues in order to transform this district policy into inclusive teaching practices. This dual model of policy push, with a strong emphasis on the professional support of teachers, gives us a concrete example of how CS for Each can be realized.

Joanna Goode
CSTA Equity Chair

Posted by cstephenson at 08:35 PM | Comments (1)

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)

March 28, 2014

A Year Later: the Centrality of Teachers in Code.org

It has been a little over a year since Code.org released its viral video in the midst of a larger push for computer science education. The video used well-known celebrities to speak to the importance of computer science, but this initial video did not propose any solutions to make computing more accessible for students. I wondered and blogged about why teachers weren't more visible in this campaign to draw attention towards computing education (LINK).

What a difference a year makes.

This month at SIGCSE, Hadi Partovi delivered a powerful keynote in which he articulated Code.org's successful Hour of Code and their vision of district partnerships to increase access and diversity for computing. A common thread throughout his comments was the centrality of the role of teachers.

  • Teachers were credited for the unprecedented success of the "Hour of Code".
  • The importance of providing high-quality professional development experiences for teachers was highlighted. Hadi even carefully reframed a question about professional development that had initially used the language of "training teachers".
  • Code.org has created an educational team with vast K-12 teaching experience in diverse contexts to support curriculum development and professional development opportunities.
  • Code.org's explicit commitment to working with public schools provides curricular and instructional supports for classroom teaching in settings where students historically have had the fewest opportunities to pursue computing.

    In talking with K-12 teachers after this keynote, there was a huge buzz and a sense of empowerment for being recognized and affirmed for their important role in reforming computer science education. It was especially rewarding for teachers to be recognized while sitting alongside 1200+ fellow SIGCSE educators, most of who work in higher education and have little understanding about the nature of K-12 teaching.

    It was a great day to be a K-12 teacher at SIGCSE.

    Joanna Goode
    CSTA Teacher Education Representative

    Posted by cstephenson at 03:31 PM | Comments (0)

    March 13, 2014

    Why Would K-12 CS Teachers Want to Attend SIGCSE?

    These were my thoughts several years ago as I was headed to my first SIGCSE. It seemed on the surface a little intimidating when the majority of attendees and sessions dealt with college/university level computer science. I was pleasantly surprised, however, to find that SIGCSE is the second best conferences I attend (the firs being the annual CSTA Conference)

    SIGCSE 2014 was the fifth time I have attended SIGCSE and there seemed to be more sessions and activities geared specifically toward K-12. I usually find, however that it is important to attend anything that piques your interest regardless of the intended audience.

    So here are my suggestions as you contemplate attending next year in Kansas City, Missouri.

    Look at all the workshops because many have high school (sometimes middle school as well) implications or are on different teaching tools that can be used in your classroom. Attending workshops are how I met many different people and gained experience with great tools for my classes. You spend three hours learning, collaborating, and sharing teaching practices. I highly recommend attending at least one your first year.

    Secondly, check out the Friday and Saturday schedule as this is when the sessions geared toward K-12 normally are. If you are a K-12 teacher and are only attending these days, there is a discounted HS rate as well. If you attend the full conference, you often find gems you would not otherwise know about. One of the best things that happened my first SIGCSE is I attended a paper session on using robots within CS courses. It was from the college perspective; however, I learned about a new robot called a "finch" and how it was going to be a cost effective option for those wanting to use robots. At that point it was still in beta testing but I in turn mentioned this to a local business that runs a computer camp in the summer. They were able to make a connection and help beta test the finches and, as a result, I also was able to use them. From there I was able to buy some for my classroom. Could I have still found out about the finch at a later time? Sure, but I had the benefit of listening to the creator, hearing the plan, and following it from its inception.

    Another great example is that information regarding the CS Principles course from the concept to the piloting has been showcased at SIGCSE. These are just a few of many examples of the benefit of SIGCSE.

    Lastly, but perhaps most importantly, are the relationships you build. While I will admit that the CSTA Summer Conference is the best place to collaborate with other CS K-12 teachers, SIGCSE is a great place to collaborate with community colleges, universities, and even other organizations. I have met several professors from universities in Ohio and have been able to continue conversations with them as well as work with them on some summer projects. This is the conference is where K-16 computer science educators can learn from each other and make valuable connections that they normally would not make.

    Stephanie Hoeppner
    CSTA 9-12 Representative

    Posted by cstephenson at 05:24 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 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)

    January 13, 2014

    So What Now?

    The Hour of Code was a great success and you may have had more interest than ever before in computer science, but what do you do with all that momentum? How do you help students and other teachers keep interest in computer science and even coding? I'm so glad you asked.

    Have you looked at the resources section of the CSTA a website? Have you scanned the CSTA Advocate blog to see what different people are doing in different parts of the world? Have you looked on the CSTA to website to see who the CSALT leaders (computer science advocacy leadership team) are in your state so you can use them as a resource? Have you looked to your local CSTA chapter to see what kind of resources they're creating or outreach and workshops they are providing? Have you looked at the Computer Science EdWeek site?

    The Hour of Code has helped generate national and even international interest in computer science. It is our job now to get down into the trenches and make sure that the new interest witnessed in December makes a real difference in our schools. That is the real challenge we face now.

    Fortunately, many CSTA members have been doing work in the schools and on the "front lines". There is help and there are resources available for anyone who is now looking to continue the work. Use the CSTA website to find someone near you doing similar work and reach out. We need each other to keep moving forward. I do not want the fantastic things that happened in December to just become stories. I want them to inspire us to make real, sustained change in our classrooms, schools, districts, and states.

    Stephanie Hoeppner
    CSTA 9-12 Representative

    Posted by cstephenson at 12:44 PM | Comments (0)

    December 13, 2013

    The Unsung Heroes of CSEDWeek

    photo 2.JPG

    Today is the last school day of CS EdWeek and what a week it has been! The phenomenal success of Code.org's Hour of Code, a great CSTA CSEdWeek event in CO with our friends at Oracle, new legislation signed that will make computer science courses more accessible and attractive to students. New partners who have joined with us to promote computer science education. Just more of everything! But in all of the hoopla and congratulations, I have not heard much said about the teachers.

    For the last week teachers all across the U.S. and in other countries have dedicated their time to planning and hosting CSEdWeek events in their schools and communities. Countless teachers have written to tell me how proud they have been to share their knowledge and excitement with students, parents, and the general public. One teacher wrote to tell me he was doing an additional event in a local senior citizens home to just show that "no one is ever too old to learn computer science".

    It took over six months of planning, but thanks to the efforts of Mary-Angela Papalaskari of our Philadelphia-area chapter, the citizens of Philadelphia saw the words "Computer Science Education Week 12/9-12/13" in a huge running LED banner across the PECO building.

    Some CSTA teacher members witnessed critical legislative gains for computer science education for which they have advocated and which they have shaped. The photo above, for example, shows CSTA members Joe Kmoch and Lori Hunt with Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and the legislation he signed this week to make computer science count. And with the support of the CSTA Alabama Chapter and of Drs. Bice and Cleveland from the State Department of Education, the Alabama State Board of Education voted to approve both AP Computer Science and Computer Science Principles as math equivalent elections for graduation.

    This week we have also seen new partners step forward and join us in our fight for more and better computer science education in K-12, partners such as Joyce Hoffman, President of the American Association of University Women (AAUW) in WI who gave a wonderful interview on the importance of engaging all students in computer science education to WKOW in Madison, WI.

    And of course we saw President Obama personally encourage students to give computer science a shot.

    Its been a big week, a great week for computer science education. So, to all teachers, from CSTA, we are so proud of you and all that you do. You are, and always will be, the beating heart of CSEDWeek.

    Chris Stephenson
    CSTA Executive Director

    Posted by cstephenson at 12:49 PM | Comments (0)

    December 10, 2013

    The 25 Year Commitment to Making a Computer Scientist

    CSEdWeek continues to roll along with events in schools, districts, community centers, and businesses and computer science educators continue to play a critical role in all of these events. Last night I had the pleasure of attending a CSEdWeek event in the St. Vrain Valley School District in Colorado that was sponsored by Oracle and CSTA among others.

    According to Superintendent Don Haddad, St. Vrain is the fastest growing school district in the state and clearly St. Vrain is well on the way to establishing itself as a district dedicated to ensuring that all students have the opportunity to learn the skills that will enable them to compete in the global economic environment.

    Last night's activities followed upon a district hackathon that involved students in computing challenges in three areas: Best Educational Gaming Solution, Best Teenage Consumer Retail Solution, and SVVSD/ESRI Expert Choice Award. Parents, teachers, community members and staff from several local political leaders were able to view student displays and to vote a People's Choice Award.

    In addition to the prize giving, the evening included a rich agenda of speakers, all focusing on the importance of computer science education. In her address, Oracle Academy Vice President Alison Derbenwick Miller noted that creating a computer scientist takes 25 years and requires engagement by educators at all levels to make sure that students acquire the skills, knowledge, and experience they need as they progress through their educational experiences.

    Alison's focus on the process of becoming a computer scientist was echoed by the members of the panel that I had the pleasure to moderate. Panel members Alexander Repenning (University of Colorado at Boulder), Ann Root (Niwok High School), Tracy Camp (Colorado School of Mines) and Sarah Hug (University of Colorado at Boulder) spoke passionately about the realities of learning computer science at middle school, high school and university and what research is teaching us about how to better engage all students in computer science learning.

    During the panel question session, many of the parents present demonstrated a deep concern about issues of access to computer science knowledge for all students. One parent, for example, noted a critical need for affordable informal education experiences to help students developed their interest in computer science at a young age.

    The evening also received a nice boost from local politicians who are putting computer science education on the map in Colorado. U.S. Representative Jared Polis (a passionate supporter of computer science education) sent a warm video welcome. Monisha Merchant, Senior Advisor for Business Affairs for U.S. Senator Michael Bennet, also spoke about the critical commitment to providing students with the opportunity to prepare for the jobs of the future.

    The evening was a great success thanks to the incredible support and efforts of all of the participants and most especially of Alison Derbenwick Miller and Sara Akbar of Oracle, Patricia Quinones of the St. Vrain School District and my terrific panelists.

    Chris Stephenson
    CSTA Executive Director

    Posted by cstephenson at 05:52 PM | Comments (0)

    December 09, 2013

    Let's Hope Computer Science Education Week is an Impetus for Congress to Act

    Editor's Note:
    One CSTA helped to launch CSEdWeek in 2009, our hope was that it would grow into an annual campaign that attracted partners and supporters from all levels of education and industry. This week we will be running guest blog pieces by many of our partner organizations. The excellent blog piece below by our friend Geoff Lane at the Information Technology Industry Council has been reposted here with his permission.

    Were Grace Hopper still alive, she'd turn 107 years young on Monday, December 9th. Grace Hopper, as I'm sure you know, served in the United States Navy with great distinction. She first enlisted in the Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service (WAVES) program in 1943, in the midst of the Second World War, and served in various roles in the Navy until 1986, when she retired as the oldest active-duty commissioned officer at nearly 80 years of age. At the time of her retirement, she was awarded the Defense Distinguished Service Medal, the highest non-combat award bestowed by the Defense Department. Hopper was also arguably one of the brightest minds of her generation, and undoubtedly one of the sharpest computer programmers this country has ever known. She is credited with popularizing the term "debugging," helped design an entirely new computer programming language, and oh by the way, has a U.S. Navy destroyer named after her.

    Not coincidentally, Monday, December 9th also marks the kickoff of Computer Science Education Week. Computer Science Education Week was launched by a diverse and influential coalition of businesses, educators, and non-profits with the simple goal of promoting computer science education. Notable supporters include ITI-members Oracle, Microsoft, Apple, Google, and Akamai, as well as other prominent organizations like the Computer Science Teachers Association, Alice, and Project Lead the Way, to name only a few.

    The work being carried out by this group is quite timely. Consider, for a moment, that in 2013 (when our favorite apps and the mobile devices that power them aren't just fun devices anymore, but rather extensions of our own being) just six in 10 high schools in the U.S. offer a basic computer programming course, and only about a quarter of the nation's high schools offer advanced placement (AP) computer science classes. What's more, it's expected that the economy will need an additional 1.5 million computer programmers by 2018.

    And this is where Washington can and should help. The great work being done by the Computer Science Education Week partners is no doubt gaining traction, but the country won't realize the true transformative power of computer programming until Congress weighs in and formulates a wholesale approach to tackle the issue. In a previous blog, I wrote about the Computer Science Education Act, a bill that would modify existing legislation to make computer science a "core" subject with the likes of math, English, and history. Core subjects are eligible for federal funds, thereby offsetting curriculum expenses. The legislation passed unanimously in the House of Representatives, but unfortunately has yet to see the light of day in the Senate.

    So as we celebrate this week's activities, we should keep several things in mind. First, as Congress dithers, tech industry leaders like Oracle, Microsoft, Apple, Google, and Akamai have shown tremendous initiative in preparing today's students for tomorrow's challenges. We should also celebrate Grace Hopper's sterling accomplishments. She remains an inspiration for her years of dedication to her craft and her country. But most importantly, we should remember that Computer Science Education Week is really about enabling kids to not just know Grace Hopper's name, but emulate her work.

    My fingers are crossed that this time next year we'll be able to celebrate Congress and its efforts to expand the computer science education footprint.

    Happy birthday, Grace.

    Geoff Lane
    Government Relations Associate
    Information Technology Industry Council

    Posted by cstephenson at 01:22 AM | Comments (1)

    December 07, 2013

    Are You Looking Forward to Hour of Code?

    After my last blog piece, I got to work on my Hour of Code activity. I was trying to decide where to hold an Hour of Code activity and who to invite. After much consideration, I decided that the easiest place to hold the event would be at my own campus in the computer lab. There are two computer labs next door to each other, so I felt that I could accommodate at least 60. My plan started to come together. The STEM grant coordinator at the local community college generously offered to print and distribute flyers about the event to the local schools. We finally settled on just the junior high schools because of the number of potential students. Also, one of the professors from the same community college offered to help during the event. I immediately accepted his offer. I have also set up an Event Brite site so I could track the number of participants. The flyers have been distributed and families are beginning to register.

    Additionally, I contacted the local newspaper and they agreed to run an article about Hour of Code that I submitted. I used the resources at Code.org to help me write the article. You can read the article at:


    I also contacted the county newspaper and was interviewed by their education reporter. She said they would send a photographer out to my event.

    Another person I reached out to was the executive director of the Computer Using Educators. He decided that I should be one of the moderators for Sunday's (December 8) twitter chat about Hour of Code. It will take place at 8 p.m. PST and the hashtag is #caedchat. Join in if you can!

    Next, I contacted the local Assemblywoman and asked for her help to get the word out. Unfortunately, I never received a response from her. I was disappointed because she is a former teacher and at each of her events states that she is an education advocate.

    I have contacted CTA, our state teachers' association, about advertising Hour of Code. I did not receive a response from the President but I did contact his aide who said that they had sent it to committee. Disappointed with the response, I contacted the editor of the California Educator, CTA's member magazine. She had recently attended a STEM conference at our state capitol. She had heard about Hour of Code at the conference and agreed to interview me about “Hour of Code” and Computer Science Education Week. I also sent her additional information. She said they would tweet out about Hour of Code and CS Ed Week and also post to Facebook. She also suggested some of the sections of their magazine I could write articles for after Hour of Code.

    I am planning on preparing CD-RW's for the participants by adding Alice and other programs to it. I want the participants to take their creations home with them. I have also purchased silicon bracelets to give out and plan to have Christmas goodies to munch on. My principal has offered to supply bottles of water. I have collected some door prizes to give away. My computer science students have committed to be tutors for the evening. Next week during class, my students will tryout the tutorials and select the ones they feel would be the best. I want them to be a part of this, too!

    I am looking forward to Hour of Code and the excitement I hope that it brings to my students and my program. Are you looking forward to Hour of Code?.

    Myra Deister
    At-Large Representative

    Posted by cstephenson at 08:34 PM | Comments (2)

    December 05, 2013

    Concerns About a Computer-Based AP CS Principles Exam

    As you know, CSTA has given enthusiastic support for the new Computer Science Principles course but as we move toward its widespread adoption in schools. We believe this is a great course and a game-changer for high school computer science education, but we are also worried about the fact that he current proposal is to have the Advanced Placement CS Principles exam offered exclusively online. Much of our concern is exemplified by the results of the E-Rate and Broadband Survey released by the Consortium for School Networks and MDR.

    The results of this survey indicate that there are serious issues of access to broadband that will inevitably impact the ability of schools to offer this course and enable students write the exam. They show that the average school network cannot support broadband due to poor and outdated internal connections/wiring, backbone in the school LAN, and lack of sufficient wireless access points:

  • 57% of districts do not believe their school's wireless networks have the capacity to currently handle a 1:1 deployment.
  • Half of the wiring in school buildings is older, slower wiring (Cat5 and Cat3) that will not carry data at broadband speeds.
  • 26% of districts are using slower copper or 2.3% wireless backbones in their school LAN.
  • Other key survey findings include:

  • Only 57% of elementary schools and 64% of secondary schools have all classrooms fully equipped with wireless Internet connectivity.
  • 45% of districts participate in consortium buying, including 37% for Internet bandwidth, and overall nearly 44% of districts participate in more than one purchasing cooperative.
  • Rural schools pay six times more for connections than other schools/school systems. Likewise, very large school districts (+50K students) spend over three times more for WAN than other schools/school systems.
  • Schools need both financial support for ongoing monthly costs AND cost of capital or up-front/nonrecurring expenses covered by E-rate if we are to achieve broadband in schools. According to the survey, ongoing monthly costs (79% agreement) and cost of capital or up-front/nonrecurring expenses (59% agreement) are the two biggest barriers for schools.

    Clearly, there are major issues of access to we need to grapple with before we can truly make this course available to all students in all schools.

    Chris Stephenson
    CSTA Executive Director

    Posted by cstephenson at 05:35 PM | Comments (0)

    November 27, 2013

    Getting and Keeping Computer Science Teachers in K-12

    With the recent publication of the new CSTA report Bugs in the System: Computer Science Teacher Certification in the U.S. CSTA has shone another white hot spotlight on the systemic barriers that keep good teachers from becoming computer science teachers. Today, however, I've been thinking about what comes next and I"ve realized that there is almost no discussion about keeping the good teachers we have. When are we going to start dealing with the fact that we are driving great CS teachers away from our classrooms?

    The U.S. is only one nation that is now grappling with how to entice people with computer science knowledge into teaching. In Britain, for example, the British Computer Society (BCS) is administering a government-funded program that will award a number of $38,000 grants to new computer science teachers. Those not successful with the BCS grants may still qualify for a grant of $30,000 if they have a strong computer science academic record.

    Right now, we only dream of such a program in the U.S. But even if we had one, the sad truth is that we would lose far too many of the teachers we attracted. According to the National Commission on Teaching and America's Future, one-third of all new teachers leave after three years, and 46 percent are gone within five years. In other words, half of the investment made in recruiting, training, and hiring new teachers is lost within the first five years.

    And little wonder. Why would any smart person with a degree in computer science want to go into teaching? Who would want to be underpaid (many teachers must have a second job to earn a livable wage while computer scientists receive excellent starting salaries), under-supplied (on average teachers spend $1,200 per year buying basic supplies for their classrooms and many CS teachers spend a great deal more), and over-regulated (the paperwork is mind-numbing).

    Some states have begun grappling with the challenge of keeping good teachers by offering incentive pay in “high-need” disciplines. I am not sure this is the answer. But I do know we have to do something. We need people with great minds and great hearts to prepare our students to thrive in a world in which computing is ubiquitous. We can no longer afford to chase good teachers away from our discipline by undervaluing and de-professionalizing them.

    Chris Stephenson
    CSTA Executive Director

    Posted by cstephenson at 02:25 PM | Comments (1)

    November 25, 2013

    Where is the CS Pipeline?

    I was contacted by a CS/Math teacher last month who had an interest in hosting CS camps for elementary school students. Since our local CSTA Advocacy group was scheduled to meet that week, I invited him to attend the meeting and we had a great chat about CS education, advocacy, children, and many other interesting and relevant topics.

    To me, the most thought-provoking conversation started with: Ask a student in a 4th grade math class why she is taking 5th grade math next year. She'll say, "It's the next course." Ask a student in 9th grade Geometry why he is taking Algebra II next year. He'll say, "It's the next course." Ask a student in pre-Calculus why she is taking Calculus next year. She'll say, "It's the next course."

    Our conversation continued with, "We do not have that pipeline in computer science" The 4th grade student has to be exposed to CS and there has to be "a next course." There has to ALWAYS be a next course in CS.

    We are failing drastically at all educational levels because there is no CS pipeline. Few elementary schools and middle schools offer any course in CS. Some high schools offer AP CS A. But AP CS A is not "the next course" for most students. It is the only CS course. We try desperately to have our high schools implement a CS course and/or count CS as a math or science. This is a start. But one CS course isn't the answer. We have to build that pipeline from the ground up.

    Computer Science Education Week, December 9-15, is a great time to start to start building that pipeline. The Hour of Code, part of CS Ed Week, aims to introduce more than 10 million students of all ages to the basics of coding, demystifying computing for those who think programming is hard.

    Help build the CS pipeline. Visit an elementary school classroom and introduce the students to CS! See:


    for ideas and tutorials.

    Fran Trees
    CSTA Board of Directors-Chapter Liaison

    Posted by cstephenson at 12:46 PM | Comments (1)

    November 13, 2013

    Online Professional Learning Communities for CS Teachers

    Last week, the NSF brought together leaders of the CS10K effort to discuss potential online supports for teachers and students in computer science. Though the concept of "blended learning" is not new for either student learning or professional development, the boom of the current market working to leverage online computer science learning to "reach" large numbers of students is undeniable.

    As participants at this meeting noted, there are differences in educational objectives when designing and teaching in dynamic, high-quality learning communities and when merely providing a one-directional "content delivery" of concepts without much attention to actual learning. We should not conflate issues of delivery platforms with those of good instructional design.

    By the end of the meeting, I was convinced that online learning communities have great potential to support and extend professional learning, but ideally after teachers have an initial opportunity to participate in face-to-face professional development. This initial face-to-face experience builds the foundation for a trusting learning community amongst participants before transitioning to online interactions.

    The CS10K Community of Practice, an online professional community for Exploring Computer Science and CS Principles teachers, offers a dynamic example of this type of online environment that seeks to build upon, not supplant, face-to-face professional development for teachers. Though only in its first year, the iterative efforts of this online space have been impressive. A slideshow of impact can be seen here:


    What do you think? What possibilities can you imagine for creating online learning spaces for computer science teachers?

    Joanna Goode
    CSTA Equity Chair

    Posted by cstephenson at 10:44 PM | Comments (0)

    November 04, 2013

    Critical Questions for CS Education Research

    This weekend CSTA Chair Deborah Seehorn and I were attending the ACM Education Council meetings and, as part of the meeting, we participated in a group discussion about critical questions in computer science education research led by CSTA Past Chair Steve Cooper.

    Our discussion group consisted of Deborah Seehorn from the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction, Steve Cooper from Stanford University, Dan Garcia from Berkeley, and myself. Because we all have deep roots in K-12 computer science education, the list of questions we came up with covered a breadth of issues and reflect the deep need for research-grounded solutions to the issues we now face.

    Here is our list:

  • What are the indicators of incoming student success in introductory level computer science in colleges and universities?
  • Does computer science learning in high schools contribute to success/improvement in other disciplines, especially mathematics and science?
  • What is the link between age/educational development and the potential to learn and master computer science concepts?
  • Are there issues of ergonomics in the introduction of computing devices with young children?
  • Is there a link between previous math learning and success in computer science at the high school level?
  • What are the major factors that lead to students making early choices not to pursue computer science?
  • What is the role of informal education programs in scaffolding learning in computer science, especially in communities where access to computer science learning in school is limited?
  • What are the potential benefits and drawbacks of MOOCs in middle school and high school student learning?
  • What are the potential benefits and drawbacks of MOOCs for the professional development of computer science teachers?
  • What models professional development are most effective for improving teacher mastery of computer science concepts and pedagogy?
  • What are the impacts of current efforts to market computer science to students?
  • To what extent do poverty and lack of home access to computer science tools impact computer science performance and or interest in school?
  • Do one-to-one devices per child programs have any impact on computer science interest or performance?
  • What are the major factors in computer science teacher retention?
  • What is required to increase the availability of teacher preparation programs for computer science teachers?
  • What is the impact of transitioning the the content of teacher preparation courses in "educational technology/AV" to a focus on computational thinking across STEM?
  • What is the ideal balance between content knowledge learning and pedagogical learning in computer science teacher preparation and alternative certifications?
  • Do hybrid programs (educators and volunteer partnerships) improve student access to rigorous computer science courses and increase the pool of well-prepared computer science teachers?
  • Which of these do you think is most important?

    And what have we missed?

    Chris Stephenson
    CSTA Executive Director

    Posted by cstephenson at 01:16 PM | Comments (5)

    October 07, 2013

    What Are You Doing for Hour of Code?

    That was the question I was asked in an email from a colleague who teaches in a neighboring district. I had thought about it but not in depth. It had been mentioned on Twitter and I had planned to hold two half-hour lunch periods of introduction to computer science parties in the lab during Computer Science Education week. My computer science students assist with walking the students through a simple coding exercise. I felt if I held it after school I would not have many students participate. However, over the last few days I have been thinking more about it. What if I contacted my principal and the PTA president and got them on board? How about California Teachers Association (CTA) or my local teachers association or even the National Education Association (NEA)? Maybe I could contact the local assemblywoman or the local community college computer science chair and get their support. My head started to spin.

    For those of you who have not heard of Hour of Code, I should explain what is going on. It is part of Computer Science Education Week http://csedweek.org/ and is a combined effort by Code.org and csedweek.org. On the webpage it is explained as: "It's a one-hour introduction to computer science, designed to demystify 'code' and show that anyone can learn the basics to be a maker, a creator, an innovator."

    When you visit the website click the "Learn More" button which will take you to a page of resources. I plan to print the letter to give to my principal when I have my meeting to discuss what we can do as a school. I will also use their other resources when I contact CTA and NEA.

    The day after the email from my colleague, I participated in a Google Hangout with my local CSTA Chapter President. I posed the question to him about what the chapter could do for CS Ed Week and Hour of Code. He suggested that we add a blog to the chapter website and invite members to write about their plans for this event.

    I am beginning to formulate my plans. It is not too early to start. What are you doing for CS Ed Week and Hour of Code? We need to work together to help each other plan successful events to grow our programs.

    Myra Deister
    CSTA At-Large Representative

    Posted by cstephenson at 12:30 PM | Comments (0)

    October 03, 2013

    Confessions of an Elementary Computer Science Teacher

    After teaching computer science and technology for over 13 years and not even reaching my forties, I started wondering how my teaching methods and style have changed throughout the years. I have written many anecdotal notes regarding my experiences and adventures in computer science teaching, hoping to use them one day and this seemed like a good opportunity to share some of those thoughts.

    I've made many changes over the years, not only in how I teach, but also in what I teach. Because both computer science subject matter and technology change almost every day, keeping up to date on both is a major challenge for Computer Science teachers. In addition, the rate at which my students grasp the information I am providing is also increasing. The combination of these factors can sometimes feel overwhelming.

    Although the standards for K-12 computer science have remained relatively constant over the years (allowing for revisions to keep up to date), the data required to address these standards has changed enormously. When I first started teaching, the hardware used to teach computer science was very limited. My school would basically use very basic Windows-based personal computers. Any programming language that I wanted to use had to be compatible with Windows (web-based programming was not even a dream yet). Because the programming languages we used were not kid friendly, we never considered teaching computer science to students not yet in high school. As a result, our elementary students learned only basic applications and touch-typing. With the growing availability of more varied hardware and programming language tools for education has now opened the doors for computer science courses in elementary school.

    Now, students are able to learn coding even with a tablet or mobile device. This means that the level of knowledge that I must now possess and master as a computer science teacher, has been raised tremendously. I have to know what is out there and constantly be prepared to answer any inquiries that my students may have, even if it means that sometimes I have to tell my students that I must do some additional research before I can give them an accurate response. There is a greater responsibility to stay relevant, informed, and up to date and to filter what is potentially beneficial for kids of all ages.

    There can be no doubt that this rapid rate of change is impacting what happens in my elementary classroom every day. My curriculum now includes topics such as computational thinking, robotics, video game design, coding and app building. Yes, it is stressful teaching in a field that is constantly changing, but it is also exciting and rewarding. I thought that being a CS teacher in the year 2000 was exciting because I was teaching my students the information for the "future". Now, 13 years later I still believe that been a computer science teacher is the most exciting job there is because I am truly preparing my students for the future.

    It is cool and challenging to have this great responsibility of navigating with my students through the uncharted waters of continuous change.

    Michelle Lagos
    International Representative
    CSTA Board of Directors

    Posted by cstephenson at 03:24 PM | Comments (1)

    June 04, 2013

    The Challenge of Teaching Computer Science (in Brazil)

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

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

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

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

    Steve Cooper
    Chair, CSTA Board of Directors

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

    May 22, 2013

    This is My Dream Job

    Long ago in a land far away (well, actually only about 2.5 hours east of here -- but definitely a very different day and time), I started teaching high school math (in a very progressive school system), and I thought, "This is my dream job." Every day was different and working with students and other educators was wonderful. Farther down the road in a new time and place, I started teaching computer programming to high school and college students, and I thought, "No, this is my dream job." Not only was every day different and the students were still fabulous, but teaching with computers was fun! They were actually paying me to have fun! Now, much later in my career path, I am no longer in the classroom, so I miss the students. However, every day is still different, and the responsibilities of my position are so varied that I am still enthusiastic about education -- specifically Computer Science/IT Education.

    My primary job responsibility is in the development and maintenance of our statewide IT curriculum. I have the pleasure of networking with business and industry partners and in working closely with teams of our state educators to develop or revise curriculum. That in itself is rewarding, challenging, and fun. We recently revised our very outdated Computer Programming I and II courses. The courses are being field tested in schools throughout the state this year. Last Monday, I had the pleasure of visiting a terrific high school in the southern part of our state. I was participating in a monitoring visit (monitoring and accountability are some of my other job responsibilities). What a pleasant surprise it was to me to visit both a Computer Programming II and a Computer Programming I classroom and to see the students actively engaged in programming games to test the computer programming coding skills that they had learned earlier in the year (C# and Visual Basic 2010). They were so engrossed in their work and having so much fun working, that I hated to interrupt them, but I did. I asked what they were doing (and all were able to articulate that quite clearly), and I asked if they liked the class (and they overwhelmingly said yes). Some of the students told me that they were going to college to study Computer Science, and some told me they were going to take another programming course or take AP CS. How great is that! I was able to see the "curriculum in action" with students who loved it. What fun! Almost as much fun as teaching it, but not quite.

    Responding to inquiries from stakeholders and interested parties is another fun part of my job. In January of this year, my division director forwarded me an email from a Russian Computer Science professor who was a Fulbright Scholar at the local state university. He wanted information about our Computer Science and IT curriculum, which I shared with him. He then shared a paper he had written about high school informatics in Russia. I read the paper and then we had the pleasure of meeting in person to discuss the similarities and differences between CS & IT in the United States and Informatics in Russia. Of course, the discussion included the new CSTA K-12 Computer Science Standards. We had a delightful meeting (though occasionally I had to ask for him to repeat something he had said), but otherwise we communicated quite well. We decided that there were many similarities and some differences, and that both countries had room for improvement. (Which is a perennial state, as the CS and IT world changes constantly and poses a challenge to try to keep up to date!)

    Soon after I met with my Russian friend, I was asked to meet with a Japanese Computer Science Professor in my role as the CSTA Curriculum Committee Chair as well as the CSTA K-12 Computer Science Standards Task Force Chair. We met briefly at SIGCSE (though we saw each other in breakout sessions quite frequently throughout the conference). We also had a discussion noting the similarities and differences between Computer Science in the United States, and Informatics in Japan. Once again, we found many similarities in the two countries. We also had a delightful conversation before heading off to enjoy SIGCSE. Again, what fun to meet such diverse people who share the same priorities and passions for computing education as I do.

    One area where both Russia and Japan seem to have a bit of an edge on us is in the integration of informatics throughout the curriculum, from the lower grades through high school. But we are working on that! Every day articles find their way to my email box and tout successes in computing education in the K-12 spectrum. Many of the newest developments are in K-8. What an exciting time to be a CS/IT educator! Every day is different. There are advances in computing technology and computing education every day. And the students are so motivated to learn computing. They just want current, relevant curriculum that provides them authentic experiences. That is our job. My primary job is coordinating teams of teachers to develop that curriculum and then providing professional development for our educators so they can facilitate the delivery of that curriculum. Even though I only get to see and work with students on an occasional basis, I do get to impact what is taught in their classrooms. I do get to meet and talk with interesting people who also love computing. This is my dream job.

    Deborah Seehorn
    CSTA State Department Representative, Chair Elect
    Curriculum Committee Chair

    Posted by cstephenson at 12:13 PM | Comments (0)

    May 20, 2013

    Meet The Statistically Average Computer Science Teacher

    Every two years, CSTA conducts a survey of current computer science teachers. We have an excellent response rate and now that the results have all been tallied, I would like to introduce you to the "average" Computer Science teacher (statistically speaking).

    The average Computer Science teacher is a white male who has been teaching for more than 15 years and has been teaching Computer Science for about 13 years. He is a member of CSTA.

    He teaches in a public, suburban high school with approximately 1500 students in grades 9 through 12. Almost 300 of those students speak a different language at home. He is part of the Business Department and teaches Computer Science courses full time. His state and district have no Computer Science standards.

    His school offers Computer Science at the pre-AP level. The 25 students enrolled in his Computer Science elective will earn a Computing/Technology credit for the course. Three of these students are female and three represent ethnic minorities. In this class, he teaches problem solving, programming in Java, and the social and ethical issues related to the field. He's never even heard of the proposed AP Computer Science Principles course, not surprising in light of the fact that his school does not offer AP Computer Science A. He also teaches elective courses related to web design and development.

    What does he think of his enrollment numbers? He believes there are students who would like to be in his classes who aren't. He thinks these students are dealing with full schedules and the perception that electives are not as desirable on a transcript.

    His biggest challenges to teaching Computer Science? Lack of interest in the subject -- from both the adults and the students at his school.

    He would really like more time for professional development, as long as he can find a workshop or seminar that is relevant, nearby and inexpensive.

    Are YOU the average Computer Science teacher? Leave a comment below and share your reactions!

    Tammy Pirmann
    School District Representative

    Posted by cstephenson at 03:29 PM | Comments (8)

    April 17, 2013

    Are Parents Supporters or a Challenge for Computer Science in K-12?

    As a K-12 Computer science teacher I am often presented with different challenges and they all vary depending on the grade level. Most of the time when we think about challenges, we focus on school budgets, school administrators, and curriculum challenges, but we usually don't stop and think about the challenge that starts at home.

    Often, the biggest challenges with the younger K-8 grades are the parents' perception of what computer science is and what their kids should be learning in the computer science class. One of the phrases that I commonly hear when a student is struggling with a CS skill is: "But my child is so good with computers, he spends so much time on it and uses it so well, you should see him using the iPad, he uses it even better than me." These parents simply do know that playing online games and using iPad apps is not really computer science. So, I find myself explaining over and over again what computer science is and why our school wants our students to become producers and not consumers. This is why our kindergarteners are learning about developing simple games and our first and second graders creating games using KODU.

    Then we have the parents who insist that our curriculum is too difficult and the students should be coming to the computer lab to play games and have fun. I once had a parent conference in which the parent insisted that we should review the computer curriculum because we were actually trying to fail all kids by asking them to learn and do thing that were beyond their ages. Some parents still think that a computer science class should be a fancy typing, word processing, creating electronic worksheets and slideshows course or that it should be a course that students can take just to raise their GPA. Some parents have a hard time understanding that their kids are capable of so much more.

    I have the privilege to work in a private school where most of my kids have access to different kinds of devices at home. This is a good and bad thing at the same time, because this makes parents think that their kids are expert computer scientists. They are experts at downloading apps, creating movies with iMovie or moviemaker, downloading songs from YouTube (copyright infringement is whole separate topic). I do not want to discredit these skills or applications, but my kids are also completely capable of coding or designing their own games. We just have to give them a chance!

    This week I have the opportunity of addressing parents at a school assembly and explaining to them the importance on learning computer science in K-12, so let's hope that opens the door to have more parent support and rise to that challenge.

    Michelle Lagos
    CSTA International Representative

    Posted by cstephenson at 12:46 PM | Comments (1)

    April 16, 2013

    Because We Are a Community

    I believe it is only human nature that, when something terrible happens at a distance from us, we immediately ask ourselves "Are our people there? Are they safe". Twice in the last few months, I've come to understand that because CSTA has grown to encompass more than 13,500 members in 126 countries, the chance of our people being touched by disasters of all kinds has greatly increased.

    Not too long ago we heard of the terrible tragedy in Newtown, CT. One of our Board members, Patrice Gans, teaches at an elementary school in Newtown. It is impossible to describe how the CSTA staff felt until we were able to determine that she was safe.

    And yesterday, when those of us on the west coast learned of the bombings in Boston, we were instantly afraid for our Boston-area chapter leaders Padmaja Bandaru and Kelly Powers, and their families, students, and colleagues. And even now that we are sure that they are safe, I find myself filled with a kind of terrible anger that someone would put these friends and teachers who are so dear to me in harms way. Perhaps it is just human to feel angry at these times and to want someone to blame.

    But like Newtown, Boston is a wonderful town full of strong and resilient people. I think this is best expressed by Padmaja in these words she sent to me last night:

    This is the time to show that we are all strong and will not back down with these kind of attacks. We feel the pain, become stronger, and keep going with what we are supposed to do although we are still thinking about the people we lost. People still believe that even though this happened, we are all still united to face any adversities.

    CSTA is a community and we are stronger because we care about each other.

    Chris Stephenson
    Executive Director

    Posted by cstephenson at 02:36 PM | Comments (1)

    April 01, 2013

    We Are the World

    There have been several posts to this Advocate Blog that chat about the lack of diversity in computer science classes and STEM related fields. Quoting from Deborah Seehorn's blog post last October:


    "There have been articles about Women in Computer Science, Computer Science in K-12 Education, Computer Science in STEM, Business and Industry Involvement in Computer Science, Interesting our Youth in Studying Computer Science, the Computer Science Employment Outlook, and the list keeps growing." I'd like to add another resource to that list that appears in the October Blog.

    Today, March 27, 2013, an interview with Ed Lazowska was posted in Science Careers from the Journal Science. Dr. Lazowska holds the Bill & Melinda Gates Chair in Computer Science & Engineering at the University of Washington. The title of the article says it all: "We Are the World."

    It is best that you read the entire article as it refers to an interview done with Greg Andrews in 2004 and asks some of the same questions of Ed Lazowska now. The article focuses on careers in computer science, PhD degrees in computer science, and how numbers might be interpreted then and now.

    Perhaps the most meaningful quote from the interview is Lazowska's final remark:

    "Science policy in this nation, and STEM education, is in the iron grip of chemists, physicists, astronomers, and biologists. They don't want any interlopers. But increasingly, advances in these fields are being driven by computer science. There is no field that is more important to the future of the nation and the world.

    All of our national and global challenges -- education, health care, transportation, energy, national security, scientific discovery, you name it -- rely on advances in computer science.

    Let's recognize this, and act accordingly."

    Fran Trees
    CSTA Chapter Liaison

    Posted by cstephenson at 10:57 AM | Comments (0)

    March 18, 2013

    The Changing Face of Education and Computer Science

    Any person involved with education today can tell you that it is an ever changing field. What was common place just a few short years ago has been replaced by something new. One of the biggest challenges teachers face is keeping up with this constant change.

    When I started teaching, we were responsible for preparing our students for Pupil Performance Objectives (PPOs) which were tested through Proficiency Tests. The Proficiency Tests were then replaced with the Ohio Achievement Tests (OATs) and the Ohio Graduation Test (OGT) which assessed the Ohio Academic Standards. Now, the Ohio Academic Standards are being replaced by the Common Core Standards and the End of Course testing or Student Learning Outcomes (SLOs). And all these changes have happened just since I began teaching 14 years ago.

    Just as the standards and testing have changed, so has funding. School districts are now dealing with major budget cuts impact which courses get funding and which get eliminated. While core courses continue to get the lion's share of the resources, electives such as Computer Science are the first to be cut. In this kind of environment, Computer Science teachers are being challenge to demonstrate that their courses are important because students are gaining critical knowledge and skills.

    This is where CSTA comes in. CSTA provides a number of powerful tools that help teachers show that Computer Science learning is critical for all students. With the help of the new curriculum crosswalk documents, we can show exactly how our curriculum aligns with the CSTA K-12 Computer Science Standards. We can rely on CSTA to fight for Computer Science in K-12.

    I may be only one teacher in a classroom, but as a CSTA member, I have a community. CSTA links us all together and gives us a powerful voice at the regional and national level. Because of CSTA, Computer Science is now part of the national conversation about what students need to know to be prepared for the future.

    I hope that all of our members will take action and become involved in some way to promote Computer Science on the local, state, or national level. What can you do within your school to further promote your Computer Science classes? Have you checked out the opportunities offered by your state or local chapter of CSTA? Have you become involved in the state or local CSTA chapter?

    Please join me in looking for every opportunity to promote Computer Science in these ever changing times.

    Dave Burkhart
    Candidate for At-Large Representative

    Posted by cstephenson at 02:20 PM | Comments (2)

    February 19, 2013

    Equity, Policy, and and Why "Trickle Down" Doesn't

    As a non common-core subject, computer science relies on vigorous policy efforts to help our educational leaders understand the importance of including computing in the K-12 curriculum. In just the past few years, we have witnessed how collaborative policy efforts can lead to the inclusion of computer science in government grant funding, standards development, certification guidelines, and curricular credit. This policy work has been tremendously important in raising awareness about the low numbers of U.S. students studying computer science and providing the necessary foundation for working towards increasing the numbers of students who pursue computing in higher education.

    Now that these efforts have evolved to include various implementations and the CS10K movement is gaining momentum, there is a temptation to assume that "increasing" participation in computing will automatically lead to "broadening" participation in computing. As a subject with troublesomely low participation rates of both females and students of color, there is a real danger that without integration of equity-focused policy, general efforts to attract more students to computing will only extend the inequitable status quo.

    A brief look at educational history highlights this point. Compulsory schooling allowed poor and working class children into American schools, but segregation remained. The Supreme Court ruling Brown vs. Board of Education was necessary to initially desegregate learning spaces, but without equal opportunity or purposeful inclusion, many public schools are more racially and socioeconomically segregated than ever. Before Title IX, girls and women were largely directed away from STEM fields and higher education altogether. In fact, many point to the subsequent gender balance in high school calculus as a direct result of Title IX legislation. These equity-focused policies were necessary because larger educational policies that benefitted majority students and boys failed to "trickle down" to students of color and girls. Yet, lessons from Brown and Title IX also highlight that equity-focused policies can open doors but do not in themselves lead to equitable access, instructional opportunities, or practices without purposeful inclusion at the state, district, school, and classroom level.

    Therein lies the necessity of maintaining a focus on equity as both policy and classroom practice even as we are pursuing policy changes that are directed at "universal" CS education.

    Additionally, the educational research that has been done in this area makes it clear that alongside "top-down" equity-focused policy work, equity work must simultaneously be addressed from the "bottom-up" at the classroom, school, and community level. We know from research that:

  • Development of a common course curriculum across schools fosters rich pedagogical collaboration amongst teachers;
  • Long-term professional development opportunities grounded in the courses teachers are teaching is necessary to develop pedagogical practices and strategies for effectively teaching computer science for diverse learners;
  • To maximize chances of CS learning opportunities to exist in the schools, clear pathways of study must be established for students from both academic and career tracks in computer science curricular decisions. School administrators, parents, and students need to see the trajectory of possibility of taking an introductory CS course in a series that might culminate in an Advanced Placement exam, a CTE certification, or another degree.
  • To address equity issues, we need to think about course pathways that culminate in, not begin with, AP courses. By definition, AP is a college-level course. Focusing on this class exclusively focuses attention and resources on a course that is available for predominantly high achieving, college-bound students from middle-class schools.
  • As well, there must be school-wide support and a belief system, from principal to counselors to parents to teachers, that all students are capable and belong in a computer science class. As Lucy Sanders stated at a recent NSF Broadening Participation in Computing community meeting, we need a social movement to reimagine the "norm" for who studies computer science. Changing belief systems cannot happen from a policy perspective alone but relies on the deep commitment and skills of our full community and computer science teachers in their own classrooms.

    There is too much at stake to hope that general educational policies aimed at increasing participation in computing will by themselves trickle down and lead to broadened participation. Instead, we need to hold steady our attention to all aspects of equity as we go forth to increase learning opportunities in computer science. This is a critical lesson from the educational history that has preceded us.

    Joanna Goode,
    CSTA Equity Chair

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

    February 14, 2013

    New Thoughts on App Inventor

    In September 2011, I posted about how much I like App Inventor as a tool to get students excited about computer science along with believing that they have the ability to create technology that could potentially change someone's experience. Since then, I have talked with more computer science educators than I care to admit who mention things about App Inventor like, "my students will find it too babyish", "the programming isn't advanced enough", and "they will get bored quickly." To them, and to anyone else who might be considering using App Inventor in their CS classes (of all levels), I want to share something that happened this week.

    A 9th grade student of mine who is also a member of the Mobile App Development Club I sponsor asked me if I could give him some advice on how he can convince his parents to buy him an Android smartphone. I chuckled as I recalled all of my failed attempts at convincing my own parents to buy me an Atari system, call waiting, or cable TV. (I was lucky enough to get an Apple IIE.) I suggested that if he could show his students that he was building apps for his phone that were useful to someone other than himself, then his parents would understand that he was creating with, and for, technology, not just using the technology. I asked him if he could think of an app that could help his parents in some way. He said he would think about it and walked away. About twenty minutes later, my student returned with a problem that he thought he could help his father with. His father works at a car dealership and often has to walk through the lot to find certain vehicles. The problem: his father is color blind. My student decided that he wanted an app that would enable his father to take a picture of the car he suspected was the right one and then announce the correct color of the car. Brilliant!

    So, we went to work. His job: start to sketch the user interface and make a list of the functionalities the app would have. My job: make sure he had learned the appropriate computer science concepts to build this particular app. The concepts I came up with:
    1) take a picture with the camera or select a picture from the phone's gallery
    2) get the color of the pixel selected by the user when he/she touches the picture on the screen
    3) perform string concatenation
    4) initialize a list and fill the list with values
    5) create a method that traverses a list using a for loop, find the index number of the minimum value in a list, and then return that value

    And that's just off the top of my head. Now, to address the issue that App Inventor is too elementary, item #5 is very similar to one of the free response prompts that shows up every few years or so on the AP Computer Science exam. Do we think that writing procedures or finding the minimum or maximum in a list is babyish?

    At the end of the day, what remains is that this 9th grader created a program to help someone, designed a user interface that was simple but had all of the needed functionality, worked with variables, value-returning methods, lists, for loops, and performed both pixel and string manipulation. Now he's off to perform user testing, solicit feedback, and refine his program.

    The look on my student's face this week as he was working on a program that will help his Dad was priceless. This experience made me remember why I became a teacher and gave me the much-needed boost I often need during the gray sky season. If the student ends up with an Android phone, that will just be the flower on top of the icing on the cake.

    Ria Galanos
    CSTA 9-12 Representative
    Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology
    Alexandria, VA

    Posted by cstephenson at 07:15 PM | Comments (5)

    February 12, 2013

    On Grades and STEM

    The other day I was reading () Desire2Learn Acquires Course-Suggestion Software Inspired by Netflix and Amazon. The article discusses a program that uses information in a student's transcript, along with historical information about other students, to "generate individualized course suggestions based on a five-star scale". I don't have much of a problem with that. I'm fine with software reminding students of the courses they need for their major, what courses they still need to complete graduation requirements. What set me steaming is that the program will also suggest "what courses they will more easily pass, even offering estimated final grades." What do we think a student will do if the program says the student might get a B or a C in a course?!?

    I don't want to discount that grades indicate something about mastery. But I don't think grades can tell us everything. Unfortunately, parents, teachers, and students at all levels have bought into the idea that anything below an A is a death knell. This is doing real damage to our ability to recruit and retain STEM majors. We've had grade inflation in STEM fields, for sure (see http://gradeinflation.com for loads of information on the subject), but I like to think we are buffered a bit by the quantitative nature of many of our assessment tools (exams, certainly, tend to be graded in a completely quantitative fashion).

    This leads to an unfortunate situation. A student who is passionate about a STEM discipline will change fields if he or she is getting Bs and Cs in STEM courses but finds they can pull off higher grades in other courses. Or a student won't even consider work in a STEM field because "it's hard", or because "I can't afford not to keep up my GPA". I think of all the C students I've had in computer science whose grades do not reflect their ability in the field, but might reflect that the student was too busy building their own mail server to study for the exam. I think about the B students who were enthusiastic and passionate about computing and who I am certain will perform admirably in their jobs if they have good managers.

    I miss my elementary school days when we got a grade for the quality of our work and a number for effort. At least then you could differentiate between the B-1, meaning a student tried hard and only achieved B level mastery, and the B-2, meaning the student probably could have done A work with more effort. I don't think we can afford to scare away the B-1 and B-2 students, or the C-2 students. But we'll always struggle to keep them if grade inflation continues to be rampant. When 95% of a high school class graduates with an A- average, when almost 45% of college grades are As, we have very serious problem, and it's doing serious damage to our ability to recruit and retain students in STEM disciplines.

    Valerie Barr
    Chair, CSTA Computational Thinking Task Force

    Posted by cstephenson at 12:28 PM | Comments (0)

    December 26, 2012

    The Importance of Mentoring

    My school celebrated CS Ed Week with a visit from alumni who are working in CS-related careers. One alumnus spoke to my students over skype about his career in the area of targeted advertising for online magazines. His enthusiasm for his job and working with people on the cutting edge of innovation was exciting to see and hear.

    He had two main pieces of advice for the high school students in his audience. The first was to pick up a part-time job in college, in order to get some experience, some spending money, and to explore potential careers. His second piece of advice was to find a mentor. He told us that his mentor has been a long-time confidant who gives advice, listens, probes, questions, and helps him make decisions. It made me realize just what a difference an adult can make in a young person's life. This alumnus is now an adult himself, but he still touches base with a mentor he forged a relationship with back in college.

    We, as adults who deal with students every day, should make that effort to make connections with students, to help guide them in their choices for schooling and careers. We should also make some efforts to connect our students with people in the community who could act as mentors to our students. Bringing in industry professionals to speak, taking students on field trips to talk to computer scientists, and seeking out potential internships could end up having a big impact on a student.

    Karen Lang
    CSTA 9-12 Representative

    Posted by cstephenson at 02:26 PM | Comments (0)

    December 07, 2012

    Should Kids Learn to Code in Grade School

    This blog piece was republished from the KQED MindShift site with permission of the author. Author Sheena Vaidyanathan teaches 3D design and computer programming to students in the Los Altos School District in California.

    Deep into the digital age, the need for everyone to understand and learn programming is becoming more and more apparent. Codecademy, Coursera and other education start-ups are stepping in to fill the much-needed gap to teach adults to code. For kids, non-profits like CodeNow are raising funds to run summer programming camps for minority high school students, while other organizations like Girls Who Code are working on getting middle and high school girls interested in computer science.

    While these are all worthwhile endeavors, each is working to fix what's broken: teaching an essential skill that's not taught in most schools. Learning to program has been relegated to summer camps and through programs that exist because of fundraising. But there's a case to be made about using school time, school computers, and school funding to teach programming to every student. And to start early: Programming is just writing in the language of computers, so why not teach kids to code like we teach them to write?

    It's already being done, and not surprisingly, in Silicon Valley. Last school year, two very different public schools introduced programming to elementary age students. In the high-performing affluent Los Altos School District, all sixth graders (approximately 500 students) learned to code in a required weekly class. Student feedback showed that girls were just as interested in programming as boys. Turns out that special girls-only programs are unnecessary at this stage because the stereotypes may not have yet set in. (Check out the games built by students.)

    In Sí Se Puede, a Rocketship charter school in a low-income community in San Jose, a free weekly after school club in the school computer lab gave fourth-graders an opportunity to learn programming. Within the student population, 92 percent qualify for free/reduced lunch program and many of the programming club members had limited access to a computer at home. But given the opportunity, they created these excellent games.

    Though the income level, cultural backgrounds, and computer resources available to the students from these two school communities may be very different, the enthusiasm of students to learn and the ability to quickly grasp programming concepts was exactly the same high level.The student work speaks for itself. Girls or boys, minority or not, low-income or affluent. It does not matter. Everyone can learn to program just like everyone can learn to swim when they are young and unafraid.

    Sheena Vaidyanathan

    Posted by cstephenson at 01:11 PM | Comments (0)

    November 21, 2012

    Seize the Professional Development!

    The Philadelphia Area chapter started providing professional development workshops to our members because they asked for it. We regularly query our membership as to how we can best serve them, and providing professional development is a perennial favorite.

    This summer we were lucky enough to have received funding through CSTA and Google to provide a three day workshop for area Computer Science teachers. While I am sure that our attendees learned something valuable to them from our workshop (via survey results), I am happy to say that we learned a lot too!

    One of the questions on our survey was "What topic would like to see CSTA>>Philly offer in future workshops?" The two responses that came to the top were CS-POGIL and Robotics. We were very glad that two topics were clearly chosen, because it made choosing the subject of our two Saturday workshops very easy!

    We just had a Saturday workshop on CS-POGIL at Drexel University. Process Oriented Guided Inquiry Learning in Computer Science is quite the mouthful and many of the individual words are fraught with multiple meanings in CS, but it is a pedagogical approach to teaching computer science that has been proven to be successful in other STEM fields. It is a student centered approach that puts the teacher in a very different role in the classroom. At the end of our workshop, we had several groups of teachers and professors working together to create or convert lesson plans to this model.

    It was great to spend a day with computer science teachers discussing HOW to teach computing concepts, not just WHAT to teach. I think we need to remember that teaching is an art and that the best way to teach Computer Science may not be the same as the best way to teach Language Arts or Algebra. We are a unique discipline.

    Too often, school districts provide a "one-size-fits-all" type of professional development. This is for several very real reasons,not the least of which is cost. Therefore, when you have a chance to participate in professional development that is targeted and relevant to your field, take it!

    Tammy Pirmann
    School District Representative

    Posted by cstephenson at 02:47 PM | Comments (0)

    November 19, 2012

    Code Literacy: A 21st-Century Requirement

    This blog piece is reprinted with permission of its author, Douglas Rushkoff. It was originally published at http://www.edutopia.org/blog/code-literacy-21st-century-requirement-douglas-rushkoff. Douglas is the author of Program or Be Programmed and a good friend of CSTA.

    As I see it, code literacy is a requirement for participation in a digital world. When we acquired language, we didn't just learn how to listen, but also how to speak. When we acquired text, we didn't just learn how to read, but also how to write. Now that we have computers, we are learning to use them but not how to program them. When we are not code literate, we must accept the devices and software we use with whatever limitations and agendas their creators have built into them. How many times have you altered the content of a lesson or a presentation because you couldn't figure out how to make the technology work the way you wanted? And have you ever considered that the software's limitations may be less a function of the underlying technology than that of the corporation that developed it? Would you even know where to begin distinguishing between the two?

    This puts us and our kids -- who will be living in a more digital world than our own -- at a terrible disadvantage. They are spending an increasing amount of their time in digital environments where the rules have been written by others. Just being familiar with how code works would help them navigate this terrain, understand its limitations and determine whether those limits are there because the technology demands it -- or simply because some company wants it that way. Code literate kids stop accepting the applications and websites they use at face value, and begin to engage critically and purposefully with them instead.

    Otherwise, they may as well be at the circus or a magic show.

    More generally, knowing something about programming makes us competitive as individuals, companies and a nation. The rest of the world is learning code. Their schools teach it, their companies are filled with employees who get it, and their militaries are staffed by programmers -- not just gamers with joysticks. According to the generals I've spoken with, we are less than a generation away from losing our technological superiority on the cyber battlefield, which should concern a nation depending so heavily on drones for security and electronic trading as an industry.

    Finally, learning code -- and doing so in a social context -- familiarizes people with the values of a digital society: the commons, collaboration and sharing. These are replacing the industrial age values of secrecy or the hoarding of knowledge. Learning how software is developed and how the ecosystem of computer technology really works helps us understand the new models through which we'll be working and living as a society. It's a new kind of teamwork, and one that's under-emphasized in our testing-based school systems.

    Click here to see the full blog piece.

    Douglas Rushkoff

    Posted by cstephenson at 01:35 PM | Comments (0)

    November 16, 2012

    What Computer Science Means to Students

    I've been thinking a lot about computer science education as it applies to my students. As the K-8 CSTA board representative and a member of the CT CSTA chapter, I'm aware of the complexities of computer science education. Unfortunately, this understanding does not always extend to my students. During a recent conversation with my 6th graders, it became clear to me that what compter science means to my students, and what it means to my colleagues, is not always the same.

    Many of my students self-identify as technology experts. They believe that, when confronted with the question of what constitutes computer science, they have all the answers. "Of course," they exclaim, "computer science is social networking, surfing the web, gaming, cell phone apps and on-line shopping. Isn't it anything and everything that you can do with a computer?

    It stands to reason that my students would have that impression of computer science. Elementary and middle school students grew up with computers. They are confronted with technology continuously, and as digital natives, their level of comfort with technology far exceeds that of older adults. According to the Pew Research Center's Pew Internet & American Life Project 95% of teens ages 12-17 use the internet compared to 85% of all adults. That number drops to about 60% for adults over 65. The prevalence of computer usage is equally high for children ages 5-12.

    Another data point to consider is cell phone ownership. Cell phones are an integral part of kids' lives. According to the Center on Media and Child's Health, 22 percent of young children (ages 6-9), 60 percent of tweens (ages 10-14) and 84 percent of teens (ages 15-18) own a cell phone.

    At the same time, computer science is the only one of the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) fields that has actually seen a decrease in student participation over the last 20 years, from 25% of high school students to only 19%, according to a study called called Can We Fix Computer Science Education in America? published by the National Center for Education Statistics and reported on by the Center on Media and Child's Health.

    The data speaks volumes. No wonder my students believe that technology and computer science are one and the same. So what is a computer science teacher to do?

    In only a matter of weeks, computer science educators from across the United States will be celebrating Computer Science Education week. This annual event, held during the week of Grace Hopper's birthday (December 9, 1906), recognizes the critical role of computing in today's society. Studies have shown that K-12 education does an inadequate job of preparing students with basic computer science skills. Thankfully, the CS Ed week website contains a wealth of resources related to introducing basic computer science concepts.

    One of the most engaging activities featured on the CS Ed week website, is the CS Unplugged curriculum. CS Unplugged is a collection of free learning activities that teach Computer Science through engaging games and puzzles that use cards, string, crayons, and lots of running around. It is an excellent introduction for computer science concepts for elementary students. I am looking forward to utilizing this resource to teach my students a sample of basic computer science concepts (ie., binary numbers, algorithms and data compression).

    By taking cues from my students, I am better equipped to address deficiencies in their understanding of computer science. Together, we will continue to explore what computer science education is and why it is so important. Computer science, and not computer literacy, underlies most of today's innovations. Noted author Douglas Rushkoff said it best:

    "When human beings acquired language, we learned not just how to listen but how to speak. When we gained literacy, we learned not just how to read but how to write. And as we move into an increasingly digital reality, we must learn not just how to use programs but how to make them."

    Computer science education week (12/9 through 12/15), is the perfect time to join together with other CS individuals to celebrate the power of computing. Let's bring more students into the fold. Join me in celebrating the joy and beauty of computers!

    Patrice Gans
    CSTA K-8 Representative

    Posted by cstephenson at 01:31 PM | Comments (1)

    November 10, 2012

    I Can't Cook, But I Can Teach CS

    Almost everyone I know can cook. And what I mean by cooking, is that they can make themselves some semblance of a balanced meal that tastes good. I, on the other hand, am completely useless in the kitchen. I think cooking is an art and that some people are naturally gifted in this area. I don't believe I have this gift. Many friends and colleagues have scoffed at my claim that I'm unable to learn and think that I haven't really tried. Believe me, I've tried. I've followed a countless number of recipes just to make creations that were tasteless or overcooked. Trying to teach myself just hasn't worked. Clearly I need formal lessons and support, despite what others may think.

    Many school system officials and school administrators think that teaching CS is like cooking; anyone can do it if they just try. Since there isn't a nationally accepted test for a licensure in computer science, states and districts have widely varying criteria for letting teachers teach computer science courses. I worked in a place where first a math certification was required, then they switched the requirement to a business certification, and then they said any secondary school certification was sufficient. In all three situations, no proof of any knowledge of computer science was required in order to teach any of the computing courses, though I was forced to take the Business Praxis exam at one point in order to continue teaching a course I had been teaching for several years. (Hooray, I'm now credentialed to teach accounting, economics, and marketing, even though I've had no formal training!) How many of you work in places with similar situations?

    Just this week, I discovered that in order to teach a financial literacy course in my county, certified math teachers have to attend a six-hour training, complete an online course, and pass a test in order to be deemed knowledgeable enough to teach this course. These same math teachers can teach computer science without any such training or demonstration that their college coursework included computer science courses. The message that I'm hearing is that anyone can teach themselves what is necessary to teach computer science, but teachers need additional support in order to teach finance. This is crazy! We need to be recognized as a rigorous subject that requires teachers to be knowledgeable in both content and pedagogy. If we really wish to increase the number of teachers in our country to 10,000 by 2015, we have to have school system officials and administrators recognize us as a subject of rigor and one that requires training and support.

    Ria Galanos
    9-12 Teacher Representative

    Posted by cstephenson at 03:18 PM | Comments (1)

    November 03, 2012

    There's Nothing Like a Good Book!

    I understand there are good reasons to push for more digital texts, and for the "fully immersive digital experience". But there is nothing like a good book, there is nothing like being lost in a good book. I worry that kids will lose all creativity, all ability to use their imagination. And where will the great leaps come from, the aha moments, if people don't use their imaginations. Sure, I'm all for kids being able to pull out an iPad or notebook computer, pull up text for a classroom discussion, not kill their backs lugging five tomes around school all day, save millions of trees. But let's not give up on books altogether. Turning pages, letting the mind wander, flipping back and forth between chapters, revisiting a character or an idea in an early section, being able to find on page 30 the formula you need on page 50. These are the activities that actually underly critical thinking. I love technology, but reading on a screen enforces linearity. And it promotes loss of focus. Yes, you can follow a hyperlink, but in some ways you then risk never coming back to the starting point. You get sucked into the vortex of the Internet. You forget why you were following the link in the first place.

    My two favorite ways to read; sitting with just a book, or sitting with a book and a computer. Then I can look up things on the computer, but the book is still my touchstone, always calling me back. I still read with pencil or pen in hand. I make notes, mark up things. I still return to the books I read in college for English and political science, I reread, and I also read my notes. I would never dig around to find some electronic file of ruminations, but when the notes are right there I can easily revisit the thoughts of my younger self.

    Arne Duncan, rethink where you take us. Sure, use digital text in some circumstances, use it in ways that make sense. But don't use it 100% of the time, don't create a generation of young people who don't appreciate the value of a good book in all its papered glory.

    Valerie Barr
    Computational Thinking Task Force chair

    Posted by cstephenson at 05:09 PM | Comments (0)

    October 15, 2012


    There is a recent news story about a 14 year old Pakistani girl who was shot by the Taliban because she was advocating for girls to be able to attain an education. At such a young age, she recognized the value education could have for her and took a stand when the Taliban started blowing up schools to keep girls from being able to attend school.

    I think about education in the United States and the contrast is so overwhelming. By law, our kids are entitled to a free public education and yet we have kids (and parents) who do not want it. Certainly, one could argue there is a bit of a glorification of education in our society and that not everyone *needs* an education to do what they want. But what does this have to do with computer science?

    Am I suggesting we throw traditional education systems out the window and strictly work from an apprenticeship model? No.

    Am I suggesting we track our kids from birth to force them into a pre-destined career? No.

    What I am suggesting is that we use this news story to shape our students' ideas of education among gender. Remind them of how much choice they have in what they do, where they go, and the effort they put into things. Remind them that sometimes things are hard, that you must study to learn something new, and that doing well in computer science is about hard work and not innate ability. Remind them that computer science is a tool to help them accomplish other goals andnot just learning a programming language.

    But most importantly, encourage students to take a stand for something they believe in. Find their passion, and use education as a catapult to follow that passion and contribute to the society in which they live.

    Mindy Hart
    At-Large Representative

    Posted by cstephenson at 11:59 AM | Comments (0)

    October 11, 2012

    Good Things Come to Those Who Wait

    I will start at the beginning of my story to explain why I titled my blog with the famous quote. The beginning of the 2011-2012 school year I had a conversation with one of the school board members for the school district where I am a teacher. I discovered during our conversation that she had been a mathematician and a computer scientist prior to retiring to raise her children. I had mentioned to her that I wanted to propose that the board recognize Computer Science Education Week. She suggested that I contact the superintendent and make the proposal to him. I followed through with her suggestion but did not receive a response during the school year from the superintendent. The teachers' union was in the middle of negotiating a new contract, so I felt this was not a good time to pursue my request.

    During summer 2012, I wrote letters to each of the school board members asking them to support a proposal to recognize Computer Science Education Week. In my letter, I told the board members that I would be attending the next school board meeting to make my request public. I also sent an email to other computer science teachers in my district asking them to either attend the school board meeting to support me or to send a letters to the school board members requesting that they recognize Computer Science Education Week. I attached the letter I had written and the addresses of the school board members.

    The following week I attended the school board meeting. I had prepared a statement and was relieved that I did. I was so nervous speaking to the board and the principals that I read the speech. The text of the statement is listed below:

    Board Members and Administrators
    I'm sure that you check your email, surf the Internet and use your cell phone as part of your daily life. It is computing and technology that make this all possible. Both play an important role in driving innovation and society. Since 2010 the US House of Representatives have endorsed Computer Science Education Week to raise awareness of the transformative role that computer science has played. Going forward, CS Ed Week will always be held the week containing December 9, Grace Hopper's birthday.

    This year, December 9-15 has been designated as Computer Science Education Week. I am already planning my activities for the week which will include a field trip to Raytheon, a graduate student from UCI that will discuss her project using computers to help parents monitor their premature babies, and a guest speaker from the industry. I am requesting that the board recognize CS Ed Week just as you have recognized CTE, FFA, and student leaders. Please join with me to help promote awareness of the importance of computer science in our society.

    Once again I did not hear any response from my request. Last week I was planning my next step when I received a surprise visit from the superintendent. He explained why it had taken so long to respond to my request. He told me that due to my request, the board had reviewed which groups they had honored at school board meetings. They discovered that sports received the most recognition and academics the least amount. It was decided, with the approval of the Athletic Directors, to decrease the number of times per year that athletics is recognized. The board decided to not only recognize Computer Science Week, but to recognize other academic areas. He asked that I send him a sample resolution for the board to use. That evening I visited the Computer Science Education Website (www.csedweek.org) to download the sample resolution that is listed under resources. I sent it to the superintendent with a thank you for dropping by my classroom.

    It seems that "Good things come to those who wait" did apply to this situation.

    Now, I need to get to work pulling together all of my activities for CS Ed Week.

    What activities are you planning for CS Ed Week? It is not too early to begin your planning.
    Myra Deister

    CSTA At-Large Representative
    Sunny Hills High School
    Fullerton, CA

    Posted by cstephenson at 11:36 AM | Comments (1)

    October 03, 2012

    Additional Indignity

    I often talk with my students about the impact of technology on our lives: the good and the bad, the capabilities and the limitations. A great example of this was this past summer when my family spent close to a month living in Copenhagen, Denmark. It was amazing how easy living in a foreign country can be thanks to technology.

    We found an apartment to rent through an online service and communicated often with our landlord-to-be via email. Money wasn't a problem once we were there, as electronic banking allowed us to use our ATM and credit cards freely (although most places required a PIN for credit cards). With a wifi connection in our apartment, we were able to use an iPad to FaceTime with family back in the states. And even though we didn't have cell service there, we were still able track our location and navigate around town using the iPhone map and GPS.

    As good as technology is, however, it does have its limitations. The Google Translate app was great for translating signs or phrases, but it also demonstrated how hard language translation still is for computers. While doing laundry one day, I passed the time by translating the dryer settings from Danish to English using Google Translate. Most of the settings mapped closely to what I expected, until I tried the top one: "Ekstra tort." Based on the other translations, I expected to see "Extra hot." However, I was surprised to find that it translated as "Additional indignity." I now feel guilty every time I do laundry, knowing that I am inflicting indignity upon my clothes.


    Dave Reed
    CSTA Board of Directors

    Posted by cstephenson at 10:44 PM | Comments (0)

    September 26, 2012

    Professional Development Benefits All

    Recently, Rutgers University hosted a CS4HS workshop for K-12 CS educators. With the help of a grant from Google, Rutgers CS Department planned and hosted a two-day event for local K-12 computing teachers. What a great experience for everyone!

    I have been involved with many CS workshops for teachers and have always come away from these workshops with a rejuvenated motivation to teach. And I am usually on the presenting end of the workshop! Professional development activities benefit the presenters as well as the participants. The teachers attending the workshops consistently verify the existence of a K-12 community devoted to educating students in the computing disciplines. When surveyed, this K-12 CS community appreciates any professional development that will help them better their teaching, give them new approaches to education, teach them new techniques, or introduce new ways of incorporating technological tools in their curriculum. The presenters have the same appreciation! After all, the presenters are, in most cases, also teachers! And the teachers attending always have something worthwhile to offer other teachers!

    Take the first step towards providing professional development to your local communities of CS teachers. There have been so many successful teacher workshops around the country. The CS Principles Web Site provides a calendar of many of the events that were offered this past summer and that are scheduled for the Fall. If you have an interest in reaching out to your local communities of CS educators and you have no idea what type of professional development to offer, browse the CS Principles calendar:


    If you click on a particular workshop, there will most likely be a link to that workshop's web site which may include an agenda, pictures, presentations, and most of what you might need to plan your own workshop.

    Involve and educate your local community: Not only have our efforts reached out to the K-12 CS community, but we were also fortunate to have the School of Arts and Sciences take note of our efforts. Publicity never hurts! Now the entire Rutgers community is aware of our outreach and our goals. Read about our outreach efforts:


    Although we did have financial support from Google for this first event, we plan to continue our efforts throughout the school year. We are fortunate to have a group of CS educators that are committed to K-12 CS Education.

    Take your first step in reaching out. Plan a professional development event for your teachers! It doesn't have to be a multi-day event. If you have a CSTA chapter near you, reach out for their help! If you are interested in starting a chapter in your local region, contact chapters@csta.acm.org for more information.

    Fran Trees
    CSTA Chapter Liaison

    Posted by cstephenson at 12:29 PM | Comments (0)

    September 19, 2012

    Improving the International Focus on STEM

    I've been doing a lot of research lately for different projects I have at my school. Every time I research something for my unit plans or projects, I keep stumbling into the same term over and over again. STEM. I am familiar with the term STEM and its growing popularity in the U.S. but then again, I am a Computer Science teacher and it is my job to be as familiar as possible with any term related to it. I am quite sure however, that there are many more teachers who would be interested in STEM if they understood its critical importance for their students.

    So I started doing a little bit more research on STEM-related careers and jobs and found out that the possibilities are huge. STEM could open so many doors for our high school students. Every article and website related to STEM ended up with the same conclusion: STEM is where the future lies because it is where the jobs are!

    A few days later, while still experiencing STEM bliss, I was casually chatting to a high school junior about his plans for the future. He is a great athlete and of course is aiming towards a sports scholarship in his college of choice, but when I asked him if he had decided on a major, he said he still wasn't sure. This, of course, is no surprise considering that he still has one more high school year to go. I took the opportunity to inquire as to whether he would be interested in pursuing a STEM-related career. Needless to say, his response was sadly telling. His face was as blank as if I had asked him about the weather on Pluto. I was so disappointed to know that he had no idea what I was talking about. My biggest concern is that most of the students at my school are in the same position.

    Sad and concerned I went back to my desk and fired up Google and Bing to find out if this array of opportunities is only open for kids in the U.S. I found out that there are several countries that are not only orienting their high school students towards a STEM-related education, they are surpassing the U.S. (North Korea and Australia among others). Of course, those are all world leaders in education and technology so this is not surprising. But what about the rest of the world?

    What about countries like mine that have adopted U.S. curricula with our students with the hope they will have improved opportunities for higher education in a U.S. college? Where do we stand on this? Our students are working hard to be able to get into a college that will help them succeed anywhere, but are oriented to old fashion careers and jobs. And even if they find out about the rest of opportunities available to them, they don't have the base to perform as well as their peers in these areas. It's worth also mentioning that we are an ESL (English as a second language) school.

    So I think that a campaign is in order and a change of mind to define where education is being oriented in countries such as mine (Honduras) where we have to open our students' eyes and engage them into new paths and careers. It has to start with the educators and policy makers and permeate to the student s and their families. It is imperative that they know what is out there and how to compete in the race and that they have a chance to succeed in this ever-changing world.

    Michelle Lagos
    CSTA International Representative

    Posted by cstephenson at 11:39 AM | Comments (1)

    September 07, 2012

    Become a Computer Science Education Advocate!

    Join Me! Become a Computer Science Education Advocate -- With Some Help, Of Course

    At CSTA's Computer Science & Information Technology conference this year, Cameron Wilson, who is the Director of Public Policy for the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM), and I talked to a riveted audience (trust me, they were riveted) about how to be a computer science education advocate. Cameron and I shared stories and witty repartee (link to presentation), and I hope that those in the audience came away feeling like they can and should take on advocacy.

    While Cameron works daily in Washington, DC on policy issues important to ACM and the Computing in the Core Coalition (CinC), which he played a large part in starting, my day to day responsibilities are similar to so many of my CS educator colleagues. My first thought of the day is often, "I have to teach in 30 minutes and I have very little prepared." I like to think that Cameron and his like-minded colleagues at CinC are waking up thinking, "Today I have to change federal education policies to make room for computer science in K-12 classrooms." Last year, the Computer Science Education Act (S. 1614/HR 3014) was introduced in Congress on a particularly good day for CS advocates and CinC.

    Like you, I spend most of my time thinking and worrying about my courses and my students, but I also share Cameron's concerns about the future of computing in the country at a time when only nine states count it as a graduation credit. Very few students graduate from high school with CS, because at the moment there simply is no place at the table for CS in American education. And, while the STEM education community points to the 9.2 million jobs that are expected to be in those fields in the country in 2020, they don't mention that half of those jobs, HALF will be in computing.

    Computing in the Core and its members are working in Washington, DC to change K-12 education policies that marginalize the teaching and learning of computer science in the country's classrooms, but it is important that state legislators and leaders hear what is at stake and how they can help, and it is the educators working in local schools that are the experts on these issues.

    I know how daunting it can be to get nudged into advocacy, but I assure you, you know more about how important computer science is to our young people and the country than any elected official. To help you get started, the CinC team has pulled together a state policy reform toolkit that I think can get you started:

  • Usage guide to help you use the other parts of this toolkit,
  • A sample letter that computer science education advocates like you can use to ask state legislators to introduce state versions of the Computer Science Education Act,
  • A draft of a state version of the Computer Science Education Act that can be shared with state lawmakers, but will likely need tweaking, and
  • A set of talking points that support the need for acting on this important issue.
  • Also, hosting a CSEdWeek event (http://www.csedweek.org/forms/sign/pledge-step1) this year (check out our event planning toolkit), is a great way to introduce computer science education to your community and local lawmakers. You should really try it.

    It is local concerns and requests that can be the most powerful in policy changes. I came to advocacy after some pushing and pulling, but I know it is where my voice can be the most powerful in the growing movement to improve computer science education across the country. I hope you'll join us.

    Baker Franke
    CSTA Leadership Cohort

    Originally posted on August 28, 2012, at csedweek.org.

    Posted by cstephenson at 12:44 PM | Comments (1)

    July 26, 2012

    Interest in K-12 Policy Growing

    I just returned from the Snowbird Conference in Utah and I was astounded at the level of attendee interest in education policy issues relating to computer science education in K-12. I Perhaps our time has finally come to work together as a community to make sure that all students have access to rigorous computer science courses.

    The Snowbird conference is sponsored by the Computing Research Association (CRA) and here is how they describe the event:

    The biennial CRA Conference at Snowbird is the flagship invitation-only conference for the leadership of the North American computing research community. Invitees include computer science, computer engineering, and information technology department chairs; assistant, associate, and prospective chairs; directors of graduate or undergraduate education; directors of industry or government research labs/centers; and professional society or government leaders in computing.

    Clearly this is a group of people with a lot on their minds right now.

    I was at Snowbird thanks to ACM CEO John White, who invited me to participate in a panel focusing on policy and advocacy for K-12 computer science. My fellow panelist Jan Cuny from NSF noted that it is always good when you have more people in the audience than on the panel. :-) And this time we had five people on the panel and more than 60 in the audience!

    My job was to set the advocacy policy by describing the current situation with K-12 computing. I told the audience that I felt a bit like Chicken Little. I was there to tell them that the sky is falling (it is really is!) but I also wanted them to know that I have never felt so hopeful about our potential to make real, systemic, and sustained improvements to CS education. From new resources that are making CS concepts easier to teach (Alice, Bootstrap, Scratch, Scaleable Design, to name just a few), to curricula such as Exploring Computer Science and Media Computation that are teaching us how teach in ways that better engage all student, to the exploding number of professional development events for teachers this summer, there is much to feel hopeful about.

    But as the Snowbird attendees pointed out, there are also many things that still makes us feel frustrated and discouraged. Computer science is not part of the academic core in schools and so we continually fight for a place in the school schedule and the state standards. In most states, CS courses do not count as a graduation credit. CS is still being largely ignored by national and state-level organizations that purport to support STEM. And the hot mess that is teacher certification is almost beyond belief. These are all things, however, that we can change through policy.

    While many of the attendees rose to talk about these issues during our discussion, I was a bit disappointed that no one followed up those comments with: "And this is what I am going to do to fix this problem...!".

    So I would just like to offer three of my favorite quotes in hopes that they will inspire you to take that first step toward making change happen:

    "Do your little bit of good where you are; it is those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world." Desmond Tutu

    "Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can."Arthur Ashe

    "You can't build a reputation on what you intend to do."Liz Smith

    Chris Stephenson
    CSTAExecutive Director

    Posted by cstephenson at 06:16 PM | Comments (0)

    July 18, 2012

    Five Advocacy Actions You Can Do in Ten Minutes or Less

    In our fast-paced, digitally connected world, we all seem to have less time but more work. Productivity experts will tell you that you have to focus on your number one priorities, create templates for the work you do over and over again, and break large projects into 10 to 15 minute segments in order to achieve them in a timely manner.

    Well, advocacy can definitely be counted as a "large" project. It takes repeat efforts, lots of follow up and follow through, and a lot of persistence and perseverance. So to help make it a bit more manageable, I've put together a brief list of things you can do that will have an impact as long as you keep doing them. This is where the perseverance comes in. You can't just do them once and then forget about them. The best news is that they can be done in 10 minutes or less.

    #1: Write a letter to your school district administrator.
    You know the value of computer science, but your administrator may not. Even if s/he does, it isn't always at the top of her or his priority list. Your letter should focus on why it is important to have CS in your district, specifically how adding it into the curriculum benefits not only the students but the district as a whole.

    Afraid you'll hear your administrator tell you there is no money in the budget for CS? Offer alternative low-cost or no-cost solutions. Here are three to help you get started:

    #2: Write or answer a blog post about the importance of computer science in K-12 education.
    Blog posts don't have to be long and they don't have to be brilliant. Pick a topic and write about it. You can write about things like:

    It is all about taking some time to engage and connect. Reading a blog post and being a shadow person (someone who doesn't comment) doesn't drive up the SEO numbers for that posting. Exposure helps drive advocacy efforts and more people talking about a posting increase exposure. This leads to more people being aware of the problem, which in turn, increases support for the issue, etc. You get the point. Any politician will tell you the squeaky wheel does get the grease in political circles. So go out and squeak!

    #3: Network with other CS professionals through your CSTA chapter.
    Revolutions aren't usually started by the actions of a single person. When people passionate about a particular subject get together they create an energy that can spread and cause change. You'll find like-minded members at your local CSTA chapter. If you aren't a member, then join. The cost is free! Then reach out to the group and start creating a buzz. It may take a while to pick up momentum, but once you get going you'll be a CS juggernaut and implement the change you are seeking.

    No chapter in your area? Grab some CS buddies and look into starting one. You will find more information on what is involved at the bottom of the chapter listing on the CSTA website.

    #4. Contact the computer science department chair at a nearby university or college.
    Computer science departments need students to stay in business and keep their funding. You are their direct conduit to students. Reach out to them and ask them how you can work together to build interest in and support for computer science in your school or district.

    #5: Write a letter to your governor or mayor.
    Do your pitch in the first paragraph. Since politicians are bombarded by high demands for their support, you have to catch their (or more likely an aide's) attention in 30 seconds or less. Provide them with one hook that is important to their platform. For example, you could talk about the number of jobs that will need to be outsourced by 2018 if we don't have enough computer science majors to support the growing CS job market. Point out how the impact of the loss of these jobs will affect your city or state. No government official wants to see companies relocate because they can't find qualified workers.

    After your hook, ask for a meeting or a call. Tell them what you want to discuss and why. Then provide additional supporting information but be sure to keep your letter to a page (or two at most). You won't be able to state your case in a letter. It just won't get read. It is really about getting that aide to read it and react to it. Your goal is to get that 5-15 minute meeting so you can do your pitch face-to-face.

    Don't worry if it doesn't work the first time. Change up the content and write again. Or draft the next letter as a group. Again, the squeaky wheel gets the grease.

    There are more advocacy actions you can take in under 10 minutes. Those I have mentioned are just a few. In truth, sometimes just getting started is the hardest. Set aside 10 minutes once a week, and you will find that over a course of the year, you will have made a difference.

    Lissa Clayborn
    CSTA Leadership Cohort Wrangler

    Posted by cstephenson at 01:16 PM | Comments (4)

    July 12, 2012

    CSTA's Annual Conference Raises Questions

    This blog entry was originally posted by Doug Peterson at his blog http://dougpete.wordpress.com/2012/07/10/old-and-new-dogs-new-tricks/ and is used with his permission.

    The Computer Science Teachers Association recently posted an entry entitled "Who Teaches CS?". That caught my eye and set me about thinking. Some of the facts presented in the post are:

  • In 2010, only 0.6% of all AP exams taken were AP CS.
  • While AP US History, AP Calculus, AP Biology, and AP Environmental Science are on the rise, AP CS lingers almost flat lining.
  • In 2010, there were 12, 501 CS graduates with 13% women and 4% Black.
  • 41 states do not count CS as math or science credit
  • There are 1.06 million public high school teachers; 6,357 teach CS full time; 2,000 are college AP CS Audited and approved.
  • Do you see a problem?

    Computer Science is undoubtedly the fastest changing and I would suggest one of the most important subject disciplines there is. I've long been on the record advocating for at least one compulsory Computer Science course. It scares me that people aren't recognizing the importance of the discipline. But, just offering the course is no guarantee of success.

    Continued professional learning in the field is paramount.

    This week, I attended the CSTA CSIT Conference. Day 1 was filled with hands-on workshops and Day 2 was packed with concurrent sessions and motivating speakers. Complete details are available at:


    This conference was absolutely packed with great professional learning. It is supported by Microsoft Research, Google, and the Anita Borg Institute and is entirely devoted to the professional learning of Computer Science teachers. Even those old dogs who have been around the block with many initiatives from the past are here to learn going forward. It's also refreshing to see new teachers learning and presenting alongside. Do you think you are on top of everything? Look at the topics addressed.

  • Bootstrap
  • Google Apps Script
  • Kodu
  • Big Data
  • SNAP!
  • HTML 5
  • Java
  • Robotics
  • Mobile Programming

  • and so much more.

    But it isn't just about the new technologies or the next big thing.

    Sessions devoted to advocacy and pedagogy presented a well rounded agenda for the attendees.

    It begs the question though; it's great for those who are in attendance. How about the rest? How will they address the issues identified above?

    Doug Peterson
    Doug --- off the record

    Posted by cstephenson at 10:46 AM | Comments (0)

    July 01, 2012

    Who teaches CS?

    In a previous blog post (3/10/2012), Thinking Big About Computer Science Education, Baker Franke addressed two tightly-coupled problems: where does computer science (CS) fit in American education and who will teach it? This blog focuses primarily on the second of these two questions...who will teach computer science if and when we educate students on the importance of learning computer science before they graduate high school. This blog looks at a different approach.

    I recently consulted at an AP CS Summer Institute where I was joined by 12 very motivated AP computer science teachers. We spent the week talking Java and pedagogy, working in pairs, working in teams, sharing stories and learning new things. Everyone in the institute walked away with some knowledge that they didn't have at the beginning of the week. This workshop was a great experience for me. In one room there were teachers of all levels of CS-teaching experience and content knowledge. That, in itself, is not unusual. But this workshop was fortunate to have a first-year AP CS teacher who was actually a current computer professional. We'll call him JT. JT added a new dimension to the group by bringing his life-experiences to our professional development workshop. JT wasn't a retired programmer looking for a second profession. JT actually taught AP CS (block scheduling) twice a week before going to work. He arranged his schedule by working late on teaching days and/or adding time to the non-teaching days. JT shared experiences and advise (especially on team work and documentation) and took away pedagogical ideas that will probably alter the way he teaches his course. After all, teaching high school students is a bit different than speaking to people out there in the business world...or is it?

    Our week of activities ended with a presentation by one of the other participants on advocating computer science as a discipline. Yes, it was preaching to the choir but the presentation made us aware some startling facts about CS Education in this country and what some people are doing about it. Some facts:

  • In 2010, only 0.6% of all AP exams taken were AP CS.
  • While AP US History, AP Calculus, AP Biology, and AP Environmental Science are on the rise, AP CS lingers almost flat lining.
  • In 2010, there were 12, 501 CS graduates with 13% women and 4% Black.
  • 41 states do not count CS as math or science credit
  • There are 1.06 million public high school teachers; 6,357 teach CS fulltime; 2,000 are college AP CS Audited and approved.
  • The facts presented are primarily from a TEALS (Technology Education And Literacy in Schools) presentation that was attended by one of the participants and is posted on the TEALS website. "TEALS is a grassroots employee driven program that recruits, mentors, and places high tech professionals who are passionate about digital literacy and computer science education into high school classes as part-time teachers in a team teaching model where the school district is unable to meet their students' Computer Science needs on its own."

    This is the same idea as JT teaching AP CS except that TEALS teachers always team teach with a teacher; "the school teachers learn the course material and eventually teach the course by themselves later on in the day." My question is, "Where does the tech-professional learn about CS pedagogy?"

    Many of the blog posts prophesize that professional development is important and meaningful to teachers. This is my personal belief. But, what if you can't find teachers to teach computer science? Is tapping the technology professionals in our communities a viable solution? Can the tech-pros help us develop competent CS teachers? Are they willing to reach out for help with CS pedagogy as JT did?

    What's the ideal solution?


    Fran Trees
    CSTA Chapter Liaison

    Posted by cstephenson at 01:11 PM | Comments (4)

    June 24, 2012

    What We Think We Know

    Half of my job revolves around conducting professional development for teachers. My colleagues and I have done our best to offer quality sessions that are customized to meet the needs of our audiences. And since many of us have worked together for 7 or more years, we have developed a good rapport and ease in doing this. One thing we sometimes have to come back to when planning our professional development sessions is we often have fostered bias based on what we think we know, how we were taught, what we think teachers need, what some teachers have told us they need as an individual, or what we get funding to do. While we could discuss the merit and perils to each of biases, that is not where I want to take you in this post. Instead I'd like to share some of the things we think we have learned from carefully refining our process, removing these biases, and get feedback from those of you in the trenches.

    #1- Free does not automatically elicit attendance
    While many teachers have limited budgets and schools that do not pay for professional development, free does not always mean your enrollment will be full and everyone in a tri-state area will be begging to attend. We've found that requiring a small registration fee commits teachers to coming and many are willing to pay minimal charges even if their school will not. Signing up for a free workshop requires no commitment on the teachers' parts, and they often find other commitments to take precedent.

    #2- Customizing a workshop to MOST of the teachers' needs is really not that difficult.
    Doing a quick demographic check of your audience at the beginning of a workshop can go a long way. Giving teachers a chance to tell you who they are and what they hope to get out of the professional development will help you tailor your workshop. This may seem difficult on the fly and you may think you have to revise your entire content, but this is not true. All that really is needed is a tad bit of creativity to make those connections from what the teachers mention they would like to see to how your planned content can meet that need.

    #3- Timing is Key
    I've seen way too many workshops that take on the if you build it, they will come mentality. This simply is not true. You need to be attuned to the best time to offer professional development workshops. There are so many considerations when choosing a timeframe. Summer seems like a great time but there are SO many offerings for teachers to choose from and some required by their school districts, so you may not be able to get a robust group at the workshop if ill-timed. Additionally, trying to offer a workshop right at the beginning or close of a school year, or during state testing will most likely result in very low attendance. Knowing your audience and keeping up with typical school schedules will help you choose just the right time for a workshop.

    I'd love to hear tips others have learned or your feedback on the three offered above!

    Mindy Hart
    At- Large Representative

    Posted by cstephenson at 03:44 PM | Comments (2)

    June 18, 2012

    Traditions of New Year

    Teachers get to celebrate two New Years per year : The secular one in winter and the academic one in summer.

    As I finalize my grades, I can't help but reflect on the year past. What went well? What were my successes? What did I have difficulty with? What did I learn? However, in the midst of students turning in final projects, I also have ebullient kids bouncing into my room to proclaim, "I got into your class next year Mrs. Pirmann!", so I also can't help but look forward to next year .

    What went well:
    I taught Computer Science Principles this year to a great group of students from a wide variety of academic and social backgrounds. My class covered every demographic available: Students from each of the four grades, of every race and ethnicity in our school, of both genders, and from both ends of the special education spectrum. This was a real workout for the curriculum and for me. All but one of the students found the course valuable (Isn't there always one?), and of the students who are eligible to take AP Computer Science next year, all but two requested it.

    Using App Inventor to teach basic concepts was a huge hit with my group. They really enjoyed being "syntax free" and especially liked that they could share their work. Even when what they had to show was basic class work like "Hello Purr," most students couldn't wait to hand the phone to some unsuspecting classroom visitor to get them to use their App. This behavior really took off when they worked in pairs to create an app of their own.

    What I learned:
    The first month of the school year was a difficult one for me and my students as I was homebound after surgery for breast cancer. However, I learned that I could teach via Skype and Moodle. This revelation has led me to rework my Advanced Web Application Development course to be "flipped". Due to budget constraints, I was informed that the only way I could teach both Intro to Web App Dev and Adv Web App Dev next year was if I taught them both in the same room at the same time. My initial reaction was not positive, but after some reflection, I realized that I could utilize the same technologies that made it possible for me to teach in September.

    I've talked to the students who have signed up for this course about how I plan to make it work, and they are universally supportive. Some have even expressed a preference for the "homework" to be content delivery. They will be working on code in the classroom with me, while I teach the intro students more traditionally.

    Successes and Difficulties:
    Several years ago, my school district made Computer Science in the Modern World a graduation requirement. We had adopted the CSTA K-12 Standards, and this was the final step. One of my ulterior motives was to increase enrollment in computer science electives. I believed that more students would pursue computer science courses if they knew what CS was like. Prior to implementation of the graduation requirement, approximately 5% of each grade would sign up for a computer science elective. However, after all ninth-graders took the required course , 27% of them signed up for a computer science elective the following year. This was success on a level I was not prepared for. Neither was the school district. We would have to hire another full-time computer science teacher (we currently have 1.5 CS teachers) to meet the demand. Unfortunately, budget constraints have us under a hiring freeze, so not all of those students will get into one of my classes.

    The other difficulty I encountered is one of public perception. Our school offers 17 AP courses, so there are bound to be conflicts. Multiple AP courses are running at the same time next year, and unfortunately for my students, AP Calculus BC and AP US History are both running at the same time as AP Computer Science. My juniors have to choose between APUSH (an exciting rite of passage at our school) or AP CS, and my seniors have to choose between AP Calculus BC or AP CS. Many parents and guidance counselors are advising against AP Computer Science unless the student has expressed a clear and firm conviction that he/she will be majoring in Computer Science.

    The New Year:
    I am teaching seven different courses to approximately 150 students next year. There is a lot about next year that I'm excited about, and I have some work to do this summer to make sure these students have a great CS experience. I also have some continuing work to do to make sure the adults in my community understand the role of CS in education and in our society. I need to put together a rich and valuable CS Ed Week, and I need to refine my recruitment strategies to include parents. My to-do list seems to grow every time I think about it, so I am very grateful that I have my energy back!

    See you at CS&IT!

    Tammy Pirmann
    Member Elect of the CSTA Board of Directors

    Posted by cstephenson at 12:37 PM | Comments (3)

    June 16, 2012

    What if CSTA Were the Next Coca- Cola?

    Have you ever looked at the history of Coca-Cola? They have been around for 126 years and while they keep re-creating themselves, they have a recognizable brand that is available in over 200 countries (http://heritage.coca-cola.com/). Granted, Coca-cola serves a different need than CSTA, but still, both serve to have a world-wide target audience and similar missions to reach all populations and produce innovative products that empower our consumers.

    What if millions of school children could recognize the CSTA logo by just seeing the first letter or the swoosh on top?

    What if CSTA was known in every country as the premiere organization and authority on computer science education?

    What if CSTA merchandise was sold in every big box store? (Perhaps Chris Stephenson bobbleheads?)

    OK - many of you are thinking this is terribly unrealistic and wondering where I am going with this. Sure - CSTA is not a product to be consumed. It is an organization. Its success is determined by the benefit to the members, not a tasty treat. But it is the spirit of growth that is most interesting to me. The makers of Coca-Cola so believed in their product that they forged ways to make inroads to parts of countries that do not even have running water. Do we have such a faith in the cause of CSTA that we would go to all ends of the earth to advocate for our group? When have you last encouraged someone to join CSTA? As a member, what are your hopes for growth of CSTA? Finally, what are you willing to do about it?

    Consider the success of any product or group, and then ask yourself what you are willing to do to be part of the growth cycle.

    Mindy Hart
    At-Large Representative

    Posted by cstephenson at 01:45 PM | Comments (0)

    May 22, 2012

    Computer Science: The Big Picture

    As I prepare to meet with a local School Board member and a magnet high school principal to discuss implementing computer programming in the high school, I have to wonder what has taken them so long! It seems like a no-brainer to me (but then I guess I'm one who is singing in the choir). The Bureau of Labor Statistics states that "Employment of software developers is projected to grow 30 percent from 2010 to 2020, much faster than the average for all occupations," so why aren't students and parents beating down our doors? And then I remember my own daughter telling me (during my Accounting I class) "Mom, no one says they want to grow up to be an Accountant." Insert Computer Programmer and there we have it! The student perception of these occupations is pretty dismal, but in fact the careers are far from dismal! (Given my druthers, I would most certainly choose Computer Programmer over Accountant although the combination of the two would be quite marketable.)

    An article in our Sunday newspaper highlighted a Computer Science professor and two students at Wake Forest University working on a cure for cancer (Video Game vs. Cancer). The requisite skills for the team of scientists: "the ability to comprehend, interpret and apply complex concepts and data in a new format; the pursuit or completion of advanced degrees; patience and a tireless work ethic, and being a video game master." Doesn't everyone want to find a cure for cancer? Who would have thought that being a "video game master" was a required skill? Again, I guess I am singing in the choir on this subject as well. For our statewide computer programming curriculum next year, we will be field testing the use of XNA Game Studio to apply the C# programming concepts the students learn in class. We knew we had to do something when we saw the huge drop-off in enrollment from the first course to the second course. We'll see how this goes, but preliminary word-of-mouth reports tell us that the students are very interested.

    And, that's not the only change we have made in our statewide curriculum. We have a new course for freshmen titled Foundations of Information Technology that will allow the students to see the kind of work that is done in each of the four pathways we have in the IT Career Cluster: Programming and Software Development, Web and Digital Communications, Information Support and Services, and Network Systems. Most ninth graders have no clue what a network engineer or network administrator does, let alone a software developer. And most ninth graders can see no connection between high school and his/her world beyond. This course is intended to appeal to the target market while directing them to further study while in high school and beyond. These young students do need to see the big picture so they can graduate from high school "college and career ready".

    Additionally, we have completely revamped our Network Administration I and II courses to provide students the opportunity to earn Microsoft certifications (something beyond MOS certifications that are available in every high school in our state). Also, we're refreshing our e-Commerce I course by updating the content to teach HTML 5.0 and the applications of social media and mobile computing in an e-commerce environment. AND, we have also been fortunate enough to be asked to participate in a pilot of the Computer Science Principles course by partnering with Dr. Tiffany Barnes at UNC Charlotte. What a great opportunity for our teachers and students to explore the Beauty and Joy of Computing! We have eight classroom teachers participating in the pilot, and a section of the course will be taught through the state virtual public school.

    We are working diligently in our state to interest and inform students about the world of opportunities that awaits them in the computer science world. It's not just about computer programming, but that's a great fit for some of the students. That's where I got my start, but now there are so many more venues to explore. And the interrelationships among disciplines are fascinating and create even more opportunities.

    What are you doing to interest students in the wonderful world of computer science?

    Video Game vs. Cancer: http://www.newsobserver.com/scitech/
    Career Clusters: http://www.careertech.org/

    Deborah Seehorn
    CSTA State Department Representative

    Posted by cstephenson at 02:41 PM | Comments (1)

    May 14, 2012

    Gearing up for Next School Year

    Now that the AP Computer Science test is over, my thoughts have turned to the next school year. I had finished my recruiting campaign in February but I had to wait for the data to be entered. I was anxious to get those numbers because I had tried something different this year and was hoping that it was successful.

    My California school district administration has expectations of a "reasonable" number of students when offering an elective class. With the budget deficit, that number seems to be increasing each year so I felt I needed to try a different approach to recruiting students. During the Grace Hopper Conference in Portland I had attended a breakout group about recruiting. One of the suggestions was to mail home letters to the parents. I decided to try it even though I would have to find the money to pay for the postage.

    I went to work and asked for lists of students from the data tech. I used recruiting letters that other computer science teachers had successfully used to create a letter that would meet my needs. Next, I personalized each letter using mail merge, printed labels, assembled them and mailed them off I did get responses. Students dropped by the computer lab to speak to me about the class and I received phone calls from parents who told me they did not realize that computer science was offered at our school and wanted to know more about the class. I was hopeful that the efforts would pay off. What I learned last week was that my numbers are up in A.P. Computer Science by about 40%. However, because I did not send as many letters to the introductory students my numbers remain about the same.

    After I asked about the number of students who registered for computer science, I spoke with the new assistant principal about other types of recruiting activities I could be doing. He suggested that I visit math classes. That is something I had wanted to do but was I was never offered the opportunity by the previous administrator. For next school year that is added to my list. Another surprise, I received is that the principal told me that she also mentioned my computer science class at the PTSA meeting and told the parents that I offer a supportive environment in which to learn computer science. I plan to remind the administration about computer science by sending them examples of student work and invitations to the peer reviews of student projects so that they will continue to help me recruit students.

    Another development that could help with recruiting is a recent change to the minimum graduation requirements in California. With permission of the school board, computer science can be substituted in place of the Visual and Performing Arts requirement. I will be investigating how that process works and soliciting the assistance of my administration.

    During the summer, I will continue to investigate successful classroom management and delivery strategies for multiple subjects during one class period. I want to improve my students' experience in the classroom which is why I enrolled in an online teacher certification program. I want to use those techniques to improve the learning experience for all of my computer science students.

    In June and July, I am looking forward to the professional development opportunities that I can take advantage of. I will be attending a Tapestry Workshop where I will learn more about recruiting and retaining students in computer science and the CS & IT Conference where I am always exposed to more ideas to try out and investigate. Summer is my time to recharge and think deeply about what I want to try out the next school year.

    Myra Deister
    CSTA Board of Directors

    Posted by cstephenson at 09:14 AM | Comments (1)

    May 10, 2012

    Video Games

    Video games are just plain fun! Your students know it, you know it, but so do administrators and colleagues who sometimes think that if you are teaching something that much fun, it can't be truly educational.

    To include game design in your CS class you might need a little help in pointing to evidence that not only is game design serious CS, but it is also serious business that involves serious money and seriously worthwhile topics. I've been gathering a few pieces of evidence "for the defense."

  • Video games are being used to train employees in everything from management at Chick-fil-A, and portion control at Cold Stone Creamery, to commanding a tank in the US Army.
  • Cargill uses an Adventure Park game to train employees in project management, complete with nagging bosses, pestering co-workers, and ornery contractors competing for attention with emails, phone messages, and urgent tasks.
  • Fujitsu America and GlaxoSmithKline use puzzles to teach teamwork and problem-solving.
  • The University of Washington struggled for over a decade to discover the structure of a protein that helps the human immunodeficiency virus multiply. After they posted on online game, Foldit, the problem was solved in three weeks by 57,000 players, most of whom hand no training in molecular biology!

    Gather more evidence from an interesting article in Delta Airlines Magazine:


    Don't you just love it when you learn something six miles in the air?

    And for something a bit more scientific about serious games and crowdsourcing, read Gaining Wisdom from Crowds in the March 2012, Communications of the ACM (cacm.acm.org/magazines/2012/3).

    To see serious games in academic social, cultural health education in action, visit Serious Games (www.seriousgames.dk/node/511). And don'tmiss the US Army site with games for marksmanship, teamwork, and helicopter flying (www.goarmy.com/downloads/games.html).

    All of these resources can give you and your students plenty of evidence and ideas for creating games and simulations that go beyond entertainment.

    And if you're looking for teaching resources with a focus on creating games for social causes, look at the XNA Game Development teaching resources from Pat Yongpradit, CSTA member and CS teacher at Springbrook High School in Silver Spring, Maryland (www.microsoft.com/education/facultyconnection/precollegiate). Pat will be presenting Project-based Game Design for Social Causes at CS & IT in Irvine, California, this summer.

    Pat Phillips
    Editor, CSTA Voice

    Posted by cstephenson at 02:53 PM | Comments (2)

    May 03, 2012

    Contests Can Benefit Both Students and Teachers


    CSTA Board member Shirley Miranda with her students Namrata Das and Noa Glaser.

    Recently I attended NCWIT's Aspirations in Computing Southern California Awards Ceremony in Santa Ana, CA. Two students from my COSMOS (California State Summer School for Mathematics and Science) cluster on "Computers in Everyday Life" had won awards. I was invited to the event as their teacher (and probably because I wrote letters of recommendation for them). Regardless of the reason, it is always great to hear from the organization if the students won an award and to be invited to the ceremony.

    The Aspirations award was done in conjunction with a conference that was being held. This allowed the young women who won the opportunity to see the work currently being done by university students and to speak to a panel of students and professionals. As a student, I would have loved that. As a teacher, I love it. Young woman (and men too) don't hear often enough the potential for being a part of the computer science/engineering fields. There can be a feeling of isolation if they don't know where to look. Often, the students going into the fields are fairly introverted to begin with and aren't going to seek out a community. But if they know the community exists, they gravitate toward it.

    Not only were the young ladies in high school given the chance to talk with the students presenting their poster boards, but were explicitly told that their award isn't simply about a one-time meet and greet to receive their award. They are part of a larger community of organizations and companies that want to help them network and provide support. That they are expected to give back and participate.

    These young women are already interested in pursuing CS as a field. We need to keep them there. I think what NCWIT is doing with their Aspirations awardees is a great step in the right direction.

    You can find out more about Aspirations in Computing at http://www.ncwit.org/award/award.index.php

    Shirley Miranda
    CSTA Board of Directors

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

    April 21, 2012

    Getting Rid of the T Word

    Two years ago I wrote the following blog post.

    "Training" should be a four-letter word

    "We need to train more teachers."
    "Teachers need more training in order to be successful at teaching computer science."
    "More teacher training programs are needed."

    Statements like these are common and reading a recent post on another blog reminded me of just how much I hate the word "training" when it is used in reference to teachers and teaching. (I even had a professional title once that included the word training and I fought against it then.) Not that I believe that those who use the word intend to be mean-spirited or do harm; it has just become part of the language we use when we talk about the various needs surrounding teacher education.

    I'd like to challenge our community to make a conscious effort to remove training from our vocabulary and replace it with words like education, preparation, and professional development.

    Is anyone else bothered by this? Will you accept the challenge?

    With all of the attention being focused on professional development right now, I hope everyone will accept the challenge.

    Gail Chapman
    Director of National Outreach
    Exploring Computer Science

    Posted by cstephenson at 11:44 AM | Comments (7)

    April 09, 2012

    A Plea for the Return of Affirmative Action Programs

    A bit of a shaggy dog story. In the summer of 1975 I participated in the Bell Laboratories summer program for women and minorities. I spent the summer evaluating Fast Fourier Transform (FFT) programs, making a recommendation for which program to include in the PFORT portable Fortran library. It was a fabulous experience. Go forward one year to the summer of 1976. I spent that summer at Argonne National Laboratory on their summer program for women and minorities. Yes, imagine an era in which government labs and corporations actually had sanctioned affirmative action programs! That summer I worked on the BLAS, the Basic Linear Algebra Subroutines that are at the heart of LINPACK, a software library for carrying out linear algebra operations. My supervisor was Jack Dongarra who is now an internationally recognized expert on supercomputing and the keeper of the "top 500 list" of supercomputers (www.top500.org).

    Fast forward to today. My department, with the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) CS department, hosted a visit by Jack Dongarra. Jack generously visited Union in the morning, spent the afternoon at RPI, and then gave a talk. My guesstimate is that the room held 160 people. It was completely full. There were 8 women there. Four faculty, 4 students. Jack gave a wonderful talk, really fascinating. But I came home completely depressed. We've all been trying lots of things to get more women into computing, but it sure seems that the impact is pretty minimal these days. Why am I in CS? Certainly the two summer experiences I had played a big role! I can look back at the projects on which I worked, the sense that I was doing real work that would be important to other users, and the rich, exciting settings in which I did that work. I know that it made a difference. I know that those projects sent me back to college motivated to continue my studies. And all of that was in an era in which majoring in CS wasn't even a possibility at my school. But I still did independent studies in CS, worked on projects for faculty, did whatever I could to get my hands on computers.

    So what do I conclude from this? We need to get back to a point where affirmative action is not a dirty word. As a country we are desperate for people to fill CS and IT jobs. The latest update from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that employment in all computer occupations will increase by 22 percent by 2020. Among software developers demand will increase as much as 32 percent. Where are the people going to come from to fill these positions? We need all hands on deck, but first we need much more aggressive strategies to get increased numbers of all kinds of people to consider CS and IT. All kinds of people. And that means bringing back affirmative action strategies that will help us to quickly get critical mass so that we can recruit and retain larger numbers of women of all kinds and larger numbers of underrepresented minorities. We need dramatic change quickly. Imagine the potential impact if Jack Dongarra and his lab colleagues had been able to have a few women and minority summer students every year from 1976 to now. I'm sure the demographics in the auditorium at RPI today would have been quite different.

    Valerie Barr
    CSTA Computational Thinking Task Force Chair

    Posted by cstephenson at 01:58 PM | Comments (3)

    April 06, 2012

    What is Your Greatest Accomplishments in the Teaching Profession?

    I recently was surprised at a faculty meeting by receiving an award for teaching from my colleagues. After receiving the award I was given a writing assignment which was to respond to the question, "What is Your Greatest Accomplishments in the Teaching Profession?" This was a difficult question for me to answer. I believe that any time I influence students positively this is a great accomplishment! Below is a portion of my essay about my accomplishments.

    I periodically reflect on the many students that I have taught over the years. One particular student comes to mind is Bianca. She was a student who enrolled in Computer Science A AP. She was successful, enjoyed the subject and decided to continue on to take a second year. She struggled and I gently assisted her as well as her classmates. I adjusted assignments for her, encouraged her, and helped her after class. She successfully completed the class and learned persistence in the process. She chose to major in computer science in college. She has recently graduated and is working in the computer science field. She is one of my accomplishments.

    I frequently reflect upon my current students. One who comes to mind is Stephanie, a freshman enrolled in Visual Basic. On her survey form she stated that she wanted to learn more about computers and she does not have a computer or Internet access at home. My desire for her is to become more proficient using a computer to improve her employability after high school. She started the course unable to run a program or navigate to a file without help. She now has confidence to copy files, use software and other tasks on her own. She is another one of my accomplishments.

    William Butler Yeats stated, "Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire." I know I have lit some fires; those are my accomplishments I hold dear.

    Now that you have read what I think are some of my greatest accomplishments, what are your greatest accomplishments in the teaching profession?

    Myra Deister
    CSTA At-Large Representative

    Posted by cstephenson at 01:06 PM | Comments (2)

    March 20, 2012

    What's the State of (CS Ed in) Your State?

    The March issue of the CSTA Voice (see p. 4-5) includes a look at some state-by-state results from the 2011 National Secondary Computer Science Survey . As you might expect, if you compare the responses for any state to the national results (or compare one state to another), you'll find some interesting variations.

    For example, students in introductory CS courses earn a wide variety of types of credit:
    "Technology (38%) and Computing (36%) are the most common types of credit given for introductory CS courses, followed by Business (25%), but 69% of Georgia schools allow Business credit, 52% of Virginia schools give Math credit, and 58% of Colorado schools give Elective credit for introductory CS courses."

    This variation is not surprising, since states also vary widely in the certification requirements for teachers who teach CS courses.

  • In Georgia's state-approved curriculum, CS courses fall into the Business and Computer Science department, but each course has its own list of certifications to which it's aligned. The first of three introductory-level courses earns credit in Career and Technical Education, and it may be taught by someone with certification in any of eight specialty fields (including CS, electronics, business, and IT), but other introductory courses have shorter lists of aligned certifications. (For details, see Georgia's Certification/Curriculum Assignment Policies System). Georgia's survey respondents also included Computing (38%) and Technology (31%) as possible areas of credit for intro-level courses.
  • Virginia's requirements (revised in 2011) for a CS endorsement (see p. 42) include coursework in Mathematics, Statistics, and four CS-specific areas, reflecting the same recognition of the connection between mathematics and CS as the schools' credit policies.
  • Colorado apparently has no CS endorsement, and decisions about teacher requirements for CS-related courses are apparently made at the local level. The only references to "computer science" or "computer programming" that I could find in any course or teacher standards on the Department of Education's website were in a list of 21st century skills for sixth and seventh grade Drama and Theatre Arts!.
  • The reasons for some other state-by-state variations are not so obvious (to me, at least). For example:
    I wonder what factors contributed to the wide range of rates (among schools that offer any CS course) of schools that offer AP CS: from 77% in Maryland to 9% in Kansas.

    Why is Scratch the most commonly-taught programming language in introductory CS courses in Colorado (the only state for which that is true)?

    Another puzzle: Most states' teachers reported that the greatest challenges in teaching CS were two of these three:

  • Lack of support / interest by school staff
  • Lack of student interest / enrollment
  • Rapidly-changing technology
  • So why is "Lack of hardware/software resources" considered to be one of the greatest challenges in Alabama, Kansas, Michigan, and Oklahoma, while "Lack of curriculum resources" was critical for teachers in Indiana and Washington? And why is Texas the only state whose teachers reported that "Difficult subject matter" was one of the greatest challenges?

    The results that were highlighted in the Voice article are only a few of the variations present in the state-by-state results; you may find detailed survey results for each of the 29 states with 15 or more respondents.

    We invite your own comments and insights on the survey results for your state; perhaps you can enlighten the rest of us about special factors that have shaped CS education in your state.

    Debbie Carter
    CSTA Research Committee

    Posted by cstephenson at 02:59 PM | Comments (4)

    March 15, 2012

    Literacy: Not Just for English Class Anymore

    Do you remember the "writing across the curriculum" push? If you've been teaching for more than about eight years, I'm sure you do - in addition to everything else we have to do, teachers across all curriculum were going to teach students to write. I believe my reaction may have been something like, "Why are they taking up my time doing the job of the English teachers who are trained for it??"

    Jonathan Osborne refers to my former attitude as the "vaccination model" where we think teaching certain skills is someone else's responsibility. (And notice how we computer science teachers feel when everyone else wants to push the computer skills into our curriculum!) Science teachers - and computer science teachers - believe that doing science is the most important part.

    Do It, Talk It, Read It, Write ItIt turns out that doing it isn't the only important part for understanding. It's equally important to be able to talk about content, read about it, and write about it. Not only is language how we communicate what we know and how we think, but it is how we are able to label our ideas and even come up with new ideas.

    Many of us have an intuitive idea that's true - we would not feel comfortable that a student who could write a program but not explain what it does or how it works had completely mastered the material. Unfortunately, few of us are trained in how to support students literacy practices in our disciplines - how to help them learn to read manuals or man pages or even newspaper articles about current events. Grading programs is hard enough, the idea of grading a substantial piece of writing can be very intimidating.

    However, those skills - the ones we often rely on the English teachers to provide - are just as important for computer science. Not only is there specialized vocabulary that the English teachers won't teach (called "Tier 3" by the researchers), but more importantly, there are words which are somewhat common, but have different meanings in different contexts (called "Tier 2"). Examples of tier 2 words are variable, theory, parameter. Tier 2 words are likely particularly hard for English Language Learners, yet we tend to ignore them in favor of tier 3 words which we know students won't know.

    The good news is that if you have access to an English teacher, they'd likely be thrilled to offer you suggestions of how to help students read, write, and speak well about computer science. What other tips do you have for supporting literacy in your classroom?

    Michelle Friend
    CSTA Past Chair

    Posted by cstephenson at 06:10 PM | Comments (0)

    March 12, 2012

    Make a Difference

    n January 2008, CSTA launched the CSTA Leadership Cohort. The goal of the cohort is to identify and support two teacher leaders in each state who are working to improve K-12 computer science education. Among other responsibilities, cohort members work in their respective states to establish K-12 computer science as an essential academic discipline. The cohort members participated in CSTA Leadership and Advocacy workshops and have helped to strengthen the CSTA leadership by identifying and building partnerships with appropriate stakeholders, and by working toward organizing local and state chapters of CSTA.

    Information about the cohorts can be found on the CSTA web page at:


    Presently thirty-three states have cohort representatives. Although many of the cohort members have been instrumental in initiating local CSTA chapter formations, many CSTA chapters have been started by teachers like you, non-cohort members that are interested in improving and promoting K-12 CS education. CSTA now has 35 chapters, including two Canadian chapters. You can make a difference. Join your local CSTA Chapter. A list with chapter contact information can be found at:


    You don't see a listing for a chapter near you? You can make a difference. Why not take the first step yourself.

  • Talk to your colleagues that are interesting in CS education
  • Plan an organizational meeting to chat about your interest in forming a local CSTA chapter.
  • Set a date and time for the initial meeting.
  • If you have the interest, we will help you get started. Send an email with your ideas to:


    Join with the cohort members and the current CSTA Chapter members and make a difference!

    Fran Trees
    CSTA Chapter Liaison

    Posted by cstephenson at 08:40 PM | Comments (2)

    March 10, 2012

    Thinking Big About Computer Science Education

    Thinking big about computer science education means thinking about how we can guarantee that every American student has some formal computing education. There are many ideas for how we can go about doing this, but there are two tightly-coupled fundamental problems that must be solved if we're going to realize this dream: where does computer science (CS) fit in American education and who will teach it?

    The first problem is viewed as a zero-sum problem. If we propose adding CS education somewhere (anywhere) in the system what will we lose? Should CS replace some existing course or content? Should it be added on top of everything else we ask our students to do? I think that the CS teaching community (myself included) has difficulty being sensitive to this issue. I often catch myself operating under the assumption that it is a priori obvious to everyone that the world would be a better place if students learned some real computing in school. The reality is that very few people (and let's focus here on school/district leadership, policy makers, and stake holders) have a visceral sense of what good and real computing education is or looks like because, of course, it's likely they never had it themselves.

    They know that computers and technology are important, but lack the confidence or experience to declare what they want in their schools. It's difficult to pull the trigger on a big decision when there's so much indecision in the air. This perhaps explains why our nation's current efforts at CS education look like scatter shot. So by asking, say a school principal to add a computer science requirement, they may intellectually understand the argument, but they can only viscerally feel the potential loss: it's either replacing something (a loss of that thing) or piling on more (a loss of free time and resources). And if you try to claim there isn't a loss, you're not being honest with yourself, and they won't believe you anyway. It's a big ask of an administrator who will get all the flak resulting from the perceived loss, and all of the flak that seems to naturally go along with disruptions or changes to the system.

    At the same time, if you manage to succeed in adding a CS requirement you're likely screwed for another reason. Who will teach the classes? Many schools in America do not have anyone on their staff qualified to teach CS and schools that are lucky enough to have a computer science teacher probably only have one of them. If you just added a graduation requirement at a high school, how are you going to handle teaching a real CS class to all of those students?

    So the zero-sum problem is tightly coupled, in a chicken-and-egg way, with the rather large problem of not having enough teachers: we can't add CS courses because there are no teachers and we can't get teachers because there are no CS courses. We've been spiraling around these two fundamental problems for a long time with seemingly little progress.

    But in Chicago we think we found a way in. Right now, with the help of three local universities and funding from a National Science Foundation CE21 grant, the Chicago chapter of CSTA is helping to develop 75 Chicago Public School teachers to teach Exploring Computer Science (a real CS curriculum) that is being implemented in those teachers' schools as a required course. Did you hear the part about required? Did I mention this is happening right now?

    How did we do it? We found schools that did not have the zero-sum problem. Career and Technical Education (CTE) schools around the country have students on a track for some kind of technical education. In Chicago there are about 35 of these schools and many of the CTE programs live as a sub-program within the local schools. They are not separate schools. All CTE students in Chicago were required to take a "classic" tech ed course for a year (basically Microsoft Office certification plus a few other tech literacy things).

    What we saw were teachers in rooms with students and computers in a required course that wasn't really doing that much for the students or the teachers. Through our advocacy work we were able to convince the director of the CTE program in Chicago to change this required course (common to all the CTE programs) into a "real" computer science course. And that's how it started. We chose to teach the Exploring Computer Science curriculum because of it's fantastic professional development model and I would describe the early results as transformative. Most of the teachers love teaching the class and now feel like they're making a difference in their students' lives rather than treading water in a classic "applications" course.

    Are they "real" computer science teachers? Yes. But they're different than the computer science teachers that we in the CS community are used to and that's something we have to get used to but also what's so great. These teachers are going to be able to reach students of all races, genders, creeds, and socio-economic status for the precise reason that they're nothing like, well, me. I'm seeing it happen before my eyes and it's amazing. The potential impact of this project is huge. In a few years time, we will have hundreds of computer science teachers teaching a required CS course in Chicago Public Schools.

    So, I'm writing this as a piece of encouragement to you other potential cs advocates out there. Please steal our idea. Even beyond CTE schools, many schools have some kind of tech literacy requirement. If schools in your area have teachers in rooms with students and computers and aren't teaching CS because the teacher just needs help learning how to teach CS content instead of tech ed, let's go after them. If we can find schools where the only issue is professional development for the teacher and not trying to find a place for a CS class, that's something we can do. And it's something that school leaders are more receptive to. They all want to improve existing courses and staff.

    Our project in Chicago is the culmination of a relatively small group of people who love teaching computer science and kept trying to figure out ways to have a larger impact beyond the walls of our schools. I should point out that we failed in many attempts to impact the Chicago Public School system. But we kept plugging away and looking for ins. We got there by welcoming teachers and local college professors into our chapter, and requesting meetings with officials and anyone who would listen to our passionate pleas for more and better computer science. We got bounced around a lot, and you will too. But eventually you end up talking to the right person at the right time and quicker than you can believe you've made a difference. It can be done. And you are the one to do it.

    Baker Franke
    CSTA Leadership Cohort

    Posted by cstephenson at 01:04 PM | Comments (1)

    March 08, 2012

    Teaching with Lousy Health

    There are about 1800 students at Henry M. Gunn HS (Palo Alto, CA). Enrollment in CS has grown from 90 students three years ago to 110 to 130 last year to 190 this year. This has enabled me to be a full-time CS teacher (I remain in the Math department and am happy to be a member thereof) and to have a colleague teach a section of CS.

    Growing the program has been a real team effort. My colleagues in the Math department have been outstanding in handing out literature and encouraging the students to enroll in CS classes. Teachers in some other classes have let me come in and talk about the advantages of learning computer science during high school. My engineering colleagues and I have sorted out pathways for kids who have a strong interest in the T and E parts of STEM (see http://paleyontology.com/engr). The administration has been incredibly supportive.

    I have also been fortunate enough to teach in Google's CAPE program the past two summers. If you are a high school teacher and you are serious about getting kids excited about CS and giving them opportunities to be creative, CAPE is fantastic. Yes, the stories about the food at Google are true, but they are relatively uninteresting compared to the intellectual capital of the people and the teaching resources that were provided. It was a lot of work, and it was incredibly fun. (Google is hiring for 2012; see http://www.google.com/edu/cape/ if you are interested.)

    So, life has been terrific. It has also been exhausting. And that can be a problem if one has Crohn's Disease, an affliction I have had for my whole life. Since last June, I have had a kidney stone, two Crohn's Disease flares, and a bout of shingles that forced me to stay home for about five weeks. All of this is part of life and the show must go on.

    During the five weeks I had shingles, the question for me was how to proceed, given that I could not go in to school to teach. There was no way that I was going to let the CS program decline; not after all the effort that it took to get it where it is.

    What I am about to describe is not rocket science. It's easy enough to do. It's just a matter of doing it.

    Making Lemonade

    There is an old adage: "When life throws you a lemon, make lemonade." If these health problems had happened to me 25 years ago, before the Web and Skype, the CS courses might have been in jeopardy and certainly would have been without a teacher. I have posted my courses on the Web since I got to Gunn, so students know where to find the things I expect them to do even if I am not present. It has been nice to leave the following lesson plan for substitutes: "The homework is online and the students know where to find it. Please make sure they do not take liberties by playing games, using Facebook, etc." The Web is a game changer and it's easy to edit content remotely in case I need to alter the pace of the course.

    Despite missing over a month, I never needed to slow the pace of instruction. That is largely due to Skype. Many of my colleagues know about Skype as they have used it to do video calls to family. (If your in-laws are in Australia as mine are, it is sweet to avoid long-distance charges.) What people may not know is that, in addition to being able to show one's face over the Internet, one can also choose to show what is appearing on the monitor. So, I Skyped into the classroom to deliver lectures, with actual code being presented live to the students.

    To arrange this, the technical requirements were:

  • LCD projector (the expensive part)
  • Computer connected to the LCD projector
  • Speakers attached to the computer
  • Microphone to capture student questions/comments
  • Internet connectivity
  • (Preferable) Video camera to see the classroom
  • The IT team at Gunn was superhuman and incredibly understanding and accommodating and made sure all of the above were working. They helped the subs set up the teacher computer and log on to Skype, which might have been the biggest problem as having an IT person in the classroom meant being away from something else that was important. Note to everyone: be nice to the IT people. Good IT people (and we have some great IT people at my school) can be lifesavers.

    We had everything but the video camera in place (we did get a camera for one session, but it only captured about half of the students), so the substitutes were asked to help call on students who had questions. I lectured approximately once per week per class, which is what I do normally (more on that another time). Students worked in groups and helped each other out, but some also sent me email during class if they had questions. I could not properly monitor what students were doing, but the stories I received from subs and administrators suggest that they were generally on task.

    This seems to be confirmed by the results. The students were able to keep up and perform at the same level as students in previous years. There may be exceptions to this, but they are not apparent to me. I am still trying to sort out what that means. (If the lectures were good for the students, they were therapeutic for me. We humans are social creatures and the boredom level was just awful.)

    The feedback that I received for using Skype was wonderful. Various administrators were complimentary and occasionally brought in people to watch parts of my lectures. Students sent me emails, saying that it really helped. I got an email or two from parents who had shingles and were thrilled that I was doing lectures despite the illness. And one of the subs left me a poem and an autographed Tim Lincecum poster. (I am not making this up. It's really neat.)

    Josh Paley
    CSTA Leadership Cohort

    Posted by cstephenson at 01:00 PM | Comments (0)

    March 06, 2012

    New Education-Related Tools

    Last month I attended the Consumer Electronics Show, the largest annual convention held in Las Vegas. The 2012 CES featured more than 2,700 vendors, 1.8 million square feet of exhibits and 140,000 attendees. While there were many, many interesting new products, redesigned products and vendors that spent time talking to people about their products. For me, the interesting part of the activity was speaking with educators that are now using some of these new products in their classrooms or learning environments and finding out the effect of their use on their teaching and student learning. The Education-related products I found most interesting were:

  • LectureTools is a web-based product that allows you to prepare interactive lectures and elicit real-time feedback via the internet. Students can view them on a computer or smartphone. Most of the educators found this product as useful in both asynchronous and synchronous environment.

  • MyScript from Vision Objects in France are products that convert handwritten notes and equations to text on smartphones and tablets. In speaking with several high school teachers, the general consensus was the assisting students with the translating and converting equation and texts to other apparatus.

  • Although there were eight teachers with whom I discussed these items, I would be interested in knowing if others are using either or both of these products and the experiences they have had with them.

    Gladys Phillips-Evans
    CSTA Board Member

    Posted by cstephenson at 12:49 PM | Comments (0)

    March 03, 2012

    Teachers: It's Okay to Ask For Help!

    I recently participated in a workshop held during SIGCSE 2012 in Raleigh, NC. The workshop was designed to expose beginners to a tool that will help students learn to program and to get excited about computer science. I am neither a beginner nor an expert on this tool; I attended the workshop to reinforce my skills, learn new tricks, and to share some wisdom I've gained. While this particular teaching tool has many online tutorials and active user groups, since it's new, not all of the tutorials are well-written and some of them skip some necessary steps. I have spoken with teacher after teacher who says they benefit from a demonstration or hands-on session. Once they see the basics, they can then easily follow the tutorials or create their own lesson plans and strategies.

    Often, during workshops such as these, teachers have questions about the installation of the tool and associated devices, especially since many of us have tight restrictions in our computer labs. (I was extremely interested to find out that even some college professors have strict limitations on what they can and can not install in their labs. I, naively, thought this fight was limited to K-12 teachers!) One workshop participant mentioned her difficulty with the use of this tool in her lab and someone quickly responded, "Use Macs, you won't have any problem at all." This knee-jerk response hit me hard. The person who said it perhaps doesn't realize that 1) not all schools have Macs, 2) even if the teacher or school has money to buy Macs, sometimes districts won't let schools or teachers make their own decisions on what they can buy, and 3) maybe the teacher/school doesn't wish to use Macs (yes, there are those of us out there that actually enjoy using PCs). Regardless, this answer wasn't helpful in any way. And perhaps obtaining the answer to this question was the main reason this teacher came to the workshop!

    Teachers, it is okay to ask for help with the little details. I would be super disappointed to hear that a teacher gave up using this tool simply because of having difficulty installing the tool or getting started. And I would be even more disappointed to find that someone felt their question was too simple to ask and feared being mocked. If you encounter a person who won't help you work out the kinks, then ask someone else. For every person who finds themselves too busy to answer a simple question, there is another person out there willing to help.

    We are teachers after all!

    Ria Galanos
    CSTA 9-12 Representative

    Posted by cstephenson at 06:18 PM | Comments (0)

    February 27, 2012

    Mobile Devices in the Classroom

    This fall I took an online class to learn about ways to use cellphones in the classroom. There has been much in the media recently about ways to utilize this ubiquitous technology in a positive way to enhance learning. While I learned many cool phone apps, I was not convinced that trying to use some of these apps on phones in my classroom would really work. Polling students for understanding a new concept, recording short summary statements about what they learned, capturing photos for later use in a presentation; are all neat applications that might prove useful.

    As a faculty at my school, we're now looking at iPads and how we might use them in the classroom. A "deal" from the local Apple salesman prompted our school director to ask the question, is this something we want to pursue? While I am certainly intrigued by the cool factor, and would love to own an iPad myself, I am struggling to see the benefits of using them in my classroom. The biggest roadblock to using iPads in a computer science classroom is the lack of programming apps. The only one I have heard of so far is Codea. And I wonder if the user interface of the iPad makes it too cumbersome to do heavy production work. Is programming an activity that just requires a laptop or desktop computer with a full keyboard, RAM, and a hard drive?

    Considering other subject areas beyond computer science, are the iPads versatile enough to make them the device of choice for our students? Many of my students bring laptops to school, and are constantly using them during the school day, admittedly not always for educational purposes. But is a full featured computer replaceable with a tablet where files must be stored in the cloud, the display is smaller, and typing is difficult? You can buy a netbook with all these features for a lot less than even the cheapest iPad.

    On the other hand, the number of apps for the iPad is just exploding. Certainly, many computer science teachers are starting to offer classes in programming for mobile devices.

    If the software development world turning its focus to mobile devices, is it time to make the leap and start utilizing these technologies more in our classroom?

    Karen Lang
    CSTA Board of Directors
    9-12 Representative

    Posted by cstephenson at 09:41 PM | Comments (0)

    February 10, 2012

    The Ups and the Downs

    Why does it always feel as thought we are moving one step forward and two steps back?

    After holding an annual summer camp in January (Yes, here in New Zealand it is summer) for 23 students in various stages of programming expertise, I was heartened by the way that the participating students have continued working and helping each other via a Google group. The more experienced students are helping out the newbies and encouraging them along. Students who have come to camp in past years have built a training site. And another former student is rebuilding our organisation's website and wants to get an alumni organised.

    I was also heartened by a new summer camp in Computer Science, held for 14 year old girls. This camp was held in conjunction with a CS4HS workshop for teachers. The girls had a great time and learned heaps. Many staff and students at the university gave up their time voluntarily in their summer holidays to help out. All this gives a sense of moving forward.

    Today, however, one of the students from the programming summer camp reported to me that he wouldn't be able to get supervision at his school for a contest he needs to participate in so that he can be selected to represent New Zealand in the International Olympics in Informatics. "They have told me that they take no part in computer sciences, as it's not a part of their curriculum", he said.

    So I am sad to say that despite our occasional wins and the clear interest, enthusiasm, and dedication of our students, the war for our subject to be fully accepted isn't won.

    Thank goodness for all those students who plough on, regardless of the lack of formal tuition, support, or community.

    So when you look around your programs, where do you see the wins and losses?

    Margot Phillipps
    CSTA Board of Directors
    International Representative

    Posted by cstephenson at 02:06 PM | Comments (0)

    February 08, 2012

    Thoughts on CS & STEM Higher-ed Enrollments

    I've recently come across two perspectives on undergraduate enrollments, one about STEM disciplines, one specifically about CS. Both warrant comment.

    First, there's a recent posting on the SLATE Moneybox blog that looks at general STEM enrollments. The author, Matthew Yglesias, counterposes efforts to recruit more students into STEM undergraduate majors against the research interests of some STEM faculty and the research funding model that supports many universities. He suggests that there are STEM faculty who do not want to see enrollments grow, based on the following logic (I've added some detail, consistent with his picture): more undergraduates will require that more graduate students will have to work as teaching assistants, which means there will be fewer graduate students available to work on faculty research, which means research will progress more slowly, which means that faculty will have to take more time between grant applications, which means that less research money will come into the universities.

    Clearly this is a very contradictory situation. We have an incredible need for more STEM majors. In particular, there is tremendous demand for CS majors, far outstripping the numbers currently graduating. We need to encourage students who have nascent interest, not drive them away. And we should not mortgage our long term research and innovation possibilities, and our ongoing ability to apply technology to ever more areas of life, because of fears about short term research slowdown. Perhaps, as Yglesias says, reviewing the financing model for research and for graduate students at colleges and universities is called for.

    There's a second enrollment related issue that's also brewing. At some colleges and universities CS enrollments are booming. This is great news and problematic at the same time. And the picture is not uniform. Eric Roberts addressed the situation in a 2011 blog post, hypothesizing reasons for Stanford's booming enrollments. We get a small college perspective from a recent article in the Swarthmore College Daily Gazette. In both cases, enrollments are straining the teaching capacity of the department.

    The difficulties inherent in addressing rapid enrollment increase are very real and require some amount of administrative creativity, faculty nimbleness, etc. The overall gap between supply and demand in industry is quite large, and is not likely to be satisfied by a few years of increased enrollment at a few schools. However, I urge those at schools with these increases to recognize, as Roberts did in his posting, that the situation is not the same at all schools, and in some cases irreparable harm has already been done. The combination of low enrollments and a tight economic situation put CS departments on the chopping block at several institutions. We can't expect to see those departments return any time soon. At other schools the CS major was eliminated, leaving behind minimal CS faculty and just a minor program. Some schools are just "doing okay", modest enrollments, justifying their faculty lines, but that's about it. Furthermore, small schools have limited ability to adjust to enrollment swings. At a small college that favors small class size and highly interactive hands-on pedagogy we cannot simply shoehorn more students into a class when enrollments go up. There simply is not room, so we rely on the willingness of faculty to teach overload sections, which is an unsustainable strategy for the long term.

    I could go on at length about the vagaries of college and universities, and a model that makes it difficult to adjust staffing in response to enrollment shifts, but that would take us too far afield. Suffice it to say that the current CS enrollment picture, still uneven across the country, is complex, and nobody should draw conclusions about the whole picture based on their local situation.

    Valerie Barr
    CSTA Task Force Chair

    Posted by cstephenson at 03:48 PM | Comments (1)

    January 31, 2012

    A Question About Equal Access

    I am currently serving on a committee where I am the only public school K-12 educator. The other members are college educators. The educators on this committee are spread throughout the U.S. During a recent teleconference, we were discussing mobile devices and one of the participants made the statement that within six months every student in school will have a mobile device. I was taken aback by that statement because I had hoped to use Poll Everywhere in my math class but not enough students have access to the Internet through a mobile device. I also mentioned to the committee participant that my school does not have wireless access. He seemed genuinely surprised. Additionally, I did not think that within six months all of my students will have a mobile device. I asked the question, "How can we deal with equal access?" My question was not addressed.

    I spoke to Joanna Goode, CSTA Teacher Education Representative, about his statement and her response was that if it is question of owning a mobile device or putting food on the table, the family will choose not to purchase the mobile device. I also read an article in our local paper (the Orange County Register) which reiterates Joanna's comment.


    The family that is highlighted in the article had given up nearly all of their technology because they just could not afford it.

    I really thought my colleague's comment was isolation until I read the Winter 2011 issue of OnCUE, a publication for members of Computer Using Educators (CUE). In his article Mobile Devices and the Future of Learning David D. Thornburg states: "Educators are starting to realize that every child is coming to school with a powerful mobile device. If this is not true in your school, it will be in six months." Thornburg does not address Equal Access. I assume he did not feel he needed to since every student will have a mobile device.

    In another article in the same publication, Tm Landeck makes the statement: "Of course this requires that all students have a cell phone, but then what happens when a student's cell phone is dead, forgotten at home, or they just don't have one?" That is a question I really needed an answer to, but his article never gave an answer.

    Equal access is something I deal with in my computer class. I have students that don't have computers at home or have a computer at home and no Internet access. Is my school that unique? I supervise the computer lab at lunch and after school to accommodate these students. We don’t have a loaner problem and when I mention it to my administration I receive a negative response.

    How do you deal with equal access?

    What is your reaction to the statement, "All students will have a powerful mobile device within six months"?

    Myra Deister
    CSTA At-Large Representative

    Posted by cstephenson at 12:50 PM | Comments (2)

    January 26, 2012

    Gender Imbalance: Participation by Women on the 2011 AP CS Exam

    Each year, the College Board provides state-by-state statistics for each Advanced Placement (AP) exam, broken down by various demographics. The numbers of women taking the AP Computer Science exam in 2011 are illustrative of the continuing gender imbalance in computing. The table linked below organizes the 50 states and District of Columbia according to the percentage of AP CS exam takers who were women. The percentages of women across all AP exams are also listed for comparison, as well as the overall percentage of exams that AP CS constitutes for each state.

    While nearly 55% of all AP exam takers are women, the percentage for AP Computer Science is much lower, only 18.9%, with a median percentage across all states of 15.4%. It is interesting to note that two states, Texas and California, account for more than 31% of all AP CS exams and both have higher than average participation by women (24% and 21%, respectively). If the numbers from these two states are omitted, the remaining percentage of AP CS participation by women for the rest of the country is 17.1%.

    The numbers in this table are collected from the College Board state-by-state data files at:


    The table of state-by-state results (both pdf and Excel versions) are on the CSTA website at:


    Dave Reed
    CSTA Board of Directors

    Posted by cstephenson at 05:58 PM | Comments (0)

    January 03, 2012

    Is It Smart to Use Smart Phones

    While not the latest trend, I find that more of the teachers in one district I serve are using 'smart' phones among their educational tools for learning. One teacher in particular, has found some success reaching students in a low income area high school. She uses text polling and other methods for pre- assessment, regular assessment and summative assessment. She started using 'smart' phones because almost 85% of her students have phones and knowing that, she created assessments and even projects that could completed through the use of the phone. Some of her colleagues think that by using these tools, the students may not attend class regularly. For this teacher however, she has not seen such a drop off and still (and strongly) believes that whatever means she can find to get and keep students involved, especially in an area that has at least a 33% drop-out rate, is the best tool to use.

    Are there others who are using such tools who may have suggestions or advice?

    Gladys Phillips-Evans
    CSTA Board of Directors

    Posted by cstephenson at 12:17 PM | Comments (0)

    December 27, 2011

    Computer Science Entrepreneurs

    During the last few weeks I have been fondly reminded of the joys I experienced when teaching and working with a student organization and encountering that rare student who has a passion, as well as the initiative to see that passion come to fruition. I'm sure you know the type of student who can teach us teachers so much if we just have the good grace to allow them to take the ball and run with it. That is if the teacher can really be the guide on the side and not the sage on the stage. I was reminded of this pleasure when I read articles about young Computer Science entrepreneurs.

    One of these young entrepreneurs was touted by network news as "the next Steve Jobs," and I have to agree that when I saw him on stage, he was rather impressive! He is a sixth grade programming guru that has been creating apps for the iPhone and iPad. He even formed a club at school so that he could share his knowledge of programming with students who didn't know how to program, giving him a place to share his passion. Thomas Suarez is a California middle school student who has been fascinated by computers and technology since before he started kindergarten. Thankfully, Thomas has been supported by his teachers, his family, and of course the good folks at the Apple Store. Once he has created the apps, they will be available free to local schools. Any revenue will go to local education programs. Thomas shares a philosophy much like mine: "students are a valuable new technology resource to teachers, and should be empowered to offer assistance in developing the technology curriculum and also assist in delivering the lessons." (However, I did realize that fact some 20 years ago; maybe not so new. You can learn a lot from your students!)

    Lest you think that only young men are the entrepreneurs of the CS world, there are also some young women making strides in the app development world. Two girl scouts in Dallas, Texas, working on a science and technology badge, developed a mobile app titled Teachers Best Friend. Grace Swierenga, 12, and Lindsey Hettish, 13, developed the app to help teachers grade tests more efficiently. These young women were inspired to develop the app through the STEM initiative. They were to promote their idea to executives from AT&T and Alcatel-Lucent so their idea could be realized. Kudos to the Girl Scouts as well as to AT&T and Alcatel-Lucent for inspiring young women to enter the world of computer science! Maybe one of these young women will be "the next Steve Jobs!"

    How gratifying it is to see young entrepreneurs using their computer science skills to make the world a better place! As we near CS Education Week, what are you doing to inspire young people to excel in the world of Computer Science? Hopefully, you are one of those educators who can learn a lot from your students, and you have the good grace to stand back and let them take flight.

    Deborah Seehorn
    CSTA Board of Directors

    Note: Articles referenced above may be accessed by following these links:



    Posted by cstephenson at 02:29 PM | Comments (0)

    December 23, 2011

    Time to Change the Conversation from Consuming to Creating

    At a recent family gathering, my father-in-law delighted in the accomplishments of his four year old granddaughter who effortlessly navigated her mother's iPad. He was awed by the ease with which she used the technology and, on the surface, who could blame him.

    My niece is not alone. Technology has become a mainstay in the lives of most American children. What began as an infatuation with computer games has grown into a multi-media explosion, affecting even the youngest children long before they can read or write.

    According to a recent report Zero to Eight: Children's Media Use in America issued by A Common Sense Media Research Study - Fall 2011: "Computer use is pervasive among very young children, with half (53%) of all 2 to 4 year olds having ever used a computer, and nine out of ten (90%) 5 to 8 year olds having done so. For many of these children, computer use is a regular occurrence: 22% of 5 to 8 year-olds use a computer at least once a day, and another 46% use it at least once a week."

    What does this obsession with using technology mean? Is it something to be envied, as evidenced by my father-in-law's pride in his granddaughter's dexterity, or should parents, grandparents and educators encourage, even very young children, to become creators, not just users, of technology? While on the surface, computer usage may be viewed as a necessity, I would argue that in today's techno savvy world, we should be celebrating the creative energies of our children, not extolling the virtues of using media that has been pre-selected and created merely to sell merchandise.

    Elementary students are no longer too young or too inexperienced to understand rudimentary computer science concepts. The numbers speak for themselves. By the time they are 8 years old, 60% of children have used handheld games, 81% have played console games, and 90% have used a computer.

    I expose my students to computer programming in kindergarten. While they are eager to play games and paint picutres on the computer, my students true successes occur when they effectively create their first computer program.

    So maybe now is the time to change the conversation, from exploring how much time children spend consuming media to examing ways to enhance the quality of their experiences. According the 2011 report from the Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop entitled Always Connected: the New Digital Media Habits of Young Children: "the challenge going forward is in establishing new models of using technology in effective, developmentally appropriate ways with young children."

    The time is ripe for change, and computer science is no longer the sole domain of adults. In the future, success will hinge not on how much our students know, but on their ability to think and act creatively. So why not help our children and our future by believing in them and by believing in their ability to learn. You are never too young to learn computer programming.

    Patrice Gans
    CSTA K-8 Representative

    Posted by cstephenson at 03:44 PM | Comments (2)

    December 22, 2011

    Winter "BREAK": A Time to Relax and Reenergize

    Most of us look forward to our winter breaks. After all, a break in routine is almost always a good thing. Most of us are conditioned to getting up at a certain hour, traveling to work following the same route, doing our last minute preparations for our classes, meeting with students during lunchtime, free-time and any other time, traveling back home, cooking (or eating) dinner, doing more preparations for classes, grading papers, MAYBE watching a bit of TV, and probably going to bed about the same time every day (never getting enough sleep).

    Your routine MAY differ from this one, but probably not by much. It's easy to get stuck in that "routine rut." Some people like routine. They like everything to be predictable and without surprises. They like to know what to expect from their day. Well, the teaching profession offers diversity. No two days are the same. Each day offers different challenges and problems to solve. But we still follow a routine. In fact, most of us respond automatically to bells, whistles, buzzers, and fire alarms.

    Well, now winter break is here (no bells or buzzers)! We have an opportunity to break our routine (if only for a week). We have time to catch-up on activities that we have put off. We have time to spend with our families and friends. We can actually get some well-needed and well-deserved sleep. We have time to play in the snow or relax by the fire or bask in the sun. OR DO WE?

    I will admit that I look forward to my winter break to "catch-up" with my work. I use the time to finish tasks that I have not had time to complete or to get a job started so that I can be a step ahead when the new semester starts. And this is all so that I can go back to school without the pressure of feeling that I am behind. I know that many of you use your "winter break" to do work: to "catch up". Find time in this vacation week to play. Enjoy your life and the people special to you. Use this time to energize yourself. When vacation is over, go back to school refreshed and ready to tackle the world. Find ways to break your daily routine. Try something new each day. Fifty ideas can be found at:


    Enjoy your vacation.

    Fran Trees
    CSTA Chapter Liaison

    Posted by cstephenson at 01:44 PM | Comments (0)

    December 18, 2011

    STEM and Humanities: It Isn't Either-Or

    I think of STEM and humanities as being the bookends of a quality education. Everyone needs exposure to and experience with both, or their education is incomplete and inadequate. Why do I think this?

    There's an interesting tension developing across the academic landscape these days. And it is playing out in industry as well. There's a basic statement being made that runs something like this: "we have a crisis brewing, there are not enough scientists and engineers, we need everyone to go into the STEM disciplines. Besides, since that's where all the jobs are, we should steer our children in that direction. The humanities are an unnecessary indulgence".

    We can see this reflected, as well, in statements by various government officials, at least at the state level. For example, Rick Scott, Governor of Florida, said that tax dollars should not be spent to educate people in the humanities and social sciences, but only be spent on science and high-tech studies (see http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/chi-ap-us-defendinghumaniti,0,7325375.story).

    We do ourselves a huge disservice if we write off the humanities. And those of us in STEM fields should not allow political figures, state departments of education, superintendents, or college and university presidents to pit us against the humanities. In some ways we can see this as a fundamental left brain/right brain issue.

    On the STEM side, we want to help students develop the scientific, computational, and engineering knowledge to logically solve interesting problems. We want the students of today to become the problem solvers of tomorrow, we want them to learn how to apply the constant stream of technological developments and scientific discoveries to healthcare and sustainability and a host of other areas. But where does the creative aha moment come from? What makes someone decide that a problem exists? Or that a problem might be interesting to solve? Or that the solution might make a significant difference to people's lives? Or that the mashup of two areas might turn into a new powerful solution mechanism? What leads a medical school instructor to bring artists and art historians into the classroom in order to improve the observation skills of new doctors? What has motivated the explosion of work in visualization, which every day empowers deeper understanding of the vast amounts of data that can now be processed by computers? We need the humanities for these leaps.

    Lynn Pasquerella, president of Mount Holyoke College, recently argued at:


    that we have to reaffirm a commitment to develop humanistic tradition in ways that bridge scholarship with enduring questions. More simply, I would say that we need to provide a well rounded education so that those who excel in STEM understand that there are non-technical considerations that should guide their work, and those who study humanities understand that there are powerful problem solving mechanisms and tools that can open up new avenues of application for their knowledge. We need those with strength in the humanities to feel comfortable talking with those who have strength in STEM, and vice versa. This isn't either-or, we have to expose students to both.

    Rather than allowing ourselves to be divided, at every level we should be making the argument that "the other side" is a vital component to what we are trying to do with our students. Given the skewed state of the economy right now, the burden is even greater on those of us in STEM fields to argue for the importance of the humanities.

    Valerie Barr
    CSTA Computational Thinking Task Force Chair

    Posted by cstephenson at 06:46 AM | Comments (1)

    December 12, 2011

    National Models of CS Education

    While in Costa Rica running an Alice workshop at the Foundacion Omar Dengo (see my earlier blog posting), Alberto J. Canas came to the foundation to give a talk entitled "Creating an identity-based infrastructure that fosters learning and collaboration: Experiences with Project Connect to Knowledge in Panama." He described his experiences with helping to run a 2 or 3-year project in Panama. This project in Panama received a great deal of government funding in 2006 to get computers and networking equipment for schools throughout Panama. There may also have been some money available for teacher professional development. However, when the government changed in 2008, the new government wasn't interested in technology and technology education in K-12, and killed the program. And, it sounds like the use of technology in Panama has largely died down in K-12 over the past 3+ years. (I don't think the Panamanians actually seriously integrated computer science into the K-12 curriculum, but I'm less confident about this last statement.)

    I compare what happened in Panama with the computer science/technology education program in Costa Rica. In Costa Rica, the K-12 computing program has grown much slower than it did in Panama, and over a period of 25 years rather than 2. I get the impression that funding for computers and teacher professional development isn't at risk in Costa Rica. Talking with the Project Development and International Relations Officer from the Omar Dengo Foundation, I learned that the Foundation has survived several changes of government, and while nervous with each change, the longstanding establishment of computing education as a value in K-12 education in Costa Rica has always led to continued funding of the foundation's efforts.

    I think of many of the recent K-12 CS education efforts in the US. I wonder if we are behaving more like Panama and less like Costa Rica. I hope that we all will think more strategically and longer term, as we hope to change the role of CS education in the K-12 arena in the US and in the rest of the world.

    Steve Cooper
    Chairperson, CSTA Board of Directors

    Posted by cstephenson at 12:46 PM | Comments (0)

    November 30, 2011

    Good Teaching is Not About the Programming Language

    After working for a number of years as a commercial programmer, I decided to become a teacher here in New Zealand. As part of my teacher training, I had to chose three subjects to teach and the main subject I chose was Maths. My teacher training also included working as a student teacher in a number of schools. After observing a Maths teacher in a very poor school I asked him: "Do you ever get bored teaching (such simple) Maths?" You can tell I probably should never have continued with my teaching career! He replied "I don't teach Maths, I teach students".

    I am often reminded of this when I hear the great programming language debate. Language choice reasons vary. You may be a zealot, an aficionado of a language, someone who teaches a language because they have to, someone who does it because the tertiary their students are headed to will use it. There are many, many reasons and shades of opinion on programming language choice.

    But in K-12, we want students to be simply enthused enough with the subject to wish to continue. And it is not language choice which determines that. It is teachers who "teach students". It is teachers who care about their students and their learning. I would argue that it is completely irrelevant whether teachers care about language A or language B.

    And if, towards the end of the course, you can acknowledge the strengths and weaknesses of the language you used, your students will appreciate the insights that gives and your academic honesty.

    Margot Phillipps
    CSTA International Director

    Posted by cstephenson at 02:23 PM | Comments (0)

    November 14, 2011

    Many Issues Have No Borders

    At the recent CSTA board meeting, a recent paper on the status of computing in several countries (including the USA) was pointed out to me. The paper has Simon Peyton-Jones, a well-known computer scientist now at Microsoft in the United Kingdom, and a number of others (including the CSTA's Chris Stephenson) as co-authors.

    I have been following for some time now the commentary coming from the UK about the situation there. It is cold comfort to know that many of the problems we face here in the US are the same as those faced elsewhere in the world, but the corroboration that our analysis of the situation is the same as others' analysis does at least suggest that if we are trying to correct the problems we perceive then we are in fact trying to to correct problems that do exist.

    What I have seen from the UK sounds familiar. There is discontent from industry about the knowledge and skills that students have and the numbers of students who really know computer science. Students at schools perceive that there is no real content to what they believe to be computer science, bolstered by an institutional bias toward use of technology (which in the UK goes by the name of Information and Communication Technology or ICT). The problems we face in the US with computer science being part of career and technical education and not viewed as a core academic subject are replicated in the UK, with similar results.

    Among the issues that seem to be common across several national borders are these:

  • We must ensure that computer science is treated as its own subject discipline, distinct from the mere use of computers.
  • We must emphasize that an education in computer science is not just the skills training that ensures substantial benefits in the job market, but a genuine education in how to analyze and solve problems and how to think clearly and critically on any topic of interest.
  • We must work to increase the number and quality of computer science teachers, and, in part through CSTA, work to make them more successful in a difficult educational situation with a rapidly changing discipline.
  • As I say, it is cold comfort to have the problems of marketing the discipline that we seem to have. Nonetheless, the fact that our problems are common problems should help us more quickly and clearly focus on remedies that can be effected.

    Duncan Buell
    CSTA Board of Directors

    Posted by cstephenson at 11:40 AM | Comments (1)

    October 31, 2011

    Getting Ready for CS Ed Week

    CS Ed Week is just around the corner, December 4 through 10, and now is the time to prepare for this week in celebration of Computer Science education and the impact of computing. I am serving on the CS Ed Week outreach committee and am excited to learn of the enormous amount of behind-the-scenes work that is going into making this a successful week.

    The first thing you should do is go to the website www.csedweek.org and pledge your support. It's easy to do, and will help to increase the growing number of pledges on the site. Encourage your students, fellow teachers, and administrators to do the same. The website is full of useful information, well organized according to interest groups: K12 students, K12 teachers, parents and community, colleges and universities, and companies and professionals.

    In the works for the site is an event planning toolkit to help you with the logistics of planning an event that week. But it's not too early to start to think about little things you can do, either within your classes, or within your school, to promote Computer Science education that week. A good place to start is to read the excellent article in the latest issue of the Voice that has ideas for how to participate, organized into length of time commitment.

    Last year, my most successful event was a school alumni panel that presented how they use computer science and computational thinking skills in their current position. I put out a generic email to our alumni list and got an overwhelming response, so overwhelming that I could not accommodate all who responded. I even had several alumni on the west coast who were eager to talk to our students in Massachusetts. Everyone who contacted me was very excited about his/her career, how it related to computing, and each person was very enthusiastic about sharing his/her experiences with younger people. And the careers were varied. They included college professor, marketing professional, medical student, and software developer. It helped to make the case that all careers use computing skills and that learning computer science can be useful in so many occupations. I am hoping to make this an even bigger event this year, maybe like a science fair, where students can walk around and have conversations with alumni in there area of interest.

    Any other great ideas for how to celebrate CS Ed Week? You can post them here, but post them on the CS Ed Week website too!

    Karen Lang
    CSTA 9-12 Representative

    Posted by cstephenson at 05:16 PM | Comments (0)

    October 24, 2011

    Activities for CS Ed Week

    CSEdWeek (December 4 through 10) is quickly approaching. This is an opportunity to spotlight your students and your program. Don't delay in making some plans and pledging your commitment at www.csedweek.org.

    Every effort makes an impact. Activities can big or small, in your school or in the community, involve just a few or hundreds. You will find ideas to fit the time you have in the November issue of the Voice available online now at:


    You can participate with a 15 minute task as quick and simple as creating a CSEdWeek e-mail signature. It's easy! Visit www.csedweek.org and copy the image at the top of the page. Re-size it and add some accompanying text such as: "I support CSEdWeek.org. Ask me how you can support Computer Science education too."

    Do you have 30 minutes? Check out the CS magic tricks.


    You will have fun impressing your students. Or you could create a fun CS student activity. Assign students to learn one of the magic trick on the site and then demonstrate to their friends or family along with an explanation of how it relates to what they are learning in computer science class.

    In an hour you could contact your local school or government to ask for their support in having December 4 through 10 declared CSEdWeek or put up a display in the school hallway. Three hours is enough time to guide students in planning a classroom open house for parents or potential students, or organize a field trip.

    Have fun planning CSEdWeek events. It is your time to shine!

    Pat Phillips
    CSTA Voice Editor

    Posted by cstephenson at 02:29 PM | Comments (0)

    October 21, 2011

    Portals, Passwords, and Cloud Computing

    Several of the Computer Science teachers in one district have established a portal which uses a "cloud concept" to provide information for parents of students in their classes. Some of the content is FERPA protected and in this particular district, there is also a strong Blackboard Connect system that is well used by parents. The issue that is hotly being debated is whether or not the teachers should distribute new passwords to parents to use this new portal. At this moment, there are no legal precedents for or against sending these passwords via email, but thoughts for and against doing this are starting to surface.

    Any thoughts pro or con, or legal issues to look out for that may have been encountered elsewhere?

    Gladys Phillips-Evans
    CSTA Board Member

    Posted by cstephenson at 04:05 PM | Comments (1)

    October 03, 2011

    The Value of a Local CSTA Chapter

    I teach in a rural high school where I am the only person to teach computer science as well as computer technologies. Collaborating with others within my building isn't something that I am able to accomplish because I feel sometimes like I am on an island of my own. I do enjoy the time between class changes because I get to talk to the Science teachers across the hall from me as we are on hallway duty. While I do enjoy my fellow teachers' company, it is nice to have others who can help you out with specific questions or just to share ideas.

    Two years ago, Angie Thorne and Stephanie Hoeppner took the initiative to start a local chapter of CSTA here in Ohio. This local chapter brought together a handful of computer science teachers from around our state and provided me the opportunities that I was looking for outside my school building. It is great to be able to attend the CSTA Ohio meetings and meet my colleagues from around our state. I now have a support system of teachers who can help me out and offer suggestions when I have questions.

    CSTA Ohio, under Angie and Stephanie's direction, has offered me and others several professional development opportunities as well as social gatherings. I look forward to the eTech Ohio Conference each year as CSTA Ohio provides several informational sessions dealing with computer science topics. Plans are in the works for another eTech conference again this year.

    If you aren't a member of a CSTA local chapter, check out the listing of the current CSTA Local chapters at:


    f your area doesn't have a chapter, why not check into creating one. What could be more rewarding than helping others within your area and within your field. Join a CSTA local chapter today!

    Dave Burkhard
    CSTA Governance Task Force Chair

    Posted by cstephenson at 12:46 PM | Comments (0)

    September 29, 2011

    Advocating on the Advocate Blog

    Recently I started a 10-week contract, filling in as a Math teacher at a local high school. Naturally one of my early questions was "So what senior computing classes do you have?" The answer, from the principal, was "None". A bit of further digging revealed that a similar school had been told a number of years ago by the local university that they didn't need high school students with any computer science of programming. "Just give us good students".

    It is an argument I have heard more than once. What it belies is the fact that students at high school are strongly encouraged to have goals, determine where they are headed, what degree will the need at younger and younger ages.

    So if students don't know what computer science, software engineering etc. is, why would they choose it at university? They've probably already settled on a course. And naturally the problem of numbers enrolling into such courses at university linger.

    The fear that inexperienced, unknowledgeable teachers will somehow mess the students up has to be exposed for the fallacious nonsense it is. Within days, I discovered that the Math teacher who was most helpful to me starting the new job actually has a Computer Science degree. He was so energized by my talking about high school academic computing that he got a bunch of his bright year 10 students to come to a lunchtime programming club, which we teach together.

    I believe that well qualified, expert teachers exist (as I have a number of similar stories) but our administrations need to notice, understand why its important to use them and use them appropriately.

    So before I leave, I will seek out the school principal and let him know what a great resource he already has on board.

    Margot Phillipps
    CSTA International Director

    Posted by cstephenson at 06:26 PM | Comments (1)

    September 12, 2011

    What Makes a Workshop Work?

    This past summer marked the addition of a full day of workshops to the CS&IT Symposium. More than 120 individuals attended morning and afternoon sessions on a variety of topics, such as BYOB Scratch, Google AppInventor, Videogame Programming, and AP Teaching. I'm happy to report that the day was very successful, with 97% of attendees rating "Session effectiveness" as either Good or Excellent, and 98% of attendees rating "Met expectations" as either Good or Excellent. Thank you to all of the session presenters who made the first CS&IT Workshop Day go so well.

    The experience of chairing the workshop sessions prompted me to reflect on workshops that I have attended over the years. Many have been instructive and inspiring, but others have been demoralizing wastes of time. To me, an effective workshop has to have a significant hands-on component, but it also has to provide enough conceptual content to allow me to build upon what I have done. If it doesn't enable me to continue learning on my own afterwards, it is really nothing more than a few hours of entertainment and/or confinement.

    For example, I attended an outstanding workshop some years ago on Bioinformatics Education. The session integrated engaging hands-on exercises, but also provided conceptual background and resources for going beyond the exercises. It inspired me to dig deeper into the material once I got home, and I learned more after the workshop than I did in those few in-class hours. In contrast, a disappointing App Development workshop I attended led me through the development of some really cool applications, but no conceptual understanding of what I was doing. I left the workshop with some impressive apps, but absolutely no idea how I would do anything else.

    I'm curious how other people view workshops.

    What do you look for when you register for a workshop?

    What features do you think are necessary for a workshop to be effective?

    What are the biggest mistakes that you think workshop presenters make?

    Please share your thought, and if you have a great workshop that you have attended and want to plug, have at it.

    Dave Reed
    CSTA Board of Directors
    College Representative

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

    September 06, 2011

    What Did You Do This Summer?

    Well, it's back to school time and most of us have done some professional development over the summer to rejuvenate and enhance what we are doing in the classroom.

    I had the privilege of attending MIT's CS4HS offering in July, sponsored by Google. The focus of the three-day workshop was on using the Scratch programming language as a means to teach computational thinking skills using design based learning. Mitch Resnick and Karen Brennan of the Lifelong Kindergarten Group led the workshop and did an amazing job.

    I must report, I drank the koolaid. The experience was exciting, motivating, and energizing. The forty-four educators, administrators, and researchers who participated were definitely buzzing with excitement. By the end of the workshop, there was a definite cult atmosphere in the room. The workshop was broken down into themes: art, stories, and games. Participants were given ideas and instruction on developing projects in all areas. Much time was spent on individual work related to a theme of interest.

    It was a real treat for most of to have a solid chunk of time to play with Scratch, bounce ideas off of our colleagues, and to explore the possibilities. Most participants reported staying up until the wee hours of the night to work on their individual Scratch projects. It is an addictive tool, so easy to use, intuitive, and very engaging. I am excited to bring what I learned back to my school and to figure out the most effective way to implement Scratch with my high school students.

    What about you?

    What professional development did you do this summer that got you pumped for the school year?

    Karen Lang
    CSTA Board of Directors
    9-12 Representative

    Posted by cstephenson at 01:42 PM | Comments (0)

    September 01, 2011

    Creative Computing with Scratch

    I recently had the good fortune to participate in this year's Creative Computing workshop at MIT. The program, which ran from July 27-30, was organized by the MIT Media Lab in collaboration with Google's CS4HS initiative. The four day workshop provided K-12 teachers with an opportunity to explore computational thinking and creativity in the classroom.

    Over the course of four days, I met with teachers from around New England (and some even as far away as California) to experiment with new educational technologies and instructional strategies to engage students in creative design activities. The workshop focused on Scratch as the vehicle for cultivating creativity and problem solving. Scratch:


    a programming language geared for children and teens, was developed at the Lifelong Kindergarten Group


    at the MIT Media Lab and was created to provide children with the opportunity to learn how to design, create, and express themselves through technology. I saw the workshop as the ideal vehicle for me to develop lessons which will motivate my students to become creators, not just users, of the technology that permeates their world.

    During the workshop, I experienced first hand the joy and wonder that Scratch brings to learning. We started the program by exploring three essential questions:

    (1) What is Scratch?,
    (2) What is Scratch good for?, and
    (3) What is good Scratch?

    My initial response to those questions was pretty straightforward. Obviously, I knew what Scratch was and I believed that I knew what Scratch is good for, and I definitely thought I knew what was good Scratch. But over the course of four days, as I built new computer programs with my colleagues, toured the Media Lab, and heard from a variety of experts, I came to realize that these three questions mean more than I had ever imagined.

    I discovered that Scratch is much more than a computer programming environment. It is a community. Scratch is not only good for making computer games, animations, stories, and art. It is also good for making social connections. It is a place where today's technologically savvy students can come together to exchange sprites, remix programs, and collaborate on projects with other Scratchers. The same experience of sharing and collaborating can be found at the educator's website, ScratchEd


    And good Scratch, well, that is what ever you want it to be. As a teacher, I feel that my students produce "good" projects when they are actively engaged in the learning process. For the most part, every time a student builds a Scratch program, engagement takes place. I can't wait for the school year to begin so my students can start "scratching."

    Patrice Gans
    CSTA K-8 Representative

    Posted by cstephenson at 02:17 PM | Comments (0)

    August 17, 2011

    CSEd Week: The Power of Numbers

    Mark the calendar, gather up resources, and make some plans!

    Computer Science Education Week (December 4th through 10th) is the opportunity to be part of a unified force of CS teachers across the US and around the world to impact CS education.

    What did you do last year?
    What ideas do you have for this year?

    We would love to hear about your 2010 CSEd Week successes, how you plan to build upon them this year, or your great new ideas for CSEd Week 2011. A few stories will be selected to feature in the November issue of the CSTA Voice newsletter.

    You will find posters, flyers, classroom activities, videos and more on your own CSTA website:


    If you are looking for ideas and resources, check out the CSEd Week website:


    On the "Pledges" page you can read about these cool projects and many more!

  • Vicki Coffman (Dulles HS, TX): Pictorial CS history display outside of library.
  • Shannon Henderson (Kentwood HS, WA) Lunch time student demonstrations of their games/CS projects.
  • Evelyn Williamson (Norfolk Technical Center, VA) A school visit by middle school students to work hands-on with work with students in the CIS and Webmaster classes.
  • Crystal Furman (Brookwood HS) A school-wide scavenger hunt for GridWorld Critters in which students get a treat when they return them to the CS classroom.
  • Joshua Paley (Henry M. HS, CA) A fieldtrip to UC-Berkeley's CS Education Day for presentations on animation, games, and robotics.
  • Oladapo Adefilola (Regal College, Nigeria) A speech contest on the importance of ICT/Computing in the development of Nigeria as a nation.
  • Jane Krauss (NCWIT) Blogged about ways to encourage computational thinking through real-life projects.
  • Michele Leonard, Parent and National Center for Women and Information Technology, is going to wow my daughter's Brownie troupe with the card trick and sorting exercises outlined in CS Unplugged!
  • Cathy Ngo (Brownie Leader, 2nd graders) Teaching Brownies about data with secret codes that encode the phrase, "Brownies can do anything!"
  • Nayda Santiago (University of Puerto Rico) Sponsoring a contest for students to create their own song/dance/poem/promotional piece that promotes CS to middle/high school students and post them on YouTube.
  • Anna Alfano (Canada) Showed the CSTA CSEdweek videos in the cafeteria during lunch periods.
  • Leisa Thompson (NCWIT) Included a message within her email signature to promote CSEd Week.

    Tell us about CSEd Week in your school!

    Pat Phillips
    Editor, CSTA Voice

    Posted by cstephenson at 06:33 PM | Comments (3)

    August 12, 2011

    Summer Professional Development

    This summer I was able to attend three Computer Science conferences this summer which were CS4HS:


    at two different locations and CS & IT:


    CS4HS is offered at several different college and university campuses throughout the world and is sponsored by Google. CS & IT is the annual conference organized by CSTA that "provides professional development opportunities for high school and middle school computer science and information technology teachers". This year the sponsors were Microsoft Research, Google and Anita Borg Institute.

    The first CS4HS I attended was on the Cal Berkeley campus and hosted by Dr. D. Garcia. To attend a CS4HS held in the state where I am teaching was definitely an advantage. The conference attendees educated me about websites that are only available for California teachers. One website was Calaxy which hosts a website of tools and free Moodle hosting. I had been using Moodle but my current host informed me that they would begin charging for the service so this was a website I definitely did investigate. Additionally, I entered into a discussion about recruiting and was given a suggestion about using my students to recruit students through their membership in ethnic clubs on my campus. I also learned about BYOB which is an extension of Scratch. I have been practicing with BYOB this summer to use with my students when school begins in a few weeks.

    The second CS4HS I attended was on the Carnegie Mellon (CMU) campus and hosted by Tom Cortina. The participants were treated to: An introduction to AppInventor, a presentation from Eric Nyberg about Watson, a hands-on presentation about Finch Robots


    introduction to CS Unplugged activities and a presentation about Raptor (a free flowchart interceptor):


    I purchased a Finch Robot and plan to have my Data Structures students review Java with the Robot and I plan to use Raptor to have students verify their logic.

    Finally, I traveled from CMU to New York for the CS & IT Symposium. The conference was held over three days. The first day, the attendees could choose at most two workshops, the second day the attendees could choose at most four sessions and the third day the scheduled included 3 speakers and entrance to the Imagine Cup.

    In the morning I attend the workshop about BYOB. Dr. Dan Garcia and Josh Pauley presented a hands-on workshop about BYOB. If you haven't had an opportunity to try out BYOB, it is a free download from:


    The site also has links to the slides from the conference and sample lessons.

    The afternoon session I attended was trying out some labs using AppInventor presented by Hal Abelson, Betsy Dillard, Pauline Lake, Ralph Morelli, and Chinma Uche. You can download a copy of the slides from the presentation from the CSTA website.

    The second day of the conference began with a keynote speech by Douglas Rushkoff the author of Programmed or Be Programmed: Ten Commandments for a Digital Age. He was a very dynamic speaker and gave us some ideas to think about regarding the web and how we are manipulated by it. The closing keynote speaker was Ken Perlin, Professor of Computer Science NYU Media Research Lab and Director, Games for Learning Institute. He was another dynamic speaker who discussed, among other things, using Kinect to communicate with a computer.

    I also attended four great sessions during the day. You can review the slides of the sessions on the CSTA website as well as slides and videos from previous CS & IT Symposiums. In addition, Alfred Thompson:


    and Doug Peterson:


    discuss their experiences at CS & IT on their blogs. Additionally, I exchanged contact information with other CS teachers. I hope to collaborate with them on lesson planning during the school year.

    Another source of PD for me is Twitter. Through Twitter, I discovered Socrative:


    It is a "smart student response system" using web enabled devices. I plan to use it for "Checking for Understanding" and Exit Slips.

    Finally, my next step then is how to incorporate what I have been exposed to this summer into my computer science curriculum. That is the best part of summer professional development, relating it all back to the students.

    What PD have you participated in this summer?

    Myra Deister
    CSTA Board of Directors
    At-Large Representative

    Posted by cstephenson at 01:00 PM | Comments (0)

    August 08, 2011

    Exploring Collaborative Opportunities for Students

    Recently, Stephanie Hoeppner, CSTA Ohio Vice President, and I met with Dr. Rob Williams at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, near Fairborn, Ohio, to learn about a program that Wright-Patterson is currently conducting with high school and undergraduate students. The program is summer based and centers around research projects in Virtual Worlds, Smart Phones, and Robotics. Dr. Williams is looking to expand the program to teachers and students during the school year through a virtual world which the students in the summer program have developed.

    This exciting program opens up connections between the computer science classroom and the work world. Students in the program work with mentors from the Air Force Base to create applications which might be of interest to the Air Force. CSTA Ohio is currently working with Dr. Williams to find CS teachers who might like to work with Dr. Williams on a collaborative effort which could bring this program to others areas of the state during the school year. Participants in the no cost program could participate during the school day or as an afterschool activity.

    As CS teachers come in contact with exciting opportunities such the one mentioned above, we need to share the ideas with others within our community. While this program is currently localized to Ohio, there may be others who could bring a similar program to their area providing more opportunities for CS students.

    What collaborative opportunities for CS students exist in your area? The CSTA Blog is a great site to gain attention within the CS community about the programs being conducted in your area.

    Dave Burkhart
    Governance Task Force Chair

    Posted by cstephenson at 03:37 PM | Comments (0)

    August 01, 2011

    Is Computer Science Antithetical to the Liberal Arts?

    Many of us who teach college level computer science have been happy with the latest news about computing and IT related jobs. With the promise of fast growth in these job areas through at least 2018, we can expect to see our enrollments increase. And hopefully this will be the end of the spate of CS department closures that has been the response of some colleges to the current tight economic situation.

    At the same time, those of us who teach CS in liberal arts colleges sometimes have to argue vociferously for our place at the table. We've been challenged by colleagues and administrators. How dare we bring something so "vocational" into the liberal arts setting?

    A commentary in the Christian Science Monitor


    argues for the value of a liberal arts education. One key point: employers want to see analytical thinking, teamwork, and communication skills. These are all things that we focus on at liberal arts institutions, particularly the smaller colleges. Another key point: students need to graduate with "transferable skills" so that they will be able to adapt to a changing job landscape.

    I would add to this my own view that it is precisely CS students and those students who have experience with applications of computing in their own disciplines who are best prepared to adapt to the technology driven developments we will continue to witness in the coming years and decades. They will be well prepared to offer up innovative solutions to difficult problems. Consider disease spread, drug development, and the push to digitize medical records. A biology student who has experience with computing, who has taken courses in visualization, modeling and simulation, and bioinformatics will better understand and contribute to progress in these areas than will the student whose curriculum has remained static. The medical researcher whose undergraduate exposure included computing will be well equipped to collaborate with the computer scientist whose undergraduate exposure included bioinformatics. The interdisciplinarity, cross-fertilization, and critical thinking that are hallmarks of a liberal arts education will create graduates who are ready to embrace technology and utilize it to advance a host of fields.

    Valerie Barr
    Computational Thinking Task Force Chair

    Posted by cstephenson at 05:43 PM | Comments (1)

    July 18, 2011

    Competitions Spark Fires of CS Enthusiasm

    Students love competitions!

    * Show off their skills
    * Earn public recognition for their work
    * Collaborate with other students
    * Solve deep and typically meaningful problems

    And teachers should love them too.
    * Self-motivating activities
    * Opportunity for developing problem-solving and team-work skills
    * Combine a variety of student skills and knowledge
    * Opportunities for differentiated learning
    * Showcase your CS students
    * Spotlight your CS courses and department

    Competitions can be sponsored local within schools or districts, regionally by CSTA branches or colleges, nationally by organizations or companies, or internationally. The challenge is to learn about them in time to prepare and participate.

    Summer is a great time to explore the possibilities and dig up the details on contests so your students will be ready to jump in when the details are announced for the next school year.

    Please add to this list short list with the a few details about contests your students have participated in or others you know about.

    * Bliink Web Design Competition www.bliinkcontest.com/
    * Microsoft Imagine Cup www.imaginecup.com/
    * NCWIT Aspirations in Computing www.ncwit.org/award/award.index.php
    * TCEA Robotics Contest www.tcea.org/collaborate/robotics/Pages/index.aspx
    * VisFest Film & Game Festival, Kent WA School District, www1.kent.k12.wa.us/KSD/IT/visfest/index.htm

    What are your favorite student competitions?

    Pat Phillips
    Editor, CSTA Voice

    Posted by cstephenson at 07:49 PM | Comments (1)

    July 10, 2011

    E-Books for Learning (Or Not)?

    Summer is here. My textbooks are neatly placed on my bookshelf and my Kindle comes out. I rarely have time to pleasure read during the school year. What did I just write? It's true. I most often use paper textbooks for educational needs and e-books for pleasure. I have mixed feelings about e-books. I own and love my Kindle but I have been known to purchase a paper copy of a book I have on my Kindle for easier reference to diagrams and such.

    Many of the texts I use in class are available to students in the e-book format. Some students take advantage of this offering. Many of the reference texts I list for students are free on-line texts. Personally, I find it cumbersome to read a Java program that is pages long "on a screen". With most e-books it difficult to print pages for easier reference.

    In some CA school districts, e-texts have been used and administrators boast that "The greatest immediate observable result is how quickly the kids get engaged." Yet several university students believe that e-book devices are good if you're using them on "a beach or on an airplane," but "not fully functional for a learning environment."

    I teach computer science. What does my ideal textbook look like? Ideally, it is an "interactive" e-book. I read sections, take self-check quizzes that give me immediate feedback, watch videos of algorithm animations, see diagrams of data storage, link to current events having that deal with computer science in the world today (I mean TODAY as in the day I am reading my text) , have the ability to highlight text and write in the margins, submit and/or answer questions to a blog or wiki, have the ability to print pages from the e-book, etc. Current technology provides all of this in different formats through different course delivery systems. I just haven't found MY ideal e-textbook yet.

    In most K-12 school districts, this type of e-textbook might be somewhat of a dream. Providing access to e-book devices for every student is costly and districts are finding ways to cut costs. Access to on-line materials for current events is not permitted in many public schools.

    But, wouldn't it be nice? Your thoughts on e-books?

    Fran Trees
    CSTA Chapter Liaison


    Reading from paper versus screens: http://www.ischool.utexas.edu/~adillon/Journals/Reading.htm

    Pros and Cons: E-books and E-book readers: http://nssea.wordpress.com/2009/08/07/pros-and-cons-e-books-and-e-book-readers/

    Book Smarts? E-Texts Receive Mixed Reviews From Students: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970203577304574277041750084938.html

    Tablets make digital textbooks cool on campus: http://www.usatoday.com/tech/news/2011-06-17-digital-textbooks_n.htm

    Posted by cstephenson at 02:29 PM | Comments (4)

    July 06, 2011

    Making Changes in Response to Student Complaints

    It is summer and time to reflect upon the past school year. Course evaluations are in, and provided some interesting insight into how my students perceived my class. The standard complaint is there. They don't like the language I use (Racket). But two other recurring themes appeared that will change the way I teach next year.

    The first negative came from the weaker students; that I assumed they knew what programming is and that the start of the year went too quickly for them. I have the luxury at my school that all students (high school juniors) must take computer science. The students are all high achieving students, yet computer science is a new subject to the vast majority of them, and many are intimidated at the beginning of the year. So, I intend to slow it down in the fall.

    The second complaint came mostly from the more advanced students, but I saw it in many of the evaluations, so it struck a chord. The students complained about my strict requirements for thorough documentation and complete testing of their functions. My usual reaction to this complaint is, "you'll thank me in ten years when you are out in the work world", but my reaction this year is that I might be turning some students off to computer science because I am battering them with the not-so-fun aspect of computer science. Since it is the first time many of my students have been exposed to computer science and to programming, I believe I have to focus more on the fun aspects of computer science, that is, the problem solving. It will be a shift for me, but I want my students to end the year thinking, "that was fun, I want more", rather than, "testing is unbearable, biology is looking good".

    I intend to let them play more, explore, get joy out of seeing their program finally execute and find satisfaction in arriving at a good solution to a given problem. I think I’ll have more fun too! What about you?

    Karen Lang
    CSTA Board Member

    Posted by cstephenson at 01:29 AM | Comments (2)

    June 29, 2011

    Ask Not What Your Professional Development Can Do For You

    Recently I had the opportunity to attend a workshop (conveniently located) at Purdue University. The workshop was sponsored by an NSF project title CS4EDU (http://cs4edu.cs.purdue.edu/). The goal of the CS4EDU project is as follows: to create new pathways for undergraduate education majors to become computationally educated secondary teachers. This includes a joint effort between faculty in the Department of Computer Science and the College of Education to create a Computer Science Teaching Endorsement program, based on the educational computing standards set by the International Society for Technology in Education.

    The workshop brought together people from many different entities: university personnel, NSF personnel, CSTA personnel, and many high school teachers. The intent of the workshop was to discuss the CS Principles course, to share ideas and experiences, and to learn what others are doing in computer science education. However, I think the outcome of the workshop provided so much more. At the end of the two days, the organizers had each participant state what they gained from attending this workshop. So many teachers mentioned that they were thankful for the opportunity to network and meet other teachers with similar goals to them.

    As a deliverer of professional development workshops, I am often so worried about the content of said workshops that I forget that there is often a bigger focus and purpose to these events. Teachers need that time to get together with other teachers so they can get new ideas and share their current ideas with like-minded people. There is a flipside to this though too- I know quite a few teachers who select their professional development opportunities based on what they can get out of it (stipends, fun location, etc.) But how many people opt in to a workshop based on what they can GIVE to the workshop? I’d like to challenge your way of thinking as you go through the next year. Teachers need other teachers to be there for them. The content of a particular workshop may seem like something you already know- but just think of all the experience you could share with a community of colleagues with a common interest!

    So who is willing to step up to the plate and ask not what your professional development can do for you but what you can do for your professional development?

    Mindy Hart

    Chair, CSTA Professional Development Committee

    Posted by cstephenson at 02:49 PM | Comments (1)

    June 23, 2011

    Precise Language (again)

    I am in the midst of a three-times-normal-speed theory of computing class for graduate students who need to know this material for the qualifying exam, so I have not had lots of time to contemplate metaphysical things (or write a blog post). On the other hand, Michelle Hutton's post of 6 June, 2011 resonates with me as I try to get the students to think (and write) in precise mathematical ways.

    I am reminded of the time many years ago when I had breakfast at a restaurant in Tallahassee on a lecture trip. As I looked at the sentence with the options of toast, biscuits, hash browns, grits, etc., I noticed that whoever had written the menu had clearly not studied disjunctive and conjunctive normal forms of Boolean expressions. Although I suspect very few people misunderstood what was intended as the possible set of options (breakfast, after all, not being rocket science), what was written would not have been parsed as intended by the Gnu Breakfast Compiler.

    We have had similar issues in the theory class. It is one thing to ask: For every integer n, describe a finite automaton F that will multiply by n. It is quite another thing to ask: Describe a finite automaton F that will multiply by n for every n. But our students learn this kind of precision; it doesn't (seem to) come as a natural part of the rest of their experience and education.

    My wife used to teach technical writing. She always argued that the purpose of technical writing was to be clear, not to be great literature. And as I try to impress on students: the problems in software, as in nearly all technical projects, lie at the interface between two human beings. Inside one (technically competent) person's head, there usually isn't much confusion about what ought to be done and what is being done. It’s the communication from that person to the next one down the line that causes the problems.

    Being clear in one's writing and speaking is very important.

    Duncan Buell
    CSTA Board of Directors

    Posted by cstephenson at 04:23 PM | Comments (1)

    June 19, 2011


    Recently I was asked by a younger teacher, how I allocate my time because he knew that I teach both computer science and mathematics. I never thought much about it prior to his question. I responded to him with, I work on what needs to be done first. That has seemed to work for me but during the last two months I have been thinking more about his question. I have had to make choices and I had to say no to some requests because I just couldn't "keep up" any more. I need to devise a system that allows me to prioritize and allocate time.

    I am learning to say "I just can't do" when I know I don't have the time. However, teaching computer science is much more time consuming than teaching mathematics. I am constantly looking for ways to better convey a computer science topic to the students or I am opening the lab for the students to finish their programming projects. I want them to succeed and I feel I need to assist them and put the time in.

    I know some of you have more preparations than I have and I am wondering, just like the younger teacher asked me, "how do you allocated your time so you get it all done and provide the best education for your students?"

    Please share your thoughts.

    Myra Deister
    CSTA Board of Directors

    Posted by cstephenson at 01:52 PM | Comments (2)

    June 15, 2011

    Robots and Android Apps and PR

    This year, after the AP Computer Science exam, I gave my students a choice: robots or Android Apps. In April, my order of Scribbler 2 robots came in. I've used them in a summer program I teach in (California State Summer School for Mathematics and Science - COSMOS) and used them in my Robotics class. But, despite seeing them when they arrived and having interest in programming them, they opted to make Android Apps.

    I hadn't really played with it much, but we're going to use it this year for COSMOS. So, my students and I embarked on playing with AppInventor together. Luckily, it was my APCS class and they could go from basic tutorials to more complicated ones in a short time frame. We went from the Kitty first application to an Amazon.com database search, to a GPS locator. We briefly went over the basics and I let them run with it. With the knowledge they gained from APCS, the concepts connected easily for them. If they didn't understand the point of methods before, it was clear after using AppInventor.

    The blocks editor in AppInventor reminds me of Scratch. But, naturally, there is something more inherently powerful with AppInventor since it can take live data from GPS or the internet to create applications that can be used on your Android device. My students don't have Android phones or other devices, so we used the emulator. They enjoyed creating their own application. Some made games and some made paint programs or variations of the tutorials we completed.

    I'm torn between having them work on it during the very beginning of school (or even as a summer assignment) to get their feet wet in the programming arena. I can see positives and negatives. One negative being I always need all the time I can get to delve into the material for APCS. But I will use it for my Robotics class next year and hope to get more ideas this summer.

    I think the possibilities are almost endless to what students can get out of it. It makes software development truly real for them because they can create apps that they can immediately use and share!

    Now, that's good PR for CS in high school!

    Shirley Miranda
    CSTA Board Member

    Posted by cstephenson at 06:50 PM | Comments (4)

    June 06, 2011

    Precise Language: It's All Relative

    The term "precise language" has come up twice in the past few weeks in way that highlight the difference between computer science people and other people. (I wouldn't want to call them "regular" people.)

    I am involved in a project where we asked education graduate students, "How would you describe someone who is 'techie'?" One of the most interesting responses (from someone who went to an East Coast Institute of Technology) was that techies use precise language.

    While I wouldn't have thought of it, that answer immediately resonated with me, from all the times I've had my vague language corrected to the very way that the techies I know talk all the time.

    Then, this weekend I was sitting at a table with a bunch of techies computer science educators who were discussing whether an important part of computer science is using "accurate and precise language" to communicate. They were extremely concerned that if precision is an important descriptor that it will lead students to a level of detail that's too great for an introductory CS class. Indeed, one of the techiest senior members of the group wanted to substitute "simple language" for "precise language" in order to encourage a higher level of abstraction than he felt "precise language" would elicit.

    This, it seems, is one of the very differences between computer science people and humanities people (to broadly generalize). Regular people think that the kind of way computer scientists talk all the time is precise language. Computer scientists think they talk regular and that precise language is even more detailed. I think of the math or English teachers I know, for whom "simple language" would entail a level of vagueness and abstraction that isn't what the document intended and that "accurate and precise" would be the appropriate amount of correctness.

    I'd say it's all a matter of perspective, but I suspect that some computer science educators would point out that perspective is something they teach in art and English...

    Michelle Hutton
    CSTA President

    Posted by cstephenson at 02:54 PM | Comments (2)

    May 23, 2011

    CSTA Becomes a Founding Member of PACE

    Last month, CSTA Executive Director Chris Stephenson and I attended the organizational meeting for the Partnership for Advancing Computing Education or PACE. PACE was formed with the goal to "provide a basis for computing education organizations to communicate, cooperate and collaborate on activities that will advance the state of computing education."

    Founding member organizations include CSTA, National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT), IEEE Computer Society, Association for Computing Machinery (ACM), and Association for Information Systems (AIS). Mark Guzdial was appointed as the Director (you might want to check out Mark's picture with the CSTA Sock Monkey in an earlier post) with Lecia Barker of NCWIT as chairperson and Andrew McGettrick as assistant chair of the Board.

    CSTA hopes that the relationship with PACE and the other members will enhance our efforts to improve K-12 education. Each year, CSTA will send two representatives to the annual meeting of PACE with periodic phone conference calls in the interim. The goal for the organization within the next year is to increase the number of member organizations from five to ten.

    If you know of an organization that is interested in joining PACE, contact CSTA and we can forward the information to Mark.

    Dave Burkhart
    CSTA Board of Directors

    Posted by cstephenson at 10:28 AM | Comments (2)

    May 13, 2011

    Needing to Be Vigilant About Gender Issues

    Having women in the department is just step one. But then there is the issue of how teaching assignments are distributed. There I was, idly looking over my department's teaching responsibilities for 2011-2012 and 2012-2013, congratulating myself for being so on top of things that I had planned the next two year. But then the little irritating voice in the back of my head began to get louder and louder and ever more clear. I looked closely at the schedule and had a distressing realization. Despite that fact that my department faculty is half women (unfortunately that will drop to one-third in the fall), graduating CS majors are likely to have had only one intermediate or upper level course taught by a woman.

    Why is this? you might ask. Well, an interesting situation has evolved. We basically have three groups of courses: Group 1: a large number of introductory courses (six different theme-based CS1 courses); Group 2: a set of intermediate courses that students can take after the intro – a CS major can count only one of these, but non-majors, CS minors, and computational methods minors can count many; Group 3: the intermediate and upper level courses that are taken by majors. Guess what. The majority of Group 1 and Group 2 courses are taught by the women faculty. But the only Group 3 courses taken by majors that are regularly taught by women are the courses that count toward the theory requirement. Everything else in Group 3 that is offered on a regular basis is usually taught by a male faculty member.

    So, is this the result of some concerted calculated effort by a group of male computer scientists? No! I've been making the schedule every year for the last seven years! But then why did this happen? My guess is that the women in the department have been more enthusiastic about recruiting new students through the cool intro and non-majors intermediate courses, and the men have been more comfortable sticking with the tried and true courses that you usually find in a CS major.

    What will we do about it? Fortunately, I have a giant spreadsheet of everyone's teaching preferences, so I know exactly what courses they are willing to teach, and we can start to mix it up more. And when I stop being department chair and teach more courses I'll take on more of those upper level courses. That should balance things out a bit.

    But I think there's a lesson here. Be ever vigilant, because there's always a deeper level of analysis you can do before you decide that you've truly addressed the gender issues or the women in computing question. I don't think that you have to have women faculty in order to recruit women into CS, but if you have women faculty then they really should be well represented at every level of your curricular structure, both in K-12 CS as well as at the college level.

    Lesson learned here. I hope I'll have better news down the road!

    Valerie Barr
    Chair, CSTA Computational Thinking Task Force

    Posted by cstephenson at 10:56 AM | Comments (0)

    May 09, 2011

    Equity Part II: The Multiple Dimensions of Implementing Equity

    In a previous blog entry, I argued that we should address equity in computer science from a civil rights perspective, considering the importance of computing to all social and academic endeavors in the 21st century. I argued that rather than an economic framing; we need to address equity for what it is: an equal opportunity to fully participate in educational and social systems in our society. This, not future jobs, is the imperative to center equity in discussions around computer science education. In this blog, I will discuss what equity looks like within this social justice framework.

    1. Availability of Courses for All Students in All Schools: Until computing courses are universally available in schools, severe equity issues will be pervasive. Bluntly put, without courses in the schools, students cannot easily access this content knowledge. With many schools in the U.S. being highly segregated by race and social class, data has shown that more affluent, White schools are much more likely to offer computing courses to students. A fundamental step towards making computer science more accessible is to build courses at all schools, so any interested student is able to learn about computing. I am not advocating that computing be required of all students, but instead, be available for any student who desires to access this critical 21st century knowledge, regardless of whether the student is college-bound or not.
    2. Curriculum and Assessment must be tailored towards students in meaningful ways. The "one size fits all" approach to computing, for generations, has marginalized students of color and females. We cannot simply bring underrepresented students into "traditional" classroom spaces and expect them to engage in a curricular model that has typically captivated the intrests of only a small sample of the population. Instead, curricular resources need to be created to reach the interests and prior knowledge of particular minority communities and girls. This type of resources could include materials such as Ron Eglash's culturally situated design tools to showcase the cultural dimensions of computing. A second approach would be to include project-based curriculum that encourages students to draw from their own community knowledge to examine social and environmental issues through a computing perspective. Curriculum and assessment must be carefully developed to highlight the multiple ways of knowing , and showing, students bring to classrooms.
    3. Teachers must be supported in developing an inclusive pedagogy that is effective for engaging girls and students of color. Moving towards an inquiry-based teaching strategy has been shown to be effective for reaching underrepresented students in computing and in other STEM disciplines. Having pre-service opportunities and professional development workshops that help communities of teachers sharing strategies for teaching underrepresented students, English language learners, etc. is critical in developing these pedagogical skills.

    These three elements are part of a cohesive whole, and must be tackled together. If particular organizations, universities, schools, or industries are firmly committed to working towards equity in computer science education, the action plans must address all three of these dimensions in an integrated method to make real change.

    Or, perhaps there are more dimensions? What other dimensions might people consider when working on equity issues in K-12 computer science education?

    Joanna Goode
    CSTA Equity Committee Chair

    Posted by cstephenson at 12:49 PM | Comments (1)

    May 02, 2011

    Making Computer Science Relevant

    As computer science educators, we see the need for computer science education. There is an element of self-interest, but we believe computer science knowledge and skills are among the most essential ingredients of a modern education.

    It is frustrating, therefore, when legislators, school administrators, and the public do not "see the light" and embrace computer science as a valuable 21st century skill. Curriculum reflects our values and it is obvious that our societal values have not changed to include computer science knowledge as compulsory and not elective (along with other subjects we don't think are worthy of mandating, such as art and music.)

    No matter how one feels about it, the accountability movement controls educational policy in the U.S. And within the system we have, math and English are important, science is less important, and nothing else is important. If we want to be important, we can agitate for a change in priority or we can hitch our star to things that are already considered important.

    I have a theory that taught correctly, computer science could improve math scores. Programs such as Bootstrap are already using computer science to improve kids' math skills.

    What do you think?

    Can we work within a framework of math (or English or science) to teach fundamental computer science skills?

    Would this enhance other disciplines?

    Michelle Hutton
    CSTA President

    Posted by cstephenson at 03:21 PM | Comments (1)

    April 28, 2011

    Equity Part 1: Why Should We Care about Issues of Equity

    There has been an increased emphasis on equity issues in computer science education in recent years, supported largely by NSF programs aimed at broadening participation in computing. Yet, I have found that when folks talk about equity, they often have different viewpoints on why we should be addressing equity, what equity means, and how to achieve equity in the K-12 computer science classroom. Based on my experiences as an AP computer science teacher in a diverse high school, and involvement in the Exploring Computer Science program in Los Angeles schools, I offer my own viewpoints on what equity means to me in computing classrooms. This is the first in a series of blogs tackling these issues around equity in computer science, the most segregated subject offered in K-12 education.

    Why should we address equity?
    Though many cite economic purposes for working towards equity, I hesitate to use this reasoning as my central purpose for the equity-based work I do. Certainly, we are missing out on the creative potential of over 70% of the population when we continue with a vast under-representations of people of color and females in the computing industry. Also, these underrepresented groups are at a disadvantage personally if they do not have the sufficient preparation to become computer scientists, a growing profession with a higher-than-average salary for graduates with college degrees. But, this is not a particularly compelling argument to lead with around issues of equity except for those who are college CS professors or working in the industry. Then, to those outside of computer science, this economic/industry perspective is seen as a self-serving argument. Certainly, we don't argue for universal literacy in order to prepare children to be English majors or work as journalists, etc., but we believe everyone should have the opportunity to read and write because it is a fundamental skill needed to maximize opportunities and interests in our society. We need to back away from leading with an economic perspective as the reason to address equity issues for the same reasons.

    For me, equity is a social justice issue, a new frontier in civil rights. As a community, we are arguing that computational thinking is an essential 21st century skill. So in this vein, we need to prepare all students to have this fundamental knowledge to be able to fully participate in society, including girls and students of color. As civil rights leader and the Algebra project director Bob Moses cautions, students of color will become "the serfs of the Information Age" unless we work for equal opportunity and access in computing education. If education is a fundamental human right in our country, then access and equity in computer science is certainly a part of the 21st century model of education that should support this purpose of schooling.

    What about you? What is your purpose for addressing equity in computer science?

    Joanna Goode
    CSTA Board of Directors

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

    April 22, 2011

    Will Rising Enrollments Stifle Partnerships?

    Mark Guzdial's recent blog contained an interesting article from Eric Roberts:


    Eric points out that CS enrollments at Stanford have rebounded to record numbers. Other responders to Eric's comments note similar improvements in numbers of students in introductory computing classes at other bellwether schools. While this is likely good news for the US economy, and for the colleges that have not cut their CS departments so as not to be able to handle the soon to be increases in students, it raises the point that CS enrollments in college are cyclical. Following probably 4-5 years after industry crashes and booms (once a student is in a program, (s)he is somewhat stuck when the tech sector tanks - conversely, when it rebounds, students who chose to enter CS spend 4 years completing their baccalaureate degrees prior to entering the workforce).

    My fear, as we see this (hoped for) rebound in numbers of students at the collegiate level is that the colleges will "forget about" the needs of teachers and students in K-12. I believe that during this past tech-downturn, many colleges and K-12 schools began to meet, talk, and build partnerships. College faculty rightly recognized that K-12 students' insufficient exposure to computing was not making them more likely to sample computing classes at college. Certainly, many local CSTA chapters have significant higher ed contributions.

    While colleges may well start to see this rebound in the number of students, the needs of K-12 educators remain, as do the challenges of exposing more K-12 students to high quality computing content. I think that the partnerships that have developed over the past several years should be maintained and grown, even if the colleges (temporarily) become less needing of the students from their K-12 brethren.

    Steve Cooper
    CSTA Vice-President

    Posted by cstephenson at 11:03 AM | Comments (4)

    April 12, 2011

    Competing With or Capitalizing On Pop Culture

    How do we try to encourage students to do computer science or engineering? How much does pop culture play into it? Does it hurt it? Can it help?

    I recently found out that Mattel released a new Barbie - Computer Engineer Barbie:


    I've never been into Barbie dolls, but I found it interesting. Would girls having (or even knowing there exists) a Computer Engineer Barbie help encourage more girls to get interested in the field? At least it brings awareness to the field. They'll know it exists. That's a start and maybe a huge one.

    We need to have more examples out there for girls and boys to see. Back in the 1980s there was a show called Knight Rider featuring a car (named K.I.T.T.). The car came complete with a talking onboard computer capable of controlling every aspect of the car, with or without the driver's help. I have always wanted to have a car like K.I.T.T. New in-car technologies such as GPSs, self-parking, and emergency activated satellite tracking and calling are getting us closer to my dream car, but we are not quite there yet.

    The other wonderful element of Knight Rider was that the person in charge of it was an amazing, intelligent engineer AND a woman. It was the first time I had heard of the term "computer engineer." They showed her working to solve problems and create features in a tangible way. Programming and engineering at its finest.

    It is important to meet students where they are and their point of reference. Having students meet and shadow real computer scientists and engineers is great, but this is not possible for many students.
    So we need to highlight and emphasize these examples we see in the media (movies, television shows, etc.). They may not be perfect, but at least students can recognize them.

    Barbie might not be showing what a computer engineer does, but at least she seems to be thinking about something besides marrying Ken. Perhaps Engineering Barbie can peak student interest and get a discussion going. Here's hoping!

    Shirley Miranda
    CSTA Board of Directors

    Posted by cstephenson at 06:17 PM | Comments (0)

    April 08, 2011

    In Praise of Brevity

    For those of us at universities, the school year is winding down. I am teaching our second semester course this spring, and I usually try to add some off-syllabus material at the end about Java Swing, layouts, event handling, and other things involved in programming window popping and GUIs. I have in the past used the first 15 pages or so from a book that doesn't happen to be the textbook for the course, because that particular book happens to have the simplest, quickest, cleanest introduction to the topic of any text I have seen. And I have felt that excerpting 15 pages from a standard 500-plus book was legitimate fair use and did not create a copyright infringement problem.

    However, when I went looking this semester for my book, I find that I have loaned out the book; I don't have a copy, and I can't find a copy in any of my colleagues' offices either. And I can't find the photocopy of the excerpt; that must be buried in a file cabinet that got reshuffled when I moved offices.

    No problem, or so I thought. There is a new edition of the book that has come out, and I do happen to have a copy of that.

    Or so I thought. Trouble is, the authors apparently couldn't let well enough alone. The beauty of the earlier edition's text was that it presented just enough to allow one to start doing Swing. Not all the bells and whistles were there, but there was enough to allow one to start with some basic programs, and then, with some effort in reading the Java documentation carefully, to expand on the basics to do more clever things. It was from that short excerpt that I started and then built out a Sudoku solving program with clicks and colors and logic. (I find that nearly all puzzles can be solved with an essentially greedy approach.)

    The new edition, though, has expanded 15 pages into about 70. Yes, this is a lot more complete, but it's also a lot harder to teach because it covers lots of details along the way, where the earlier edition just hit the high points.

    Sometimes less is more. I find it hard to justify maybe three weeks of a semester just on the niceties of changing colors on windows, or showing how to make the lyrics of a Lada Gaga song flash on and off in a script font while the song is playing in the background. This is cool stuff, but it's not really what our students need as core material. I would rather give them examples of the half-dozen options of The Big Picture and then let them explore details on their own.

    Sometimes less is more.

    Duncan Buell
    CSTA Board of Directors

    Posted by cstephenson at 04:00 PM | Comments (0)

    April 04, 2011

    Do You Have a "Split Personality" in Your CS Classroom

    Sometimes it feels like you are up against a brick wall. Your own principal threatens to cancel your AP CS course due to low enrollment and budgetary restrictions. It's funny (or not) how the enrollment minimum keeps increasing each year. Two years ago a course would run with 8 students. Now, the minimum is 18. This, and various other budget issues put your job in jeopardy.

    So you convince the administration to offer your AP CS course. Of course, for this to happen, you agree to teach the course in the same room and at the same time as your Intro to CS course (a course in a different language).

    What other teacher in what other discipline would agree to do this?

    Would the AP Chemistry teacher agree to teach AP Chemistry at the same time and in the same room as an introductory chemistry class?

    Does the Spanish teacher teach introductory Italian in the same room at the same time as AP Spanish?

    What other disciplines are asked to do what you are asked to do? Who wins in a situation where the teacher is asked to do two jobs at the same time? What does it mean to "win" or to "lose"? How do you keep your sanity? Are the students getting shortchanged? How do your non-computer science colleagues feel about this?

    If you are a teacher experiencing a "split personality," what are your secrets to success?

    Fran Trees
    CSTA Chapter Liaison

    Posted by cstephenson at 03:12 PM | Comments (2)

    March 30, 2011

    No More Excuses for Lack of Access

    One of the concerns we frequently hear from our members is that administrators and policy makers are not convinced of the need for students to have access to rigorous computer science courses in high school. I think perhaps the best evidence for this need comes from industry.

    The figures on jobs provide ample evidence of the growing need for highly skilled computer scientists. According the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the IT workforce has grown steadily:

  • As of May 2009 employment in the IT fields has increased and is significantly above the levels of the dot-com boom, 1999-2001.
  • The professional IT workforce added 316,520 jobs between 2002 and 2004, a significant turnaround from the period between 2000 and 2002, when the workforce shrank by 150,150 jobs.
  • The professional IT workforce has increased by 18.7 percent from 2000 to 2009, adding 559,480 jobs.
  • Between 2008 and 2018 the total US employment is projected to increase by 15.3 million jobs, or 10 percent, which is about the same as the 15.6 million jobs or 10 percent increase that was projected from 2006 to 2016. While overall job growth is expected to slow, the increasing retirement of the aging baby boomers is also expected to create a significant number of job openings (which are not counted in the projections of new jobs). Of these 15.3 million jobs, the professional IT workforce is projected to add a little under a million new jobs, (814,900) an increase of about 22 percent.

    But what is the connection to high schools? Recent information provided by Google and Microsoft indicates that exposure to computer science in high school is critical.

    In the summer of 2010 Google conducted a survey of a sample of its U.S. employees about their exposure to computer science prior to college. They compared the results of those who majored in CS in college to those who majored in another subject. Here are the key findings:

  • Nearly all CS majors (98%) reported being exposed to CS prior to college, compared to less than half of non-CS majors (45%). The nature of the exposure varied from reading about CS in books or online, after-school programs or summers camps, to middle or high school CS classes.
  • Those who went on to major in CS were more likely than non-majors to have had a CS class offered in their high school.
  • CS majors were more likely to have known that CS was a possible career path when they were in high school.
  • Based on these findings, Google concluded that exposing students to CS before college is crucial to growing interest and enrollment in computer science majors and careers.

    When I asked Kevin Schofield, General Manager for Strategy and Communications at Microsoft Research if this conclusion was consistent with Microsoft's employment research, Kevin said:

    Microsoft sees early exposure to computer science as critical to getting kids informed and excited about both the importance of CS to the national economy and the career opportunities it provides. The company supports thousands of its own employees to share their knowledge and expertise with local school districts as frequent visitors and speakers at schools through a program called EduConnect.

    Over the past few years Microsoft and Google have been extremely active supporters of CSTA's efforts to support and improve computer science education in K-12, precisely because they know that early exposure to CS is critical for students, for companies, and for the national economy.

    Maybe it is time for administrators and policy makers to be required to explain how they can continue to deny students access to critical skills and career opportunities.

    Chris Stephenson
    CSTA Executive Director

    Posted by cstephenson at 01:33 PM | Comments (1)

    March 29, 2011

    Spring is Here!

    The calendar has now reached the beginning of spring. With the arrival of the birds singing and flowers blooming also comes eighth graders and high school students choosing classes for the coming school year.

    Attracting students to Computer Science classes can be a challenge. Computer Science teachers are working against the stereotype that CS is geeky and only for boys. With school funding becoming an issue nationwide, keeping students enrolled in CS classes has become a possible lifeline for not only the offering of the classes but the teaching position.

    Where have seen success in attracting students to your CS classes? Share what works for you so that others can duplicate your success.

    Dave Burkhart
    CSTA Board of Directors

    Posted by cstephenson at 08:13 PM | Comments (0)

    March 24, 2011

    Putting Money Where it Counts: Teacher Salaries

    President Obama wants to spend $90 million on ARPA-ED, an Advanced Research Projects Agency for Education. The goal is to fund porjects that will "transform teaching and learning in ways similar to how the Internet, BPS, and robotics have transformed commerce, travel, warfare, and the way we live our daily lives." This is generally interpreted to mean "let's put more technology into education."

    My view? Before we put more technology into education, let's make sure that educators and the existing educational process are valued. Let's put $90 million (and then some) into increasing teacher salaries. If teachers were paid what some lawyers are paid (if teachers were paid even half of what some lawyers are paid!), we'd have amazing schools, and we'd turn out incredible students. All the cool technology in the world won't improve education if we don't have high quality well paid teachers delivering education in well supported schools.

    Valerie Barr
    CSTA CT Task Force Chair

    Posted by cstephenson at 01:17 PM | Comments (0)

    March 18, 2011

    What is the Big Deal With Java?

    What is the big deal with Java?

    I teach at a public school of excellence that can best be described as a magnet school for the state. We are currently in our recruiting season where we have information sessions and students visiting for the day. I feel like I am constantly on defense when I tell prospective students (and their parents) that the language we use in our course is Racket, formerly Scheme. I tell them the reasons why we use Racket: that it is an incredibly effective introductory language with simple syntax. I also explain that in their second year with us, when they are seniors taking courses at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, they will use Racket in their introductory freshman CS course. I explain that language is irrelevant, that what they are learning is how to problem solve using a particular tool. I tell them that they are 11th graders in high school and that they will have many years to learn many languages, but the concepts are what are important.

    Often, I experience the prospective student who has taught himself Java and has programmed numerous advanced programs. He looks at me dumbstruck, like I just dashed all his dreams by telling him he'll be learning an obscure language that is not used by Apple and Microsoft and Electronic Arts so why would it ever be useful.

    The students who seem to get the most out of the course are the ones who don't have any pre-conceived notions of programming, who have heard of Java and C++ but don't really have a clue what those terms mean. I think many of the experienced programmers just feel as if they are biding their time to get through my course in order to move on to the more mainstream languages they'll learn at WPI and in college. They don't see it as an opportunity to learn something new, but a penance they have to bear to move on. I do get the occasional uh-huh moment with some students when they finally see some of the benefits of a functional language like Racket. But those are few.

    What has been your experience with choosing a language to teach?

    I know introductory language choices are up for discussion on many CS education listservs.

    Do you have any thoughts on talking points that I can use with my students?

    Karen Lang
    CSTA Board of Directors

    Posted by cstephenson at 01:54 PM | Comments (6)

    February 28, 2011

    What's Happening in CS in Other Countries

    I am part of the organisation that trains and selects students to represent New Zealand at the International Olympiad in Informatics (IOI). We attract some government funding by circuitous routes for the students to attend, but none for the leaders. Last year was our country's best overall performance at the Maths, Chemistry, Biology and Informatics Olympiads, and the suggestion was made that we analyses the results, hopefully helping our case for fundraising.

    I enlisted the help of a student during our summer camp and gave him the results for the last three Informatics Olympiads. I asked him to weight the gold, silver, and bronze medals won appropriately and then rank the country on performance with respect to population size.

    Naturally India and China don't look so good when you do that and adjusting by population is a bit spurious! But, in those three years, the same 10 countries were always in the top 10.

    They are, in alphabetical order: Armenia, Belarus, Bulgaria, Croatia, Estonia, Georgia, Latvia, Lithuania, Singapore and Slovakia.

    Nine of these are ex soviet block countries and I claim to know nothing much about them, with the exception of a little about Lithuania. Lithuania has a small band of people who work tirelessly within the education ministry (they have a centralized education system) to promote computer science, one of whom, Valentina Dagiene, attends the IOI. She has an impressive record of advocating for informatics, teaching, and producing textbooks for high schools.

    If you know of the education systems in these other countries, or the state of CS in their high schools, we would love to know more. Please share you information with us by commenting!!

    Margot Phillipps
    CSTA International Director

    Posted by cstephenson at 08:33 PM | Comments (1)

    February 13, 2011

    What Do You Need to Know About Computational Thinking?

    The theme of the May CSTA Voice is "Computational Thinking." As I thought about what to include in this upcoming issue and reviewed some of the past CT work by people such as Jeannette Wing and Joan Peckham, as well Valerie Barr who leads the CSTA Computational Thinking Task Force, I realized that a lot has changed in the past four years during which I have been thinking about CT.

    There are new analogies for trying to conceptualize CT, new reasons for its value, new strategies for including CT into course curriculum, and new ideas for engaging the teachers of other disciplines in our schools in the task of including CT in their classroom activities. A lot of attention is now being paid to CT in universities and professional computer science organizations. I don't think CT is going away and I think as CS & IT professionals we ought to be informed to a level that we can talk about CT with our peers and make sound decisions about why and how to include CT strategies in our teaching strategies.

    The missing piece in my plan for the May CSTA Voice is:

    What do you, CSTA members, need and want to know about CT that will enable you to better prepare your students for the intellectual realities of their lives, and to help your colleagues better understand (and ultimately incorporate) CT into their classroom lessons across diverse subject areas.

    Do you have questions about CT that I can call upon experts to help answer?

    Are you curious about how CT will impact CS & IT courses?

    Is CT a new topic for you and do you need a basic CT lesson?

    Have colleagues asked you about CT and do you need essential details that you can share to help them better understand the concept?

    What do you want to learn about in the May issue of the CSTA Voice?

    Please let me know. Let me see what I can find to help us better understand computational thinking.

    Pat Phillips
    Editor, CSTA Voice

    Posted by cstephenson at 03:22 PM | Comments (0)

    February 07, 2011

    CS and Science Fairs

    "We need to teach our kids that it's not just the winner of the Super Bowl who deserves to be celebrated, but the winner of the science fair and that success is not a function of fame or PR, but of hard work and discipline." President Obama

    Science fairs are not what they are stereotypically portrayed on television as: building volcanoes and such. Those are things are demonstrations. Science fairs are about the scientific method and student research. What a lot of people don't quite realize is that it is also the "engineering method." The term "science fair" is just a shorthand way of saying "science and engineering fair." These days, engineering is its own category. Often it is broken up into several types of engineering. In most science fairs, whether they are local, state, or international (the US doesn't have a national science fair, but we host the international one) you will find one to several engineering categories AND a computer science category.

    Some would argue that engineering and computer science don't often follow the standard definition of the scientific method. The reality is, however, that students working on projects in these categories design, create, test, and deploy a finished product. CS projects often deal with creating a new software application, creating new algorithms, making algorithms more efficient, or developing computing devices. They cover the gamut of CS and computer engineering.

    Participating in a science fair is a great way for students to explore a computer concept or to create a software solution to a computer or user problem for the real world. It allows the student to go through the software development life cycle for a problem that they are addressing. It is no longer a programming assignment or Lab 4.5. Rather, it is applying the CS concepts we teach to a real problem that they identified. What better way to drive home the idea that CS has real world value and relevance?

    For many cities and states, science fair "season" is upon us. So, it might be too late for your students to apply to this year's fair. But find out when and where the closest science fair is to you and stop by and visit it. Better yet, plan a field trip to it and bring your students!

    There is nothing more powerful than students seeing the work that other students are doing to make them see that they can do it too. The Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (http://www.societyforscience.org/isef) has a list of affiliated fairs. Affiliated fairs can be local (city, regional, county, etc.) or state level.

    Shirley Miranda
    CSTA Board of Directors

    Posted by cstephenson at 11:11 AM | Comments (1)

    January 31, 2011

    Thinking About Summer Camps

    Now that the new year has arrived, it is time to start looking forward to the summer and computer camps.

    Last year, I ran my first computer camp for twenty-two middle school students. I ran a week-long camp, with a mix of HTML, Alice programming, and robotics. It was certainly a learning experience for me. As I look forward to the possibility of another camp this summer, I will be tweaking and modifying what I did last year. For anyone considering offering a camp, there are plenty of great resources online to help you. A great place to start is Georgia Tech's website at:


    One big decision I have to make for the upcoming year is whether to push for a girls-only camp this time around. Last year, when I approached my principal about offering a summer camp, he was delighted at the prospect. It was a win-win for the school; summer camps help to advertise our school in the community, summer camps encourage young people interested in STEM to learn more about it and our school in the process; summer camps offer employment for our high school students. However, when I really tried to advocate for a girls-only camp, he backed off his initial receptiveness to the idea. Since it was my first year offering a camp, I relinquished control and went with a co-ed camp.

    While I consider the week a success, I do wonder how the eight girls who attended my camp would have performed if it had been a girls-only camp. I definitely witnessed apprehension and timidity on the girls' part in some situations with a group of rather noisy, rambunctious middle school boys. I tried to gear the week towards girls by using Alice and emphasizing storytelling. The robotics and HTML sessions had art components built in. I even used pink and purple in my flyers to attract girls. I do know the camp would have been a different experience had it been a girls-only camp. However, would it necessarily have been better for the girls, or just different? Is it worth the effort to fight for a girls-only camp this year or is it better to just ensure girls who attend get a good experience and learn something about computer science? Is there a benefit to the girls interacting with the boys?

    I would be interested to hear what others think about the girls-only dilemma. There has been much research on the topic and people usually have strong opinions on it. What has been your experience with summer camps, both co-ed and single sex?

    Karen Lang
    CSTA Board of Directors

    Posted by cstephenson at 11:37 AM | Comments (0)

    January 26, 2011

    Does Everyone Need to Learn How to Program?

    I suspect that beneath discussions of computing/computer science/computational thinking in K-12, there is an underlying fear that the computer scientists will come along and make everyone learn to program. So here's my perspective on that.

    I disagree with those who say that everyone has to program. Their argument goes something like this (based on Douglas Rushkoff): we all use computers and there's a lot of old software out there, our new world and new economy are built on top of the old software, and if we can't understand the old software then we can't possibly take advantage of all that the new world offers and we are at the mercy of those who program because they hold all the power. Rushkoff sees it as a problem that when we got text we became readers, but not writers. I ask: what is wrong with that? We enjoy music but not all of us are musicians. Should we be? We drive cars but not all are automotive engineers. We take aspirin but not all are pharmacologists.

    When we think about an informed citizenry, what do people really need to know? Does everyone have to know how to program in order to understand that technology can have built-in biases? Does everyone need to understand programming in order to be a critical user and consumer of technology? The most important thing is that people understand the capabilities of computers, both through analogy to human tasks and through application to problem solving across a range of fields. I would love to see every student aquire sufficient depth of knowledge that they can engage in fruitful discussion about both what we might want computers to do and the possibility of making computers do those things. But not everyone has to have the skills and knowledge necessary to actually make the computers perform accordingly.

    Valerie Barr
    CSTA Computational Think Task Force Chair

    Posted by cstephenson at 01:06 PM | Comments (2)

    January 24, 2011

    Does "Fewer Failures" Translate to "Greater Success"?

    I was watching the local (New jersey) news channel earlier this school year when something caught my attention: "The percentage of failing grades in a NJ school district fell by approximately 42.5%." Wow! Here's what I could find on the subject.

    In an effort to improve student success rates, Mt. Olive School District in NJ eliminated the grade of "D". The required grade for passing was raised from 65 to 70. The new system went into effect in September 2010. Under this system, students who fail can re-take exams and assignments. When a child receives a failing grade, the parents are notified through email. The student then has three to four days to take a test again or repeat an assignment, replacing the original score with the new score, up to 70%. Students may not retake quarter, midterm, or final exams.

    The superintendent of Mt Olive schools, Larrie Reynolds, stated that the percentage of failing grades fell by an average of 42.5 percent at the end of the 2010 first quarter grading period, compared to the same time period one year ago. "Failing grades" refer to those grades below 70%. In addition to fewer failing grades, there was also an increase in the number of students scoring A's and B's in the district's middle school.

    To achieve the goal of more students succeeding, middle school staff created a "Whatever It Takes" committee to care for targeted, struggling students. High school teachers met with students at lunch time and after school to help re-teach missing concepts.

    Students who continue to fail are given the opportunity to attend an after school tutoring program, known as "Sunset Academy." Launched in November 2010, the Sunset Academy, housed at both the middle and high school, is described as a program that is "sufficient to provide full credit recovery for failed first or second quarter identified courses." The successful completion of the Sunset coursework entitles a student to recover credit for a failing grade. The curriculum in the Sunset Academy is intended to mirror the curriculum offered during the student's failed quarter and is intended to strengthen student skills so that the student is adequately prepared for the subsequent courses. Sunset teachers "assist students with homework, upcoming tests, quizzes, projects, and assignments and work related to the specific courses in which students are presently enrolled." When time permits, Sunset teachers re-teach failed assignments, tests, and quizzes. Sunset Academy courses take place after the conclusion of the school day for two hours, two days per week for approximately seven weeks. Sunset Academy's standard for success is 80 percent. Students must complete in-class work assignments with at least 80% mastery before they are allowed to move on to another project. As a result, successful completion of the Sunset Academy program will entitle students to substitute their Sunset Academy grade of 80 percent for their first quarter failed grade for English or Math.

    The Sunset Academy program is paid for through tuition ($150 per student per class). Fees are necessary to pay the expenses to run the program (i.e. teacher salaries). The fee entitles the student to 30 hours of instruction which can be used to recover a lost quarterly credit needed for graduation.

    Note: Mount Olive, an above-average school in a middle-class New Jersey community.

    Some questions came to my mind, so I posed them to Debbie Carter, a teacher of math and computer science at Mt. Olive High School:

    Q: How many times can a student retake a quiz/test/assignment? This seems to imply that the classroom teacher is responsible for creating multiple versions of every quiz, test, and assignment.
    A: A student is allowed one retake/resubmission. Many of us already create two versions of each test or quiz, to thwart copying, so we give a student the other version of a test for the retake. However, I now delay giving back any quizzes or assignments with passing grades until after the deadline for retakes, to reduce copying or attempts to memorize answers.

    Q: Was there input from the teachers when designing this system?
    A: No. It was designed fairly quickly just before school started – but some details have been tweaked as a result of teacher input. For example, the initial policy said that the retake score would always replace the original, which discouraged some students because of the risk factor. The policy was amended so that only a higher score will replace the original. However, some students retake tests without making the effort to get help to understand what they missed, which wastes their time and that of their teachers.

    Q: It seems that any failing grade can be replaced by an 80% when the student attends the tuition paid Sunset Academy.
    A: Students are supposed to have to achieve 80% mastery on work in Sunset Academy (which often consists of their current assignments in the same class, rather than last quarter's work) in order to get the 80% grade, but guidelines haven't been set for how that work will be assessed.
    (Two math teachers are currently working with students from five different math courses.) Students will NOT be required to retake the quarterly assessment for the term that they failed.

    Q: Is this Sunset Academy for Math and English only or does it apply to all subjects? Where does Computer Science fit? If it is not included, not fair. If it is included, who teaches it? There are so few CS teachers in any one district.
    A: Sunset Academy is currently available only for English and Math (most critical for graduation). I believe there are plans to include Science and Social Studies next year. I can't foresee it being offered for any electives, due to reduced demand and the supply of teachers.

    Debbie added, "I really like the philosophy behind this policy. I often said that a student who barely passed wasn't prepared for the next math course, and we did them a disservice by suggesting that they were. I had previously had several students who played the system just enough to get that 65% passing average (and a few who misjudged the amount of required effort and fell short). We now require more of students, and many of them are rising to the challenge. We still have some kinks to work out of the system. We're all pleased when students make the effort to re-learn what they missed the first time, but teachers are spending a good bit of extra time (during lunch or prep) to manage the retakes."

    I am pretty sure that Mt. Olive is not the only school district that has eliminated the "D" grade. What advantages and disadvantages do you see with this system? What are your thoughts?


  • http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/08/education/08grades.html?_r=1
  • http://blogs.ajc.com/get-schooled-blog/2010/08/09/look-ma-no-ds-a-school-system-bans-ds-from-its-grading-scale-to-push-kids-to-work-harder/
  • http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=138621562840517
  • http://newjerseyhills.com/mt_olive_chronicle/news/article_879764a0-fd61-11df-9b51-001cc4c03286.html
  • Fran Trees
    CSTA Chapter Liaison

    Posted by cstephenson at 11:38 AM | Comments (1)

    January 16, 2011

    Happy New Year! Now What About the Summer?

    Now is the time for students (and teachers) to start thinking about their summer. I know the new year just began, but it's never to early to plan.

    For the last several years I've have the tremendous opportunity to spend a month in the summer as a Teacher Fellow for the California State Summer School for Mathematics and Science (COSMOS) at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) campus. Their mission is to encourage students to continue their interest in STEM fields by working side-by-side with university faculty and researchers. Students live on-campus for four weeks. Think of it as camp that emphasizes technology, engineering, science and math.

    Each of the four sites (UCSD, UC Irvine, UC Davis and UC Santa Cruz) offers different clusters/topics of focus. What I love about COSMOS is that it does not limit itself to the disciplines traditionally thought for STEM. At UCSD, one of the eight clusters is about computer science. That's the cluster that I'm involved with.

    Computers in Everyday Life introduces students to computer science through three threads: programming, robotics and microcontrollers. Guest speakers are brought in during lecture times to discuss various CS concepts, in all their variations and applications. It truly bring computer science alive for students. One of the things that I think is great is that it is not just programming. It connects to students and their lives and shows them that CS is everywhere, everyday.

    I encourage all my students (not just my CS and robotics students) to participate in summer programs like COSMOS. It opens their minds, broadens their experience, builds friendships, shows them the careers and majors that are available, and encourages them that STEM and learning is fun and exciting! I've had students participate that say all that and more.

    For teachers, you get to bring back new ideas for your classroom. Even after being a COSMOS Teacher Fellow for four years, I keep finding new things and incorporating them into my classes. It is the best professional development I've participated in. Every year is different – new technologies, new insights, cutting edge research. I think that when you teach CS it is very important to stay on top of what is out there especially when we are trying to encourage them to major in it!

    Bottom line it's life changing for both the Teacher Fellow and the students.

    Slowly, I'm hearing of more summer programs like COSMOS (http://www.ucop.edu/cosmos/). It is a great and rejuvenating way to spend part of your summer. If you know of some, let us all know! I know applications for COSMOS will be open soon (for students and teachers) and I’m sure more will be too!

    Shirley Miranda
    CSTA Board Member

    Posted by cstephenson at 10:07 PM | Comments (0)

    January 14, 2011

    What's Our "Brand"? Do We Need a New Promotional Plan?

    Almost every day I receive electronic newsletters with articles discussing STEM and robotics competitions, but I rarely see a mention of Computer Science. So, my business administration mentality has caused me to wonder, "Do we have an image problem in CS?" Why am I not reading about Computer Science on a daily basis? Do we need a new promotional plan? What is our CS "brand"?

    In yesterday's ACTE Career Tech Update, the leading article was titled Computer Science Education Declining in K-12 Classrooms, Study Finds:

    Computerworld (1/11, Betts) reports: "Computer technology may drive the US economy, but computer science education is absent in most American K-12 classrooms, according to a report by the Association for Computing Machinery and the Computer Science Teachers Association." According to the study, "the number of secondary schools offering introductory computer science courses dropped 17% from 2005 to 2009, and the number offering Advanced Placement computer science courses dropped 35% in that time period." Co-author Mark Stehlik, an assistant dean at Carnegie Mellon University's School of Computer Science, said, "Some states and some schools are offering some really excellent courses. But overall, the picture is pretty bleak."

    How sad! And yet, I know all too well that our enrollment in Computer Science at the secondary level has been declining. I recall how intrigued I was when I took my first computing course (many, many years ago) and how that course held my interest and was much more engaging that my math courses. Why are today's students not intrigued with computing? What can we do to recruit more students into Computer Science? Those of us who work with Computer Science on a daily basis know the importance of students studying CS. President Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan both know the importance of students studying CS. Business and Industry leaders know the importance of students studying CS. Maybe we do need a new promotional plan, a new image, a new brand.

    An article in the ACM Tech News in November highlighted a DARPA funded project designed to "spark" Computer Science Education:

    DARPA-Funded Project to Spark Computer Science Education
    eSchool News (11/04/10) Jenna Zwang

    The U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) recently awarded TopCoder a contract to develop a virtual community featuring competitions and educational resources in order to boost computer science education and help middle and high school students improve their science, technology, engineering, and math skills. DARPA's Melanie Dumas says the virtual community is needed to help reverse the decline in the number of students pursuing computer science degrees, including a 70-percent reduction since 2001. "We've seen staggeringly disappointing results as far as the U.S. population is concerned, both in terms of participation and then, once they do participate, their actual performance," says TopCoder's Robert Hughes. TopCoder will construct a virtual community focused on computer science activities, including logic puzzles and games. "The intent isn't necessarily to improve the quality of education that's out there right now, but more to attract and then retain students in computer science," Hughes says. He hopes the project also will help get students interested in computer science jobs. "The lack of qualified technologists has really driven the prices [of hiring] to almost a prohibitive level, where new technology development is almost prohibitive because of the cost," Hughes says.

    Certainly, the proposed virtual community should interest (and maybe even intrigue) potential Computer Science students. Reaching those students at the middle school and high school level is a good strategy. Maybe if students can associate virtual communities with CS, they will study CS in droves.

    Another article in a December issue of the ACM Tech News was titled "Inspiring the Next Bill Gates". Now, that is a noble aspiration for a high school teacher! Interesting high school boys in debugging computer games is certainly a great hook to convince them to study CS.

    Live Online Briefing: Inspiring the Next Bill Gates
    National Science Foundation (12/03/10)

    The U.S. National Science Foundation will host a Webcast on Dec. 7 at 12 noon (EST) featuring Georgia Tech's Amy Bruckman, Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Leah Buechley, and ACM's Cameron Wilson, as part of the federally sponsored Computer Science Education Week (CSEdWeek), which takes place Dec. 5-11. The Webcast will include demonstrations and suggestions on how to improve K-12 computer science education. Georgia Tech students will help Bruckman describe GLITCH, a program that enlists high school boys to debug computer games in an effort to inspire them to pursue computer science. Meanwhile, Buechley will show how E-Textiles has encouraged young girls to learn computational skills. The U.S. Congress created CSEdWeek to highlight the importance of computer science education and the need to improve technology education at the K-12 level.

    Possibly students just don't realize what they can DO with Computer Science. CS is so varied, students probably do not realize the ubiquitous nature of the discipline (our brand again). We really need to work on that brand, that image, that promotional plan. We need to help our students see what the possibilities are with CS. Happily, another article in a December ACM Tech News noted the surge in enrollment in CS courses at the collegiate level:

    Schools See Surge in Computer Science Classes
    Poughkeepsie Journal (NY) (12/05/10) Sarah Bradshaw

    Many colleges saw significant growth in computer science enrollment this fall compared to three years ago, demonstrating the growing importance of technology education among young people. "I think the students are aware that they have it in their power to be the next Bill Gates if they come up with something really great," says Andrew Pletch, chairman of the State University of New York (SUNY) at New Paltz's computer science department. SUNY New Paltz experienced a 53 percent increase in computer science majors since last spring. At Dutchess Community College, enrollment is up 43 percent in computer information management, 40 percent in computer certificate programs, 10 percent in computer science, and six percent in computer information systems. Many students think that information technology opens up employment opportunities, notes Dutchess' Frank Whittle. Professors also attribute the ability to specialize in specific areas of interest in computer science as a big factor in their programs' success. This fall Vassar College had 134 students sign up for at least one computer science class, and many of those students were taking additional classes, even though they are pursuing a different major, notes Vassar's Jeff Kosmacher.

    Apparently students realized that CS would in fact open up employment opportunities for them. Others liked being able to specialize in areas of specific interest to them. Maybe it is all of the above.

    Whatever works is what we need to do to interest students in studying CS. We can't start too early. Elementary students can be taught computing. Middle school and high school students must develop an interest in computing. I recently read an article in the ASCD SmartBrief that asked if playing a musical instrument improved cognitive ability. Well, we know that studying Computer Science improves cognitive ability. Maybe we need to emphasize that. Let's make that, along with so many other highlights, part of our image or brand and certainly include that in our promotional plan. We can have a brand every bit as successful as STEM.

    Deborah Seeehorn
    CSTA Board of Directors

    Posted by cstephenson at 09:55 AM | Comments (0)

    January 12, 2011

    A Joint Call for Research Why Computer Science Education is Important for K-12

    A joint blog post by Chris Stephenson of CSTA, Alfred Thompson of Microsoft, and Mark Guzdial of Georgia Tech

    As much as we believe and try to make the case that studying computer science is good for all students, there is a profound lack of research to actually support this contention. With the movement to data driven decision making in every area of education, our inability to advocate for more and better computer science education in K-12 is severely curtailed by our inability to support our own observations and claims.

    There are some things we do know which may help us make a more effective argument for K-12 computer science education, or at least make us better K-12 computer science educators.

    We know that even pre-teen students have serious misconceptions about what computer science is and that this fundamental lack of understanding makes it very difficult to engage and retain students. Research has shown us that many students believe that computer science is simply using applications well. In one study, after six weeks of learning Scratch, Alice, Pico Crickets, and similar tools, and with Mike Hewner (a PhD student in CS education at Georgia Tech) lecturing them on CS topics, students still came away with the belief (for example) that "Someone who does Photoshop really well is a great computer scientist." They probably think that programmers work in locked window-less rooms and never shower too!

    We know that *not* having a CS background can be a serious detriment in a wide variety of professions. In 2005, Mary Shaw, Chris Saffidi, and Brad Myers presented a research paper focusing on the gap between professionals who program as part of their jobs and the number of people actually trained to do this work. These researchers estimated that by 2012 there will be 3 million professional software developers and 13 million people who program as part of their jobs but aren't software developers. Brian Dorn's just-completed dissertation shows why this is a significant problem. In his study of graphics designers who are self-taught programmers, Dorn found that in order to understand code fragments, the designers do things like search for a variable name -- not knowing that that's completely arbitrary and not useful. One of Brian's subjects who was working in JavaScript, for example, stumbled onto a Java web page, and spent 30 minutes poring over language details that were irrelevant for his task

    We still don't know, however, whether learning computer science helps with anything else in the curriculum. . We have results showing that learning a visual language *does* transfer knowledge to textual programming later. Chris Hundhausen just did a careful HCI study showing that learners could get started more quickly with a visual programming language (like Scratch, Alice, or Kodu), and that parts of that knowledge did transfer to textual programming. That's a big deal, because it says that Scratch and Alice really are useful for learning CS that will be useful later in life.

    There are, however, no recent, scientifically-valid studies that show that students are able to transfer key concepts that they learn in computer science to other learning or that students who study computer science perform better on high-stakes testing in other subject areas (specifically math and science). The last major review of the research in this space (by David Palumbo in 1990) showed little evidence that programming impacted problem-solving in other domains. Neither are there recent studies (the most recent was Taylor and Mountfield in 1991) that determine whether students who study computer science in high school perform better in any area of post-secondary study including computer science. Sharon Carver's dissertation work in 1988 showed that one *could* teach Logo so that it improved how elementary students solved problems in other areas (e.g., debugging instructions on maps), but little research has followed up on that result.

    This lack of research-supported evidence is particularly troubling in light of the current discussions about the importance of "Computational Thinking". While there is strong support for CT in many parts of the community including the National Science Foundation, without a strong and agreed-upon definition and effective assessment measures for students at various learning levels, we don't have hard evidence there that CT is useful let alone necessary for every student.

    We do know that we need to do a better job of convincing students that computer science is worth their interest and we might actually be making some progress on this front. For example, many teachers are working hard to help students see the connections between the current technologies that students are interested in (social networking, mobile applications, etc.) and the issues that they care about (the ways that medical agencies use computers to track and control epidemics or how relief agencies depend on computerized logistical systems to get the right sort of aid to the right places at the right time in an emergency). But once again, we have not established scientifically whether these connections motivate students who would not otherwise be interested in computer science.

    There are some things we do know and some we can even prove scientifically but the bottom line is that we need more research. We need research that is long-term, broad reaching, and scientifically valid. We need to know what our students are learning and why it matters to them. We need to know how to help them learn better. And we need to know how to do a better job of engaging, inspiring, and retaining them. It is time for computer science education to grow up and prove its value, just as all of the other core disciplines are now having to do.

    Chris Stephenson, CSTA
    Mark Guzdial, Georgia Tech
    Alfred Thompson, Microsoft

    Posted by cstephenson at 11:42 AM | Comments (3)

    December 28, 2010

    Where in the World (of Career Clusters) is Computer Science?

    Since I have spent most of the last twelve months of my work life aligning the proposed revision to our standard course of study to the career clusters, I seem to frame many of my thoughts around those career clusters. I can't help but try to put the entire career cluster initiative into perspective, and I wonder, where in the world of career clusters is computer science?

    I have positioned the information technology courses in our standard course of study in the Information Technology Career Cluster:

  • programming courses in the Programming and Software Development Pathway;
  • Multimedia and Webpage Design and e-Commerce courses in the Web and Digital Communications Pathway; and
  • network administration courses in the Network Systems Pathway.

    Those are information technology courses, but are they not computer science? Is the Information Technology Career Cluster the home for computer science?

    I championed Valerie Barr's December 2, 2010 blog post and wholeheartedly agreed with her statement "We need to raise our voices to demand that the term STEM, when used by government people, must include computer science." STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) is actually one of the sixteen career clusters and computer science would by its very nature be a huge part of STEM. Since so many people in positions of authority strongly support the STEM initiative, one would logically hope that the same support would transfer to support for computer science.

    So, is the STEM Career Cluster the home for computer science? That would certainly seem a good place for computer science to reside. In our state, the Technology Education folks staked an early claim on in the STEM Career Cluster. They do have technology in their program name and they certainly teach technology in their courses. They even teach robotics and scientific visualization. Well, aren't robotics and scientific visualization computer science?

    One could argue, and I certainly agree, that computer science cuts across all sixteen career clusters. Computer science is obviously present in the Health Sciences Cluster in the Health Informatics Pathway as well as others. Computer science has a place in the Business, Management, and Administration Cluster in the Business Information Management Pathway, the Operations Management Pathway and elsewhere. Computer science is an integral part of every career in the 21st Century and beyond.

    One of the drawbacks that I noted early on in the career cluster initiative is that today's careers are so interrelated. It is difficult to pigeon-hole careers and disciplines into sixteen neat categories. Computer science is ubiquitous. It is the literacy for our time. Every student needs to study computer science in some format to be career-ready. Where in the world of Career Clusters is computer science? It is everywhere, in every cluster.

    Note: "The States' Career Clusters Initiative (SCCI) is an initiative established under the National Career Technical Education Foundation (NCTEF) to provide Career Clusters as a tool for seamless transition from education to career in this era of changing workplace demands. SCCI helps states as they connect career technical education (CTE) to education, workforce preparation, and economic development. To this end, SCCI develops new products and promotes information-sharing, techniques, and methods to aid the development and implementation of Career Clusters within states."

    More information can be found at http://www.careerclusters.org/index.php.

    Deborah Seehorn
    CSTA Board of Directors

    Posted by cstephenson at 11:53 AM | Comments (1)

    December 22, 2010

    CSEdWeek and Beyond

    Last week was an awesome week for Computer Science Education. A total of 1,693 people took the pledge on CSEdWeek.org to share information, participate in activities and spread the word of the essential role computing and Computer Science Education has in our society. Teachers participated in classroom activities, students designed websites and participated in field trips, and guest speakers tapped into the minds of middle and high school students. So what now? It does not have to end there.

    The United States House of Representatives endorsed December 5-11 as Computer Science Education week, however there are ways to advocate all year. Use last week as a momentum to develop programs, host industry partners, create a local task force and get things started in your area. I have provided a list below of suggested steps being used by CSTA's Leadership Cohort. You can select one to two items in support of Computer Science Education. Get on board! Contact the CSTA Leadership Cohort member for your state to begin the process of collaborating in efforts to gain support in your local area.

    Suggested Items:

  • Speak with a principal about supporting CS

  • Speak to parents about supporting CS

  • Speak to PTA about supporting CS

  • Host a school CS open house

  • Attend local CSTA chapter meetings

  • Send letter to state policymaker about supporting CS education

  • Call to state policymaker about supporting CS

  • Host state official at school

  • Call to local industry representative about supporting CS

  • Meet with local industry/business representative about supporting CS

  • Call a local higher education institution's computer science department (community or four year institution) about supporting K-12 CS
  • Computing in the Core released the Top 10 facts about Computer Science Education. These are great talking points to share during your journey.

    Advocacy Resources:
    Computer Science Teachers Association
    Computing in the Core

    Computer Science Rocks!

    Shemeka D. Shufford
    Board of Directors

    Posted by cstephenson at 01:05 PM | Comments (0)

    December 14, 2010

    Lady Gaga and Computer Science

    Recently I heard a British author on the radio lamenting that the world is more obsessed with what Lady Gaga wears (I would think it probably goes beyond her clothes!) than that the oceans are dying. How to turn that around? I don't believe that young people are less idealistic than when I was young. So how do we transform that youthful obsession into action?

    On a recent trip to the U.S., I saw a program on California schools taking students to glean a harvest (collecting the undersize, misshapen, slightly spoiled produce). The produce that the students collected was subsequently used in the school cafeteria to provide nutritious meals for the students. The farmers were happy, the students and teachers doing the gleaning were happy, and the whole school population benefited through healthier eating. Clearly this experience went far beyond the Lady Gaga range of engagement.

    There is an opportunity to appeal to the more altruistic side of our students through computer science. The series of videos produced for CS Ed week (http://csta.acm.org/Advocacy_Outreach/sub/CSEdWeek.html) showcased the diversity of endeavours using and dependent on computer science. It would be great to build on that and reinforce the message that CS can be linked to doing good and solving the world's problems.

    I remember trying to convince a couple of girls who were in my programming club to take computer science as a subject the following year. "But I want to be a doctor", "I want to do things for others" were their responses. I clearly did a poor job of letting them see that CS was in fact a means to bettering society.

    It takes imagination and energy on our part as educators to go beyond, for example, the teaching of syntax or hardware specs. I heard recently of a volunteer program in Canada, for example, that uses Alice to help native students tell their history and incidentally learn to program. The volunteers are modeling the altruistic nature of education and helping students realise that their history is valued and valuable.

    So the challenge is there for all of us. How can we use this amazing discipline we teach to excite the minds of young people to be more interested in saving the oceans, saving lives, saving the planet?

    If you have any ideas or suggestions, please share them.

    Margot Phillipps
    CSTA International Director

    Posted by cstephenson at 11:19 AM | Comments (3)

    December 02, 2010

    Talking Across the K-12/Post Secondary Boundaries

    This post is based on remarks I gave at the Town Hall session on K-12 CS-Ed at the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing, Atlanta, October 1-2, 2010.

    My job here today is to make a case for talking across boundaries within the context of K-12 CS education, to make the argument that the complex problem of changing K-12 computer science education is best addressed by the combined forces of K-12 teachers AND college and university faculty AND people who work in the computing industry. We need to do a lot of talking across perceived boundaries, and make sure we do it effectively, along the way letting go of any suspicion, any disdain, any fears we have of the other. In particular, there are times when college people can be paternalistic and dismissive in comments about and treatment of K-12 teachers. Instead, we all must be respectful of the knowledge and experience our colleagues bring. We have to learn the meaning familiar terms have when they are used in a different context than we might be used to, learn the meaning of a new lexicon, and map known experiences and concepts into new venues.

    We can make big changes happen in K-12, especially if we all get together and work on it. But I have come to understand over the past year that it is complicated and change will be slow. There are really two parts to changing K-12 CS education: curriculum, of course, and infrastructure. And there are roles we can all play in both of those.

    For curricular change, the K-12 teachers know their students, their age groups, their grade band. They have a frame of reference that the rest of us don't have, and are often quite expert in student engagement and the use of a range of pedagogic practices. They can help college faculty be realistic about what we can expect from entering college students, what their knowledge base will be. As we develop better working relationships that span K-16, we can all contribute to a curricular continuum vis a vis computer science education.

    People in the academy or in industry must keep in mind that, even in tough economic times, you have institutional resources that K-12 teachers and schools do not have. Invite area K-12 CS teachers to your campus or company, provide breakfast or lunch, give teachers a chance to connect with each other and with you. Join CSTA yourself and encourage the area teachers to join. Encourage them to form a CSTA chapter. Offer them a place in which to hold chapter meetings.

    What's involved with infrastructure change? First of all, people outside K-12 need to understand that change has to happen state by state, and will likely require a different process in every state. We need to raise our voices to demand that the term STEM, when used by government people, must include computer science. We need to agitate for colleges to list high school computer science among the expected courses taken by applicants. We need to encourage states to allow high school CS courses to satisfy a requirement for graduation, as is the case in Georgia. We need to inform the appropriate officials in our states about the teacher education programs in Georgia and Indiana that lead to endorsements for teaching CS.

    When possible, take advantage of the opportunity to talk across groups. Discuss what the needs are in K-12 and how to help and how to ask for help. There are exciting efforts now underway: Exploring Computer Science is a wonderful high school CS curriculum developed in the Los Angeles Unified School District and available through the CSTA web site; keep an eye out for the new AP Computer Science course and test. The course is being prototyped this year at a number of schools, and there is also information on the CSTA web site about that effort; CS/10K is an effort to develop 10,000 high school CS teachers for 10,000 schools; another NSF effort is the solicitation released on Monday of this week, Computing Education for the 21st Century, which has a goal of engaging "larger numbers of students, teachers, and educators in computing education and learning at earlier stages in the education pipeline." NSF is looking for efforts that target middle school, high school, and the first two years of college so today's discussions are a great opportunity to begin to look for ideas and collaborators!; keep an eye on the Dot Diva / New Image for Computing (NIC) initiative, sponsored by WGBH and the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM), which is trying to create an exciting and positive image of computing for high school girls; check out National Lab Day and volunteer at a school near you; and lastly, help bring CS Ed Week activities into a school near you or into a school where you work in order to raise awareness of the role of computing and help increase student exposure to CS education.

    Finally, a few words directly to those of you who are not K-12 teachers.

    Consider some employment and salary data. Among women workers in the U.S. there are a lot of teachers. In fact, there are over 2 million women teaching in just elementary and middle schools. There are way fewer women in computer science and IT related jobs. But women in CS and IT jobs earn considerably more money than the teachers do, and more than half are among the top 10% of all full-time women earners in the country. In America, I think it is safe to say that the salary paid for a job category usually correlates with the prestige accorded to that job. The more you earn, the more prestige accorded to your job. The more prestige accorded to your job, the more people are likely to listen to you.

    Unfortunately K-12 teachers earn much less than they should, and are accorded much less prestige than they should be. I want to argue that those of us not in K-12 should go against the tide, and set an example by valuing the contributions of our colleagues in K-12. But we can also exploit the fact that people may be more inclined to listen to us because we have job titles like software engineer, or information systems manager, or network systems analyst, or professor. Use the bully pulpit you have by virtue of position to fight for K-12 CS education. Help in the trenches with technology and curricular issues. But also engage with the infrastructure issues. Be a voice for K-12 CS education within your technical community, and within your political community, your local school board, your state. For those of you in industry, communicate to your company about how they can have an impact, encourage them to give money and support to efforts that really make a difference, not just to easy feel good activities. Ask people from the K-12 world, in what ways could corporate support help them. Become informed through collaboration with K-12 educators. When you use your position to advocate for K-12 CS education, people will let you talk because you are a technical person with expertise, but they will really listen to you if you are informed by collaboration with K-12 educators and you are passionate, truly passionate, about K-12 CS Education.

    Valerie Barr
    CSTA CT Task Force Chair

    Posted by cstephenson at 06:02 PM | Comments (1)

    November 27, 2010

    Maybe Course Proliferation Is a Bad Idea?

    I was prompted after the last CSTA board meeting to write the following, which has now turned into a blog post.

    My basic question is whether we are doing ourselves any favors by going for a variety of and proliferation of different courses in computer science.

    My conclusion, of course, is that it's a bad idea, or else I would have phrased the title question differently and would have started this out differently.

    At the university level, where I teach, the usual term for the course I'm talking about is "CS0", because that's the way it was put many years ago by ACM in the definition of the standard curriculum. CS1 and CS2 are the first two courses in the major; CS0 is the non-majors course that many of us believe should be taken by all students as part of general education requirements.

    I would argue that there are two basic reasons for a CS0-like course.
    * Because there is general purpose computer science subject matter that all students should learn in order to function effectively as citizens in modern society.
    * Because students who study a CS0 course might well want to take more computer science either as majors or minors, and the job predictions and national interests say that more majors and minors is a good thing.

    Both of these are laudable goals.

    The first question that arises, then, is the extent to which argument 1 is accepted by those in positions of power in the school systems. Given the Running on Empty report and what we all know to be true, the answer is: not much. For the most part, the education world doesn't accept the contention that all students should study some basic computer science.

    If reason 1 isn't accepted, we don't ever get a chance to argue reason 2.

    So let's look at CS0 as defined by and supported by CSTA and ACM. By my count, we have at least four different statements of what could be, at the high school level, the CS0-like material that "everyone" ought to know.
    * The Level 2 standard of CSTA;
    * Exploring Computer Science;
    * The new AP CS Principles course.
    *CS0 as a university course defined by the standards of the professional organizations;

    I look at all of these as being sufficiently similar that if we could get any one of them accepted on a mass scale, we would be very much farther ahead than we are now. No, if we had only one such course accepted, we would not be able to accommodate all possible students and interests. But if we are starting from zero (or nearly zero), then yes, getting to 50% is a win. If we are starting from zero, and we cannot make the case for any change whatsoever, then we aren't getting a win.

    In addition to the CS0 courses that are not intended as part of a computer science undergraduate major, there is a plethora of courses that could be considered to be CS1, the first course in the major:
    * Visual Basic;
    * C++;
    * Python;
    * Java;
    * AP Computer Science;
    * and then there are other courses in Alice, and Scratch, and so on.

    My arguments are fairly simple.
    * The issue of getting CS into K-12 is not an intellectual issue of content, but rather a marketing issue (distinguishing real computer science from the use of computer applications; and making it clear that real computer science has serious value) and a logistics issue (displacing other desiderata in a world of scarce resources and a scattered and distributed world of largely public education).
    * We have not been successful so far in convincing the bureaucracy that CS is really "there". I would maintain that if we cannot be coherent in our message about what real computer science is and how it should be taught, we will be unable to convince administrators that it is necessary.
    * We do damage to our position by offering a plethora of CS0 options, because what we are doing is asking the school administrators to become the experts in computer science education in order to know what is best for their schools. We are the experts, not they. Their past position has been "no". If we require them first to become experts, we won't ever get them to "yes".
    * We cannot lament the isolation felt by K-12 CS teachers if we contribute to that isolation. It has been said many times that the infrastructure costs (time, hardware, software, re-tooling, professional development, etc.) are much higher for CS than for other disciplines. By promoting five different courses, each of which requires PD, software, etc., we are creating a situation in which we need to be five times as successful (in terms of numbers) as other disciplines, in getting into the schools with teachers and classes, in order to generate the same sizes of teacher communities. Yes, we know that once one learns Spanish and French, Italian isn't all that hard, and once VB and Alice are mastered then Java can be dealt with. But we are at the zero to one step, not the two to three step, and that first step is a lot higher than the rest.

    That which gets us closer to a general acceptance of argument 1 is a good thing.
    That which doesn't get us closer is not a good thing.

    A plethora of general courses increases costs, isolation, PD needs, ..., and makes us look like True Believer fanatics instead of professionals with an established discipline.

    Duncan Buell
    CSTA Board of Directors

    Posted by cstephenson at 02:41 PM | Comments (1)

    November 22, 2010

    Program or be Programmed

    I just completed Douglas Rushkoff's new book, Program or be Programmed, and found it an interesting read. He is a well-known author, having written several books on new media and popular culture. He writes in a style that is understandable to "non-techies."

    In this book, he identifies "10 commands" with respect to the digital age, clearly a play on the Judeo-Christian notion of 10 commandments. I found it interesting that many related to what Fred Brooks identified in his classic article No Silver Bullet: Essence and Accidents of Software Engineering as essential conceptual constructs in software engineering.

    Brooks' must-read article (a copy of which can easily be found by Googling 'Brooks "No Silver Bullet") identifies four essential difficulties with learning to build software: complexity, conformity, changeability, and invisibility. Brooks, widely regarded as the "father of software engineering", argues that there is no Silver Bullet (with obvious reference to the folklore beliefs of how to kill werewolves) with which to kill all that plagues poor software projects. And Rushkoff, likely unaware of Brooks' classic article (as it does not appear within his bibliography), builds several of his commands around these four "essences" of software engineering.

    Rushkoff's most interesting command (at least to me) was his tenth: arguing that everyone needs to know how to program. Rushkoff divides the world into 10 types of people: those who can program and those who cannot (the bad binary joke is mine). He argues that those who cannot program, will themselves be programmed by their computers. And while he argues simply that this is bad (with a chapter full of reasons why), this command got me thinking about the possible implications for "computational thinking" in K-12. While programming does appear as one of the 7 Big Ideas of the NSF-funded AP-CS principles group (http://csprinciples.org/bigideas.php), it is not clear that the authors expect that programming is intended for all -- they are simply creating a series of pilot courses built around these 7 Big Ideas that will possibly become a new AP CS course. I am left thinking about several questions:

    1) Should programming be a key component of "computational thinking" skills (whatever these should mean) in K-12?

    2) Are programming skills, or for that matter any skills, the right way to think about what "computational thinking" should mean?

    3) How might anything done with respect to programming in a high or middle school programming class (offered to all students) have any impact on students' lives if there were no reinforcement in other classes, or in other activities with which they are involved?

    Steve Cooper
    CSTA Vice President

    Posted by cstephenson at 11:42 AM | Comments (1)

    November 10, 2010

    Time to Get Clever?

    Many dedicated and resourceful individuals have been working on inspiring the public school system to adopt a computer science friendly curriculum in grades k-12. While Google's efforts in California have begun to see some glimmer of promise, we're still left with a large portion of the country that's ill-prepared to make such an unprecedented commitment to the future of education.

    With all of the budget-cuts, protocol and red-tape, how could computational thinking ever stand a chance in that ever-growing pile of educational paperwork? Instead of putting the whole cause on pause while we wait to get through the endless layers of formality, I suggest that we try resorting to some guerrilla tactics! It's time to go straight to the students to help them be prepared and eager for the changes coming their way. We can begin planting the seed for the importance and fascination of computer science before students are ever able to sign up for a CS class. But how is such a lofty and magical goal obtained? The Internet!

    If we want students to seek out computers, first computers have to seek them out. We're attempting to do exactly that with Picture Me in Computing, a worldwide digital flashmob that will be taking over the most popular social networking sites on November 10th, 2010 (111010.) Picmecomp is a campaign that was started as a way of bringing computer science to girls by simultaneously overwhelming every facet of social media. Our goal is to have every technical professional and supporter of women in computer science join in by tagging all of their tweets, blogs, Picasa, Flickr and Youtube uploads with #picmecomp. If enough people participate and get their friends to participate, we should be able to reach a significant portion of today's teens, as the majority of them belong to at least one online social networking channel. The key word "picmecomp" will link the pieces of social media to picturemeincomputing.org where students can browse around and find out more about a life enhanced by computer science.

    If you have a resource to contribute or if you'd like to find out more about how you can be a part of the digital flashmob this Wednesday, please visit:


    Kiki Prottsman
    Women in Computer Science
    UO CIS Graduate Teaching Fellow
    (541) 701-WICS

    Posted by cstephenson at 10:49 AM | Comments (0)

    November 08, 2010

    Greater Boston Chapter Has Great First Meeting

    Massachusetts now has a local CSTA chapter! The first meeting of the Greater Boston CSTA chapter took place on October 23. Kelly Powers and Padmaja Bandaru, the co-presidents of the chapter, along with the support of the two event sponsors, the Commonwealth Alliance for IT Education (CAITE) and the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative (MTC), organized an effective, motivational first meeting.

    Fred Martin and Holly Yanco of UMass Lowell were invaluable in organizing the day and leading parts of the event. Steve Vinter of Google was another big supporter and participant in the meeting. The response was excellent, with forty people attending the Saturday meeting.

    The morning was spent with introductions and brainstorming topics for future chapter meetings. Chinma Uche, the president of the Connecticut CSTA chapter shared her experiences with us about starting a local chapter. Attendees ate lunch together, then broke into groups for afternoon workshops. Half of the group attended a CS Unplugged workshop led by Karl Wurst of Worcester State University. The other half participated in an un-conference where eight topics were generated on the fly and groups met on those topics for half-hour periods.

    It was encouraging to see such enthusiasm on the local front. It seems that every teacher in the room had been craving this sort of collaboration and networking and now, the opportunity had finally arrived. Knowing that there are organizations, universities, and corporations in our area behind our efforts and willing to help in any way they can, is inspiring and reassuring.

    The next meeting will take place on November 30 in Marlboro, MA. The meeting topic will be Computer Science Education Week, which takes place December 5-11. Any teachers interested in attending, in person or virtually, can email P.Bandaru@amsacs.org for more information.

    Hopefully, Massachusetts can sustain the interest and enthusiasm of this first meeting to make the local chapter a constructive and productive organization for years to come.

    Karen Lang
    CSTA Board of Directors

    Posted by cstephenson at 10:57 AM | Comments (0)

    November 07, 2010

    Recruiting for My Computer Science Classes

    As the budget woes continue in California, my thoughts are turning to recruiting. If a sufficient number of students do not sign-up for the two computer science classes that I usually teach, then I will no long be teaching them. At my high school, gone are the days of small classes. Three of my four classes have enrollments of 38 students which includes my AP Computer Science class.

    So my thoughts are turning toward what can I do to recruit students for the computer science classes? I usually produce a slide show where I embed movies of Alice projects and Scratch projects that the students have completed during the year. I also try to incorporate an Animoto Slide Show highlighting the collages the students have created. Then I ask the math teachers on campus to show the slide show and hand out the personal invitations that I printed to students that have the prerequisites to take the class or were on the AP Potential list I receive from the Guidance Office.

    This year I want to add asking the math teachers to show the videos that CSTA is developing for Computer Science Education week. I am also thinking about asking my CS students to teach others to program using Alice during our Open House/ 8th grader preview night.

    I am always looking for recruiting ideas. What do you do to recruit students at your school?

    Myra Deister
    CSTA Board of Directors

    Posted by cstephenson at 10:01 AM | Comments (2)

    November 04, 2010

    The Changing Face of Professional Development

    We are all aware that education is constantly changing- sometimes for the better, and sometimes for the worse. One of the items that gets caught up in this ebb and flow is professional development.

    We hear from many people that school systems are no longer allowing teachers to attend conferences or workshops. Some will not even give teachers the release time to attend events even if the teacher pays for it. Additionally, time set aside during the school year for teacher in-services is dwindling and when it does exist, is usually set aside for topics that affect the entire school.

    CSTA wants to help you. We value professional growth and hope you do also. But we need to know how to help you and what your needs are.

    What should professional development look like in the face of the current education changes?

    What does your school allow you to do for professional development?

    What's required of you by your individual state to keep your licenses current?

    Please help us help you by posting a few comments that will help us shape professional development offerings in the future!

    Mindy Hart
    Chair, CSTA Professional Development Committee

    Posted by cstephenson at 01:13 PM | Comments (2)

    November 02, 2010

    Video Gamer: A Piece of the K-12 Pipeline

    I traveled up the coast of North Carolina to a town called New Bern and had an opportunity to attend the North Carolina Art Education Association Professional Development Conference thanks to an invite from the Art Specialist for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools. My intentions were to attend a "Video Gamer" workshop on a mission to continue efforts to Build the K-12 Pipeline for students who have an interest in STEM in the district. I was seeking to assess yet another avenue to engage K-8 students, as well as marry the interest of gamers to programming in grades 9-12.

    The workshop was facilitated by the founder and CEO of E-LINE Media, Michael Angst. He promoted a browser-based game entitled Gamestar Mechanic. The game taps into real world experiences in the community as well as issues and places exposed to students on a daily basis. The goal is to encourage playing, designing and sharing games. The games developed by E-LINE Media are built on leading pedagogical research in the areas of systems thinking, 21st century digital literacy skills and STEM learning. It was a great workshop that wooed the minds high school students and teachers.

    President Obama launched the National STEM Video Game Challenge to promote a renewed focus on STEM. According to data released in support of this initiative playing and making video games foster the development of critical thinking and design skills, problem-solving and encourages students to pursue careers in the field of STEM.

    These portals are two great opportunities for districts or organizations to join forces and assist in creating opportunities for students and continue efforts to close the gap. We must continue to implement K-12 opportunities to make the connection between the demands of the workforce, the community of teachers as well as the learners in the classrooms.

    Other resources:
    Games for Change
    Video Games and Middle School
    Computer Science Unplugged

    Shemeka D. Shufford
    CSTA Board Member

    Posted by cstephenson at 10:55 AM | Comments (2)

    October 24, 2010

    For Most students, the Computer is for Solving Problems

    I had a memorable time last weekend. My new Apple iMac came on a FedEx truck at about 9:30am. The publishing agreement for my textbook (second semester computer science) came about fifteen minutes later on a different FedEx truck. And then I turned 60 on Sunday. The first two were clearly exciting. (I am a new convert to the cult of Apple. My father was deeply observant, but I stuck with Unix/Linux, and what convinced me to convert was that I could get all the Mac features but still run X11 underneath and write, as I am now writing, in a standard Linux window with standard Linux tools. No need to dual boot)

    I am scheduled to teach the second semester course in the undergraduate major next semester, using my pdf as the text. I started work on this book when I taught this course two years ago and wasn't entirely happy with any of the books available. First of all, there is way too much material in the standard ACM/IEEE/ABET curriculum. It's just not possible to teach all the material in the curriculum in one semester.

    The approach I have tried to take in my book is that students in the first semester have become moderately capable of doing computing in a naive way. They should have mastered arrays and ArrayLists (we use Java in our first two courses as the programming language vehicle for teaching computer science and program design), linear search and lookup, and the organization of programs into perhaps three levels
    of classes.

    The computer can either be an object of study (if one is a hardware designer or a compiler writer) or a tool to be used for doing something useful. I assume that that there are far more students in the latter group than the former, especially when one is teaching courses that have students from other majors. For this majority of students who might use a computer to do something, the next steps after learning how to do things naively is to learn how to do things in a more sophisticated way, which would allow them to do bigger projects and run on more data.

    Instead of linear search, then, binary search becomes the method of choice. More complexity and coding, yes, but more payoff if one has more searching to do. Instead of storing everything in an ArrayList, we use linked lists, stacks, queues, and such to provide more structure and allow for more efficient processing against the data.

    And yes, there is some sophistication in the programming language that can be introduced. I view the entire notion of iterators as a way of eliminating the step that involves knowing what the underlying structure is. Instead of doing a "next" to get a node in a linked list, and then fetching the data in that node, we use the iterator to fetch the data directly. But again, this isn't just a cool construct in the language that the compiler writers just had to do in order to show how clever they were; this is a feature that specifically eliminates one complication in naive programming and thus might reduce the number of bugs. As with everything, there is no free lunch; complexity in constructs requires complexity in program design and structure. But the complexity is sometimes necessary and must be mastered.

    Or at least that's what I am going to try to convince my students of next term.

    Duncan Buell
    CSTA Board of Directors

    Posted by cstephenson at 07:58 PM | Comments (1)

    October 13, 2010

    Recruiting: Lessons for a CSTA Chapter

    As we started the new school year, our small group of five (three college and two high school educators) is entering round two of starting a CSTA chapter. We created it last year and barely got it up and running. Now, we are committed to pushing ourselves into the educational battleground of Long Island.

    The question we posed at our first meeting seemed simple enough: who do we recruit to be active members of the chapter? We made several attempts last year to solicit members through email and letter campaigns based on high school and college directories received from New York State Department of Education. Most of our attempts have yielded disappointing results.

    We were brainstorming this at our first session this year:

    Do we build computer science programs at the high school level by working from the top down by getting superintendents or principals to support CS?

    Do we work with teachers even though our efforts to date indicate that very few teachers in our districts consider themselves computer science teachers (computer applications or computer lab administrators or tech teachers seem to be the norm).

    What about parents? If parents demanded more CS wouldn't administrators be forced to support the programs?

    Are guidance counselors the answer? It would be nice to have a way to work with all these groups but time, money and manpower are limited.

    What about the students? Can we go directly to the students and try to find ways to encourage them to push their parents to push their guidance counselors to demand of their administrators to build computer science into their curriculums?

    Sounds like a bad nursery rhyme, doesn't it? Hopefully, by the end of this school year, this group of CSTA chapter members will have found an answer, or at least a small hole to climb through.

    What suggestions do you have for CSTA chapters that would like to attract more than a small core of teachers?

    Ron Martorelli
    CSTA Board of Directors

    Posted by cstephenson at 12:44 PM | Comments (2)

    October 05, 2010

    Notes on the Hopper K-12 Town Hall

    For the second year in a row, the Grace Hopper Conference included a Town Hall meeting on K-12 CS education, bringing together K-12 teachers with people from industry, academia, and research. One of the questions discussed was what teachers feel they need. The answers ranged from political and infrastructure responses to "in the trenches" needs. Here are some of the responses:

    * Teachers need a political partner, someone from the political world to witness our discussions and begin to understand that CS is in crisis, understand what teachers need. How about getting a U.S. senator or Arne Duncan to come to SigCSE to talk about the CS education act, etc. And, most important, get CS included in STEM.
    * Teachers need equipment and training. Labs in many schools are too slow and too outdated.
    * Teachers need access to research and data, plus help on how to put together grants in order to get resources into their schools.
    * If companies cannot donate equipment, maybe they could bring commitment in on loan. Or set up a bus of equipment that could arrive at the school periodically so that students would have access to state of the art machines.
    * As is often mentioned, teachers need help changing the image of computing within K-12 so that girls will be more likely to want to take the courses. In particular, need ways to reach girls in 5th-8th grade, which is the time when they start to fall out of math and science.
    * Need a groundswell of support, educate parents and others in communities so that they understand how important it is that CS be taught and be required. People need to know that CS isn't required, so that they can lobby for it to become required.
    * Need teacher certification and teacher training programs that are focused on CS.
    * The K-12 situation would be helped by a disarticulation of the pieces of CS. We need better understanding among administrators and policy making boards that CS is not IT, CS is not computer applications, but that CS is not just programming either.
    * Teachers asked for online self-directed learning modules so that they can get up to speed on new CS material.
    * Because standards differ in every state, administrative support is critical, as well as trustworthy curricular materials.
    One issue raised was that there are many communities in which CS is not taught at all, so those communities would not have any teachers who could attend a town hall like this one.

    The next question asked was what people who are not K-12 teachers see as their role in the work around K-12 education, either personally or as a group.

    * We can break down the isolation many individual K-12 teachers experience. (One of the suggestions I made during my opening remarks at the Town Hall was that people in industry or college/university settings invite area K-12 CS teachers, giving them an opportunity to connect with each other).
    * We can target the people who help kids make decisions. For example, a new corporate partnership will be announced soon which will reach out to parents and guidance counselors.

    A final closing comment was that we figure out how to "network" our passion and sustain it so that we don't leave meetings like the Town Hall and then lose all of our enthusiasm and energy. There are many ways ti do this but two good places to start are by participating in CS Ed Week and helping with CS activities in your area schools.

    Valerie Barr
    CSTA Task Force Chair

    Posted by cstephenson at 08:51 PM | Comments (1)

    October 04, 2010

    Real (ish) Life Computational Thinking

    I went to see the most delightful talk this week, given by a graduate student. Like many academic talks, the speaker outlined a problem, described similar research and attempts at solutions, which have all failed, then argued for a new solution that he has done research on. The format, obviously, is not what was delightful, instead it was two other features of the talk.

    First, the problem: "The dirty dish dilemma." Our young grad student has lived for many years in communal houses. The policy is "clean your own dishes." But sometimes dishes get left in the sink! Like the broken windows theory of crime, soon it snowballs into a sink full of dirty dishes and a lot of unhappy housemates.

    When was the last time you went to a talk about something you actually found entertaining? This is so much better than the problem of writing across the curriculum or differentiated instruction! (And truly, I think life at most schools would be more improved by 30 minutes on solving the dirty dishes in the staff room sink than by 30 minutes on curricular reform.)

    The second delightful part was his research method. It would be hard to go out to lots of communal houses, try different solutions, see which ones worked and then test the "working" solutions at other houses to make sure they really work. But it is easy to download NetLogo and create a model of dirty dishes, including the people who wash and dirty the dishes. And it's very easy to modify the model once you create it - varying how slobbish the people are, trying different solutions, adding or removing constraints (like when Mom gets fed up and yells and all the dishes get washed at once). It was the most realistic example of the use of computational thinking I've seen, and at no time in the talk did the speaker use the phrase computational thinking, nor did he even appear to know that's what he was doing.

    Incidentally, the solution is to change the policy to one of small altruism. Instead of "do your own dishes" the policy should be "do your own dishes plus one other dish". Then no one gets stuck having to clean up after everyone else just because their prep period is right after lunch.

    Michelle Hutton
    CSTA President

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

    September 27, 2010

    Loners Will be Loners ... Or Not.

    Many of us are fortunate to have taught classes in which all students are active participants and teaching and learning are natural activities in the classroom setting. Chattering among my students brings a smile to my face. But every once in a while, there is that one student who "prefers to work alone."

    The Hart Research Associates surveyed employers and concluded that a majority of employers believe that greater emphasis should be placed on a variety of learning outcomes developed through a liberal education. One such outcome is teamwork skills and the ability to collaborate with others in diverse group settings[3].

    Computer Science Principles is a course presently under development and being led by a team of computer science educators organized by the College Board and the National Science Foundation. This course seeks to broaden participation in computing and computer science. Listed as one of six computational thinking practices covered in the curriculum is "working effectively in teams"[4].

    A comment from one computer science teacher in response to a pair programming thread in an electronic discussion group: "The popular kids will always flock together and the loners will always be loners." I would like to say, "Not so."

    Many teachers encourage productive teamwork by incorporating pair programming in their classes. "Pair Programming" is an agile development technique in which two programmers work together at one computer following specific techniques[1]. The intention is to have two people as resources; they are working towards the completion of the same task at the same time with two sets of ideas. They are working collaboratively to accomplish this task. This is very different from working cooperatively.

    There are no loaners in my class. I have tried various techniques, some working better than others:
    * I assign pairs and monitor all pair programming (they do this activity only during class time)
    * I have allowed the "loaners" to work alone if they are willing to accept a grade deduction of about 20%. This is not a popular choice but has been accepted by a few.
    * I assign pairs based on requests and honor requests of "I do not want to work with so-and-so". All requests are confidential!
    * I start the year with a pair activity to break the ice [2].

    But I still search for new ways to eliminate the loaners so that all students WANT to work collaboratively on a team or use pair programming techniques.

    What do you do to effectively eliminate the "loners" in your class?

    [1] Pair Programming: http://agile.csc.ncsu.edu/pairlearning/educators.php
    [2] Pair Draw: http://industriallogic.com/games/pairdraw.html
    [3] Hart Research Associates: Raising the Bar: http://www.aacu.org/leap/documents/2009_EmployerSurvey.pdf
    [4] CS Principles: http://www.csprinciples.com

    Fran Tees
    CSTA Chapter Liaison

    Posted by cstephenson at 07:22 PM | Comments (1)

    September 23, 2010

    Things are Happening in Massachusetts

    Things are happening in Massachusetts on the Computer Science education front. First, Dot Diva, a program sponsored by WGBH and ACM to promote the field of Computer Science for high school girls. The Dot Diva launch is September 27 in Cambridge, MA.

    Another upcoming event to promote Computer Science for high school students is being sponsored by the Tech Hub Initiative, a group of industry and academic leaders focusing on mobilizing efforts and enhancing awareness of the need of computational thinking and STEM in education. This event, called the Tech Youth Summit, will take place on October 16 in Cambridge, MA. Students (and their teachers and parents) are encouraged to attend to learn more about paths in computer science. Hopefully, an additional outcome of this event will be a fuller understanding of students' perspectives on computer science. Perhaps the students can give us some insight on ways that CS can be promoted to people their age.

    Lastly, the founding of a local CSTA chapter in Massachusetts is in the works! Several people have been working on this and are planning an organizational meeting at the end of October.

    As the school year gears up, it is energizing and motivating to me to see all these events taking place. I am excited to see where this will lead on the local front. What CS events taking place in your area? What has you excited as you start your new school year?

    Karen Lang
    CSTA Board Member

    Posted by cstephenson at 03:01 PM | Comments (0)

    September 19, 2010

    I Know What You Did Last Summer

    If you are like most of the teachers I know (and how I used to be) then you probably spent your summer doing any combination of the following: vacationing, resting, conferencing, professionally developing, or working. And I would guess many of you spent more time doing the last two than the first three.

    As teachers, we expect our students to hang on our every word (ok, really we would be happy if they hang on even 50% of our words) and to put into practice what we teach.

    So, my question for you is: What did you learn this summer? And how do you intend to put it into practice? Our wish is for this blog to be very interactive, so we welcome comments from you so all our readers can live vicariously through you! I'm sure some of you attended the CS&IT Symposium or perhaps an Alice Workshop. Or maybe there was a workshop at a local university? Or maybe you taught a summer course and were surprised by a project one of your students created? Tell us about these experiences! We continue to grow through shared experiences.

    As Vince Lombardi once said "The achievements of an organization are the results of the combined effort of each individual." Do not be afraid to share something. CSTA is not just for you, it is you.

    So let us know what you did last summer!

    Mindy Hart
    CSTA Board of Directors

    Posted by cstephenson at 12:19 AM | Comments (2)

    September 16, 2010

    Computer Science and Reading Literacy

    Recently, my school received their results from the high stakes testing in our state. While my school maintained the Excellent rating for the fifth year in a row, my school is not meeting the AYP (Average Yearly Progress) reading requirement with our low socioeconomic status students. My school has now begun a school wide reading literacy program where teachers are asked to promote reading literacy within their subject area. Teachers have been encouraged to promote the reading of subject targeted materials in the classroom.

    A close friend of mine is the Vocational Agriculture teacher. He has found a book with an agricultural theme and written in a style that would appeal to his Voc Ag students. His plans are to have the students read a chapter every couple of days and then to discuss it as an addition to his normal curriculum.

    I would like to ask for some help from our readership. How do you promote or integrate reading literacy into your Computer Science program? What books, magazines, or online materials do you use and how do you use them in the classroom?

    Dave Burkhart
    CSTA Board of Directors

    Posted by cstephenson at 12:52 PM | Comments (2)

    September 03, 2010

    What Does a Computer Scientist Look Like?

    Career and Technical Education exposed me to the field of computing. I joined two organizations in high school that changed my life. My participation in FBLA (Future Business Leaders of America) and ROCAME (Region O Council for the Advancement of Minorities in Engineering) allowed me to see what a Computer Scientist and Engineer "looked like." These organizations also groomed me for the experiences that followed during my years as an undergraduate Computer Science student in the College of Engineering at North Carolina A&T State University. It was all relevant.

    We as adults base our decisions on statistics and track interest rates for credit cards, various loans of all types and follow the Stock Market closely. This type of data is important to society and allows us to make effective decisions. Is this type of data relevant to our students when determining course enrollment or college majors? No. Do we provide students with effective and relevant data that would assist them in deciding to pursue a career in the field of Computer Science? My prior students were concerned with the amount of money they could make upon graduation. Some students were concerned about whether or not people represented in certain careers aligned with their profile or if they were "cool." Did I mention they want to know how much money they are going to make?

    When I toured companies as a high school student in ROCAME, I was convinced after my first onsite meeting. Why? The mentor assigned to our chapter discussed aspects of his job that seemed fun, he looked like me, I made a connection with his experiences and they aligned with my interests. He showed me what a person in his field looked like and made it relevant. We have a great responsibility to expose students to the field of Computer Science, be visible in their classrooms as well as during post school events.

    I am currently employed in one of the largest districts in my state and there are less than ten Computer Science programs. How do we effectively integrate this field at every level in K-12 education and show students what a Computer Scientist looks like? How do we make it relevant?

    The resource Pathways in Computer Science is posted on YouTube. It assists in marketing the field of Computer Science to students.

    It's a start.

    Shemeka D. Shufford
    CSTA Board Member

    Posted by cstephenson at 04:20 PM | Comments (1)

    August 29, 2010

    So What Are You Doing the Week of December 5?

    The process of starting a new school year is empowering, exhilarating, and exhausting all at the same time. Even though it's been five years since I was in the classroom, I still get the itch to make big plans and do new cool stuff. I even love the smell of a new school year. I can't resist buying new markers and erasers!

    This year holds even bigger opportunities for CS teachers. Computer Science Education Week (December 5-11) is your open-door to bragging about your students' accomplishments to colleagues and parents, exciting students about the future they can have in CS, building your program with up-to-date resources, and in general, celebrating the power and joy of CS education.

    This is a perfect time to plan collaborative projects between CS classes and other departments in your school. Showcase the impact CS has on every field and the power it holds to make the world a better place. Computer Science Education Week will be here before you know it, so it's time to get cracking!

    * Make plans now to do something fun in celebration of our week.
    * Consider joining with colleagues near and far for joint activities.
    * Check out the long list of classroom resources on the CS Education Week site.
    * Plan to include the soon-to-be-available audio and video "morning announcements."
    * Share your ideas and plans here in the blog or thru the Connect With Us link.
    * Involve the media in announcing and reporting your activities. It's OK to brag!

    Pat Phillips
    Editor, CSTA Voice

    Posted by cstephenson at 12:44 PM | Comments (1)

    August 27, 2010

    Students Need Both Knowledge and Facts

    As the new school year starts, an old complaint resurfaces. A recent opinion piece has said once again that US higher education is failing US employers. Students are graduating without knowing how to write, how to do a critical analysis, how to think. The complaint is that students are learning facts (or maybe not even learning those) but not how to survive in the real world.

    In everything, it would seem, there must be balance. I have taught more than once our junior level course on professional issues. Part of the reason for this course is to have students learn and think about how to make professional decisions about policy in the computing world. Some of these students will become managers and administrators. They will have to decide how to distinguish between company use and personal use of company resources. They will have to work up policies for complying with law on intellectual property. And as managers they may have to learn how to deal with squabbles among the people they supervise.

    I start this course each time with a list on the board of key phrases and references that are the background to how we create policy. "Peter Zenger", "clear and present danger", "due process", "trademark", "patent", "trade secret", "copyright", "due diligence" and so on. I teach at a US university, and our background begins with US policy, so your mileage may vary, but there will be a similar set of standards wherever one happens to be. I also point them to my university's policy statement that (unlike at some other institutions) says that the student owns his/her own work submitted as assignments for classes.

    I don't expect these students to become lawyers, and I usually do not have a specific policy position I expect them to adopt. I do hope, though, that they get a background in how policy is created. If they embark on a software project that includes work from other people or other companies, they will need to know something about how to judge who owns what. That, certainly, involves critical thinking. On the other hand (and this is the real point of this blog), critical thinking has to start from a background of history and of society's accepted norms. When lawyers and money get involved, the wink-wink-nudge-nudge "I didn't know that I had to care about that" argument no longer works. That's where it would help to have a basic notion of what "we" consider "due diligence" in ensuring that what we are doing is ok.

    Santayana had it right (even if misquoted often): "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." This extends beyond history. Those who cannot do arithmetic are unlikely to be able to analyze competing economic trends to determine a proper course of action. Those who don't know examples, precedents, and past history cannot reason by analogy when confronted with new situations.

    It takes both a knowledge base of facts and the ability to reason about those facts in order to be successful. Yes, there needs to be a balance between getting students to learn basic fact and getting them to think, but both are necessary.

    Duncan Buell
    CSTA Board of Directors

    Posted by cstephenson at 02:26 PM | Comments (0)

    August 08, 2010

    Teaching Style Does Matter

    I recently read a really interesting article on interactive teaching in computer science by .

    The article, appearing in ACM Inroads (Vol. 1. No. 2) was interesting to me because it concerned teaching style/pedagogy, which is a topic that is too rarely discussed in post-secondary computer science education.

    In his article, Diagnosing your teaching syle: How interactive are you?, Clear puts forward the argument that the current environment for university level computer science education (academic workload, managerial policies and practices, pressure to expand research output) engenders "a stifling conformity and natural conservatism in teaching practice." Clear further notes that "the increasing focus on consistency in a mass production model of teaching militates heavily against innovation" in teaching.

    The body of the article explores Clear's efforts to get a better sense of student perceptions toward his course and the extent to which those perceptions may be impacted by the extent to which other instructors or the program as a whole use more collaborative and interactive teaching styles.

    I won't tell you what he discovered because you really should read the article for yourself, but I will tell you that his statement that:

    "We need to imbue the process of learning with some inherent discomfort and challenge to achieve meaningful outcomes, which is characteristic of truly transformative learning experiences."

    really resonated for me.

    So, when you look at your own teaching, do you believe that you challenge your students with interactive and collaborative learning experiences and if so, how comfortable do they feel with these practices?

    Chris Stephenson
    Executive Director

    Posted by cstephenson at 04:45 PM | Comments (2)

    August 06, 2010

    University Faculty Can Help with K-12!

    I think many of us (including faculty at liberal arts colleges) hold a pretty outdated view of what goes on in different kinds of institutions. We tend to think that at the larger universities people walk into giant lecture halls, wax eloquent (or not) about loops and decision statements and stacks and queues, and walk out again, leaving behind a bunch TAs who try to finish up the "teaching" job. But there have been some changes in this model over the last few years. Yes, universities tend to teach much larger lecture classes than we do at small liberal arts colleges. Yes, they rely a lot on teaching assistants. But the downturn in CS enrollments nationwide has forced them to think a lot more about undergraduate CS education than they used to, and think about pipeline. And about what is going on in K-12, particularly in high school computer science.

    So I was at lunch last week with several CS faculty from a state university, including the folks responsible for their undergraduate CS curriculum. And they started talking about the numbers of students entering their program, and then they started talking about who teaches high school CS in the local area. And then they thought "what if we invited all the high school CS folks to come here for a gathering?" Which led to the question of what the outcome of that meeting would be. Didn't take much to seed the idea that 1) getting all the high school teachers in touch with each other would be fabulous and 2) encouraging them to create a CSTA chapter would be great too!

    I know times are tough, but it doesn't cost that much to provide coffee and lunch for a group of high school teachers. Nametags are cheap, and facilitating discussion is priceless. So if you are at a university or a college that has a number of high schools in the general area, start collecting names, pick a date, and invite some teachers over! If you are a high school teacher who really would like a way to get connected to other teachers in your general region, why not contact the university or college nearest you and encourage them to host a gathering.

    Valerie Barr, Union College
    CSTA Task Force Chair

    Posted by cstephenson at 03:01 AM | Comments (2)

    July 06, 2010

    CS Going Mobile?

    By Dave Reed

    I recently ran across some statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau that I found interesting.

    By 2008, the number of text messages sent on cell phones (357 per month, on average) exceeded the number of phone calls made (204 per month, on average). For teens, the gap between texting and calling is even more pronounced, 1,742 texts vs. 231 phone calls per month, on average. If anything, the texting gap has widened in the last two years as we hear reports of teens averaging 4,000 texts a month!

    Clearly, smart phones and handheld devices are becoming the pervasive computer technology for young people. My guess is that desktop computers will soon go the way of the dinosaur, and that even laptops will decrease in popularity as many people realize that a Blackberry or iPad can give them all of the connectivity they need. The question remains as to how computer science education adapts (or doesn't) to this shift. Will CS programs start to emphasize mobile computing, including the social implications of mobile technology?

    Will programs continue to create courses on the development of mobile software (akin to Stanford's iPhone class)? Can understanding mobile technology be the hook that interestsmore students to take a computing course?

    Any thoughts, predictions, or experiences people want to share?

    Dave Reed
    CSTA Board of Directors

    Posted by cstephenson at 12:07 PM | Comments (1)

    June 27, 2010

    Computer Science Is More Than Just Programming

    By Duncan Buell

    I have just finished leading a three week workshop for faculty and grad students from the humanities. The topic was serious (digital) games for research and pedagogy. When we teach students about computing, we try to emphasize that computing usually starts with a good application, and that the nontechnical description and definition of the application is as much a part of computing as is the technical part of producing code. I have been struck in the last three weeks by how much this is actually true when one talks with people who have great ideas but will need help turning those ideas into working programs.

    Some of our visitors, for example, were interested in building simulation games for teaching history. These would be games that provided a sense of history, a sense of decision making and the social dynamics that existed in different periods of history. Part of the goal of our workshop is to help frame these games and get their development started. To build out a history game like this will require graphics and animation, and of course there is some programming. But that's only part of the process.

    Although the imagery and the logic of the programs will be crucial, more important even than these technical issues is that the history be presented. To do that, the historians have to do something they don't normally seem to do...present history as a set of rules. If you say nasty things about your unpleasant neighbor, then yes, you could get your neighbor banned from the village. But maybe your neighbor will call in some favors from the local baron's manager, and instead you will find yourself up on charges of witchcraft.

    The graphics and imagery are important, yes. Programming the rules may not be all that difficult. But sitting down with the historian to get all the rules spelled out. That could be tough. This isn't just crunching numbers, whether for science or a business application. This is artificial intelligence, in that the goal is a program that simulates human behavior. And it is going to be hard to work out the rules for an experience that is both historically and culturally accurate but also rich enough and complex enough to be interesting and worth doing in a classroom setting.

    Is this computer science? Yes, I think it is. Computer science is not just the programming of an application. It includes all the work that leads up to the programming. This involves quantifying the world and building out and organizing the rules that describe the world. If it can't be described algorithmically, then it can't be programmed. And who best to try to create that algorithmic description except someone trained in turning algorithms into programs?

    Duncan Buell
    CSTA Board of Directors

    Posted by cstephenson at 01:49 PM | Comments (1)

    June 24, 2010

    Bad Times and Good Times in Georgia

    By Barb Ericson

    It has been a hard year for computing teachers in Georgia. Many school districts are operating with reduced budgets and have cut teachers. Even though Georgia teachers aren't unionized, the cuts were made based on seniority. Often the computing teachers had the least seniority and several were let go even though no other teachers in the school have the background or experience to teach computing classes. Several math teachers who also teach Advanced Placement Computer Science A were told that they couldn' teach as many computing classes this fall, as they will be needed to teach more math classes.

    But, on a more positive note, Operation Reboot which is a NSF grant to retrain unemployed IT workers to be high school computing teachers, has picked a second group. We started training 9 unemployed IT workers in Dec of 2009 and they co-taught with the existing computing teachers in the spring of 2010. Three IT workers have quit the program, but the remaining six will co-teach in fall 2010. They will earn their initial teaching certificates in Dec 2010. We picked a second group of 9 unemployed IT workers in May 2010 and they have started training. They will co-teach during fall 2010 and spring 2011 and earn their initial teaching certificates in May 2011. We will pick a third group in May 2011.

    We also have a huge number of teachers and IT workers registered for the summer Computing in the Modern World workshop at Georgia Tech (over 40). We have been offering free webinars on Alice, Media Computation, GridWorld, and Greenfoot (see http://coweb.cc.gatech.edu/ice-gt/1387). We ran Alice and Scratch competitions and had over 100 students come to take a practice AP CS A exam at Georgia Tech this spring. We had over 300 high school students attend a Cool Computing Day at Georgia Tech this spring. We had 560 Girl Scouts attend computing workshops at Georgia Tech this year.

    So things weren't all bad this year.

    How have things been for you this year?

    Barb Ericson
    CSTA Board of Directors

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

    June 09, 2010

    Technology is Not a Replacement for Face-to-Face Instruction

    Steve Cooper

    A couple of days ago, the Chronicle of Higher Education had an interesting article about Salman Khan, a fellow who quit his job as a financial analyst to start creating curricular materials on the web in various K-12 areas. (See http://chronicle.com/article/A-Self-Appointed-Teacher-Runs/65793/ for more details.) Unfortunately, he doesn't have any CS materials on the web, but he does have several STEM content areas, and the couple of math videos I looked at seemed reasonable enough. His website is:


    I first came across him when it was announced he had won a Tech award in 2009

    In an era of technology, it is interesting to explore its possible impact in education. (See, for example Allan Collins' new book, Rethinking Education in the Age of Technology: The Digital Revolution and the Schools. While I disagree with nearly all of his conclusions, he makes an intriguing case for challenges to secondary schools in the US in the Information Age, and the role technology can play.) I am a fan of MIT's open courseware project and the availability of actual videotaped lectures seems to be a natural extension. Khan keeps his lectures quite short (the few I saw were under 10 minutes), and has a chatty and informal approach I think might appeal to lots of students.

    Forgetting about the difficulty of trying to consider how to teach programming in an environment which is not interactive (and programming seems to be one of those skills that is best developed by doing rather than by watching somebody else do), I am still concerned that the Chronicle article seems to imply that this is the wave of the future, to someday replace college (and potentially high school) with purely on-line versions, through technology. Certainly, there are currently many on-line courses available, as well as a few degree programs. Perhaps I am a Luddite, but I'm not sure I'm ready to give up face to face instruction, performed (at least at the K-12 level) by instructors trained in pedagogy in addition to the content area (something Mr. Kahn readily admits he is not). I think that such materials as produced by Kahn are a potentially wonderful augmentation to traditional face-to-face instruction, but not a replacement for it.

    Steve Cooper
    CSTA Vice President

    Posted by cstephenson at 02:42 PM | Comments (2)

    May 15, 2010

    The 10 Worst Practices in ICT Education

    By Margot Phillipps

    Excuse me if you have already found this gem, but I was sent this link and immediately formed a strong view that I'd like to meet Michael Trucano:


    Michael is a Senior ICT and Education Specialist at the World Bank. Working for the World Bank, he clearly travels and sees the same mistakes being repeated around the world.

    I had to refrain from prostrating myself on the floor of ACM HQ when I visited last year, as I am so over awed by their foresight in writing the ACM Model Curriculum for K-12 Computer Science Education and assisting CSTA in its formation. So it is no surprise that I'd at least like to shake the hand of this gentleman!

    The first mistake he notes is "Dump hardware in schools, hope for magic to happen". This is still a mindset. In New Zealand, schools are probably past the dumping of hardware in schools phase. We are now in the dumping in schools of ultra-fast broadband. We suffer from relatively slow internet speeds and there is a project to bring ultra-fast broadband to every school gate.

    But mistake number 9 is "Don't train your teachers (nor your school headmasters, for that matter)". And without training and adequate PD, and the principal's really understanding the importance of that PD, new hardware or new bandwidth will achieve little.

    And of course, related to this is number 5 "Don't monitor, don't evaluate". With the best of intentions amounts of money does get offered to schools for ICT Professional Development (PD) projects or put into centralised PD project. What school wouldn't hold up its hand for some relatively un-monitored money. But it is possibly money wasted as "credible, rigorous impact evaluation studies" are not done.

    And my other favourite was Number 8 "Assume away Equity issues". There is an argument that computers can level out those equity issues but as Michael notes "they don't happen without careful proactive attention to this issue."

    He left number 10 free. Mine would be "Place people from other disciplines in charge of your discipline". I wouldn't assume I could manage the Social Science curriculum of a school or school district or state or country, because my background is in ICT. So do our subject the honour of having people who understand the subject drive it.

    What would you make your number 10?

    Margot Phillipps
    CSTA International Director

    Posted by cstephenson at 01:33 PM | Comments (1)

    May 10, 2010


    By Joanna Goode

    Thanks to the hard work of the ACM Education Policy Committee and other organizations working to strengthen national policy support for computer science, there have been many important policy victories for computing education at the federal level. Issues of teacher certification, professional development, and curriculum have been highlighted as major topics which need to be addressed and strengthened.

    As a community, I think we also need to start thinking hard about assessment. How can we measure student learning in a computer science classroom? How can we quantify what students know and can do? This is a challenge for a variety of reasons:
    * Grant agencies and local educational agencies often want to see test score improvements to rationalize the existence of computing courses. So far, they often suggest looking at whether standardized test scores in math and/or science increase as a result of taking a computing course. To me, this seems to be measuring the wrong content knowledge. We don't assess geography knowledge by seeing how literacy scores raise, right?
    * Traditionally, computer science courses rely on one programming language and assess learning through the writing of programs. But, as we move away from a programming-centric version of computer science towards a more comprehensive model, how do we assess the rich breadth of the field without relying on writing programs in a particular language?
    * There has also been an emphasis on the creativity of computing. How do we measure creativity in computing on a standardized test in which there is typically only one "correct" answer?

    In thinking about this problem, I have come up with two different approaches to solving our assessment problem in computer science education. First, I think that much like art, a portfolio approach might be a good measure to show students’ breadth of knowledge about computing, while also highlighting the creative solutions that we want students to derive as part of their learning. Second, I think we might want to develop some test-type items that are aligned with the items offered on the NAEP tests, which currently assess student learning in a variety of other subjects (arts, civics, economics, geography, mathematics, reading, science, US history, and writing). These could be given to students as pre-tests and post-tests when they enroll in computer science courses, to demonstrate whether or not they are developing computing knowledge and skills as a result of the course.

    What other ideas do CSTA members have about assessment?

    How do you assess learning in your class?

    Joanna Goode
    CSTA Board of Directors

    Posted by cstephenson at 02:20 PM | Comments (1)

    May 06, 2010

    What is Computer Science: Undergrad Perspective for High School Students

    By Mindy Hart

    I get the pleasure of teaching a service-learning based course at the university each semester. Within this course, undergraduate students are trained to conduct educational programs that fit the mission of our outreach program. And sometimes, for fun, I like to make them do work! One of the hardest questions we answer when working with the K-12 students is What is Computer Science? So as a final assignment this semester, I thought I'd ask my service-learning students to answer that question. Here is what they had to say.

    Computer Science is
    * A broad topic
    * A challenge
    * A deterrent to your social skills.
    * A field where everyone can find a place
    * A field with a 50+ year history
    * A multinational multicultural field
    * A team effort
    * A very open environment where students cooperate and professors are integrated into their classes
    * A way to change the world
    * A way to innovate the way people operate in their daily lives
    * About understanding
    * Awesome
    * Challenging
    * Communicating effectively
    * Creating the next generation of software
    * Embracing new technologies
    * Engineering
    * Frustrating
    * Fun
    * Hard to teach correctly
    * Helping the global community become integrated with technology
    * Here in the USA as well as worldwide
    * Innovative
    * Logical thinking
    * Magical
    * Mathematical
    * Misunderstood
    * Multi-disciplinary
    * Needed in many professions
    * Problem-solving
    * Programming
    * Really tedious
    * Research
    * Respectable
    * Rewarding
    * Rife with social events to help with networking for future careers
    * Somewhere to learn very diverse fields
    * Still a young field
    * Teamwork (collaboration of a diverse group of people)
    * Useful for every branch of science
    * Well-paying
    * Whatever you make it (to an extent)
    * Worthwhile

    So what else would you add to the list?

    I think this is actually one of the hardest questions for us to answer, but is imperative for creating an identity for computer science. I think our tendency is to offer non-examples such as "it isn't just programming" or "it's not just sitting in a cubicle." And while these non-examples are helpful for delimiting ideas, it still does not give us a concrete idea of what it is. However, maybe we do not need a concrete idea of what it is because I think there is a reason for that (and it is stated in the next to last point in the list above) computer science is whatever you make it. It is important to note that it does involve aspects such as teamwork and problem-solving, but the more important message to send out about computer science is that it can encompass multiple interests and there is an element of computer science in many more disciplines than ever imaginable.

    So, what is computer science to you?

    Mindy Hart
    CSTA Board of Directors

    Posted by cstephenson at 02:00 PM | Comments (2)

    April 23, 2010

    Preparing Future Elementary Teachers to Teach Computing

    By Joanna Goode

    This term, I am teaching an Education course to University of Oregon undergraduates entitled, Teachers as Cyborgs. Most of my students are juniors who intend to eventually pursue teacher certificates and Masters' degrees in education. All but a handful of the 80 students are interested in teaching elementary school. Since they are not yet in a teacher licensure program, this is not a formal methodology course.

    The course covers a variety of issues and topics, including the social considerations of children growing up online, the racial and gender stereotypes found in media, copyright law, privacy, security, gaming and learning, and how the Internet has changed our view of knowledge construction. But, I have also designed the course to develop students' understanding of computing as an academic subject area. To this end, I have come up with three strategies for introducing computer science to future elementary teachers:

    * They will read Jeanette Wing's Computational Thinking article, and work towards a definition of computational thinking that applies to the K-5 setting.
    * Students will experience several Computer Science Unplugged activities and be introduced to the fantastic CS Unplugged website of K-5 lesson ideas.
    * Students will learn Scratch, and design a project which incorporates a well-known story or fairy-tale, but incorporates a new ending with a social justice message.

    As a former high school computer science teacher, this elementary realm is new territory for me, and so I am looking for any feedback or ideas from the K-5 computer science community on how to introduce future elementary teachers to computing.

    Am I on the right track?

    Do any of you have thoughts on other activities/readings that might strengthen this course?

    Joanna Goode
    CSTA Board of Directors

    Posted by cstephenson at 09:23 AM | Comments (1)

    April 21, 2010

    Dealing with Competence Issues

    By Pat Phillips

    Engaging every student in computer science is a goal we all share. We label it diversity and know it is critical to a balanced industry and a competitive country. We've all struggled with encouraging students to try our courses through elaborate promotions, active recruitment, and stealth strategies of one kind or another.

    A recurring theme of student reluctance for "signing up" is that many students don't think they would be good at CS; they lack self-confidence to try something new and out of their realm of experience in spite of the fact that they are exceedingly good with many types of technology. This has been particularly noted coming from girls and other underrepresented groups, exactly the ones we are trying most desperately to attract.

    I ran across an interesting entry in the Geek Feminist Blog on just this topic. The premise of the blog entry is that it takes an over abundance of self-confidence to succeed in STEM fields. The rationale is that the road to success is paved with many mislabeled experiences which students call "failures;" in reality these "failures" are the necessary steps of testing solutions and successfully solving problems. Such experiences are transformed in our brains from "necessary steps toward success that show we are competent" to "proof that we are incompetent." I think many students are highly susceptible to this thought conversion, especially those who have faced real failures, discouragement, and other de-valuing intellectual experiences. And not surprisingly, these are the very student groups we work to recruit.

    So what is the solution? I think that all students should know a bit about self-confidence itself to better moderate their self-talk, to more clearly recognize their strengths, and most importantly, to foster their own sense of self-worth. I propose that knowing about the way our mind works and having skills to set the stage for our own success are critical in overcoming the reluctance of many would-be great computer scientists.

    * Recognize the imposter syndrome as a common feeling. Many people feel like they're not qualified to do what they are doing; they feel like imposters and fear they will be found out.
    * Be aware of the Dunning-Kruger effect. People who are vaguely incompetent will over-rate their skills and those who are highly competent will under-rate their expertise.
    * Build a classroom of cheerleaders. Surrounding students with individuals who support and encourage their hard work is critical for classroom success and a happy classroom. Finding our own cheerleaders is happy-life skill for everyone.
    * Enable and encourage students to celebrate their successes. Tooting their own horn about accomplishments and milestones builds self-confidence and breaks up the negative mind games.
    * Give everyone permission to be awesome. Working hard to do awesome stuff displaces low self-esteem; displaced low self-esteem allows awesome accomplishments; awesome accomplishments build self-confidence. And so it goes.

    Let me know what you think. How have you encouraged self-confidence in your students and taught them to battle the demons that cause us to minimize our skills and talents? Tell us your stories.

    Pat Phillips
    Editor, CSTA VOICE

    Posted by cstephenson at 10:50 AM | Comments (1)

    April 17, 2010

    Elective Status Creates Chaos for Courses and Students

    By Ron Martorelli

    A recent experience brought to us by a school within our local CSTA chapter drives home some of the unusual difficulties we have in developing Computer Science programs in our high schools.

    It seems that seventeen students chose to enroll in a Visual Basic course and twelve students enrolled in a C++ course for the 2010-2011 school year. These are elective courses which, in this school, require a minimum enrollment of twenty five students. The department chairperson was advised that neither course would run because there were too few students.

    "But wait", said the chairperson, "how can we cancel these courses when we have twenty nine students interested in programming?" A meeting was arranged with the principal. The chairperson proposed meeting with the students to determine if they would be interested in a combined course, sort of an introduction to programming? The principal agreed to give it a try.

    The chairperson sent an email to the guidance office, asking that counselors not reschedule these students until the meeting. "Too late", replied the guidance office. We were told yesterday that the classes wouldn't run and we had to reassign the students.

    Two student show up to talk to department chair. One is distraught. He wants to study computer science when he gets to college and his high school counselor has switched him to a sports medicine class. Another student with similar interests complains that she was assigned to a photography course instead of the computer science course she chose. So the department head goes back to the principal and explains what happened. "Ok", says the principal, "if you can get the students to agree we can change the schedules again and run the course".

    Now comes the paperwork. The scheduling administrator requires that each student have a change of schedule form signed by a parent by the end of the week (two days). Do you know how hard it is to get teenagers to bring a form back home and back in a timely manner?

    So far, twenty two forms have been returned. No decision has been made about the course yet.

    This is just so frustrating and I am wondering just how common it is that our students get denied an opportunity to take computer sciences courses because of this kind of bureaucracy.

    Have things like this happened in your school as well?

    Ron Martorelli
    CSTA Board of Directors

    Posted by cstephenson at 05:20 PM | Comments (1)

    April 08, 2010

    "Training" Should Be a Four-Letter Word

    By Gail Chapman

    "We need to train more teachers."

    "Teachers need more training in order to be successful at teaching computer science."

    "More teacher training programs are needed."

    Statements like these are common and reading a recent post on another blog reminded me of just how much I hate the word "training" when it is used in reference to teachers and teaching. (I even had a professional title once that included the word training and I fought against it then.)

    Not that I believe that those who use the word intend to be mean-spirited or do harm; it has just become part of the language we use when we talk about the various needs surrounding teacher education.

    I'd like to challenge our community to make a conscious effort to remove training from our vocabulary and replace it with words like education, preparation, and professional development.

    Is anyone else bothered by this? Will you accept the challenge?

    Gail Chapman
    Director, Leadership and Professional Development

    Posted by cstephenson at 01:36 PM | Comments (1)

    March 18, 2010

    What Employers Want

    By Duncan Buell

    I write this having just finished grading another set of programs. (Or is it that I am more or less always grading sets of programs, so that no matter when I blog I have always just finished grading?)

    An employer survey has just been released by Hart Research Associates about what it is that employers want in their new employees. First of all, more education is desired. High school graduates, holders of associate degrees, and holders of bachelor's degrees will be de-emphasized in that order and emphasized in the opposite order. The larger the company, the more there is an emphasis on hiring people with at least a bachelor's degree.

    Another conclusion from this survey is that employers want more than just specific knowledge of a skill set; 59% want new employees to be broadly educated.

    But perhaps most notable are the top six desiderata (listed in order):
    * the ability to communicate effectively;
    * critical thinking and analytical reasoning skills;
    * the ability to apply knowledge to real-world settings;
    * the ability to analyze and solve complex problems;
    * the ability to connect choices and actions to ethical decisions;
    * teamwork and collaboration skills.

    These dovetail almost perfectly with what students ought to be learning from a course in problem solving, algorithmic design, and programming. Certainly, there is nothing so unforgiving of fuzzy thinking than a compiler. We joke about DWIM (do what I mean) programming, but we know it's a joke, and that the real test of whether a problem has been carefully analyzed is whether one can lay out a program to solve it. And unlike problems in pure mathematics, problems in computing usually come from real-world problems, and real-world problems don't usually have the fixed set of rules of a mathematics problem. A use-case analysis, for example, is really just an analysis of what might be the best set of rules to apply in the current situation.

    Clearly, then, our (good) students should be nailing three of the top six. I would argue that communication and teamwork come just as naturally. A program does "something", and it doesn't do "something else" (because it wasn't written to do that), and it accomplishes the "something" purpose in an operational way by doing specific things. If a student can write that down clearly, and if a student can explain it to the others on the team, then it is not only known to the student but becomes part of the general knowledge that is usable by others.

    This brings us to the last of the six topic choices, the one about ethical decisions. When we created our university course in professional issues, I commented to the chair of the philosophy department that the ethics part would be easy to teach. He shot back that ethics was in fact hard to teach. I had to explain that it was not that the ethics per se would be easy, but that in computing perhaps more than any other field, the examples of ethics issues jump off the pages of the newspaper (ok, off the screen of the Kindle), and they are issues that students in fact do care about. Internet censorship, file sharing, intellectual property, data privacy--all this comes to us as case studies on a daily basis, and we can analyze the choices that could be made or could have been made against the choices that were made.

    Oh, and what about the “broadly educated” part? Well, Bjarne Stroustrup of C++ fame has just written in CACM his opinion that computer science students need to be urged or required to get some second area in depth. Computing can be done anywhere in any area, and a CS student ought to be learning something else besides the purely technical.

    It seems to me, then, that it is easy to make the case for computer science. All the analytical thinking can be learned by trying to solve problems, and there's no wiggle room in the end game if what has to be created is a computer program. The communication and teamwork skills come from and augment the analytical thinking and the need to explain to others what is done by this invisible thing that is a program. And the ethics questions are everywhere, because software is everywhere.

    Duncan Buell
    CSTA Board of Directors

    Posted by cstephenson at 02:30 PM | Comments (0)

    March 08, 2010

    Marketing Computer Science Courses

    By Margot Phillipps

    I joked as I left work on Friday that it was "my day of shame". I am responsible for recruiting students for a government-funded course that offers MCSE (Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer) and MCITP (Microsoft Certified IT Professional). The course was scheduled to start March 8 but it has been postponed because we don't have the minimum number of students.

    This is a "heavy duty" course with eight months of real full time study. It is not like a university course where you can just show up for the odd lecture. But anyone who contacts us interested in the course is prepared for the work and realizes the benefit of gaining an internationally recognized certification.

    So why did we not get the enrollment we expected for this course? I think that, just as is the case with my programming and database class in high school, we assumed that we did not have to market the course to students. We know that what we're offering is useful, valid, challenging, interesting, so we assume that the students will too. And of course that's not the case.

    As a Maths teacher, I envied the state of the more established subjects. These teachers do not have to "sell" their subjects. And like most teachers, I am trained to teach, not to sell. So, at the end of the day, most of us rely on our own enthusiasm to do our marketing for us. And these days that just isn't enough.

    As for my current dilemma...well, I need more than enthusiasm. Maybe what I need is a marketing budget!

    So what do you do to "sell" your courses?

    Margot Phillipps
    CSTA International Director

    Posted by cstephenson at 12:05 PM | Comments (14)

    March 04, 2010

    Using a Sports Coaching Model to Support Informal Education

    By Chris Stephenson

    As a professional community, we need better idea of how many computer science teachers are also involved in informal education. I have a sense that there are many of you doing this work with no funding and even less recognition, and we need to change this.

    Recently, CSTA sent out an email asking teachers to complete a survey put together by our friend Holly Yanko at the University of Massachusetts, Lowell to help us get a better handle on this. Even once we have this information, we will need to do something to fundamentally change the paradigm we've been working under.

    Many years ago when one of my friends was looking for her first teaching job, every school that interviewed her asked her the same first question:

    "What sport do you coach?"

    The possible negative conclusion you could draw from this question is that schools often value sports coaching above teacher qualifications. The more positive spin is that schools believe that extra-curricular activities provide highly valuable learning experience for students.

    And if this is true, shouldn't academic coaching be valued just as much as, if not more than, athletic coaching?

    This was exactly the wavelength that Terrel Smith and Don Domes (of the Oregon CSTA chapter) were on when they thought up the eChamp grant program.

    Engineering CoacHing And Mentoring Program (eCHAMP) uses a model analogous to high school athletics. Teachers receive stipends in return for serving as coaches of engineering teams. These engineering teams attend a regional or statewide competition to share their results and compete for awards, and benefit from the learning, inspiration, teamwork, scholarships, and rewards that competitive activities provide.

    The eCHAMP coaching initiative was successfully piloted during the 2008-2009 school year in five Oregon school districts and leaders are excited to expand the program to more districts. The grants pay half the stipend cost for teachers to serve as engineering coaches as well as costs for first-year materials and equipment to start new programs. There are numerous team programs already in place for schools to adopt, including FIRST LEGO League, FIRST Tech Challenge, FIRST Robotics Competition, Lemelson-MIT InvenTeams, and Oregon Game Project Challenge.

    Several schools in Oregon have now received funding under this grant program and the teachers note that this eCHAMP is placing robotics team students on the same platform as other varsity athletes, changing perceptions about what a team sport can look like, and most importantly, retaining the coaches who make it all happen.

    I know that it may be unrealistic to expect that academic coaching will ever be as well-supported as sports coaching, but these folks in Oregon have developed a really good model that makes a start at providing much needed support.

    Chris Stephenson
    CSTA Executive Director

    With thanks to Ron Tenison for reminding me about eCHAMP!

    Posted by cstephenson at 06:48 PM | Comments (0)

    February 25, 2010

    Analogies in the Classroom

    By Dave Reed

    I don't know about you, but when I teach I am constantly using analogies to relate computing concepts to real-world experiences the students are familiar with. Some of these are pretty standard and well known among CS teachers.

    For example, when I want to make the distinction between classes and objects, I relate the class to a blueprint for a house and objects as particular houses built using that blueprint. Similarly, I relate a class variable to a safety deposit box that all instances of the class have a key to.

    Sometimes my analogies border on the bizarre. For example, in my programming languages class this week I compared different memory management schemes to squeezing toothpaste out of a tube. Most people just squeeze the tube in the middle. This is analogous to a garbage collection approach: it is fast and usually produces toothpaste, but occasionally you use up the paste near the top and have to take the time to flatten it out (i.e., perform garbage collection). For the brand of toothpaste I use, there are instructions on the tube (yes, an algorithm for dispensing toothpaste) that tell you to squeeze from the bottom and roll up the tube as you go. This is analogous to a reference count approach: it takes a little longer, but it ensures that toothpaste will come out as long as any is left in the tube.

    What analogies do you use when you teach? Which ones work particularly well? Which ones sounded good in theory but flopped in practice? Inquiring minds want to know.

    Dave Reed
    CSTA Board of Directors

    Posted by cstephenson at 12:17 PM | Comments (10)

    January 31, 2010

    Do You Have What it Takes?

    By Mindy Hart

    When I was teaching high school, I was the stereotypical teacher who liked to decorate my classroom and have 'inspirational' posters and pretty decorations around to motivate my students. And if I'm being real, I think I chose some to motivate me more than my students. When I transitioned to my job at the university, only two of those items made the cut and became office worthy. One is a poster from the 80's movie, The Breakfast Club. It promotes the classic line In the simplest terms of the most convenient definitions of what we found out: that each of us is a brain, an athlete, a basketcase, a princess, and a criminal. The other is this poem most commonly attributed to a female marine recruiting poster:

    Where Is The Girl That Lived In Your Mind Quite Often?
    You wanted to be more like her.
    She was ponytails to your barrette, and A-minus to your B-plus.
    When you threw like a girl, she threw harder.
    She went by your name and followed you everywhere.
    She had no fear of taking chances, and perhaps, neither do you.
    She challenged you; sometimes you took her up on it.
    When she couldn't stand still, neither could you.
    She wouldn't let you go through the motions, she reminded you:
    Never Settle.
    When she grew older, got tougher, and smarter, so did you.
    She could achieve more than you if you let her.
    She said your doors would only open if you gave them a serious shove.
    Where has she gone, the one inside who pushed you, is she gone forever,
    A memory forgotten,
    Or is she right here right now,
    Looking through your eyes asking once again,
    If You Have What It Takes?

    So I share these with you not because I think they are excellent motivational items that are going to recruit thousands of female students into computer science and should be in every classroom across the world, but to get you think about the messages we send to our students every day, in ways we may not even know are being communicated. I once had a student ask me if I was advocating criminal behavior by posting The Breakfast Club poster. I suppose if you took the statement to heart, it could be construed that way. However, that was certainly not my intent. On the other hand, I was always amazed at the number of girls in my computing classes who asked if they could get a copy of the second poem, especially because I had put the poem up for myself, not necessarily to motivate them. There was something about the message that struck an internal chord with them.

    So I'm asking you, do you have what it takes? What messages are you sending the students in your school about their abilities and interests? What are you hanging your hat on that promotes the excitement of computer science? What's the latest tool, skill, shortcut, or anecdote you've found to share with your students that encourages them to want to move one step higher?

    I have kept these two items on my walls for 15 years now. They are my reminders of the potential we each have within us to make an impact on our students. And occasionally, I like to be reminded that there is a little bit of princess in all of us.

    Mindy Hart
    CSTA Board of Directors

    Posted by cstephenson at 08:36 AM | Comments (0)

    January 25, 2010

    The Peacock Dances

    By Ron Martorelli

    January poses two challenges for high school computer science programs.

    For many high school sophomores and juniors, January can mean scheduling decisions for next year. It does in my school and the schools in my area. Since most computer science courses are electives, we are battling other disciplines for the attention of these students, and are engaged in a sort of ritual dance where we try convince them to sign up for our courses. It reminds me of the peacocks dance with all the fancy feathers. We go up against all sorts of AP and college credit courses, fun courses they would like to take to lighten their academic load, performing arts courses that permit them to continue their after school music ambitions during the school day, and, of course, athletics and sports commitments.

    How do we compete? If we emphasize the importance of CS to their future, focus too much on the technology, or point out how it can help them in college and careers, we risk being too geeky and turn off potential suitors. On the other hand, if we go to flashing and sexy, with too much emphasis on video game design or graphics, we risk diluting the importance of the courses, and we risk alienating administrators who think we are teaching students video games.

    And, by the way, how do we get girls to enroll?

    The second challenge we face is preparing our curriculum needs for next year. Curriculum must be proposed, approved, and designed in detail. Text books, software, and hardware all need to be evaluated and possibly updated. We will need to consider what our freshmen students will have learned in elementary school and middle school (it changes every year) so that our entry level courses can be adjusted to their incoming technology skills. Oh, and there is a little thing called a budget that we have to factor in because software and hardware is expensive.

    Please forward your ideas on both challenges to me! I will happily compile suggestions to share.

    Ron Martorelli
    CSTA Board of Directors

    Posted by cstephenson at 01:32 PM | Comments (1)

    January 22, 2010

    When Good Students Have Bad Habits

    By Duncan Buell

    "It never hurts to have a supporting argument for something people are already doing."

    That came from Howard Resnikoff in a workshop 25 years ago, and I had sense of deja vu last week at a workshop on computer security and information assurance. I taught our third-semester course in software development last fall, and I am teaching it again this spring. Last fall's experience was the most frustrating I have ever had as a teacher, because otherwise good students seemed to insist on maintaining bad habits in writing programs.

    The justification for an established discipline with regard to getting programs written came from the industrial people at the workshop. These were mostly companies involved in defense, health care, and finance. Coding standards, documentation standards, and the oversight of the development process was not, for them, simply a means for maintaining control. This wasn't just "eat your vegetables because they're good for you." Rather, in order for them to get their code audited and certified, they have to have records of the development process and the responsibilities of programmers and management clearly defined and described. Just having the code "execute correctly" is not enough. They have to be able to provide evidence that correct execution is not an accident.

    This workshop almost coincided with our twice-yearly self-criticism session about last semester's teaching and with the publication in Communications of the ACM of two articles. The first, In praise of bad programmers, is an anecdote about a programming team that is assigned the company's known bad programmer. The conclusion of the story is that having that programmer on the team made it a better team because they were forced to do things properly. If you know in advance that you are likely to be misunderstood, then perhaps you will be able to compensate in a way that will make it less likely to be misunderstood. If you know in advance that you have someone who must be guided every step of the way, you might very well learn how to provide that guidance, and you will certainly learn that the existence of the guidance is a necessity.

    So, I have adapted from last semester to this. I am going to start with a heavy emphasis on the issue of human failings. I am even contemplating asking students to turn in a skeleton of their program code one week into a two-week assignment, just as English teachers sometimes require an outline to be turned in prior to a final paper.

    Writing programs is not something that can be done haphazardly, if you want the programs to work as planned, but I don't quite know how to do the (gentle?) coercion and guidance to get students to realize this. Some lessons can only be learned the hard way, and I think a lot of lessons about programming are in this category. Teaching students, then, involves a planned set of leapfrogging steps of things that don't quite work, with the hope being that the difference between what ought to have been written and what was actually written shrinking with each step.

    Duncan Buell
    CSTA Board of Directors

    Posted by cstephenson at 05:22 PM | Comments (0)

    January 19, 2010

    It's a Great Day for CS!

    By Deborah Seehorn

    Ever since Computer Science Education Week, I couldn't help but notice all the positive signs that have come through my email about what a great time it is to teach computer science. Maybe it was the promotional efforts behind CS Education Week. Maybe it is the emphasis on STEM Education. Maybe all the educators out there just realized what a great educational bargain we have in computer science. In any case, it is a very positive sign to see CS education coming to the forefront. The signs have included articles that highlight using robotics to interest students in the study of science and technology (and computer science!), President Obama's STEM Instruction initiative (supported by high-tech industries), and increasing college/university degree offerings in cyber-security.

    Robotics Programs Becoming Newest Trend
    The Ramona (CA) Journal (12/31) reports that robotics programs "are one of the newest trends helping young people discover the thrill of science and technology." The piece highlights Olive Peirce Middle School's robotics team, which recently won their inaugural competition.
    FIRST Participants Growing Up In "Time Of Renewed Interest" In STEM
    The Washington Post (1/10, Turque) reported on the FIRST Robotics Competition that took place at McKinley Technology High School recently, noting that that participating students "are growing up in a time of renewed interest in science, technology engineering and math education." The Post notes the Educate to Innovate Campaign recently launched by President Obama. Locally, meanwhile, "Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee has designated six District public schools...as STEM 'catalyst' schools that will develop curricula that will weave science, math and technology through all major subjects." The Post adds, "Corporate and government sponsors, including Boeing, NASA, Northrop Grumman and Booz Allen Hamilton, hope the focus will broaden the pool of potential employees."
    Wired Blog Urges Support For Robotics Programs
    Chuck Lawton writes in the Wired (1/10) "GeekDad" blog, "If your school has one, consider having your child join and get some hands on experience working with exciting technology. And if you are a parent with related experience, consider getting involved in your school's program. Because solving tomorrows problems will take the bright and innovative students of today."
    $250 Million Initiative For STEM Instruction Announced
    The Washington Post (1/6, Anderson) reports that President Obama "will announce a $250 million public-private effort Wednesday to improve [STEM] instruction, aiming to help the nation compete in key fields with global economic rivals." The effort "seeks to prepare more than 10,000 new math and science schoolteachers over five years and provide on-the-job training for an additional 100,000 in science, technology, engineering and math." The Post points out that "it's unclear how much federal spending can grow in a time of rising budget deficits." For this initiative, however, there has been "mobilization on several fronts," with "high-tech businesses, universities and foundations" contributing. The Intel Foundation, the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, UTeach, NASA and PBS are all contributing in some respect.
    Wanted: Cyber Ninjas
    New York Times (01/03/10) Drew, Christopher
    U.S. colleges are adding courses and specialized degrees in the once-exotic field of cybersecurity to try to meet the growing demands for computer security skills in the public and private sectors. Banks, military contractors, and software companies, along with government agencies, are looking for "cyber ninjas" to keep investments and new projects safe from hackers. Polytechnic Institute of New York University in Brooklyn recently created a master's degree in cybersecurity, as did Indiana University, whose security degree is in informatics, which gears students toward finding new uses for information technology. Other U.S. universities, including Carnegie Mellon, Purdue, and George Mason, also have master's programs in cybersecurity. Georgia Tech offers a master's degree in information security online. Cybersecurity is seen as "the most technically demanding field, kind of like the fighter pilot of the information technology industry," says recent California Polytechnic State University graduate Jeffrey Henbest. Government officials expect the number of cybersecurity jobs to grow rapidly in the coming years.

    Well, we all know that robotics is not a new development, but isn't it great that it is being re-discovered? What more fun way to interest students in computer science? And you can't ask for much better support than having the President of the United States cheer you on, with assistance from IT businesses and higher education. And how great it is that CS has such a prominent place in the career clusters (STEM and IT Clusters). It truly is a great day for CS! All we need now is to have our certification dilemmas solved, and all will be well.

    What are you doing to promote CS certification in your state?
    Have you read the information posted on the CSTA website concerning CS certification?
    Have you advocated for computer science locally and in your state?

    It truly is a great day for CS. Carpe diem!

    Deborah Seehorn
    CSTA Board Member

    Posted by cstephenson at 02:39 PM | Comments (2)

    January 13, 2010

    Creating the Expertise We Need

    By Pat Phillips

    By now you have likely received the January issue of the CSTA Voice and discovered the exciting NSF plans for growing 10,000 new CS teachers and reaching 10,000 schools with a re-vamped AP CS curriculum. Of course, this is all in response to what we have sensed and fretted about for quite some time; something needs to happen to turn today's pipeline from a dribble to the gush needed to create the technical expertise required to solve a growing list of world problems.

    Those involved in STEM/CS education have been shouting about the problem for several years and now others are also taking note and action. The December 18, 2009 issue of the Kiplinger Letter focused on education - much of it related to STEM. A few items in particular struck my interest and I thought they might interest you as well especially as we all begin the work of overhauling CS education.
    * 60% of businesses say it is difficult to find qualified workers even in this recession. Especially sought after were highly skilled laborers such as laser die cutters, engineers of all stripes, scientists, and skilled information tech workers from systems analysts to programmers.
    * Baby boomers (40% of the workforce) are retiring; those born between 1946 and 1964 have more education (58% with at least some college training) than the generation before them AND the generation after them (55%).
    * Newly created jobs are more likely to require higher education than in the past. Currently 31% of all jobs require postsecondary education. This percentage will creep ever higher representing millions of new jobs that will require more than high school.
    * Students majoring in science, technology, engineering, and math fall short of employers' needs. From 2004-2014 employment in these areas will grow at nearly double the rate for all occupations. The demand for biomedical engineers will grow by over 70%; network systems and data communications analysts will grow by 53%.
    * Interest in STEM/CS fields is growing but not fast enough and most of the growth is from non-US students earning degrees in US universities. As the economies of India, China, South Korea, and other developing nations expand highly-educated graduates are less likely to stay in the US. That combined with stricter immigration policies will leave many companies short-handed and unable to compete (unless US students fill the gap).
    * While progress has been made, the performance gap between white students and Hispanic & black students in reading and math test scores, remains large. By 2018 Hispanics will be 18% of the work force, 23% by 2030. Unless these gaps are closed, demographics will further weaken the competitive edge.

    You will be happy to know that CSTA and the NSF CS/K12 Project are working to combat (for CS education, at least) some of the US education weaknesses identified by various critics. Through the work of these groups, the future of CS education will be rich in:
    * Highly trained teachers
    * National recommended standards
    * Demanding classes and curriculum
    * Focus on critical thinking skills
    There has been no better time to encourage our students to pursue the wonder and power of CS!

    Pat Philips
    Editor, CSTA Voice

    Posted by cstephenson at 01:14 PM | Comments (0)

    January 10, 2010

    Object Lessons from a Summer Workshop on a Cold Winter's Night

    By Chris Stephenson

    As teachers begin a new calendar year and its promise of teaching and grading in cold, rainy, and even snowy weather, it can be a good idea to rethink how to approach students who may not be achieving their potential. We recently came across this essay by Wicked Teacher of the West, detailing her experience learning a new programming language at a summer workshop. We hope that you will find the object lessons for teachers useful, as you head into the new quarter.

    The links are:



    Chris Stephenson
    CSTA Executive Director

    Posted by cstephenson at 04:32 PM | Comments (0)

    January 04, 2010

    New Years Resolutions

    By Mindy Hart

    Happy New Year!

    I hope 2010 finds you doing well and you had a lovely winter break! But now that you are most likely back to the grind, have you thought about your New Year Resolutions as they relate to the state of computer science education?

    Here's my list of What if's. Perhaps, if we each just choose to do one, we might create a snowball effect in advocating and expanding computer science education.

    What if:

    * Each of us talked to one school administrator and expressed our concerns about the lack of programs available for interested students?
    * Each of us took a moment to talk about the job opportunities in CS among all the students in our school?
    * Each of us quit worrying about semantics, and instead worried about cultivating student interest?
    * Each of us actively sought out higher education and business partners that helped provide resources and internship opportunities, even it if were just for one student?
    * Each of us developed a project that our students could take into the lower grades to get kids interested in CS early on in life?

    What ideas can you add to this list? And which of these might you give a go during 2010?

    Mindy Hart
    CSTA Board of Directors

    Posted by cstephenson at 09:13 AM | Comments (0)

    December 16, 2009

    Programming Challenge 4 Girls (PC4G) Event in New Zealand

    By Margot Phillipps

    In November this year, a series of challenges using Alice was held at 4 venues around New Zealand. The events were staggered as the days were planned so that a visiting speaker could attend each event. The venues varied enormously in the demographic they reached. The second venue was Manukau Institute. Manukau city is the largest Polynesian city in the world (as it is the major center for Polynesian migration to New Zealand.) The third venue, Gisborne, is a center with a very high Maori population. (New Zealand's indigenous people)

    Each school was allowed to bring two teams of two girls in year 10 (grade 9 in most countries) to participate in the challenge. Each school was required to have a teacher accompany the teams.

    The day(s) were planned so that the girls and their teachers had some tuition and practice in Alice (14 of the 20 teachers hadn't used Alice before) and then after some refreshments the girls sat the challenge while the teachers had a workshop.

    Dr. Chris Stephenson, Executive Director of CSTA held the workshop for teachers, which reinforced for them not only the importance of CS Education but also let them know that the challenges of a reasonable curriculum and assessment, qualified teacher, and uptake by students are not just issues in New Zealand.

    In the challenge, all of the teams were given the problem statement that included a number of set tasks (story-boards provided). Once a team mastered those tasks, the girls were encouraged to "add value" with their own ideas for an extension to the story. For good marks in this section they had to story-board (ie: design) it first.

    At the end of the 3 hour challenge and teacher's workshop, lunch was served, and each of the hosting sites then provided a 45 minute presentation or activity for the girls and the teachers while the judging team marked the contest entries. The judging criteria had already been set and tested, so judging was relatively straight-forward. This allowed the judges to rapidly group the results into gold, silver, bronze and participation categories.

    The final event of the day was the awards ceremony. The gold, silver and bronze category winners received medals and the top team's teacher received an Alice textbook.

    Student evaluations showed 79% of girls saying that they would take a subject like this in senior high school if it was available. Unfortunately at present the offering of a CS courses in senior high school in New Zealand is limited. The research that the organisers read suggested that girls enjoy contests and competing but they prefer team work. This was supported by 97% of the respondents saying they enjoyed the teamwork.

    Although the challenge reached both important "CS minorities" (girls and minority cultures), future challenges will need to be sensitive to the story lines set for the challenge. This year was a dog-obedience class and as one teacher remarked "Girls from our school wouldn't know dogs got trained".

    The organisers have tried to make it as simple as possible for a school to offer to be a site and have devised a "cookbook" of what needs to be done and when for running the challenge. The practice material, the challenge and the mark sheets are all provided by the committee (all volunteers). The hope is that each year the challenge will grow in the number of sites and thus the number of girls being exposed to programming. Our hope is that this experience will convince the girls that computer science isn't nerdy, it is intellectually interesting and most of all fun.

    Margot Phillipps
    CSTA International Director

    Posted by cstephenson at 02:55 PM | Comments (0)

    November 25, 2009

    Happy Holidays

    The end of the year brings upon us the celebrations that come with the holidays. This year, we have extra reason to celebrate with an added holiday.

    The week of December 7, 2009 has been declared as Computer Science Education Week. Celebrations for this week, honoring computer science education have been planned across the country. CSTA's parent organization, ACM, is preparing a Web site to provide classroom teachers with resources to use in their school's celebration. You might want to check out the "20 Things You Can Do as a Classroom Teacher" to help with your celebration. This list was compiled by John Harrison at the recent CSTA Board of Director's meeting and contains easy classroom activities that any teacher could use to promote the Computer Science Education Week.

    What activities are planned at your school for this celebration? What are your ideas for activities that other classroom teachers might use to help them with their celebrations?

    Let us hear from you and your great ideas.

    Dave Burkhart
    CSTA Board of Directors

    Posted by cstephenson at 05:15 PM | Comments (1)

    November 24, 2009

    Real Code is Messy

    Reading John Harrison's blog of November 3 got me thinking about what I am trying to teach my students in my third-semester (university) course about the development of large software systems. They seem to have a good handle on the nuts and bolts of software. Down in the weeds, one statement at a time, they do ok. It's the bigger picture that is harder to explain. I have a cartoon clipped from the newspaper years ago of a guy in a lab coat pacing back and forth in his office. In the last frame of the cartoon, "Writing," he says, "is nature's way of showing you how fuzzy your thinking is."

    A large part of the business of writing software is getting one's thoughts organized, and then transforming into software those organized thoughts about the management of the information at hand. Human beings are fallible organisms, so their software objects need to be made as simple as possible to minimize the chance that mistakes will be made. We encapsulate information into instances of objects so that all the data handling for a certain "thing" is done in one place, and no code except the local code in the object can manhandle that data. Just as a naval officer expects commands to be repeated back to verify that they have been understood, we expect software modules to report both success and failure, and we organize software so that we trust no part to be "obviously correct" unless we have tested it and found it correct.

    But with programs, it is indeed hard in a school setting to give students real problems. The sorts of things that can be dealt with in a class setting are naturally going to be smaller, less complicated, and designed so that most students can actually finish them. Real code is not usually like this. It's big, it's messy, and (unfortunately) it can often be as unorganized and unmaintainable as we try to teach students not to be.

    Perhaps the answer is that we must bring students to the edge of failure by having them read and understand some large programs that are well written, and having them read and understand some programs that are not so well written. We hope that they will learn how to write by reading literature. We can't expect them to write software to solve large problems, but perhaps they will learn about solving problems with software by seeing how it's done and analyzing that code. If they see how others have reduced the fuzziness in their thinking as they organize software to solve a problem, perhaps they will learn how to do it themselves.

    Duncan Buell
    CSTA Board of Directors

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

    November 14, 2009

    Just What is Computer Science?

    Just what is computer science? Is it a science course? Is it a math course? Is it a business course?

    These questions pop up more frequently now that states are requiring four years of science and math. In Texas, the AP CS A course counts as a math and is offered by both the math and business departments but this has raised questions about who can teach AP CS A. In Georgia, AP CS A is offered in the business department. Several years ago there was a move to allow only business teachers to teach it, but I asked that all certified teachers be allowed to teach it, and this was approved.

    When Georgia started requiring four years of math and science, some of the faculty at Georgia Tech asked that AP CS A be allowed to count as a math or science. As of fall 2008 it was approved that AP CS A could count as a science course. However, this fall the Georgia Board of Regents removed it from the list of approved science courses, but they had not done a formal review of the course. Georgia Tech asked for a formal review of the AP CS A course and we just learned that the Board of Regents will allow the AP CS A course to count as a math or a science course!

    But what is computer science, really? Some people claim that it isn't a science, even though the title includes the word science, since it isn't a study of the natural world like biology, chemistry, or physics. But inheritance, which is one of the central ideas in object-oriented programming, was first formally used in the scientific classification of plants. And, these days all of the natural sciences are becoming more and more dependent on computing. One famous biologist has said, "that biology is becoming a branch of computer science".

    Some say computer science is a branch of applied math. And certainly many of the people who created and programmed early computers were mathematicians. And, many mathematicians now depend on computers in their work. Computing does include many mathematical concepts, but it also covers many other concepts such as how to design and build computer systems.

    Some say it is a type of engineering. My master's degree from the University of Michigan was from the computer science and engineering department. Certainly the creation and testing of software systems includes engineering concepts. But, again computer science isn't just engineering.

    Certainly computers are used in business. One reason that Wall-mart has succeeded is that it gathers sales information from all of its stores every night and uses this data to improve operations and lower costs. Nearly all businesses are dependent on computers.

    I think that the real truth is that there are connections between computer science and many fields such as science, math, psychology, engineering, and business.

    What do you think?

    Barb Ericson
    CSTA Board of Directors

    Posted by cstephenson at 12:58 PM | Comments (1)

    November 03, 2009

    Are Your Students Good Problem Solvers, or Good Mimics?

    Recently the topic of Computational Thinking has risen to the forefront of discussions of what our students should learn. Ignoring the facts that computational thinking has different meanings to each of us, I think the root of the discussion focuses on our students' abilities to apply their problem solving skills to realistic problems that may or may not have identified solutions. Can your students do this? I'm not sure that many of mine can.

    Many of us learn by mimicking the behavior we want to master. I learned how to play baseball by copying the throwing and batting motions my coach demonstrated until I could reliably throw the ball to a stationary teammate or hit the ball off a batting tee. But I didn't become a good baseball player until I could apply these skills in a game situation where either my target or I were in motion or I faced a real pitcher who was reluctant to throw every pitch down the center of the plate. It took real experience to master these skills and become a baseball problem solver.

    Our students learn to program (a basic computer science problem solving skill) by mimicking the programs that we write to demonstrate key concepts. How do they make the transition to problem solvers? Where is their game experience? Why should we expect most of them to be more than mimics who can only solve the types of problems we have demonstrated if we never give them real problems?

    These are questions we need to address. If you are tackling these issues in your classroom, then you are on the front lines of computational thinking. Share your ideas. How do you get your students to make the transition? How do you know they are on the right path? Unlike the baseball player, we don't have the luxury of tracking their batting average, fielding percentage or ERA. What are the metrics that we can identify to help measure success? How do we bring our students into the 21st century using knowledge and skills we gained in the 20th century? These questions may not have obvious answers, but they need to be asked. Help me ask them.

    John Harrison
    CSTA Board of Directors

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

    October 30, 2009

    Computer Science Curriculum in our High Schools

    While attending the recent Southern Business Education Association Convention in Huntsville, Alabama, I was struck by the lack of emphasis on computer science and information technology curriculum in our high schools. There we were in Rocket City, home of U.S. Space and Rocket Center, Redstone Arsenal, NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center, and Cummings Research Park. Huntsville is a veritable high-tech city, populated by thousands of professionals in the STEM fields, including computer scientists. The Saturn V Rocket, Space Shuttle, and the International Space Station would be nowhere without computer scientists among other the many other scientists (chemists, physicists, etc). And yet, science in general, and computer science specifically, is really not emphasized in most of our high schools.

    What a shame, I thought as I gazed in wonder and amazement at the rockets and space shuttles on display and watched an IMAX movie about man's exploration on the moon. All made possible by scientists, including computer scientists. It is gratifying to know that the U.S. Space and Rocket Center sponsors camps for young people (and adults!) to encourage budding scientists to become interested in careers related to space exploration and discovery. So what are we doing to encourage high school students to become interested in careers in computer science?

    CSTA has taken an active role in helping schools offer a sequenced program of study in computer science for students grades K-12 with the release of the ACM K-12 Model Curriculum. Sample activities are even provided for each level of the curriculum. Also, the Los Angeles Unified School District has produced The Exploring Computer Science Curriculum, which is available on the CSTA website. Both of these initiatives provide outstanding curriculum resources to encourage the teaching of computer science, which ultimately will encourage students to pursue careers in computer science. Yet we still do not see an overwhelming computer science presence in our high schools. Is the issue the current emphasis on rigorous standards for high school graduation? If that were the case, surely computer science would be at the table and we would have computer science taught in every high school. I have seen that topic addressed in other CSTA blog posts. Is the issue funding? I suppose that is possible. However, many of our industry partners are addressing the funding issue. For the past several years, I have worked with two industry partners who work to provide high quality, affordable training and curriculum for our high school teachers: Oracle and SAS, both addressing the funding issue.

    Oracle provides free training for teachers and is making an effort to deliver the face-to-face training to teachers in convenient locations, not far from home (there is also an online component to the training). The Oracle curriculum is free for schools. The curriculum is delivered electronically from the Oracle server so the school system needs only to have computers and high speed Internet access for the students to access the Oracle curriculum and learn a high skill, high wage, and high demand skill, specifically database design and programming. Oracle offers certification exams at a reduced price for both the students and the teachers. Yet, the Oracle curriculum has been slow to be accepted in many school systems. Even in cities where Oracle software is widely used by business and industry, the schools are slow to include Oracle Database Design and Programming in their curriculum offerings, if they offer it at all.

    SAS also offers free training for teachers and free curriculum for the students. SAS provides a free textbook written specifically for high school students and offers online support for both teachers and students. Teachers are required to attend one week (40 hours) of face-to-face training. SAS holds the training at their Cary campus, but they are willing to deliver the training to any location that has 10 or more teachers to be trained. The schools are provided with the SAS software. SAS certification exams are available to both teachers and students for a reduced fee. SAS Programming for High Schools will provide students with a high skill, high demand, high wage education in the information technology area. Again, we see an industry partner addressing the funding issue. And again, even in cities where SAS is widely used, the high school course is slow to be integrated into the school systems.

    Apparently, the issue is not really the lack of funding. Yet it is imperative that we prepare the next generation for careers in computer science and information technology. In the Spring 2009 issue of the Occupational Outlook Quarterly, Benjamin Wright states that "Employment in combined IT occupations is expected to increase by more than 800,000 jobs over the 2006–16 projections decade." Mr. Wright also states that "a study by the Association for Computing Machinery finds that even though offshoring may increase, prospects for IT workers in the United States will be strong". Mr. Wright does note that demand for computer programmers is expected to decline by 4% over the same decade but that this is the only IT area projected to decline. The jobs will be there. CSTA is working to provide the computer science and information technology curriculum. Now we need the students. I am working in my little corner of the world to recruit these students. What are we doing to encourage our students to study computer science and information technology?

    ACM K-12 Model Curriculum and Los Angeles Unified School District Exploring Computer Science Curriculum

    Oracle Academy

    SAS Programming I for High Schools:


    Occupation Outlook Quarterly, Spring 2009 issue:


    Deborah Seehorn
    CSTA Board Member

    Posted by cstephenson at 04:56 PM | Comments (1)

    October 28, 2009

    My Voice

    I look forward to it every couple of months. I've been receiving the CSTA Voice since I
    became a member back in 2005. For years, being a member of CSTA meant getting my
    newsletter, filling out my end-of-year renewal form, and responding to the occasional
    survey. Sure, I felt like I "belonged," but I left the advocacy up to the professionals. Life
    was good.

    That changed a couple of years ago when my school administration decided that we no
    longer needed a Computer Science department. I kept my job, and for the most part,
    taught many of the same courses after being merged with the Science department, but I
    felt that I had been stripped of my identity as a Computer Science teacher. Following the
    merger, enrollment numbers in my classes were the lowest ever. Fewer and fewer students
    were aware of the staggering demand predicted for careers in the computing field in just a
    few years. Why was my message not being heard?

    I saw in the Voice that teachers from 19 states had been chosen to attend a leadership
    workshop where they would develop advocacy plans for their respective states. My state
    was not listed. There I sat, isolated, with a wilting Computer Science program at a school
    with no CS department, in a state lacking a CS certification area (much less a graduation
    requirement). Not only was my voice not being heard, but I had no idea what to say or how
    to begin.

    The one thing I could depend on in those days was my CSTA Voice. When I read that there
    was a second leadership workshop and that my state was included this time, I turned in my
    application and wished for the best. A few months later, I was at a conference center in
    Chicago, surrounded by 50 other educators who wanted what I wanted -- to further the
    teaching of computing in our schools.

    The workshop was a 3-day menagerie of brainstorming, note-taking, networking, planning,
    and occasional sight-seeing. We learned about stakeholders, partnerships, outreach
    strategies, and most importantly that we are all in this together. We worked with
    representatives from states facing issues similar to our own, and we discussed ways to
    make those situations better. The most important thing I left Chicago with, though, was my

    The CSTA Leadership Cohort Workshop taught me that I have a voice. I found that I am
    surrounded by allies, resources, and solutions free for the asking. With just a little effort, I
    was able to organize a CSTA chapter in my own state! Representatives from higher
    education, industry, and K12 schools are now working together to identify long term goals
    for the future of computing education in our state, and I started this conversation!

    If you can hear my voice, know that this is something that you can achieve, too. Put down
    your newsletters. Close your web browsers. Get out there and start organizing! If a mild-mannered computer scientist can start this discussion in a state with fewer than 13 schools offering AP Computer Science, imagine what you can achieve in your own back yard.
    Daniel Moix has taught Computer Science at the Arkansas School for Mathematics,
    Sciences, and the Arts since 2003. He was recently elected President of the Arkansas
    chapter of the Computer Science Teachers Association. His favorite color is #6495ED.

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

    October 23, 2009

    Members Build Membership in CSTA

    Have you ever wondered about the other members of CSTA? Questions like "Where are the other members?" or "Who are the other members?"

    One of the best ways to grow membership in an organization is by word of mouth. In the last fourteen months, CSTA has grown from 4700 members to our current 7300 members. Yes, our membership has grown by 50% and continues to grow! This couldn't be done without the continued support and work of our current members. Thank you to everyone who has recruited new members to CSTA!

    Our new local chapters are also playing a major role CSTA's growth. Not only do these chapters carry out the work of CSTA on a local level (providing a community of learners, offering professional development, sharing resources) they also help to build membership by making people aware of the benefits of belonging to CSTA. So, a thank you is also due to the members who have taken the time to organize and charter local chapters in their states. For a list of local chapters and contacts see:


    While a large portion of CSTA membership is located in the US (80%), our International membership Is also growing. In fact, it has increased 35% in the same fourteen month period. India leads the way in International growth with 221 members added within the last fourteen months for a total growth of 50%.

    Keep up the great work and keep recruiting.

    Dave Burkhart
    CSTA Membership Chair

    Posted by cstephenson at 02:54 PM | Comments (0)

    October 17, 2009

    Looking at the Programming Language Options

    It is interesting to follow the debate among college CS educators over time. At one point in the distant past, there was a large camp of CS teachers pushing for a breadth-first approach to intro CS, providing beginning students with an overview of the discipline before going full-out into programming. There are still some schools that follow this approach, but most teach programming as the first majors course (breadth is often "delegated" to a CS0, non-majors course). The choice of language is always a topic of feverish debate. Scheme has has been taught successfully at a number of schools and has many staunch supporters touting its strengths. In the past few years, there was talk about moving to scripting languages, particularly python, as an alternative to a full-featured object-oriented language. Related to this are a number of theme-based intro courses that have been developed, utilizing a central theme (e.g., robotics, multimedia, games). While all of these approaches can point to success stories, the fact remains that most intro CS courses in colleges are still focused on object-oriented programming, using either Java or C++.

    The problem with teaching beginners using an industry-strength, object-oriented language is complexity. There is significant overhead involved in learning a language like Java, and all too often that means boring details - not inspiring applications. To address this problem, the latest trend in intro CS, as I see it, is the use of simplified environments as a way to introduce programming fundamentals while also engaging the interest/imagination of the student. Alice is no doubt the most popular example of this. A large number of intro CS courses at colleges start with Alice, introducing concepts such as classes & objects, loops and conditionals, etc. in a visual environment that can be fun and inspiring to students. From this foundation, students go on to learn Java or C++. Similar examples include Greenfoot, Jeroo, GameMaker, GridWorld, and Karel.

    The environment that I am most excited about right now is Scratch. Scratch was developed at MIT as a tool for teaching programming concepts to students from K-12 all the way through college. It has a simple drag-and-drop programming interface (similar to Alice, although slightly more intuitive, in my opinion). Using Scratch, students can build 2-D animations or games very easily, and there is an amazing online community for support. The Scratch Web site (http://scratch.mit.edu) currently has more than half a million (!!!) projects uploaded, which can be viewed and sampled for free. In the first two weeks of my intro CS course, I introduced my students to Scratch and was able to cover all of the basic programming constructs (assignments, conditionals, loops, event-handling) and introduce object-oriented ideas (classes, objects, fields, methods). But most importantly, the students learned these concepts by exploring existing code and building their own animations and games. In the first week, they were able to program a choreographed dance animation, a Frogger game, and a slot machine simulation. In the second week, they designed and implemented their own animations and games.

    Surprisingly, the 2-D nature of Scratch actually has some advantages over 3-D Alice. Using a built-in Paint editor, students can draw their own animation objects, or edit existing objects or photographs. The resulting animations/games look very much like Flash animations, which students are already familiar with through the Web. Sound is simple to add, be it sound effects, background music, or recorded snippets. And, the fact that students can upload their projects to share them with the world is very motivating.

    If you haven't done so already, check out Scratch!

    Dave Reed
    CSTA Board of Directors

    Posted by cstephenson at 01:50 PM | Comments (1)

    October 12, 2009

    The Benefits of Using Paired Programming

    Have you tried pair programming yet in your classroom? I started using it in my classroom five years ago and will never go back to the one computer per student model.

    In my classroom, students are randomly paired for a lab. I use the term "randomly" loosely, as I must admit to some tweaking, especially at the beginning of the course, to ensure partnerships that will be beneficial to moving both members forward. I try to make sure each student has an opportunity to work with every other student at some point during the year. One student is the "driver" and has control of the keyboard and mouse. The other student is the "assistant" and sits to the side, but works with the driver, advising and catching errors. Every 15 minutes, an alarm sounds (a cow moos in my classroom), and the students switch positions. Partners receive the same grade on the lab. Part of their grade includes how well they work together as a team: sharing the workload, staying on task, working cooperatively (outlined in a rubric so they know this ahead of time).

    The benefits of pair programming are numerous. First, the practice teaches students to work cooperatively. Students learn from each other, picking up new skills and techniques. I have also found that pair programming results in students giving a problem a concerted effort before turning to the one or two programming gurus in the class for the answer. The empty screen facing the student is somehow less frightening with another person by his/her side. I have seen a much higher success rate in a team's ability to figure a solution on their own without having to seek out others. Confidence levels rise as students find that, working cooperatively, they can arrive at a solution. In particular, females who are intimidated by computer science are able gain confidence by successfully working through labs with their partner. They begin to see themselves as valid contributors to the partnership, and start to take initiative in the problem-solving process.

    There are drawbacks. Advanced students sometimes overwhelm students whose skills are at a lower level. The more adept students sometimes resent having to work at a slower speed, but upon reflection, can see the benefit of explaining their thinking to their peers. Sometimes advanced or motivated students go home between classes and complete the entire lab on their own. I have thwarted that by giving "dessert" problems for those students to work on, telling them they must save the regular problems for class time.

    Occasionally, later in the year, I will have the students work alone on a lab, to see if they are able to arrive at a solution on their own and to give those who prefer to work alone that opportunity. The majority of students states in post-lab reflections that they found working alone a challenge and they see the benefits of working with a partner. Most tell me they prefer to work with another student on future labs. There are a few who enjoy the solo experience more, but I am never surprised at who those students are. They are usually students who don't like to work in groups, no matter what the subject.

    Overall, however, the benefits of overall higher confidence levels and more concerted efforts to develop a solution before turning for help vastly outweigh the occasional inequities within groups. On a selfish note, it also means half the number of labs to grade! If you haven't tried pair programming in your class, you might try it on just one lab or assignment to see how it goes.

    Karen Lang
    CSTA Board of Directors

    Posted by cstephenson at 12:49 PM | Comments (0)

    October 10, 2009

    Webinars for Professional Development

    I have given webinars this fall using WebEx (http://try.webex.com) and Elluminate (http://www.elluminate.com/). I used WebEx during a webinar for Pearson on Alice and Media Computation, and I used Elluminate during a webinar on Greenfoot.

    With both WebEx and Elluminate you use a browser to go to the url for the webinar. You have to download some software and then you are ready to be part of the webinar. With WebEx you also have to dial in to a conference call to hear and participate in the audio. With Elluminate you can use a microphone to participate in the audio and just your computer's sound card to hear the audio. With both you can have a text chat and can see the presenter's screen and powerpoints.

    I found Elluminate better for the presentor. With Elluminate I could share my screen and still see the participants text chat window which made it easier to see participant's questions. And, webinars can be recorded, which means that they are available long after the actual webinar has finished. But, I don't know, though, how effective a webinar would be for longer than an hour.

    Many teachers are having a hard time getting the funds to attend professional development events, so webinars might be one way to still get professional development at a low cost. And, the National Science Foundation would like to have 10,000 teachers teaching the new Advanced Placement Computer Science course currently being developed by 2015. Training that many teachers is a major logistical problem that webinars might help solve.

    Have you participated in webinars? If so, what did you think of them?

    Barb Ericson
    CSTA Board of Directors

    Posted by cstephenson at 12:14 PM | Comments (3)

    September 17, 2009

    Equity in the Light of Fairness

    Let me start by saying I am new to this board of directors and I do not really have a good feel for what YOU want to hear or read about just yet. So I thought I would share an idea that has been floating through my head. We all know there is an underrepresentation of females in computer science. That is no secret. But sometimes, I find myself asking questions such as,"does it really matter?" If girls do not want to be computer scientists, why are we pressuring them? Why do we put funding and large efforts into programs that attract girls to the discipline, only to have a small return on the investment? (And I run quite a few of these programs!) And by having equal numbers of male and female students in the discipline, just what would that accomplish? Is it simply a matter of wanting what we do not have?

    These questions spawn from a thought that has stuck with me since my undergraduate days in education. In one of our foundations of education courses, we were taught about the concept of fairness. The professor defined fairness not as everyone getting the same thing, but everyone getting what they deserve. I think it makes a much more compelling case to think about equity in computer science if we think about it in the light of fairness.

    I wonder if, in looking at this concept of fairness for female computer science students, we focus too much on the construct of 'female'. By singling out the women who do choose to go into computer science, does that make them sense more of the differences that already exist naturally? Obviously, we know males and females are very different, in their thoughts, desires, skills, etc. So, if we come back to this idea of fairness, fairness for a female in computer science should focus on meeting each individual's needs regardless of gender. Certainly, the concept of differentiated instruction is nothing new. Schools have been doing it for years based on ability levels, special needs, and talents. So what would our curricular and co-curricular efforts look like if we focus on individual needs and gender is just one of the considerations in those needs? Does it change how we do things today? And more importantly, does it change the 'face' of computer science and those seeking to engage in the discipline?

    Unfortunately, I do not have an answer to all these questions. If you have tried anything like this, I would love to hear about it. However, I do know that females are very important to computer science because of those differences in thoughts, desires, and skills. It is the collective combination of the variety of characteristics among those in the discipline that will continue to spur us into the next century of new discoveries. And embracing that variety is what will promote fairness for years to come.

    Mindy Hart
    CSTA Board of Directors

    Posted by cstephenson at 12:57 PM | Comments (0)

    September 10, 2009

    Using GameMaker to Spark an Interest in CS

    In my work with middle school students, I feel that it is my responsibility to expose my students to as many topics as possible. It is my hope that by exposing them to a variety of topics, these students will find some that interest them to continue with during high school and even beyond.

    Last spring, I was introduced to GameMaker. This application is a great way to integrate computer science and the making of games. GameMaker allows students to create games in a manner similar to Scratch. GameMaker uses a drag and drop method to create the code for students to make their own games. Just like Scratch, GameMaker has its own community environment in the form of a Web site. In the Web site, one can find tutorials, documentation, a wiki and other resources. Best of all, GameMaker is a free download and can be downloaded from:


    I think that GameMaker is a great resource to use to get students interested in computer science and to introduce them to the art of reading code and learning about other computer science concepts. I would love to hear about your experience with GameMaker or other introductory computer science applications.

    Dave Burkhart
    CSTA Board of Directors
    K-8 Representative

    Posted by cstephenson at 04:13 PM | Comments (1)

    September 09, 2009

    New Podcast on Building a CS Program in Middle School

    For the past year or so I've been visiting with interesting computer science educators and professionals in order to bring to you cool classroom strategies and interesting CS topics to ponder. The CSTA Snipits podcasts:


    are a result of those experiences.

    Tracking down and scheduling a visit with these individuals can be quite a challenge. Maybe that indicates why they are so interesting to talk with. They are some of the busiest and most involved individuals you might ever meet.

    During the CS & IT Symposium and NECC 2009 I managed to corner several podcast guests. We met in a semi-quiet (!) corner of the main hall of NECC, in the dining room staging area, in a frigid annex in a hotel, and on the curb sitting on packed luggage moments before the Metro was to arrive.

    All of these visits were well worth the effort. I learned so much about what is happening around the country and know you will find the stories inspiring as well. I hope you will enjoy the conversations and find cool ideas you can put to work for your students.

    One of the latest podcasts is my conversation with Michelle Hutton. Michelle is a founding member and current president of the Computer Science Teachers Association. She teaches computer science at the Girls' Middle School in Mountain View, CA. The Girls' Middle School is a 6-8th grade all-girls school where CS in mandatory for all students. Michelle used the ACM Model Curriculum for K-12 Computer Science to build an exciting three-year program with interesting projects and serious CS learning.

    Listen in on our conversation about how CS became a required course and details on CS education in the middle school.

    CS in the Middle School with Michelle Hutton
    Medium: MP3
    Listening Time: 7 min.

    Pat Phillips
    Editor, CSTA Voice
    Host, CSTA Podcasts

    Posted by cstephenson at 05:57 PM | Comments (0)

    September 03, 2009

    Time For Another Paradigm Shift

    Unstructured code (BASIC), structured code and procedural programming (Pascal), object-oriented code (C++ or Java). We've all been through one or more of these paradigm shifts. Each has had its own challenges which we have overcome. Now is the time for a paradigm shift in our K-12 education progression. Every student should be expected to take a basic computer science course where he or she can learn to "think like a computer scientist" as described by Dr. Jeannette Wing in her article Computational Thinking published in the March 2006 issue of the Communications of the ACM. Dr. Wing makes a convincing case that computational thinking is "For everyone, everywhere".

    In the article, Dr. Wing states:

    "Computational thinking is a grand vision to guide computer science educators, researchers, and practitioners as we act to change society's image of the field. We especially need to reach the pre-college audience, including teachers, parents, and students, sending them two main messages:

    Intellectually challenging and engaging scientific problems remain to be understood and solved. The problem domain and solution domain are limited only by our own curiosity and creativity; and

    One can major in computer science and do anything. One can major in English or mathematics and go on to a multitude of different careers. Ditto computer science. One can major in computer science and go on to a career in medicine, law, business, politics, any type of science or engineering, and even the arts."

    So how do we make this shift and where do we find time in students' schedules for another course? State and local school boards are adding graduation requirements in an attempt to better prepare our students for life after high school. Virginia has increased the number of credits required to earn the “advanced” diploma from 24 to 26 and requires each high school student to take the course "Economics Education and Financial Literacy." In light of the current economic conditions, one can hardly argue with this worthy objective, but shouldn't we be developing their problem-solving and logical thinking skills, also?

    We expect students to take a proscribed sequence of mathematics courses, science courses, and social science courses. We should provide a sequence of computer science courses, and expect every student to take the first course. The Computer Science Equity Alliance, jointly sponsored by UCLA and the Los Angeles Unified School District developed an introductory course. Other states are pursuing similar efforts. It is time for us to work together behind the ACM model curriculum to effect this change. This is a change we need.

    John Harrison
    CSTA Board of Directors

    Posted by cstephenson at 08:42 PM | Comments (1)

    September 01, 2009

    Assessing Impact in Computing Education

    I spend much of my time thinking about reforming computer science education in Los Angeles. My goal is to make computer science courses accessible and engaging for students who have not traditionally participated in computing. To this end, I have been part of a dynamic team (the Computer Science Equity Alliance) that has developed a new course which introduces students to the foundational knowledge of computer science. In the professional development which is coupled with this course, a dynamic community of teachers, expert practitioners, and university faculty come together to build individual and collective knowledge about computing topics and the instructional strategies needed to engage diverse students in computer science. We piloted this course the first year in seven schools and enrolled 300 students. This fall, the course will be offered in 20 schools in the Los Angeles Unified school district.

    However, measuring the impact of this effort has different meanings for different national and local stakeholders. Thought the mere existence of this course when there were no courses before is a measure of success itself, the computer science education community wants to know more about the impact of this course on high school students.

    When informed about this effort or other K-12 initiatives in computing, many leaders of computer science education often seek measures of longitudinal effectiveness:
    * Do these students take other computing courses?
    * Do the students pursue a major in computing?
    * Pursue advanced degrees?
    * Work in the computing industry?

    Other STEM educators believe the way to measure the impact of a foundational computing course is to measure mathematics and science achievement skills of students participating in the course, and compare these scores to non-computer science takers. They want to know, does learning about foundational knowledge in computing raise test scores in related subjects?

    While these questions are important, I resist the urge to rely on this type of data to measure the success of our mission to broaden participation in high school computing. Our goal is for all students to develop an understanding of the computing discipline, not to train them to enter the pipeline and become computer scientists. Just as reforming algebra education does not set its goal as more math majors, computing education at K-12 should not be judged on higher education enrollment patterns. There are just too many confounding variables in play in decision-making at the college level. And while we anticipate that developed computational thinking skills might transfer to tackling problems in other STEM subjects, focusing on test scores in math and science reflects an unfortunate belief that computing is only important for its positive impact on achievement disciplines, rather than a discipline itself.

    Instead, I believe the best data will come from looking at enrollment patterns over time (increases by gender, race, English language learner status); how many students continue to more advanced courses when offered at their school, interviewing teachers about their experiences teaching computing to Los Angeles students, and collecting pre- and post-class survey data from computing students about their perception of the importance of computer science, their interest in the subject, and their motivation to pursue further study. For us, this triangulation of data will most truly assess the effectiveness of a foundational course for broadening participation in high school computer science.

    A student response elucidates this perspective: "I'm still paving my path to become a professional musician, but now I can use what I've learned from this computer science class to further that career, using codes for websites, banners, playlists, etc." Though not pursuing computer science as a profession, the knowledge of computing will influence this young person's life goals. For me, a course that offers such opportunities is the goal in itself.

    Joanna Goode
    CSTA Board of Directors

    Posted by cstephenson at 01:25 PM | Comments (0)

    August 28, 2009

    Qualifications for Teaching AP CS

    I got a panicked e-mail from a local school in August that they didn't have an Advanced Placement Computer Science A teacher for fall. They were planning to use the retired teacher who had taught it the year before, but he had an injury right before school and so wouldn't be able to teach it. They had a teacher who has taught Beginning Programming in Java, and he had signed up for College Board AP Summer Institute in Texas, but that was cancelled. They had the common misconception that a College Board Summer Institute somehow certifies a teacher to teach AP CS, so they were worried that they wouldn't be able to offer the course at all.

    All you must do in order to teach an AP CS A course is pass the audit. Of course, to effectively teach an AP course you should have a good understanding of the material and the topics to be covered. A College Board AP Summer Institute is one way that you can learn the material, but you can also take classes at local institutions, or learn from on-line resources.

    I am helping the person who has taught only Beginning Programming in Java teach the course. It meets Monday – Friday for 50 minutes each day, but I am only coming Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. On Tuesday and Thursday the students work on the computer to complete assignments. I am posting my materials at:


    Georgia Tech just received a NSF grant to retrain unemployed IT workers to be high school computing teachers and pair them up with existing computing teachers during the first year of teaching. So, my co-teaching this course helps me see how this will work.

    There are 28 students in the class. As we often see in an AP CS A course the majority are white and male. There are nine females and three African Americans in the course. This course is in marked contrast to the Business Essentials course just before it that is 75% African American. The school is actually very diverse with 41.2% White, 35.3% Black, 12.3% Hispanic, 8.2% Asian and 3.3% other racial groups.

    One of the things I would like to do this year is recruit a more diverse class for next year. I also would like the school to offer at least two sections for AP CS A next year. I expect demand for AP CS A to increase greatly in Georgia in the next few years since it counts as one of the four years of science starting with students who were freshman in 2008-2009.

    Barb Ericson
    CSTA Director

    Posted by cstephenson at 12:45 PM | Comments (0)

    August 26, 2009

    Issues Old and New

    Monday August 17th was *our* first day officially back with classes starting Thursday and, as usual, the new school year is raising many issues, some new and some not so new.

    Like many CS educators, I am trying to learn how to do a number of new things at once. I will be teaching a course in C++ this fall, so I have been spending a lot of time in that world. But I am also trying to learn how to program the Google Android mobile phone, and that's done in Java (with a lot of XML files to specify colors, formats, and display). It's not easy switching back and forth from one to the other.

    I am also working with an industry consortium here and with some of the local school districts in defining and advertising their IT and CS curricula. It's an old story, and a hard sell. As a discipline we suffer from the riches of too many job opportunities. The school administrators seem to want to go for the numbers count rather than quality, and thus emphasize all the things you can do with as little educational effort needed as is possible. As one of the corporate collaborators points out, though, upper management won't be coming from the group that didn't go to college or university.

    A recent study of "persistence" puts university computer science students at the absolute bottom for retention from the first to the eighth semester at university. The 38% persistence for CS is worse than engineering, business, social science, and other science majors. What are we doing wrong? Are we getting the wrong set of students coming into our programs? Are they coming in not properly informed? Are we at the universities doing a bad job? Probably some of all of the above. This was a study over 17 years, so it's not *just* the dot com boom or the dot com bust. There is something clearly different about computing.

    The more I see and think of these issues, the more I realize how important it is that we are clear in our message, and how the Level I, II, and III courses present that message. Computing technology is everywhere (the word I picked up from the CS & IT symposium this summer was "everyware"). But how do you distinguish those who are simply users of the technology from those who might know how to construct the next version of the software? In becoming universal, the IT business has become extremely broad, and it's hard to convey the breadth to prospective students. I keep going back to the nature of the Level II course, which would cover some of the major applications to which computing is put, and then look a little deeper into the technology necessary to make those applications actually work.

    And this takes me back to programming the Android phone. A phone, with a complete browser capability built in, and that can also be programmed for games. It's very slick, and to make this work there must be a great deal under the hood that the better students, who might become computer science majors, need to be aware of even if they never actually program an Android. It is enough that they know of and understand the existence of these layers of software that distinguish a modern mobile device from a paperweight.

    Duncan Buell
    CSTA Board of Directors

    Posted by cstephenson at 11:24 AM | Comments (0)

    August 24, 2009

    Capturing Students' Interest in Computer Science

    Hardly a day goes by without one of my e-newsletters posting a feature about special programs designed to interest students (particularly young students) in pursuing a career in Computer Science and/or the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) fields. As a lifelong educator with a love of the STEM disciplines as well as of computer science, this is so gratifying to me! We certainly need to interest students in all of these career fields..all students, but particularly female and minority students.

    One such summer opportunity for young people is a camp in South Florida that teaches elementary school children the basics of robotics and computer programming (two of my most favorite subjects). The camp is taught by a former high school physics teacher who hopes to better prepare the students for high school science. What a great way to interest these young people in science and computer science! And elementary school children are certainly not too young to develop such an interest.

    A similar opportunity took place at McKinley Technical High School in Washington, D.C. This summer enrichment program involved middle and high school students who developed programming and modeling for a prototype of an educational computer game called Immune Attack 3.0. The group of students had used the video game to learn last summer. This summer the students were using their programming and modeling skills to help update the game. Again, what a great way to interest young people in Computer Science by making science and computer science more fun and engaging through the use of video games! More information can be found by following this link:


    The University of Washington had an innovative summer enrichment academy. This academy introduces deaf and hard-of-hearing students to careers in computer science. The academy is a nine-week intensive program for outstanding math and science students in the 16- to 22-years old age group. The students who participated were from Arizona, Indiana, Maine, New York, Texas, and Virginia, as well as from Washington. The students lived on campus and took a college-level computer programming course. They earned a certificate in computer animation. The students communicated innovative ideas with American Sign Language during class. This program not only interests more young people in computer science, but it strives to diversify the computer science field. Further information about this academy can be found by following this link:


    Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology in Terre Haute, IN, also conducted a summer education program called Operation Catapult. Thirteen rising high school seniors participated in a variety of hands-on projects and attended lectures on a variety of topics. Students completed projects in such areas as entrepreneurship, Python computer programming, and embedded microcontrollers. The program is in its 43rd year of enticing young people to enter STEM (and computer science) career fields. More information can be found by following this link:


    Educators and computer science professionals alike understand the importance of capturing students' interest in computer science at a young age. IBM conducted a STEM Camp for Girls in Burlington, Vermont this summer. During the camp, 40 young women learned to build robots with Legos as well as to design Web pages. While having fun in engaging activities, the seventh-grade students were honing their math, science, and technology skills. The girls will return to the IBM facility in February for Job Shadowing Day. What a great idea! Not only are the students engaged in activities that will attract them to computer science, they will also learn more about the profession when they return during the work-based learning activity in February. Again, the enrichment program will interest a diverse group in pursuing a career in computer science. You may find further information about this program by following this link:


    All computer science educators and computer science professionals should take note of these programs. The United States has a critical shortage of professionals in all STEM and computer science professions. Students who are engaged in authentic projects and applications of science, math, and computer science are far more likely to follow a career path into one of these fields. Women, minorities, and individuals with disabilities are underrepresented in the STEM and computer science fields. Summer enrichment programs, job-shadowing programs, mentoring programs, and partnerships between education and business and industry are all investments in young people that will produce a great return (more young people and especially those from underrepresented groups) seeking career paths in computer science.

    Deborah Seehorn
    CSTA Board Member

    Posted by cstephenson at 02:20 PM | Comments (1)

    July 29, 2009

    Building CS in South Carolina

    This blog is like the blogs I have seen people writing in real time during conference presentations. I am writing this in the middle of our Advanced Placement Summer Institute for Computer Science. Our consultant, Richard de Paulo, is leading this institute for fifteen teachers, all but one from South Carolina. (He is at present talking about ArrayLists.) We haven't had a summer institute in the state for at least ten years, which may explain why our enrollments in AP computer science are not very high. Time to move things forward.

    I have been working in the last few years to understand the decline in university enrollments in computer science, and I have come to the conclusion that to increase the number of university students we must improve what we do for computer science in the K-12 schools. Increasing the AP enrollments will not by any means be sufficient for declaring success in the world of computer science education, but it certainly seems to be necessary, and with fifteen more teachers in the classroom here in South Carolina, we can't help but see better times in the future.

    (I have other irons in the fire, to be sure. But this is a blog, and thus is supposed to be timely and "current", and right now what is most current is watching de Paulo teach about teaching Java. I happen to have spent my last two years in teaching our first two semesters' courses, so this is very familiar material for me.)

    Putting on this institute took some doing. Normally in South Carolina, the AP summer institutes are funded by the state. This year, there was no such money available, and at one point I decided we weren't going to be able to run the event. We were, however, able to get a new organization, the Consortium for Enterprise Systems Management, to replace the state funding and keep costs low for teachers and school districts. Finding the approved consultant was not exactly easy. There is only one consultant for computer science in the entire southeast region. After that, it was mostly a matter of getting out enough propaganda to be able to get an enrollment large enough to justify the class. Even in a bad economic year, we got a class of 15 teachers (plus one who had a family emergency this past weekend and couldn't make it).

    I am hoping for good results in the long term. Tom Rogers, from Southside High School in Greenville, joined the CSTA Leadership Cohort this summer as a teacher leader for South Carolina, participating in the Leadership workshop. Together with the other teachers I have been working with, Tom will now have a sizable base from which to build a larger statewide network.

    We have a good mix of teachers here this week. There are a few ringers, people relatively new to teaching who have run IT businesses or done computing in past lifetimes. And there are a few who have taught applications courses, but not programming, in the past. We won't get a uniform distribution of results from this summer, but we will have started to rebuild the interest in AP CS.

    Duncan Buell
    CSTA Board of Directors

    Posted by cstephenson at 12:00 PM | Comments (0)

    July 20, 2009

    Computer Science Certification-Why We Need to Care

    First, I would like to encourage all of you to read the CSTA publication: Ensuring Exemplary Teaching in an Essential Discipline: Addressing the Crisis in Computer Science Teacher Certification

    As we know, there is a crisis in computer science teacher certification. This crisis can be attributed to two key factors:
    * a lack of clarity, understanding, and consistency with regard to current certification requirements
    * where certification or endorsement requirements do exist, they often have no connection to computer science content.

    What follows is, in my opinion, a ridiculous situation being experienced by a person who is currently in search of a high school computer science teaching position in New Jersey. Unfortunately, this situation and similar situations are not uncommon.

    Background and Experience:
    Mathematics and Computer Science, Explorer Scouts, Summers 1976 and 1977.
    Independent Computer Programmer and Consultant, 1984-1997.
    B.S. Computer Science, Marquette University, 1991.
    High School Certification in Computer Science, Mathematics, and History,
    Cardinal Stritch University, 1997.
    Wisconsin Licenses 1997-2002, 2002-2007, 2007-2012.
    M.S. Computer Science Education, Cardinal Stritch University, 2004.
    AP Computer Science Reader, 2006-2009.

    Notes on certification
    Wisconsin created certification in Computer Science in 1983. While relatively few Schools of Education offer CS certification, it is a recognized field.

    This person's other certifications are as "add-on minors"; that is, he took enough courses to have had an undergraduate minor in mathematics and in history, but did not take them at the right time to add them to my undergraduate degree.

    For personal reasons, this person is moving to New Jersey.

    Attempts to certify in New Jersey
    Wisconsin offers reciprocity with very few other states. New Jersey is not on that short list.

    New Jersey does not offer High School certification in Computer Science. The closest thing is Vocation School certification in Computer Technology.

    Based on numerous discussions with people at the New Jersey Department of Education, those who teach computer science in New Jersey usually have certifications in either Mathematics or Business. They have suggested that he return to school to earn a second Bachelor’s degree in a certifiable subject area.

    More attempts
    Not getting any answers by telephone this summer (the number for the New Jersey Department of Education is only open from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. and is almost always busy), he has spoken with two people at the Morris County New Jersey Office of the Department of Education. They have suggested that the Department of Education is extremely busy with renewals and initial certifications right now. No one in Trenton will see people. If you want to find out how to certify, you need to fill out the online application, pay the $190 fee, and then they will consider answering your questions. (If you cannot be certified, then they will refund $120 of the fee.)

    Temporary solution
    For now, it appears that his best options are to either teach at a private high school or teach as an adjunct at a college or university.

    He has accepted a position in a private high school in New York to teach one section of AP CS and also an adjunct position at a 4-year university in New Jersey teaching a CS 0 course. He will be spending more time commuting than teaching!

    Because they cannot be certified as computer science teachers, new teachers and those teachers like the person described above, find that they must first meet the certification requirements in some other discipline, requiring them to develop and prove teaching proficiency in a field in which they may not actually wish to teach.

    It is absolutely essential that all computer science teachers, new and veteran, have adequate
    preparation to teach computer science successfully. The background information described above clearly indicates adequate preparation to teach computer science. But because there is a significant lack of consistency in computer science teacher certification standards in the United States, he is unable to hold a NJ teaching certificate.

    Our ultimate goal is to ensure that the standards for computer science teachers are clear, consistent, and are uniformly implemented in the United States as well as in other countries. It is critical that the standards described in the CSTA publication mentioned above be universally accepted and applied to the licensing of high school computer science teachers.

    I thank Lon Levy for sharing his story.

    Fran Trees
    CSTA Chapter Liaison

    Posted by cstephenson at 12:24 PM | Comments (4)

    May 12, 2009

    Alternative Certification for CS Teachers

    In the midst of budget cuts (which the politicians claim won't harm education), a colleague of mine reported that a local school system had declared that it would cut costs by dismissing all alternate entry teachers. After the initial shock, and the inevitable question, "Can they do that?" my colleague told me about research she had been doing on her doctoral thesis—concerning the value of in-depth induction programs for alternate entry teachers. She had come across a research study published by the Institute of Education Sciences (IES).

    The study, An Evaluation of Teachers Trained Through Different Routes to Certification was published in February of 2009. The study reported several interesting findings. Before I continue with my post, I must state that the study involved 187 elementary school teachers (kindergarten through 5th grade) in 20 districts in seven different states (not middle school or high school Computer Science teachers). However, the study findings certainly give one cause to pause and think.

    The study reported that students of alternative certification (AC) teachers did not perform statistically differently from students of traditional certification (TC) teachers. There were some "average differences in reading and math, but the differences were not statistically significant." The study explained that there were many differences in the preparation and background of AC and TC teachers, including, required coursework, whether or not the teacher was currently taking courses, the teacher's undergraduate major, and the teacher's SAT scores, differences that exist among any group of teachers (or other professionals for that matter). The study reported that such "differences in AC teachers' characteristics and training experiences explained about 5 percent of the variation in effects on math test scores and less than 1 percent of the variation in effects on reading test scores." In other words, the teachers' characteristics and required coursework "were not related to the effects of teachers on student achievement." The study concludes that there was "no benefit, on average, to student achievement from placing an AC teacher in the classroom when the alternative was a TC teacher, but there was no evidence of harm, either." The authors note that, of course, individual teachers have an effect on student achievement. The authors were NOT able to identify what specific characteristics of individual teachers have an effect on student achievement.

    Interestingly enough, the study also concluded that "There is no evidence from this study that greater levels of teacher training coursework were associated with the effectiveness of AC teachers in the classroom." The statistical analysis showed that there was no evidence that the amount of coursework required of AC teachers produced more effective teachers. As a life-long educator, this surprised me; however, after reflecting on my recent experiences with so many alternative entry teachers and the current state alternative licensing requirements, I thought perhaps educators aren't really approaching the AC teacher with an open mind. There are many truly outstanding AC educators in many different content areas.

    The study further concluded that "There is no evidence that the content of coursework is correlated with teacher effectiveness." The study found no statistical correlation between student test scores and the content that the AC teacher had completed—including pedagogy and fieldwork. The authors state "there was no evidence of a statistically positive relationship between majoring in education and student achievement." That will certainly shake up conventional wisdom in the world of education. I'm not sure that I can even grasp the implications since one of the responsibilities of my current position is to plan the preparation needed for these alternative licensure teachers. At least I do have the educational foundation that many teacher education institutes are now embracing (in part due to NCLB). I have a bachelor's degree in my content area. I took education courses in addition to the BS degree requirements to obtain a teaching license. My master's degree is also in the content area rather than in education, and I had to jump through many hoops to add that content area to my teaching license (it's not quite as strenuous now!).

    So, why would a school system want to dismiss all their alternative certification teachers? That's a very good question. I don't think that action would be prudent at all. I have come to the conclusion that we need to encourage and embrace alternative certification in all areas of education, but particularly in the areas of Computer Science (CS) and Information Technology (IT). What better preparation can a CS or IT teacher have than to have a degree in the content area and related work experience? What a wealth of knowledge and experience these AC teachers bring to the classroom! Who better than an AC teacher to help our students with authentic, rigorous and relevant learning in the 21st Century? What better time than a financial downturn than to encourage these well-qualified individuals to seek a second career in education? We need these well-qualified alternative certification teachers in Computer Science and Information Technology education—and we need them now. (CSTA has included alternative entry teachers in the recently published white paper, Ensuring Exemplary Teaching in an Essential Discipline: Addressing the Crisis in Computer Science Teacher Certification, available at http://csta.acm.org/Communications/sub/Documents.html.)

    The research study, An Evaluation of Teachers Trained Through Different Routes to Certification, was conducted by Jill Constantine, Daniel Player, Tim Silva, Kristin Hallgren, Mary Grider, John Deke of the Mathematica Policy Research, Inc.; and Elizabeth Warner, Project Officer, Institute of Education Sciences. A pdf file of the research study can be found at the ISE, US Department of Education, website: http://ies.ed.gov/pubsearch/pubsinfo.asp?pubid=NCEE20094043.

    Work Cited:
    Constantine, J., Player D., Silva, T., Hallgren, K., Grider, M., and Deke, J. (2009). An Evaluation of Teachers Trained Through Different Routes to Certification, Final Report (NCEE 2009-4043). Washington, DC: National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education.

    Deborah Seehorn
    CSTA Board Member

    Posted by cstephenson at 02:02 PM | Comments (1)

    March 30, 2009

    Do High School Computer Science Teachers Want a Professional Organization?

    There is no doubt that High School Computer Science Teachers need a professional organization. We are often the lone voice in the wilderness, under appreciated by our departments, administrations, and districts. Yet, what have we done to improve our lot?

    Typical high school computer science teachers are usually the only person at their schools who teach computer science. They may be in the Business Department, Math Department, or part of the Career and Technical Education department; but wherever they are, CS teachers are often alone. They may teach only one class of computer science and often have two or three other courses to prepare to teach. Their time is at a premium. Where do they turn if they have questions, experience difficulty with a topic, or need a new idea or activity to help their students better understand the material? There are resources, including the AP Computer Science Electronic Discussion Group, AP Central, International Baccalaureate Online Curriculum Centre, and our textbook web sites. However, these sources may not be time sensitive, or may require multiple attempts to find someone knowledgeable who can answer the question. High School Computer Science Teachers need answers now, not in two weeks, because in two weeks that topic has been left in the dust.

    How can a professional organization help? Local chapters can provide personal contacts in the local area who can readily respond to questions. Periodic meetings can provide a forum to air difficulties or concerns, offer solutions, or find others who are experiencing the same problems. Chapters can also provide professional development on a topic if there is widespread need and an "expert" exists in the community.

    What makes me think we do not want a local chapter? Let me give two examples to illustrate my point. Over the last six months, a two high school teachers and five college professors have worked together to create a local chapter in my area. We spent many hours planning for our first meeting, which was held at a local research center. We felt this would provide some professional development for Computer Science Teachers in current applications of computing and computer systems as well as providing the opportunity for local teachers to meet. We contacted over 50 high schools by email, often directly to the teacher listed as the computer science teacher. We emailed invitations 45 days in advance and again 10 days in advance. No one responded to either of the emails, and no new teacher attended. Our initial meeting consisted of the seven original members. My second example is from a different area. Again, a dedicated group met and laid plans to form a chapter. One of these members was transferred out of state. All efforts after this to hold a meeting to finalize the chapter plans and hold the first meeting have been unsuccessful. So I ask, are we really willing to do the work necessary to support a professional organization that will address our needs?

    What can we do about this? Well, if you are reading this post, you already understand the benefits of CSTA and what it can offer. You want a local organization to provide support and professional development. Do your colleagues? What is the interest in your area? Start small. We have been holding a district wide forum for several years. Of the 10 teachers, four or five attend regularly; several others occasionally, and one or two never attend. We continue to meet to serve the needs of those who attend.

    CSTA is an organization that exists to serve High School Computer Science Teachers. We can make CSTA the organization that will provide the service we need and want if we are willing to step up and shoulder some responsibility. Yes, High School Computer Science Teachers want a more localized service, but maybe more of us need to come forward to make this a reality.

    John Harrison
    CSTA Board Member

    Posted by cstephenson at 03:18 PM | Comments (9)

    March 24, 2009

    Why We Need a "Voice"

    The CSTA publication is called "Voice" and it has really come home to me the importance of having a Voice.

    Our Ministry of Education (In New Zealand we have centralized education policy) has had three attempts in three years at "solving" the problem of Computing in High Schools. None of them, in my view, made or are making progress. But what is finally starting to happen is, informally computer science teachers themselves are "coming out" on a listserv (actually now a Google group) and uniting. They are giving voice to what is required. The listserv has to date been dominated by technical issues or "how do you assess this unit of work." Now the hot topics are what do we want for CS, how do we achieve it, lets unite and make our collective voice heard.

    It is heartening to see teachers gaining a voice and advocating. Several of us have chipped away for a few months and it is gathering momentum. Without those "starter" voices nothing would change.

    So I encourage anyone, anywhere in the world, to use their voice. This blog may be a way of making that first contact with others in your own country! Or CSTA can put you in touch with others in the same geographical region.

    Joining CSTA will open up that potential.

    Margot Phillipps
    International Director

    Posted by cstephenson at 07:23 PM | Comments (0)

    March 19, 2009

    Educating NITRD

    As far as obscure government acronyms go, NITRD is a pretty good one. It stands for the National Information Technology Research and Development program. This program cuts across numerous federal agencies to carry out and coordinate investments in IT R&D. In 2007, the President's Council of Advisory on Science and Technology (PCAST… another doozy of an acronym) issued a report making recommendations for some reforms of the NITRD program. One interesting issue it touched on is the need to improve computing education and strengthen the IT workforce pipeline. With Congress now using this report as basis to look at what changes it would make to the program, ACM joined with the Computing Research Association and National Center for Women and Information Technology in a letter outlining ideas of how NITRD could be improved to address computer science education issues, particularly at the K-12 level.

    While R&D is clearly the focus of the NITRD program, it has an education component. The overall program is broken into several (acronym alert) Program Component Areas (PCAs). Each one deals with a field of research but its Social, Economic, and Workforce Implications of IT PCA is charged with addressing workforce and education issues. In truth, this part of the program is small and the Nation Science Foundation dominates the contributions to it. Further, it really does not have a K-12 focus and the Department of Education dropped out of the overall program some time ago. It is time to revitalize and expand this area.

    The community letter to Congress seeks to strengthen the pipeline by expanding, better leveraging, and coordinating existing education efforts within the NITRD program. We outline four recommendations (and specific legislative language for the wonks out there):

    * Promote computing education, particularly at the K-12 level, and increased exposure to computing education and research opportunities for women and minorities as core elements of the NITRD program;
    * Require the NITRD program to address education and diversity programs in its strategic planning and road-mapping process;
    * Expand efforts at the National Science Foundation (NSF) to focus on computer science education, particularly at the K-12 level through broadening the Math Science Partnership program; and,
    * Enlist the Department of Education and its resources and reach in addressing computer science education issues.

    Each of these recommendations would bring a much-needed federal focus to issues in computer science education at the K-12 level. More and more conversations are occurring within the community about what needs to be done to improve computing education, and the discussion often turns back to the K-12 level. Computing and the innovations it yields are critical to the domestic economy. The ubiquitous nature of computing has spread its reach into everyone’s daily lives. Securing our cyber-infrastructure, protecting national security, and making our energy infrastructure more efficient are among numerous issues all depending on computing. However, the current pipeline will not satisfy the demands of an industry that includes some of the country's most innovative and successful companies. Nor will the existing education system give students the kind of background knowledge in computing and skills they need for the 21st Century.

    We must do more to expose kids to a quality computer science education program at the K-12 level, support teachers and bring innovative new curricula into the schools. Opening a serious education front in the NITRD program would be a good start to this ambitious goal.

    Cameron Wilson
    ACM Director or Public Policy

    Posted by cstephenson at 03:07 PM | Comments (0)

    March 18, 2009

    Many Things We Can Do

    While riding across the California desert on my way to California CUE (Computer Using Educators), reading several RSS feed captures, and trying to decide upon a topic for my blog contribution from the many CS related events in the news lately, I recalled a fitting quote, "When you don't know what to do, do many things."

    I think that's the approach we as technology educators need to embrace, and quickly! There are serious problems in technology/CS education that need solutions. We scratch our collective heads because we are not sure what to do to solve the problems of falling enrollments, to reverse popular CS misperceptions, and to motivate students to look at opportunities in technology.

    A few recent reports in the news offer motivation and a source of ideas for some of the "many things" we can do.

    The $787 billion stimulus bill, signed into law last week includes $650 million for existing educational technology programs and opportunities for additional funds for improved broadband access for rural schools as well as other dollars identified for educational technology. In a recent article in Education Week magazine, Keith R Krueger, the chief executive officer of the Washington-based Consortium for School Networking, said "If you think this is the time to get ahead of the curve and show that educational technology can be creative, then there are opportunities. If we don't do this, than shame on us, and we're going to get rolled over."

    So what can be done "ahead of the curve" in your classroom, school, or district to show CS as a creative solutions for improving graduation rates, re-engaging disengaged students, building relevance into other core subjects, creating effect higher-education articulation agreements?

    The second item in my "do many things" list is to vow to meet our clients where they live. The problem we face is the equivalent of what is currently happening to newspapers. The newspaper tossed on the driveway is facing serious circulation problems. Many of their customers are living on the net and that is where they want to get their news. We need to seriously think about where our clients "live."

    Our students call the Internet and other media rich environments home. How are we meeting them there in both our delivery of learning materials and the projects they learn from? Ideas for taking our product to the customer include providing a rich online presence for classes with engaging interactive elements as well as a repository of their learning resources. We need to explore how programming for the Web can enliven a CS course while teaching all of the basic concepts plus many more that have real meaning for our "clients." Dan Lewis, Santa Clara University, has suggestions on how to do this in the upcoming May issue of the Voice.

    Teaching game development is gaining popularity and seems to motivate at least some of our students. The impact of playing video/computer games is hotly debated. Solid research into both the effects of playing games on learning and into the effectiveness of teaching game design on engaging students in STEM careers would be valuable. The good news is that the Games for Learning Institute, a joint venture between New York University, Microsoft, and other colleges has begun research to discover whether video games (and not just those designed to be educational) can draw students into math, science, and technology-based programs.

    Opportunities to teach "real" CS using media including games abound. Scratch, Alice, and Media computation are just a couple. New to the field is XNA programming, a natural advanced step in a comprehensive CS curriculum. Many of the opportunities to include game and media development are free and worthy of exploring.

    So if you don't know what to do, do many things!

    Pat Phillips
    Editor, CSTA Voice

    Posted by cstephenson at 03:34 PM | Comments (0)

    March 06, 2009

    Fixing Computer Science Teacher Certification

    More than likely you wouldn't be reading this blog if you didn't feel passionately that computer science is an essential discipline in our high schools. Certainly, every article I read about the importance of teaching our students 21st Century Skills reminds me how critical computer science is in our educational system. Quite simply stated, computer science exemplifies 21st Century skills. Students today are inherently interested in computers and computer science because they are digital natives.

    With these digital natives populating our classrooms, the increasing globalization of our economy, and the focus on 21st Century skills, the stage is set for a resurgence of computer science in our schools. Who will teach these digital natives computer science? Unfortunately, many of our states lack teacher certification in computer science. Where computer science teacher certification exists, the certification standards are not consistent among the states. And, the certification standards are certainly not consistent throughout the world. It is critical that the individuals teaching computer science in our schools be exemplary in the field. And, it is critical that a certification structure be put into place to address that critical need.

    CSTA has recently published a white paper titled Ensuring Exemplary Teaching in an Essential Discipline: Addressing the Crisis in Computer Science Teacher Certification . The white paper addresses the critical need for computer science teacher certification by detailing the importance of computer science education, examining relevant research about computer science teacher preparation, highlighting models of computer science teacher certification, and concludes by recommending models for teacher preparation and certification in computer science. The recommended models for teacher preparation and certification address professionals who are new teachers, veteran teachers who have NO computer science teaching experience, veteran teachers WITH computer science teaching experience, and individuals coming from business with a computer science background. The professionals in each of these four groups bring a wealth of experiences and skills to computer science teaching. These are the professionals who are or will become the teachers who will teach computer science to our digital natives.

    The CSTA white paper provides a welcome and necessary model for state teacher certification specialists to follow to establish computer science certification standards in each state thus providing critical uniformity across states. The white paper also assists current and prospective computer science teachers by providing a model for honing their skills and for keeping current in the field. Certainly if we have more professionals earning computer science certification, we will see an increase in computer science education in our schools. This will lead us to exemplary teaching in computer science and prepare our students for success in the 21st Century.

    The Ensuring Exemplary Teaching in an Essential Discipline: Addressing the Crisis in Computer Science Teacher Certification document can be downloaded by following this link:


    I urge you to take a few minutes to read the document, if you have not already done so.

    Deborah Seehorn
    CSTA Board Member

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

    February 28, 2009

    Advocacy Action in Ohio

    Ohio is on the move, or at least we would like to think so.

    During the eTech State Technology Conference in February we were able to present four sessions on topics in computer science education. The eTech coordinators worked with us to schedule all four sessions on the same day in the same room. We had approximately 250 people over the four sessions. Topics included teaching with Scratch, programming with phidgets (small electronic devices), CS Unplugged, and teaching graphics and web design.

    There were many teachers who stayed to ask questions and gather resources. Many also took CSTA membership forms. One particular teacher confided that the only reason her district allowed her to come was because there were sessions directly relating to her job. Her school district paid for her to attend on the one day that we were presenting. We feel that is a huge success. As we talked to other teachers and as we continue to make new contacts we find that most computer science teachers are isolated. Our hope through things like the day at eTech and through working to develop a chapter that we are able to provide contacts and resources for CS teachers.

    We have also begun the conversation about forming a CSTA chapter in Ohio. This conversation will continue on March 10th at our next informal meeting. We hope to use Skype (or something similar) and have a pod of cs teachers meet in the Cleveland and a second group in the Columbus area. The primary goals of this meeting is to determine the structure of our proposed chapter. We also plan to talk more about the lines of communication that have been opened with the Ohio Department of Education concerning awarding a math credit for APCS when 4 credits of math are required with the new Ohio CORE initiatives. We will also discuss upcoming events for CS students and teachers.

    The Cincinnati area will also have a meeting on March 17th as scheduling issues prohibit running it in conjunction with Columbus.

    As you can see things are happening in Ohio. If you are interested in being a part of any of our activities visit:


    to see what is coming up.

    Angie Thorne & Stephanie Hoeppner
    CSTA Leadership Cohort

    Posted by cstephenson at 02:32 PM | Comments (0)

    February 25, 2009

    Why It is Time To Get Political

    In the last year, CSTA has put s great deal of effort into developing a strong advocacy arm for CSTA and there are times when I wonder if this is a good use of our precious and limited resources when there is so much that needs to be done for computer science teachers. A blog comment by our member Tom Reinhardt (which I am including in its entirety below) however, helped me see once again why advocacy is not just important, but critical to our survival as a disciple.

    With the launching of the CSTA Leadership Cohort we are now building an advocacy network in every state. And through our work on the ACM Education Policy Committee, we are getting our message to the key policy makers. In fact, several of our powerful CSTA members are on the Hill right now, lobbying for K-12 computer science education.

    And these efforts are starting to show signs of success. More states are considering allowing computer science courses to count as math or science credits for mandatory graduation requirements. The National Science Foundation has opened up the Math and Science Partnership grants to include funding for computer science. And we are hearing rumors of a potential large-scale professional development plan for computer science teachers.

    In the last year CSTA has also supported two germinal publications. The first is a CSTA publication called Ensuring Exemplary teaching in an Essential Discipline: Addressing the Crisis in Computer Science Teacher Certification. This publication has now been sent to over 500 educational policy makers.

    The second book is by Jane Margolis. It is called Stuck in the Shallow End: Education, Race and Computing and we are doing everything we can to convince policy makers that they must read this book.

    In his comments below, Tom talks about the seemingly overwhelming challenges that teachers are facing and the critical importance of changing the minds of the policy makers. His comments have convinced me that these advocacy efforts are, after all, something our members both want and need.

    Chris Stephenson
    CSTA Executive Director

    Here is Tom's Comment

    What's missing is "relevance." Unless or until someone who is in a position of authority deems Computer Science "relevant" we shall be relegated elective status. Pure and simple. That no one from ACM or any other organization was able to get CS into the "core" curriculum when they crafted that terrible piece of legislation called No Child Left Alive, sealed our fate---pure and simple.

    Sure, we can argue the point, but, trust me (at least from what I've seen over the last six plus years) no one is listening. Unless your content impacts your Principal's career, you're irrelevant. In the best case, you're tolerated. In the worst case, you're marginalized to the point of collapse.

    It gives me no pleasure to say this, but I'm growing weary of hand-wringing and the polly-annish attitude that if we could only make our case known, things would be different. Policy makers only convene meetings to hear opinions that confirm their decisions. Unless they have already decided that you are important, you are a not on the agenda.

    This is the view from the trenches, at least in Montgomery County, Maryland. I live from enrollment period to enrollment period. I teach 5 preps, 5 courses, run a department (whithering yearly) and participate in more meetings that I'd care to recount at this moment. I have more education and more experience than 90% of my co-workers. I teach a content area that our Science department treats as "what's the name of that course?" and our mathematics department sees as not-calculus: No one teaches properties and structures any more; we have calculators, we don't need abstract mathematics.

    All the while, I have excellent relationships with my students who take my courses when they can free up the elective credits. And this is the only reason that I soldier on. Their parents make it a point to visit me on Back to School night; they really don't have to do that. (Their students could fail my course tomorrow and the Administration would likely expunge it from their records.)

    If we really wanted to do something to promote CS, we'd be figuring out how to change the minds of policy makers, not educators because they are cows. We'd be actively engaged in political action, not intellectual hand-wringing. We'd be writing articles and books, exposing the shameful state of a youth abused and deprived of a truly relevant and world-class education.

    Peace out.

    Tom Reinhardt

    Posted by cstephenson at 02:08 PM | Comments (0)

    February 23, 2009

    Where Are All the High School Computer Science Students?

    I recently had a discussion with a professor from Virginia Tech on why can't we recruit more students for Computer Science majors at the university level, why can't we get women or minority students, and what can be done to turn this around? There is obviously a great deal of interest in recruiting students to our discipline, so why are we unsuccessful?

    Why don't high school students take Advanced Placement Computer Science? There are a variety of "excuses": it is too hard, it is boring, I don't want to spend my life in a cubical writing code by myself or I don't want to be a computer scientist, there are no jobs, etc. Let's examine these rationalizations.
    1. It is too hard. Certainly, Computer Science is a challenging discipline and is different in content and concept from any other high school course. But, is it too hard? AP Calculus is hard. AP Physics is hard. AP Spanish is hard. AP Government is hard. In fact, all AP courses are hard. They are college level courses high school students take. By their very nature, AP courses require extra work, cover advanced material, and proceed at a more rapid pace than their non-AP counterparts. AP Exam results support my contention that AP Computer Science is no harder than any other AP subject.
    2. It is boring. Again, if all we do is write boring programs, AP Computer Science is boring. However, there are many interesting labs that AP students can do involving graphical applications and real life simulations. As teachers, if we were still teaching using the techniques we learned to teach Pascal, our course would be dull; but most of use are using modern tools and techniques. Even so, is computer science more boring than memorizing derivative forms or learning physical laws?
    3. The last series boil down to the perception that there are no jobs or that the jobs are boring. Various agencies (Census Bureau, Labor Department) indicate that there is a growing demand for people with computer science degrees and that the jobs are good jobs that are unlikely to be off-shored. So why can't we get this message out?

    Why do high school students take Advanced Placement (AP) courses? While there are many answers to this question, certainly the ability to achieve college credit or placement is a key factor. Can a student who takes AP Computer Science benefit directly in their college career? For most students, the benefit is indirect and intangible. Few colleges award general education credit for AP Computer Science. The typical student can satisfy those GenEd requirements with most AP courses (math, science, history, foreign language) but AP Computer Science does not fit in this mold. AP Computer Science students learn how to solve problems, how to think outside the box, and how to tackle a large project. These are all skills that lead to success in future academic courses. However, AP Computer Science does not lead to college credit for most students.

    So, what can we do? We (High School Teachers) can't fix the college credit issue. However, we can tout the virtues of our course in developing 21st century skills and creating a more technologically savvy student. How many majors require either a formal programming class, expect the student to be able to write Excel spreadsheet macros, or create Visual Basic applications? As a student, do you want to do this as a college freshman when you are making the adjustment to college life or as a high school student when you are still in your comfort zone? As educators, we need to sell our course, not as making students computer scientists, but rather, exposing students to skills and knowledge they will need for the rest of their lives. How many other high school courses can make that statement?

    John Harrison
    CSTA Board Member

    Posted by cstephenson at 01:02 PM | Comments (6)

    February 18, 2009

    An Effective ELL Strategy for Computer Science Classes

    I'm sitting in my office printing out cards to send to students to invite them to enroll in a computer course. I am using the AP Potential list from the College Board provides. It includes the students that the College Board believes should be successful in an AP Computer Science class. Fortunately, one of the school's secretaries was kind enough to look up some additional information about the students to help me deliver the cards.

    While waiting for the printer to chug out the cards, I was thinking about a strategy that I recently used in my computer class. As a mentor for two beginning teachers (PT), I am invited to attend the workshops that my PTs are required to attend. The PTs are required to implement a strategy and then collect evidence to show its effectiveness. I decided that since they had to do it, I should at least implement something that was suggested during the "Teaching Academic Language to English Learners" workshop. I decided to implement the "same and different" strategy.

    During the workshop, the speaker walked us through "same and different." She had us divide ourselves into pairs. In our pairs we selected who was A and who was B. The As received one picture and the Bs another. We were told to discuss the picture with our partner in terms of how the pictures were the same or different, but were could not show the picture to our partner. For instance, in my picture there was a couple, a man and a woman. In my partner's picture there was also a man and a woman. In my picture both were standing, but in my partner's picture the man was leaning and the woman was standing. We continued our comparison for 5 to 10 minutes.

    I decided I could also use this strategy in my AP Computer Science class. I gave my As a method that returned a value without parameters and the Bs were given a similar method except that it did not return a value and had parameters. The students discussed the methods for 5 to 10 minutes then we had a whole class discussion about return types, parameters and method calls. The students felt that this help solidify return types and parameters. I am looking for an opportunity to use this again.

    Give it a try with your students and let us know how it works.

    Myra Deister
    CSTA Board Member

    Posted by cstephenson at 01:26 PM | Comments (1)

    February 06, 2009

    Why Computer Science?

    I used to say that high school students should take computer science because it helps them be better problem solvers and critical thinkers. I'd go on to say that what they learn in computer science will serve them well no matter what they choose to study or what career path they take in the future.

    I don't say that anymore.

    Not that I don't believe it. Of course I do. But how does this argument differentiate computer science from any other academic high school class or discipline? The fact is that *every* high school teacher can claim (and rightly so) that taking classes in their discipline will help students be better problem solvers and critical thinkers.

    So what then is the compelling reason to take computer science in high school?

    I think we can only answer this question by looking at what it means to be a well-educated citizen in today's world. Most would agree that, at the minimum, we need to be able to read and write with understanding, have a knowledge of mathematics that includes algebra and geometry, understand the basics of science including the fundamentals of biology, chemistry, and physics, and have a historical perspective on our own culture and the culture of others.

    I'd argue that we must have computing literacy as well.

    Now, by computing literacy I don't mean knowing how to keyboard, word process, or use software. These are all important skills but fall into the realm of either basic foundational skills taught in elementary school (such as handwriting typically is) or extracurricular education (such as driver's ed).

    Computing literacy is also not information literacy. While essential, information literacy is about critical reading and analysis rather than computer science.

    Finally, computing literacy is not just about knowing how to program any more than mathematical literacy is just about knowing how to use a calculator or chemistry literacy is just knowing how to do a titration or history literacy is just about memorizing a bunch of dates and events.

    Computing literacy *is* about knowing and understanding the fundamentals -- the big ideas, if you will -- of computer science. It is about understanding how computing simulates the real world by modeling real world processes. It is about understanding basic algorithms and algorithmic techniques and how we can solve complex problems using simple concepts. It is about understanding abstraction and how it helps us manage complexity. It is about understanding the theoretical and practical limitations of computing, knowing that they affect what types of problems we can solve and how quickly we can solve them.

    When we talk about computing literacy in these terms, it gives us a compelling case for making computer science a required part of the high school curriculum so that our students are well-educated citizens and productive members of society. Given the ubiquity of computers and computing and how they are both integrated with and integral to every other discipline, it's hard to argue otherwise.

    Robb Cutler
    CSTA Past President

    Posted by cstephenson at 06:14 PM | Comments (2)

    December 31, 2008

    The New Year

    I hope that you have had as restful and relaxing a holiday break as I have. After what felt like non-stop activity during the first semester, with lessons to plans, assignments to grade, and students to help, it's nice to have some time away from school. As the break winds down, I find my thoughts turning back to school.

    As a teacher, I always think of the new year as beginning in September. New pencils and pens, bright classrooms, excited students...the short days of January have nothing on the fall. That said, the new calendar year can provide an opportunity to start fresh.

    I used to think it was important to maintain absolute consistency. Even when systems didn't work, I kept going with them. I'd been told it was important to keep things the same, lest we confuse students. Fortunately, I've long since realized what a bad idea that is! Consistency is only a good idea if it works. Now I use the holiday break to reflect on what systems are not working well and how I can improve them in the upcoming semester.

    This year, I will offer weekly lunch tutorials, so students will have a dedicated time they can get help. I'm always available by request, but having to set a time is a barrier for some of them. Hopefully, knowing they can come in every Wednesday will encourage some students who need extra support.

    What changes are you thinking of? What ideas do you have that someone else might use in their class?

    Michelle Hutton
    CSTA President

    Posted by cstephenson at 01:35 PM | Comments (0)

    December 09, 2008

    Why Students Do Not Take APCS

    I recently heard a statistic that 30% of the students who take AP Computer Science go on to major in computer science in college. While this may sound like an impressive statistic, it only serves to highlight one of the systemic problems in high school computer science education -- namely, that we don't serve a broad base of students.

    Consider the evidence. Only 20,000 or so students currently write the APCS (both A and AB combined) exam, and this number is likely to decrease next year when the AB exam is retired. Contrast this with the 100,000 students who take the AP Chemistry exam, the 145,000 students who take the AP Biology exam, the 275,000 students who take the AP Calculus exam, and the almost 600,000 students who take the AP English Language or Literature exams. In fact, more students take an AP exam in French than in Java!

    Why is there such a wide variance in the numbers? I think you have to examine the motivations of students who take AP courses. While some students take AP courses because they like the subject matter or because they want college placement and/or credit, my experience has been that the vast majority of students take AP courses for two reasons:

    First and foremost, students take AP courses because of the GPA boost they get. Many high schools have a higher GPA scale for AP and honors courses, but even if they don't, admissions departments at the college level will often recalculate a student's reported GPA to weight AP courses more heavily. The end result is that many students will only take a non-AP course as a last resort because it will often *lower* their GPA -- even if they get an A+.

    Second, students take AP courses because it improves their chances for admission at most selective colleges and universities. Admissions officers want to see students take the most challenging coursework available to them. When there's a choice, it is better to take an AP class (even if your grade is slightly lower) than to take a non-AP course and get an A+.

    The main problem is that the APCS course (either A or AB) is perceived as difficult and time-consuming -- not rigorous and challenging. With all that students are doing these days, being able to sink two or three or four hours a night into a lab is just not possible. Even if they have the time to put into APCS, they have the very real concern that their other grades will suffer as a result.

    It comes down to the fact that when students have a choice between APCS and another AP course that they perceive as "challenging but doable," students will usually pick the latter -- sometimes even if they would prefer to take computer science.

    Don't get me wrong. I love computer science and I advocate strongly that *every* student should have a basic understanding of the field. But unless we do something soon to change how computer science is being taught at the AP level, I fear that APCS A will soon go the way of AB.

    As far as that 30% statistic I mentioned earlier, I'd much rather see it drop to 2% -- as long as we could develop a broadly appealing yet rigorous computer science course. If AP Computer Science could draw a similar number of students as AP English, we would increase the number of students who go on to major in computer science by more than 50%. Now *that* would be impressive.

    Robb Cutler
    CSTA Past President

    Posted by cstephenson at 12:31 PM | Comments (3)

    October 14, 2008

    The Most Important Book You Will Read This Year

    You might remember Jane Margolis' and Allan Fisher's book from a few years ago called "Unlocking the Clubhouse: Women in Computing". That book was a germinal work about computer science education and it fundamentally changed how many of us look at issues of gender and computing.

    Well, Jane has done it again, and if you can find time to read nothing else this year, read "Stuck in the Shallow End: Education, Race, and Computing".

    This book is essential reading for anyone who cares about the critical intersections of education, race, and computing. It is shocking and sad and uplifting and it is essential reading for educators, administrators, parents, community leaders, policy makers, and anyone who cares about the future.

    Margolis and her team show that when it comes to education and computing, the emperor has no clothes. Schools may be filled with shiny new machines but this is no guarantee that students are learning the high level critical thinking skills they require. The writers also lay bare a pervasive and systemic racism that virtually guarantees that even the best and brightest minority students receive nothing more than rudimentary point and click computing education, severely diminishing their abilities to succeed at the post secondary level and to thrive in the increasingly technological world in which we live.

    Set all of this in a bureaucratic quagmire where actually educating the students (rather than just managing them) is a near impossibility and one begins to feel as though this is a hopeless situation. But this is where "Stuck in the Shallow End" actually triumphs. In the midst of grim reality it offers hope (grounded in solid research), showing how researchers, teachers, and administrators can work together to acknowledge and overcome the ingrained inequalities that keep so many of our students from achieving their full potential.

    And it should also be mentioned that this is not just a thoughtful book, it is also extremely well-written and accessible, even to the most dedicated non-techie.

    If you are an educator, if you care about educating all students, if you care about understanding what is going on and doing what is right, get this book. I know your time is precious, but it will be worth every minute you spend reading it. I promise.

    Chris Stephenson
    CSTA Executive Director

    Posted by cstephenson at 05:52 PM | Comments (0)

    October 07, 2008

    Computer Science Without Programming?

    There have been some interesting discussions in the blogosphere recently about whether computer science could (or should) be taught in K-12 without programming.

    At the elementary and middle school levels, the CS Unplugged curriculum is one way to engage students in real computer science without even needing computers. And when we do use programming tools at this level, they tend to be exploratory -- a developmentally appropriate way to learn.

    In the high schools though, I think we have it completely backwards. Too often, we teach programming without computer science. Courses such as "Introduction to Java" and "C++ Programming" abound. Even the remaining AP course is focused almost solely on programming. Although we're now becoming "enlightened" and are moving towards programming environments such as Scratch, Greenfoot, and Alice, we still gear our courses around the tool rather than the computer science. We're just replacing "Programming with C" courses with "Programming with Alice" courses.

    There's somewhat of an analogy in the mathematics curriculum these days. I recently tutored a student who wanted to review for the SAT math exam. As we were going over sample problems, we'd talk about approaches to solving the problem. Much too often, when I'd suggest the traditional mathematical solution (for example, using the quadratic formula or factoring a quadratic polynomial to find its zeros), she would tell me that she didn't know how to use those methods. Instead, she'd graph the function on her calculator and use the built-in solver to get the answer. Moreover, she could get the answer in about one-third the time it took me to solve the problem by hand.

    I hate this. Not because I dislike the tool, but because she (and too many students) use the tool to solve the problem without having any real understanding of the underlying math concepts. Take away the calculator and her SAT score would have dropped several hundred points.

    While some would say my quarrel with the AP and SAT exams is an issue with standardized tests, not with mathematics or computer science education, I would argue that problems go well beyond those multiple choice exams -- that the fault lies in our curricula and our approaches to education. Perhaps I'm too much of an idealist, but shouldn't our students' education be at a higher level? Whether it's math or computer science, shouldn't we first be teaching our students the conceptual framework and then (and only then) teaching them what buttons to push?

    Robb Cutler
    CSTA Past President

    Posted by cstephenson at 01:54 PM | Comments (11)

    September 11, 2008

    Leadership Cohort Activities in Gwinnett County, Georgia

    I began this school year with a renewed spirit, after having attending the Leadership Cohort in Chicago, IL this summer! It was so empowering to be amongst folks with like minds and a passion to grow our computer science programs at our schools.

    As the Program Specialist for High Schools in Gwinnett County, Georgia, I serve as a liaison between the Computer Science teachers and the Director of Technical Education, Computer Science, and Apprenticeships. During the week of pre-planning, the Assistant Principal of Curriculum at my school stopped me in the hallway and asked me if I had any ideas about how I could possibly help to increase the number of students in the Computer Science program. I said, "Do I?!" He came into my classroom and I told him about the cohort, and all of the activities that we'd done to that end. So, we both left our little impromptu meeting feeling very encouraged. As part of an aggressive recruiting program this year, I will be at the feeder middle school's Orientation Night, equipped with a Smartboard showing some Greenfoot programs, Scratch animations, and Alice movies. I will also take along a couple of Lego NXT robots. The idea is to get the upcoming freshman class students "amped up" to take computer science courses as early as their first semester in high school. To get some of the current students at the school interested in our courses, I'm going to work with teachers in other disciplines to create projects that incorporate computer science in their other courses. For example, one year, one of the Foreign Language teachers and I created a project in which my Advanced Web Design students created a Flash matching game to help with Spanish vocabulary. We each had our own rubric to grade the project, and the students were very proud of their work. I will also recruit more female students by going to the softball team and cheerleaders, and encouraging them to register for computer science courses with a "buddy". There's been some research that indicates that female students feel less isolated in a computer science course when they take the course with a friend. I've done this before, and it seemed to be true.

    This summer, my goal is to facilitate 2 or 3 Computer Science camps at one of the local middle schools, to teach upcoming 7th and 8th graders Scratch, Alice, and Lego robots. I will also speak with the Program Specialist for Middle School Computer Science as well, to see if he'd be interested in participating in this project with me.

    I'm very excited about my endeavors this year, and I'm hopeful that my efforts to create "One Voice" are successful.

    Michelle Venable-Foster
    South Gwinnett High School
    Math / Computer Science Teacher
    Program Specialist for High School Computer Science
    Gwinnett County, Georgia

    Posted by cstephenson at 08:50 PM | Comments (1)

    Maryland and Technology Literacy

    So the people in the computer science field are constantly asking "Where do we fit in terms of technology literacy?" Some believe that every student should have some programming experience, while others believe that it should be selective students that get that instruction. (how we select is a whole different argument)

    Maryland has adopted learning.com's Tech Literacy assessment according to this article in order to gauge how well their 7th grade students are doing in acquiring 21st century skills. If you go to the TechLiteracy assessment modules page you can see the core skills they are working on.

    It is anextensive list in terms of applications usage, but is lacking in the more conceptual knowledge (except the social and ethical tabs). Lets consider what would happen if we added another box: Computer Science. What 1 sentence description would you provide for the module? What elementary and middle school examples of computer science skills would you want all students to have? (answer one or both, doesn't matter - I'll post my own ideas later in the comments to let people think about what they value before they see what I do).

    Leigh Ann Sudol

    Posted by cstephenson at 06:34 PM | Comments (0)

    September 10, 2008

    Leadership Cohort Activities in Ohio

    I am very excited to be a part of the CSTA Leadership Cohort. I was impressed at the workshop this summer with all of the insights into CS education, where we have been and where we hope to be. We are doing our best in Ohio to advocate for CS education. Our two main goals are to set up a CSTA chapter and have a CS emphasis one day at our state wide Etech conference.

    My colleague Angie is working with contacts in Central Ohio to host a first CSTA meeting which hopefully will lead to the formation of a chapter. We have both been working on our Etech conference emphasis. It is a 3 day event and I am working with one of the program coordinators to have one day offer a computer science session for
    each time slot. We are working with a professor and a couple other CSTA members along with ourselves to write proposals for sessions. Our topics are most likely going to include Alice, Scratch, CS Unplugged, Phidgets and some other topics. We want to offer sessions that will offer free solutions (or minimal cost) to add to school
    curriculum. Our plan is that other CS educators will walk away from that day with a handful of ideas and resources plus our commitment to continue helping them advocate for CS in their school district. Our goals are lofty but are in the process of being realized.

    We appreciate all the support we are getting and the excitement that is passing from us to those we come in contact with. Hopefully our efforts will help promote our "ONE VOICE" for CS and bring support to those trying to keep computer science in the schools.

    Stephanie Hoeppner
    Clermont Northeastern High School
    Angie Thorne
    Hilliard Davidson High School

    Posted by cstephenson at 01:30 PM | Comments (1)

    Leadership Cohort Activities in Georgia

    I was asked to address all the teachers in my county (Fulton) in Georgia towards increasing teacher training and collaboration for teaching CS courses. Our county Department Chair, for Career Tech, Business and Computer Science at the county, asked me to conduct a survey on what kind of interest teachers would have towards being more successful in teaching CS courses. The choices offered had a wide range of courses from AP Computer Science to Introduction to Computer Programming. The response was awesome. Most teachers said they felt lost and responded that the training would help a lot. In Fulton (my county) since last year all students K-12 have an early release day once a month (Sept., Oct., Jan, Feb and March). Teachers are expected to use this extra time toward Professional Learning and counts towards adding to their PLUs. I am cashing into this and offering training in different CS courses. I plan to start with AP Computer Science (only because I have other teachers with whom I collaborate with and I have most success teaching this course).
    This kind of project is the first of its kind. I am not sure how things will turn out. I guess I will solve the problems as they come along. As I progress, I will keep you posted of my successes, frustrations and failures.

    Deepa Muralidhar
    Northview High School
    Johns Creek Georgia

    Posted by cstephenson at 01:28 PM | Comments (0)

    June 05, 2008

    Making K-12 Outreach Really Count

    In the face of the continuing computer science enrollment crisis more and more universities and colleges are doing outreach to middle and high schools. Post-secondary institutions know that in order to get more students into their classes they have to reach out to K-12 teachers and students, but how much value do they really place on the work of the faculty and staff who are running their outreach programs?

    Last Thursday and Friday CSTA and SIGCSE co-hosted a workshop for colleges and universities who are doing or thinking of doing what we call "roadshows." These institutions are sending faculty and students (graduate and undergraduate) into middle and high schools to do presentations about computer science, informatics, and information technology. Their goal is to provide students with information about computing as a discipline and a career option and to provide special encouragement to students who are traditionally under-represented in the discipline.

    The workshop, hosted by Google at their Mountain View campus, was, to put it bluntly, amazing. Faculty and staff from 36 institutions (large and small) came from across the country to share their expertise and resources. Some of the participants were from schools with long-standing, high-quality outreach programs (such as Carnegie Mellon, Indiana University, and the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign) and some were just starting out. The workshop addressed key issues for the "newbies" as well as the concerns of more mature programs with regard to maintaining and sustaining outreach programs over time.

    But, as is often the case with these kinds of workshops, some of the most enlightening discussions took place outside the regularly-scheduled events. For me, the most engaging centered on the question of how much value universities really place on this kind of outreach work.

    As we were transitioning from one session to another, I happened to comment on two very different experiences I had had regarding the letter of support we required from the participants' Deans or Department Chairs. One Dean called me personally to say that, although her institution had virtually no money to support the outreach program, she saw it as exceedingly valuable and wanted to make sure that the applicant from her school would be able to attend. She made it very clear how much she respected and valued both the work being done and the person doing it. Another Dean sent me a letter that was so grudging in its support, I wondered how his faculty member actually managed to keep the program alive. Both of these faculty members were selected to participate in the workshop.

    My off-the cuff story started the ball rolling and many of the participants noted that although their institutions want and need them to do outreach, they really don't value it in all the ways that count for university faculty. As one participant noted "It doesn't count for tenure, it doesn't help you publish technical articles, it doesn't count for service work, and it doesn't bring in the big money grants. And the rest of the faculty do not respect the work that we are doing."

    When you consider that many of these outreach programs are scraping by on soft money or even no money, it is simply amazing that they are managing to do the work they do. College and university computer science and informatics programs need to move into this century. They need to realize that these kinds of outreach programs are critical to addressing the enrollment crisis and they need to recognize the folks who are doing it in the concrete ways that really count.

    Posted by cstephenson at 10:08 AM | Comments (2)

    February 25, 2008

    Life Changing Moments in Professional Development

    In the March, 2008 issue of the CSTA Voice newsletter (csta.acm.org/Publications/sub/Periodicals.html), readers are invited to reflect upon and share professional development experiences that changed their lives. We all have stories of inspiring presenters, dramatic training, and "ah-ha!" moments that transformed our approach to students, what we teach, or even our direction in life.

    As summer approaches and opportunities for professional development abound, we'd like to hear about the professional development experiences that truly made a difference in your life. CSTA is the proud sponsor of many professional development opportunities (csta.acm.org/index.html), and hearing from you will help us in planning memorable, maybe even life-changing, opportunities.

    So in the spirit of sharing, let me tell you my story of life-changing professional development. I began my professional life as a home economist. In one of my first years of teaching, I attended a professional development event and listened to what we called way back in the early 80s, a "futurist." I have long forgotten the person's name, but the message was loud and clear: "Technology will change the lives of families in ways you cannot imagine. Those who prepare now for the technological future will have the opportunity to impact that future."

    I was so excited about the stories of smart devices, ubiquitous communication, and unbelievable opportunities, I barely slept for days. Within weeks, I reenrolled in college, figured out how I was going to be part of the exciting new world I had heard about, and announced to my fellow (and very skeptical) teachers that I was going to become a CS teacher!

    Lo and behold, the future that I heard such wondrous things about is here and my life was changed forever because of a professional development event.

    Please tell us about the impact of your professional development experiences.

    Also, take a look at CSTA professional development offerings.

    Get ready for life-changing experiences.

    Pat Phillips
    Editor, CSTA Voice

    Posted by cstephenson at 03:37 PM | Comments (0)

    February 13, 2008

    Rethinking CS Education

    I think if there is one benefit to the current downturn in computer science enrollments it is that great minds are starting to wrestle with the complex challenge of how we improve computer science education so that we better engage all students.

    This was the topic of a recent blog posting by Dan Reed on his Reed's Ruminations blog (http://hpcdanreed.typepad.com/reeds_ruminations/). Here is some of what Dan had to say.

    I believe we must rethink our computing education approaches in some deep and fundamental ways. First, as researchers and technologists we seek to reproduce students in our technical image, failing to acknowledge that most of our students will not develop compilers, write operating systems or design computer chips. Rather, they benefit from training in logical problem solving, knowledge of computing tools and their applicability to new domains.

    In short, most of our graduates solve problems using computing rather than working in core computing technologies. We must recognize and embrace the universality of computing as a problem solving process and introduce computing via technically challenging and socially relevant problem domains.

    The magic hierarchy of computing - from atoms to gates to bits to in-order instruction architecture and machine language to code translation to "hello world" was an attractive and emotionally enticing technology story to previous generations. It is often esoteric and off-putting to a generation of students reared on ubiquitous computing technology.

    This does not mean we should eviscerate the intellectual core of computing. Rather, we must emphasize relevance and introduce computing as a means to solve problems. Show the importance of computing to elections and voting, energy management and eco-friendly design, health care and quality of life.

    Second, we struggle to accept the fact that not every student needs detailed knowledge of every computing specialization. If I were to draw a tortured analogy with the history of automobile, drivers need not understand combustion dynamics, the stiff ODE solutions underlying antilock brakes or superheterodyne radio engineering. Drivers do need to understand how to operate a car safely and recognize the high-level principles underlying that operation.

    All of this suggests we should create multiple educational tracks that emphasis the disparate aspects of computing, layered atop a smaller, common core. Of course, I could be wrong - I often am.

    To read the full blog entry, you can go to the CRA blog at:


    It is well worth the read.

    Chris Stephenson
    CSTA Executive Director

    Posted by cstephenson at 02:20 PM | Comments (2)

    October 22, 2007

    Update from the Hopper Conference

    I have just attended my first Grace Hopper conference organized by the Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology. The conference sold out with over 1400 people attending. There were a few brave men at the conference but the vast majority of the attendees were women (they even changed some of the men's bathrooms into women's bathrooms). It was amazing and exciting to see so many technical women in a variety of shapes, colors, ages, and backgrounds. I was impressed with the energy, enthusiasm, and depth of knowledge.

    The keynote speaker was Donna Dubinsky who is the founder of a new company Numenta that is trying to design a computer system that reasons using a model based on the neocortex of the brain. She was also president and CEO of Palm and had also co-founded Handspring.

    Jeannette M. Wing from Carnegie Mellon University gave a very interesting speech about some of the great open questions in computer science such as, "What is computable?" and "What is intelligence?" I was standing behind Turing Award winner Fran Allen in line for drinks and got to ask her, "what attracted her to her career in computer science at IBM". She said that she had big student loans and needed the money!

    One of the interesting comments I heard was from a student who said that she was surprised at the number of older women at the conference. Many of the students didn't know who Grace Hopper or Anita Borg were. I had an interesting talk with Kathryn Kleiman about a documentary that she is working on about the female programmers of the ENIAC and how they have never really gotten credit for their work. You can learn more about the female programmers of the ENIAC at www.eniacprogrammers.org.

    There is a documentary fundraiser on Thursday, November 8th 2007 from 6pm – 9pm, at the Google Headquarters in Mountain View, California. Tickets are $100.00 each and you can register at www.google.com/events/eniac.

    Everyone has heard of Bill Gates, and Steve Jobs but very few people know about the important contributions of women in computer science. We need to do a better job of recognizing the contributions of women in computing and in educating both men and women about the role women have played in computing!

    For more information on Grace Hopper see http://gracehopper.org/2007/about/grace-hopper/.
    For more information on Anita Borg see http://anitaborg.org/about/history/anita-borg/.
    For more information on the ENIAC programmers see http:// www.eniacprogrammers.org.

    Barb Eriscon
    CSTA Certification Chair

    Posted by cstephenson at 02:30 PM | Comments (0)

    October 04, 2007

    South Carolina Takes Ambitious Leap

    About six months ago, a group of department chairs, university and technical college faculty, teachers, and parents in South Carolina came together with the goal of bringing back the enrollments in undergraduate programs in computing. Now with the support of the South Carolina Superintendent of Education, Dr. Jim Rex, they are moving ahead on an ambitious plan to revamp high school computer science in South Carolina. Duncan Buell, Chair of the Department of Computer Science and Engineering at the University of South Carolina gave me the following update on the Computing Competitiveness Council's plan.

    Our committee's goal is to improve students' future employment opportunities and South Carolina's share of the knowledge economy. Over the last few months we have developed an analysis of why computing education may be the way it is and a plan for changing the situation for the better.

    One of the problems we see is that although there are departments of math, science, and business, there is no "department of computing" in the high schools, and thus there is no focus and no champion of computing per se. Over the long term we hope to change that situation, even if only to create virtual departments of computing comprising faculty from other departments. We feel we have made a major step forward in this direction in that the major guidance brochure for the STEM disciplines now features computer science prominently along with mathematics, science, and pre-engineering.

    We have also, at least in the Columbia area where USC is located, identified a school district willing to work with us on curricular issues and program development. In South Carolina, high school students choose a major. Last week the district and I worked out a major in computer science that will be advertised as one of the STEM disciplines. At USC, we are also developing a variation of the ACM/CSTA Level II course that will be suitable for distance delivery and satisfy a state computer science requirement that all too often has turned into a computer literacy requirement.

    We also intend to create a distance delivery version of the course and thus to mitigate problems with rural schools and the difficulties faced by school districts in justifying the staffing of computing classes with teachers. The other university participants in the CCC are currently searching for suitable districts in their regions of the state.

    Finally, we will be planning teacher preparation courses for summer 2008 both in the new Level II course and in Advanced Placement Computer Science, whose enrollment has shrunk in South Carolina to less than ten percent of that of AP Calculus. As our plans develop, we will be asking the state for support for teachers to induce them to make the effort to prepare for teaching these classes.

    Overall, our goal is to coordinate the presentation to students and parents of the message about computing as a discipline and computing as a career and to provide schools with the documentation, support, and teacher preparation necessary to deliver that message. It's a tall order, but if we do not participate, then we can't very well complain about what message does get sent.

    Duncan Buell

    Posted by cstephenson at 02:48 PM | Comments (0)

    September 20, 2007

    Introducing your new board members Part III

    Welcome back for the third and final installment of "Meet your new board members". The third new member of the CSTA Board of Directors is David Burkhart. David is the newest K-8 teacher representative and he and brings experience with teaching computing to the lower grades to the board. Dave and I sat down in cyberspace and had a little chat.

    Where are you from and what are you doing now in addition to being one of CSTA's newest board members?

    I am the Computer and Multimedia teacher at West Muskingum Middle School in Zanesville, Ohio. I also serve as the middle school technology mentor. I am a Master's Degree candidate at Ohio University, graduating June 2008 with a degree in Computer Education and Technology.

    Why Computer Science Education?

    I feel that it is my responsibility to show my middle school students a wide range of uses and career opportunities within my computer classes. Computer Science is one of the fields that my students enjoy the most.

    What do you like to do other than teach?

    I love spending time with my two sons, ages 6 and 10. They are involved in Cub Scouts, soccer and music lessons. As a family, we enjoy participating in activities with the Muskingum Valley Vineyard Church.

    For you personally which of the statements from CSTA's purpose has the most significance?

    Wow, choose just one? I think the purpose statement that means the most to me personally is "Build a strong community of computer science educators who share their knowledge." I feel that I have benefited so much through networking with others within the CSTA.

    Dave, along with Myra and Brian are bringing new ideas to your Board of Directors, but we want to hear from you as well! What are your hot topics? What can we do to help? Either leave Dave a comment or a question here, or let us know what we should be thinking about as we continue to move forward.

    Leigh Ann Sudol
    CSTA Communications Chair

    Posted by cstephenson at 02:57 PM | Comments (0)

    September 18, 2007

    Introducing: Your Newest Members of the Board of Directors (Part 2)

    Welcome to the second installment of "meet your new directors". Today's featured director is Myra Deister who is our newest 9-12 teacher representative.

    Myra is an active teacher in Fullerton, CA and teaches mathematics as well as computer science at her high school. She is also involved in a local Java educators support group and a member of the assessment review panel for the California Standards Test in Mathematics.

    What got you started in education?

    For as long as I can remember, I wanted to be a teacher. In high school I worked as a tutor at the local elementary school and was a member of the Future Teacher's Club.

    Why computer science education?

    I became interested in computers when the first Apple computers were sold commercially. I was intrigued as to how it could process the data. My husband wanted a quicker way for me to calculate grades and he found the computer and I found the software. I also decided to pursue a Master's degree around that time. I discovered that the math Master's program was not what I wanted to do, but computer science seemed interesting. I finished my Master's degree in software engineering a few years later and changed school districts so I could teach computing classes.

    For you personally which of the statements from CSTA's purpose has the most significance?
    "Build a strong community of computer science educators who share their knowledge."
    This has been very important for me because, as the only computer science teacher on my campus, I appreciate the support of other teachers. For example, this summer our support group decided that we needed to meet to review the new case study. We met for nearly eight hours during which time we were able to answer questions as a group and become more familiar with the case study. Also, during one of the breaks, a teacher and I were taking about Online Learning Management software. I mentioned to him that I was going to purchase server space to move my computer science curriculum there. He told me that our county was offering exactly what I was looking for at no cost. I looked into to it and it was exactly what I wanted. I appreciate the help and suggestions I receive from the teachers that I meet with on a regular basis.

    Is there anything else you would like to mention to help the membership get to know you better?

    I live in Anaheim Hills with my husband and son. My daughter lives in Costa Mesa. My children are my pride and joy. My son is a full time student at California State University, Fullerton (CSUF) majoring in communications. When he completes his degree, my entire family will be CSUF graduates. My daughter is working as a marketing manager in Costa Mesa for an IT company and does mission work with her church. She is leaving in a few weeks on a mission trip to India.

    We welcome Myra to the ranks of leadership and we know that the enthusiasm that she has brought to CS teachers in her local area will translate well into the work that she does as a member of the Board of Directors. If you have any questions or comments for Myra please leave them here. :)

    Leigh Ann Sudol
    CSTA Communications Chair

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

    August 20, 2007

    Georgia Summer Camps Reveal Student Preferences

    Summer is my busiest time of year. We run teacher workshops and summer camps for middle and high school students. We began with two weeks of camp for high school students in 2004. Last year we added two weeks of camp for middle school students. This year we expanded the program to five weeks of camps for middle school students and three weeks of camps for high school students. We ran two weeks of middle school camps using Scratch and PicoCrickets and two weeks of middle school camps using LEGO NXT robots and Alice. We ran one week for middle school students on RoboCup Jr. and some teams went on to participate in the international RoboCup Jr competition at Georgia Tech.

    For high school students we did two weeks of Alice, LEGO NXT robots, and Media Computation in Python. We also did one week for high school students for RoboCup Jr using LEGO NXT robots (dance and rescue).

    One interesting result is that many middle school students really liked Scratch and many high school students really liked Media Computation in Python. Many students preferred these free items over the expensive robot kits from LEGO and Pico. One boy had his mother come up and take a picture with his image collage displayed behind him that he created using Media Computation. See this collage at http://coweb.cc.gatech.edu/ice-gt/567 (3rd from the top).

    So, it is fairly easy for a high school teacher to offer computing summer camps for middle and high school students with Scratch, Media Computation in Python, and perhaps Alice and make some extra money in the summer and hopefully increase the quatity and diversity of kids in your computing classes! You could even make enough to buy some robot kits. The kids liked the RoboCup Jr. camp, too. I would like to do a Southeastern regional competition every year for this.

    See http://coweb.cc.gatech.edu/ice-gt/475 for more information on our summer camps and a zip about how to start a summer camp and some curricular materials.

    Barb Ericson
    CSTA Board of Directors

    Posted by cstephenson at 12:44 PM | Comments (0)

    March 13, 2007

    Applause for ISTE Standards Refresh

    Over the last year the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) has been carrying out a review and renewal of its National Educational Technology Standards (NETS) and early indications are that the results will be positive for educators concerned about ensuring that students have the skills they need to thrive in an increasingly technological world.

    The newly released ISTE NETS for Students Draft document (1/4/2007) is a move towards inclusion of computer science topics as well as technology topics under one standard. I applaud ISTE for suggesting a broader base of computing studies than in previous standards.

    While I believe the draft represents a step toward better computing preparation for K-8 students in the US, the one-page draft does not provide sufficient indication as to the anticipated level of student understanding expected. For example, Section "VI.A. Technology Operations and Concepts, understand and use technology systems" does not indicate the type of technology systems. I can reasonably imagine this as anything from connecting and using a DVD player or MP3 player, to connecting and using a computer system.

    Unfortunately, "IV.B. Critical Thinking, Problem-Solving and Decision-Making, plan and manage activities to develop solutions and complete projects" also fails to specifically state that students should use algorithmic thinking as a means to develop solutions. Trial and error is a great place to start, but eventually standard algorithms need to be introduced and modified in the approach to a solution.

    CSTA applauds ISTE for moving technology standards forward and for introducing concepts that are suggested in the
    ACM Model Curriculum for K-12 Computer Science Education
    . While not perfect, the revised NETS are moving students toward knowledge and skills necessary for success in today's digital world. We would encourage ISTE, however, to look at the future needs of US students and consider a more comprehensive approach to these needs.

    Anita Verno
    Chair, CSTA Curriculum Committee

    Posted by cstephenson at 12:16 PM | Comments (0)

    March 05, 2007

    AP Report Shows Slight Improvements

    The College Board has released its Report to the Nation for 2007 and the good news is that the number of students writing the A and AB Computer Science Advanced Placement exams seems to be on the rise after four years of continual decline.

    Between 2002 and 2005 the overall number of students taking AP CS dropped from 23,459 to 19,021. In 2006, however, there is a slight upward trend of about 3% to 19,601.

    The distribution of examinees by grade level is fairly similar to last year, with a slight increase (from 0.8% to 1.4%) in students who are taking the exam as early as 9th grade).

    Exam Takers by Grade Level
    9th grade: 1.4%
    10th grade: 14.5%
    11th grade: 36.6%
    12th grade: 42.4%
    Other: 5.2%

    The Grade Distribution also remains fairly consistent.

    AP Grade Distribution
    Score of 5: 24.9%
    Score of 4: 21.6%
    Score of 3: 15.1%
    Score of 2: 8.1%
    Score of 1: 30.3%

    There is also a slight improvement in gender equity, with the percentage of young women writing the AP CS exam rising from 15% to 16%.

    AP Exam Takers by Gender
    Male: 84%
    Female: 16%

    The number of exam takers who are students from traditionally underrepresented populations has also improved marginally. Both the number of Hispanic or Latino students and the number of Black or African American students have increased by 0.4%.

    AP Exam Takers by Race & Ethnicity:
    White: 52.8%
    Asian American or Pacific Islander 22.4%
    Hispanic or Latino: 6.6%
    Not stated: 5.0%
    Other: 4.0%
    Black or African American: 3.8%
    American Indian or Alaska Native: 0.4%

    These small improvements are a positive sign in light of growing concerns about the AP Computer Science exam, but it is doubtful that they are sufficient to overcome the growing sense among both K-12 and university educators that the exam is in need of a significant review and revision.

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

    February 16, 2007

    How does more testing ensure that students are gaining critical thinking skills?

    For those of you who have not yet seen it, the Commission on No Child Left Behind has put out their report proposing changes and updates to the NCLB legislation currently in place.

    In reading the high school section of the report (Chapter 6) I was immediately drawn to the recommendations that they are making for high schools. In addition to changing the way that high schools are evaluated, and including evaluation for principals, there are some changes that concern me. First of all the report states that "70 percent [of employers] said that high school graduates were deficient in critical thinking and problem solving skills" (p. 131).

    Are they recognizing that there is a pressing need to include more critical thinking activities (such as large design projects) or that students take at least one elective course in their high school career that is designed around critical thinking and problem solving? No, this is not their solution. Instead they are instituting another grade level assessment at the 12th grade level. If they are not bothering to teach these key concepts and skills as part of the curriculum, why on earth do they think that yet another assessment will solve the problem?

    Problem-solving courses can take many forms and many of these courses already exist in schools. The problem is that they are being phased due to the pressures of NCLB. Why not re-energize those courses, computer science included, by recognizing they teach an important set of concepts that is often missed in the four R's.

    Regardless of your feelings about NCLB and the mentioned changes here, I highly recommend you read the report. Even if you do not read the entire report, at least read the sections pertaining to your particular sphere of existence. Share your thoughts, speak out, let us know what you think the solutions might be.

    Leigh Ann Sudol
    CSTA Communications Chair

    Posted by cstephenson at 11:47 AM | Comments (1)

    December 21, 2006

    Florida's New High School Computing Majors

    In an effort to provide students with more highly defined career paths, the state of Florida is requiring high school students to choose a college-style major. To facilitate this change it has created a list of 400 possible majors, including eight that deal specifically with computing.

    Computer and Communications Technology
    Computer Education
    Computer Education - Applications
    Computer Education - Programming
    Computer Education (Magnet)
    Computer Graphics and Design
    Computer System Analyst
    Computer Systems Technology

    The good thing about this list of possible majors is that it includes the possibility of computing technology majors (Computer and Communications Technology and Computing Applications), majors relating specifically to the use of computing across the curriculum (Computer Education and Computer Education - Magnet)) and majors that can be considered more traditional computer science courses Computer Education - Programming, Computer System Analyst, and Computer Systems Technology). It also includes opportunities to focus on the use of computing inn other disciplines with majors such as Bioinformatics and Business and Information Technology).

    The problem with the list of majors, however, is that in attempting to connect courses with specific career paths, Florida may be focusing on so closely on one particular element of a discipline that it will make it difficult for students to acquire a sufficiently broad knowledge to function well in a workplace where both the jobs and what they are called are continually shifting.

    Take Computer Education - Programming for example. While there are some who think that computer science is really just programming, experts in the high tech industries will tell you that computer science is a whole lot more. Students need a foundational understanding of software design, software development, and software maintenance. They also need to be introduced to diverse areas of computer science, such as robotics, artificial intelligence, and human-computer interfacing just to name a few. A course in programming alone won't prepare them for the world of work.

    Florida might be wise to take a page from the ACM Model Curriculum for K-12 Computer Science, and organize the computing courses to allow students to learn the core concepts they require first, and then to explore the various specializations the discipline offers. Taking this approach, the majors might be listed as :

    Computer and Communications Technology
    Computer Applications
    Computer Science: Introduction
    Computer Science Analysis and Design
    Special Topics in Computer Science:
    graphics and design

    This kind of organization would be far more likely to ensure that students learn what they need to learn and that the system of majors remains flexible enough to serve Florida schools over time.

    Chris Stephenson
    Executive Director

    Posted by cstephenson at 02:17 PM | Comments (2)

    November 28, 2006

    The Pitfalls of Corporate Sponsorship

    All educational associations would be wise to pay attention to the roasting the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) is taking right now over its refusal to distribute a video on global warming to its members.

    The controversy has arisen over NSTA's refusal to distribute 50,000 free DVD copies of Al Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth". In a recent Washington Post article, the film's producer, Laurie David, reported receiving an email refusal of the free teaching materials from the NSTA indicating that acceptance of the DVDs would place an "unnecessary risk upon the (NSTA) capital campaign, especially certain targeted supporters." Also in the email, NSTA claimed that it did not want to offer a political endorsement that distribution of the film might imply. The problem, says David, is that NSTA has shown no such qualms about accepting more than $6 million in funding from Exxon Mobile, which has an alternative but similarly political end in mind when it comes to dealing with issues of fossil fuels.

    Whether you personally agree or disagree with the NSTA's decision, this situation is sadly indicative of the tightrope all educational associations walk. The fact is, associations such NSTA, CSTA, and NCTM are increasingly stepping in to fill the huge educational gaps that other institutions have abandoned. We are doing the research, and creating the learning materials, and providing professional development for teachers. And doing all of this take money.

    You might be surprised to learn that for most educational associations, membership fees account for less than 20% of the operating budget. That means we have to find the money to do all the good things we do from someplace else. There are only so many National Science Foundation grants to go around, so all of us, not just NSTA, rely on some form of corporate sponsorship.

    To date, CSTA has been blessed with wonderful sponsors and we are very proud of the things we have accomplished together. Like most organizations, we focus on finding projects that are clearly in support of our mission and of benefit to our members. We also look carefully at the practical and moral implications of our choices. In truth, we have had to turn money down for projects that would imply CSTA support for a given product because our Board feels strongly that this is the right thing to do.

    Whether right or wrong, I feel sorry for the good folks at the NSTA today. They have spent many years trying to do good things for teachers with far fewer resources than they need. The politics of scarcity gets us all eventually.

    Chris Stephenson
    Executive Director

    Posted by cstephenson at 05:37 PM | Comments (1)

    November 17, 2006

    International Perspective on Girls in the Sciences

    The Financial Times reported recently that females are more likely to study Information Technology if it involves problem solving, team work, and creativity. One of the Israeli daily newspapers has also just published research which finds that girls studying computing get slightly better grades than boys, though not significantly higher. They aslo get higher grades in physics and math. The problem, however, is that in computer science and physics, only about a third of the high school students choosing to take these courses are girls. Approximately the same picture is seen in higher education in Israel and elsewhere. Why is it so? Have you an ideas? Any solutions?

    Judith Gal-Ezer
    CSTA Director for International Outreach

    Posted by cstephenson at 07:25 PM | Comments (3)

    October 27, 2006

    A Rant About Salaries

    I am beginning to wonder if we will ever successfully address the issues around improving computer science education as long as we fail to grapple with the issue of teacher salaries.

    In every conversation I have had with people from business and industry and government, there is a genuine concern with ensuring that we have knowledgeable and well-trained professional teachers in the computer science classroom. Teacher pay, however, is the 800 pound gorilla everyone seems determined to ignore.

    In most states, high school teachers now require an undergraduate degree in some area of specialization as well as a teaching certification that takes an additional one to two years to achieve. In many states, provinces, and countries, licensed teachers are also required to write (and pass) praxis exams in their academic area and to maintain a level of on-going professional development. And none of this even takes into consideration what they actually face in the classroom (for example critical shortages of resources, lack of professional respect, large class sizes, students of widely varying abilities to name just a few).

    And what do they get for their troubles? Not much. Here is a chart of salaries for high school teachers.

    And here is a similar chart for computer programmers/analysts (often considered the bottom rung of the conputer science jobs ladder).

    My guess is that until we bring these two more into line (start paying computing teachers what they are worth) great teachers with computing skills are going to continue to find it very difficult to justify their choice to teach.

    Chris Stephenson
    Executive Director

    Posted by cstephenson at 02:14 PM | Comments (13)

    August 08, 2006

    What if Alabama Led the Way?

    Last week I spent a great day at the University of Alabama at Birmingham talking to computer science faculty and local high school computing teachers and administrators about working together to improve K-12 computer science education (see http://www.cis.uab.edu/programs/hsws/ for more on the workshop).

    During what turned out to be a wide ranging discussion, Alabama Teacher of the Year Cameron McKinley asked some interesting questions:

    "What if Alabama decided to lead the country in improving K-12 computer science education? Could this happen? What would it mean for the state and its students?"

    Our discussions during the day touched on many so called "local issues". Certification for CS teachers in Alabama is a mess. As Amber Wagner explained, there is no certification for computer science, so computer science teachers have to write the praxis exam in an area that has no computer science content. This is a story I am hearing from CSTA members all across the country.

    Jeff Gray of the University of Alabama at Birmingham talked about how student misconceptions about computer science as a discipline and as a career destination are driving students away from computer science at a time when companies cannot find enough qualified workers to fill the jobs available in the computing field.

    And we all admitted that computer scientists in general do a terrible job of explaining our field and why it is so exciting. How many student, for example, really understand that the most exciting breakthroughs in the sciences and even in the humanities require computer science expertise? How many students are even aware that computer science makes the gadgets they love possible? Too few!

    What would it take for Alabama to address these and other issues and so become a national leader in K-12 computer science education? First it would take vision and committed leadership at the highest political levels. Fortunately Alabama has "an education governor" so that is a good start. Next it would take the commitment of educators on multiple levels. The University of Alabama at Birmingham Computer Science Department is ready. The folks from the Faculties of Education are getting ready. The teachers I met are very ready.

    It would take an unwavering long-term commitment to creating a state-wide computer science curriculum and providing the resources to support it. This would require a plan for on-going professional development for all teachers and a campaign to help students understand the opportunities that are available for them in the computing field. These are things that CSTA would be happy to help with.

    Business and industry would have to step up, offering financial and other support. Not just the high tech companies, but the industries that hire 80% of the computer science graduates to keep them up and running, such insurance companies, banks, the auto industry, and the health care industry just to name a few.

    Of course, something would have to be done to fix the certification mess. And just maybe, teachers would be paid a livable wage.

    What kind of place would Alabama be if it did these things? Alabama would be a place where all students have the opportunity to acquire the computing knowledge and skills required to survive and thrive in this new global economy, Alabama's booming high-tech and medical industry would have access to the skilled workers it needs to drive innovation and economic prosperity. And a world of career opportunities would open up for this and future generations.

    Wouldn't it be a great thing? I believe that it is a possible thing.

    Chris Stephenson
    Executive Director

    Posted by cstephenson at 05:49 PM | Comments (4)

    July 23, 2006

    Expanding Communication

    In my new role as CSTA's Publications Committee Chair, I have spent the last week thinking a lot about communication, specifically about what types of communication make an organization work and what types of communication our members might want.

    Right now, CSTA communicates with its members (you) in a couple of different ways. This blog is great for letting you know what we are thinking and working on. The CSTA Voice is great for sharing articles, highlighting trends or best practices in CS education, and informing you of new research or upcoming events. Our current focus, however, is finding an effective interactive tool for communicating more immediately and directly with our members and helping our members connect more easily with each other.

    My favorite form of communication is face to face. Unfortunately with 4500+ members spread across the globe its kind of hard for all of us to get together in one place at one time. And even then I believe that a formal "program" would be needed to help introduce people, connect people who are interested in the same topics, and start to build a community of our members.

    One of our primary tasks when producing a community is interaction. How can those who have questions ask them? How can those who have knowledge share it? How can the leadership of the organization share important membership benefits and receive candid feedback about them? And how can we as a leadership understand what is most important in your little corner of the world?

    I am working on some ideas, but I would love to hear yours. Please comment on this post, even if it is just encouragement to say that you are interested in an interactive tool.

    Leigh Ann Sudol

    Posted by cstephenson at 11:04 AM | Comments (2)

    June 27, 2006

    Poster Perfection

    Four the last four months, CSTA has been working in partnership with ACM-W and the American School Counselors Association to create a classroom poster to help promote computer science and information technology, especially for young women and minority students. One of the things we have learned is that sometimes it is more important to do something necessary and good than something everyone agrees upon.

    The poster (which can be printed standard paper sized, or as a 2x3 ft. or 3x4 ft.classroom poster) is intended to help students make the connection between their interests and abilities and the many fields of computing that are part of computer science and information technology.

    Our work began with a small committee. Bettina Bair and Gloria Townsend (ACM-W), Michelle Hutton (our middle school computing teacher), Brenda Melton (our guidance counselor) and I met with our designer Beth Scandalios to brainstorm our poster message and work through some design options. Beth then created six poster designs (one of which was exactly what we asked for and the other five which were even better). From there, Beth and I got it down to three choices and then the whole committee reviewed and critiqued those choices. People selected the elements they liked best and made new suggestions for further revisions which helped Beth create a final design.

    During the design phase, we also asked for advice from folks outside the committee. Leicia Barker from the National Center for Women and Information Technology (NCWIT) provided us with a number of very valuable suggestions that we incorporated into the final poster design. I showed the poster design to a number of colleagues in other associations and to the CSTA Board of Directors and the CSTA Advisory Council. Bettina also took the design to the NCWIT meeting and we received feedback from a number of university folks. And Tracy Camp (who wrote the germinal research paper on the pipeline crisis) gave us great feedback and support all the way from New Zealand where she is working this year.

    We also tested the poster design with teachers and students. The test group involved students in four classrooms (two middle schools, two high schools, two independent schools) and an online feedback site that involved both high school and university students.

    The response to the poster was overwhelmingly positive, but that is not to say that everyone agreed. In fact, there were differing opinions on just about everything. The teachers who reviewed the poster were really pleased that the young woman was dressed "like our kids dress", but a couple of the university folks were concerned that some schools would find the tank top inappropriate. One person did not like the "IT is all about me" headline, but Michelle's response was "If they are in middle school, believe me, it really is all about them and they know it. That is what makes this such a catchy headline." And you will never believe how much time we spent discussing whether it should be "IT is" or "I.T. is"!

    Our goal, however, was to get this poster ready for the upcoming conference season, so that we could get it in the hands (and classrooms!) of real teachers. And to date, conferences across the country have offered to distribute the poster to their attendees. These include the National Educational Computing Conference hosted by ISTE, the American School Counselors Association annual conference, the Grace Murray Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing, and a number of other folks who are offering great workshops for computer teachers.

    The truth is, we could have spent a lot more time and a lot more money trying to hone our poster so that everyone would love it, but I am not sure we ever would have achieved that goal. Even though every single person who gave us feedback really wanted the poster to be a success, people's tastes and expectations are very different.

    So, you might say that in the end we sacrificed complete consensus for getting something into teachers' hands right now, because the problem is right now and it is getting worse. We need immediate interventions to overcome students' beliefs that computing is not the field for them, that it does not welcome them and help them make important contributions to the world.

    We really hope that you like the poster. We are proud of it. We hope that people will put it in their classrooms and offices. We hope that students will take notice. We are grateful to everyone who took the time to help us make it better.

    Chris Stephenson
    Executive Director

    Posted by cstephenson at 02:02 PM | Comments (1)

    June 09, 2006

    Sometimes Even Bad Things Are Good To Know

    From an organization's point of view, a good survey is a wonderful thing. I don't just mean surveys that tell you good things are wonderful, but that any survey that gives you solid data can be a useful tool for getting a member's eye view of how you are doing and what you could be doing better.

    In May we finished the first CSTA Member Satisfaction Survey. This survey was designed to provide very detailed information. We asked our members to rate every benefit and service CSTA provides and to tell us what other benefits would be of value to them.

    As soon as they were available, I looked at the quantitative results and they were most informative. It has only been in the last week, however, that I have had time to delve into the qualitative results and they are a virtual diamond mine of new insights.

    Here are some of the good things that I learned:

    • Our members are making surprisingly extensive use of the ACM Model Curriculum. They are using it to build, revise, and evaluate state level, district level, and school level computer science curricula. They are using it to convince administrators and principles about the importance of supporting K-12 computer science programs. They are using it to support their own research. They are using it to evaluate their own teacher certification requirements.
    • Our members are very glad that CSTA exists and are making increasing use of the resources we are providing (when they have the time!).
    • Educators at all levels of the educational system belong to and support CSTA and K-12 computer science education.
    • Far more researchers than we expected are using our research data to either support or inspire their own research efforts.

    Here are some of the valuable things we learned about doing better.

    • The Welcome to CSTA email we send out to our members to let them know about their benefits is not reaching all members. We suspect that firewalls and filters are to blame, but we need to find a more effective way to get this information to folks.
    • We need to provide some kind of facility that lets interested members get breaking information from CSTA and to interact more effectively as a community without filling up people's spam folders.

    These are important issues that the CSTA Board is now looking at thanks to the folks who completed our first Member Satisfaction Survey. Thank you for your input and insight. Thank you for continuing to support CSTA.

    Chris Stephenson
    Executive Director

    Posted by cstephenson at 05:54 PM | Comments (0)

    May 24, 2006

    What To Do About CS Teacher Certification

    Anyone who takes the time to follow this blog knows that one of the most challenging issues we face is the current lack of standardized teacher certification requirements for high school computer science teachers.

    The saga of CSTA's involvement in this issue is long and complex. Suffice to say that all of our early research told us that computer science teacher certification in the U.S. is a complete mess and all of the members who have written to us about this issue (via email, articles in the CSTA Voice, and comments here on the blog) agree with this assessment.

    Here is how the current mess breaks down:
    * some states have requirements for teaching computer science
    * some states have NO requirements for teaching computer science
    * half of the teachers in any given state know whether or not there are requirements, the rest do not
    * some states with requirements demand that teachers have taken or taught courses that do not exist
    * some states classify computer science under business, some under math, some under science, and some under vocational technology
    * some people responsible for computer science teaching requirements at the state level do not know what computer science is
    * many just don't care

    Before CSTA can make any recommendations on how to improve the situation, we have to have more solid, research-based data. So, for the last months we have been collecting the computer science teacher certification requirements for each state. The biggest challenge has been to find someone who actually admits to being responsible in each state. The second biggest challenge has been trying to explain to whoever is in charge that we are not talking about K-12 technology use standards. We now have data from all but 14 states and we are working hard to get them to respond. Even once we have all the data, though, I wonder what it is we can do to fix this mess.

    So here are my questions for you.

    1. Do you think we should have a national high school computer science certification requirement that would apply in every state?
    2. Would your state actually opt in to such a program?
    3. Should computer science be classified as a science, math, technology, or business specialization?
    4. Should there be a single national praxis test that could be used to ensure sufficient subject content and teaching mastery to support certification?

    I would love to know what you think.

    Chris Stephenson
    Executive Director

    Posted by cstephenson at 05:28 PM | Comments (19)

    April 18, 2006

    Let's Celebrate Computer Science Education at our School

    As I was walking past our school library this week, I noticed that this is Latin week. During the school year at Lake Highland Preparatory School we celebrate many events that have to do with different disciplines and I'm sure your school must as well. So, I was thinking that we should do something school-wide to celebrate Computer Science Education.

    As a member of the Faculty Advisory Board for Microsoft Corporation, my first thought was to send this group an e-mail and ask them what we should be celebrating and when. Daryll McDade, who manages our group and is in charge of supporting computer science education for Microsoft, suggested a Grace Hopper day celebrating her accomplishments in the computer science field and gave me a link to the Seattle Girls' School. For the past four years, this school has celebrated Grace Hopper with a luncheon focused on visionary women in math, science, and technology.

    After further research, I discovered that in 1994, Dr. Anita Borg and Dr. Telle Whitney organized a conference called The Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing. This conference, held every two years, celebrates the continuing achievements and contributions of women in computing. The first conference was held in Washington, D.C. and over 450 people attended. Last year, this conference had 900 participants and highlighted the impact and history that women have made, are making, and will continue to make on technology and innovation.

    More research led me to a group of woman called the Hoppers which was started by Theresa Stowell and Teri Schiel who were both engineers for Microsoft Corporation and gathered women programmers together to form a group that would give Microsoft women a forum to discuss some of the challenges they confronted in the workplace.

    Today, Hoppers has more than 1,600 members across every Microsoft office in the United States and overseas. Any woman who works at the company and supports the Hoppers charter can be a member, regardless of job title or employment status (permanent, contractor, vendor, intern or part-time). Microsoft funds Hoppers and contributes to its scholarship fund.

    As computer science teachers, we know of the accomplishments of Grace Hopper and it seems fitting to honor this pioneer on her birthday which is December 9th. Unfortunately, this day falls on a Saturday this year but we could celebrate it on Friday the 8th as Computer Science Education Day.

    Student activities could include an essay contest on the life of Grace Hopper or perhaps a contest for posters which could be displayed around school. In any event, Computer Science Education needs to be recognized and I ask that you join me in celebrating Grace Hopper on December 8th 2006.

    Brian Scarbeau,
    Computer Science Department Head
    Lake Highland Preparatory School
    Orlando Fl

    Posted by cstephenson at 10:56 AM | Comments (2)

    March 24, 2006

    Just the Facts

    While it has been great to see the computing media/business media coverage of ACM's new Job Migration study, I worry about how much of the important information in this report is actually filtering down to students.

    The most pervasive misconception about computer science, especially among students and their parents, is that there are no longer any job opportunities in this field. Media coverage about offshoring has played a major role in spreading this misinformation. My hope is that media's coverage of the Job Migration study may help undo some of the damage that has been done.

    Contrary to what many people now believe, employment in IT in the U.S. is at an all-time high. As ACM President Dave Patterson noted in a recent column in Communications of the ACM (February 2006, 49(2), pp. 41-41) it is even higher than it was at the height of the dot-com boom. Contrary to the situation in other industries (think manufacturing!), annual job losses due to offshoring have been no more than 2-3% of the U.S. IT workforce.

    As Patterson also indicated, there are also several types of IT work that are not likely to be offshored, including:
    * Work that has not been routinized
    * Work that is critical to a company's control over its own operations
    * Work involving data security, data privacy, intellectual property, or proprietary information
    * Work that relies on a combination of application-domain knowledge and IT knowledge.

    Beyond the information about jobs in the IT sector, ACM's report raises some interesting ideas about curriculum which should be of direct interest to K-12 computer science educators.

    Keeping students competitive in this new global IT economy is going to take more than drilling programming concepts into their heads. Our students need to become better problem solvers, to be curious, innovative, and creative. They need to see the connection between what they are doing in the classroom and real problems in the real world.

    We also need to think seriously about making the so-called "soft skills" an integral part of our curriculum and our pedagogy. Students need to build team work and communication skills, and also to develop cross-cultural understandings that will allow them to function as citizens of this new world.

    Chris Stephenson
    Executive Director

    Posted by cstephenson at 01:36 PM | Comments (1)

    March 22, 2006

    New and Old Ideas About Computer Science

    If anyone happened to ask me, I would say that the biggest problem we face in all of computer science education right now is addressing misconceptions many people hold about our discipline, both as an educational endeavor and as a career path. Recently, however, I am beginning to see efforts by respected computer scientists to address this challenge head-on.

    In an effort to address the misconception that computer science is programming, Jeannette Wing, the head of the Computer Science Department at Carnegie Mellon University has taken on the thorny issue of what computer science is and is not.

    In a recent issue of the Communications of the ACM (March 2006, 49(3), pp.33-35), Wing puts forth the opinion that computer science is really the study of computational thinking (what can be computed and how to compute it) and that computational thinking is a fundamental skill, not just for computer scientists, but for everyone because it involves solving problems, designing systems, and understanding human behavior.

    Computational thinking, Wing argues, has the following characteristics:
    * It is about conceptualizing, not about programming
    * It is about how humans solve problems with the aid of computing devices
    * It draws on both mathematical and engineering thinking to build systems that function in the real world
    * It is about ideas that touch everyone's lives
    * It is everywhere

    When we think about computer science in this way, the realm of possibilities for doing interesting and important work is shown to be limitless and the idea that computer science is sitting in a cubicle all day worrying about 1 and 0s is suddenly shown to be, as one student said to me, "so ago".

    Posted by cstephenson at 12:16 PM | Comments (1)

    March 17, 2006

    Working More Effectively Together

    If our experience at the recent SIGCSE Conference in Houston is any indication, we are on the verge of a major positive shift in the relations between K-12 computer science educators and our colleagues at the college level.

    To be honest, relations between high school and post-secondary computer science educators have always been a little fractious. University folks have bemoaned the fact that students coming into their classes are not adequately prepared for the rigor of the discipline at the college level, and high school teachers have complained that the university folks have no idea of the environment in which K-12 people teach or their desperate need for information and support.

    Over the past few years, however, there has been something of a sea change. More and more colleges and universities have established outreach programs to the high schools, providing teachers with much-needed opportunities for professional development and mentoring. The success of CSTA's JETT program (over 60 workshops held nation-wide) and the booming interest in our TECS workshops are also proof of the willingness of colleges and universities to step in and step up, using their own resources to build bridges and support community.

    On March 3, Robb Cutler (CSTA Chair) and I had the opportunity to give the plenary session at ACM's SIGCSE Conference. Our goal was to provide our post-secondary colleagues with a better understanding of the challenges that K-12 teachers face, and to suggest new and improved ways that we can work together to address the issues confronting computer science education along the pipeline.

    The fact that SIGCSE so generously allotted us a major session at this highly respected conference is, in and of itself, indicative of not just a shift of consciousness among post-secondary educators, but a major pledge of support for CSTA's efforts to promote and support computer science education in K-12.

    The response to this session has also opened our eyes to the incredible potential of stronger ties and real partnerships between CSTA and organizations that have long supported post-secondary computer science education. A number of ACM's SIGs have offered to work more closely with us on key issues. Some pretty important people have also come forward to volunteer their time and expertise.

    Our task now is to find ways to harness their incredible abilities in support of our common goals. The issues that we share all along the educational pipeline are complex and challenging, but this growing realization of our common interests and goals and, more importantly, this commitment to working in harmony rather than in isolation, are important and exciting.

    Chris Stephenson
    Executive Director

    Posted by cstephenson at 02:21 PM | Comments (1)

    March 16, 2006

    Computer Science for all Students?!

    We have known for hundreds of years that chemistry provides the building blocks of our world. Pick up the item nearest to you and you will find that it was made with chemistry.

    Computer science provides the building blocks of our increasingly technological world. After you put together the silica, etch it with acids, and treat it with other chemicals, you use computer science to make it do cool things. Where would my daily run be without my mp3 player? Where would my friendships across the country be without the wonder of free wireless internet at the local cafe? These were made with computer science.

    Introductory chemistry is (fairly) straightforward; as a society we believe chemistry is valuable for students to understand. Of course we don't expect all our students to become chemists, but we want adults in our society to know about chemistry in order to be competent individuals who can cook, use common household products safely, and make informed voting decisions. It isn't until the second year in college with organic chem that it becomes an intensely challenging "weed out" course. And it isn't until medical school that we truly force our students into intensely challenging conditions, in part because "that is the way we have always done it."

    Why is it, then, that computer science has adopted an attitude more like medical school than introductory chemistry? Why don't we provide an accessible and fun introductory course that gives students the building blocks of the discipline? It seems that we teachers have the attitude that the way we learned computer science was through programming, and it was hard, and that is how we should teach.

    I would like to see a new model, one where computer science is accessible to all students, where it is a standard part of the core curriculum, and where it is fun! This is part of why I am so excited about the Level 2 curriculum outline and the whole ACM Model Curriculum for K12 Computer Science. But it will take more than the new curriculum - teachers have to use fun tools and games like Sudoku and role play to engage students. We can make computer science accessible without dumbing it down if we just try.

    Michelle Hutton
    CSTA Equity Chair
    Girls' Middle School

    Posted by cstephenson at 02:38 PM | Comments (2)

    February 24, 2006

    ACM Shows Us Why the AP Numbers Matter

    Sometimes, if you wait long enough, new information comes along that helps you see things more clearly, or at least in a way that helps you gain perspective. For some time now I have been procrastinating on a blog response to the AP Report to the Nation, but a major report, released by ACM, has helped me find a way to articulate exactly why the AP CS results are so alarming.

    The number of students writing the computer science AP examinations is continuing to decrease. In 2001, 23,422 students wrote either the CS A or B exam. By 2003, the number had dropped to 21,745. By 2005, the number of students writing the APCS exams had declined to 19,021. While one might argue that the percentage of the decline from year to year is not extreme enough to cause profound concern, the fact that there is a continuing pattern of decline clearly is.

    This pattern tells us that students are loosing interest, they don't think computer science has educational or employment value to them, or they do not have time to take AP CS because they are too busy taking AP courses in all those other disciplines. This worries me a great deal. But I have been putting off writing about it in fear of receiving the seemingly inevitable comment that there is nothing to worry about because all the jobs are being "outsourced" anyway.

    This is why I was so happy to read ACM's new comprehensive report called Globalization and Offshoring of Software. This report, developed by a team of internationally recognized computer scientists, industry leaders, labor economists, and social scientists, finally gives us a coherent, balanced, and rigorously researched view of the increasing globalization of the software industry and what this means for countries who want to maintain their technological edge.

    The report notes that globalization trends in the software industry have been fueled by rapid advances in information technology as well as government action and economic factors. What it also found, however, is that, despite intensifying competition, offshoring between developed and developing countries can benefit both parties.

    The study cites data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) which indicates that more IT jobs are available today in the U.S. than at the height of the dot com boom. This trend is evident despite a significant increase in offshoring over the past five years. In fact, U.S. IT employment in 2004 was 17% higher than in 1999, and the BLS data reveals that IT jobs are predicted to be among the fastest-growing occupations over the next decade.

    So what does this mean for educators? The report also tells us that IT workers and students can improve their chances of long-term employment in IT occupations by acquiring a strong educational foundation, learning the technologies used in global software, and keeping skills up to date throughout their careers. In other words, they can ensure a better future for themselves by learning computer science. The brightness of the future for individuals, companies, or countries, rests on their ability to invest in building the foundations that foster innovation and invention.

    Meeting this commitment begins with K-12 education. It requires us to improve computer science education in K-12. We must do a better job of helping students understand that there are opportunities open to them, that computing is the mechanism by which the greatest problems of this century will be addressed, and that they need to begin building their skills now, because the future is always closer than we think.

    Chris Stephenson
    Executive Director

    Posted by cstephenson at 11:48 AM | Comments (0)

    January 23, 2006

    CSTA Launches New Virtual Binder

    With everything else they have on their plates right now, it is almost impossible for K-12 computing teachers to keep up with all of the research about computer science education that might be relevant to their classroom practices. In fact, just finding material that is relevant to K-12 is a considerable chore.

    One of the major benefits of CSTA membership, however, is access to the CSTA virtual binders - a collection of top-notch, classroom relevant articles culled from ACM's huge Digital Library.

    So far, dedicated volunteers from the CSTA Board of Directors have put together three binders and the newest one, on Careers, just went live this weekend.

    There are now three CSTA virtual binders, each covering a different topic: Careers, Equity, and Teaching Strategies. Each binder provides full-text access to up to 15 articles pulled from the very best professional and educational computer science journals.

    CSTA members can access these binders directly from the CSTA website (csta.acm.org) by clicking on K-12 Virtual Binders in the Resources section on the left column. Once you get to the binders page, click on

    Login for e-binders

    and you can access the binders directly using your ACM Web Account. (CSTA members who have not done sor yet can simply follow the instructions to set up their free ACM Web Account.)

    The CSTA Membership Committee, under the direction of Charmaine Bentley, has been spearheading the creation of the virtual binders, and plans are underway for at least three more themed binders to be developed over the next few months. If you have some ideas about good topics for new e-binders, please post a comment here and let us know!

    Chris Stephenson
    Executive Director

    Posted by cstephenson at 02:54 PM | Comments (1)

    December 31, 2005

    Did you know? Membership Resources

    On the CSTA website, two of the benefits listed for CSTA individual membership are access to:

    * free online training courses available through the Sun Academic Initiative, and
    * the Career Resource Centre, ACM's source for career articles, job board, and career assessment tools.

    Links to both of these resources are available from the CSTA website (left side under Professional Development). Entry into either of the areas may at first seem intimidating, but the effort will be well rewarded.

    Whether your exploration in the Career Resource Centre is through the career assessment tools or through the articles available, the investment in time will provide information that should be of use to you and to your students.

    This is even more evident for the courses available from the Sun Academic Initiative. When registering, for any of these excellent courses, ranging from "Fundamentals of JAVA" to topics in Distributed Computing Concepts and more, the savings become readily apparent. These lessons are fast-paced, easy to understand, and more than justify the cost of CSTA membership.

    Please, avail yourself of these benefits, and let us know how else we can be of service to you, the most important resource of CSTA, our members.

    Charmaine Bentley
    Membership Chair

    Posted by cstephenson at 05:46 PM | Comments (3)

    December 26, 2005

    My Year in CSTA

    Like many, during the holiday season I consider the many things I have to be thankful for. High on my list this year is the CSTA. It is hard to believe the organization is only a year old!

    So many exciting things are happening at all levels. Perhaps the most exciting thing to me is the creation of local chapters! What a great chance for local teachers to get to know each other and feel less isolated. I am so pleased for each area that had a person willing to step up and organize a meeting; I hope more chapters will form this year.

    Being involved with the CSTA provides many opportunities: to learn about the status of CS education far beyond the local community, to think about best practices in teaching CS, to begin creating the change we want to see in the world. Personally, being on the board has provided numerous opportunities. Most important: the chance to work and become friends with some smart, dedicated, interesting individuals. One truth I have found about participating with this group is the more involved I am willing to be, the more I get out of it. I am so glad I was willing to take the leap to be more than "just a middle school teacher"!

    I hope you will think about filling out an application for a position on the Board of Directors or volunteering to help on one of the committees. If you're a computer science teacher or just interested in K-12 computer science education and you aren't a member, why not join now?

    Michelle Hutton
    Equity Chair

    Posted by cstephenson at 12:03 PM | Comments (1)

    December 16, 2005

    A Big Shout Out to Sun

    I have never been much of a hardware geek. I like my computer to do what I want it to do with as little fuss as possible, but beyond that, I probably do not pay as much attention as I should. Sometimes, however, when something especially good happens, even I must acknowledge that hardware is a beautiful thing.

    Since the day CSTA was first brought into being by ACM, we have been working on the dream of an online resource that would provide teachers with access to a rich repository of teaching and learning materials for K-12 computer science education.

    Toward this end, a small but dedicated committee of volunteers has been collecting resources being developed at JETT (http://jett.acm.org/) and TECS (http://tecs.acm.org/) workshops across the country, developing a classification scheme based upon the Model Curriculum for K-12 Computer Science, and preparing the existing resources for entry into the repository. This Spring we achieved a major project milestone with the unveiling of our new user interface which was created by students at Villanova University, under the direction of Dr. Lillian Cassel.

    The web repository is being built using DSpace, a highy-customizable open source repository facility created at MIT. The CSTA repository utilizes the standard Dublin core metadata so that the material it contains will be harvestable by other major repositories such as the National Science Data Library.

    The really big news, however, came just a couple of weeks ago when Sun Microsystems Vice President Greg Papadopoulos (a member of the CSTA Advisory Council) offered to provide the equipment upon which this new repository will reside and all future development will be carried out.

    And here is what Sun provided:

    Sun Fire V210, 2 x 1.34Ghz UltraSPARC IIIi, 4 x 512MB DIMMS, 2 x 73GB Drive, 4 x 10/100/1000 Gigabit Ethernet, ALOM Remote Manager, Single PCI Slot, 1PSU & Java ES & Solaris 10 pre-installed.

    Localized Power Cord Kit North American/Asian

    X-Option - Internal DVD-ROM Drive Slimline, for Sun Fire V210 and Sun Fire V240.

    1GB Memory Expansion Kit (2*512MB) low-profile DDR PC2100 or faster registered ECC DIMMs for use in Sun Fire V210, Sun Fire V240, Sun Fire V440, Netra 240, Netra 440, Sun Blade 1500 and Sun Blade 2500.

    Internal 146GB 10K Ultra 3 SCSI HDD, 3.5" x 1" drive with barrier plate

    Solaris 9 CD-ROM media kit (latest release). SPARC Platform Edition.

    Thanks to this most generous donation from Sun, the CSTA web repository is closer to being a reality than we expected. Our plan right now is to have it up and running and available to all CSTA members by the summer!

    Thank you, Sun, for helping bring us so much closer to our goal!


    Posted by cstephenson at 12:18 PM | Comments (2)

    December 05, 2005

    Everybody Needs a Little Inspiration

    Anyone who does not believe that teaching computer science is a tough job has never faced a row of student faces day after day or tried to keep all of the hardware and software actually functioning. And that does not even begin to address the increasing stress that all teachers are facing. So every once in a while, it is important to reflect upon what matters and why what you do is important.

    Today our CSTA Equity Chair, Michelle Hutton, sent me a student course evaluation that she has been keeping since 2002. Here is what the student had to say:

    "I've learned not to be afraid of computers. I've learned some of the fundamentals and code of CS. I've learned that learning computer science is a process where you need to learn one thing before you move on to the next. Once you have mastered a concept, creating something you're proud of can be easy & fun."

    Even if they do not say it quite so well, my guess is that all of you have students who have felt the same way, and who, if not immediately then some day, have realized the importance and usefullness of what you are trying to teach them.


    Posted by cstephenson at 09:32 AM | Comments (0)

    November 18, 2005

    Correctness and Finishedness

    As a certified soft touch, I'm constantly running into the problem of students asking for extensions on their work. It is hard to deny a motivated student additional time to keep working on a problem rather than admitting to failure.

    I think this may be more of a problem in CS than in other classes. In most classes, it is fairly straightforward to tell when a problem is finished and fairly difficult to know if it is correct without the answer key. In math, if I have an answer to the equation, I'm done, whether or not the answer is accurate. In humanities, I know if the paper has said what I have to say and whether I hit the page count, whether or not I was blowing hot air or completely wrong about the causes of WWII.

    In CS, students have the golden test - does the program run? Until it will compile without errors and fulfill some approximation of the requirements, it is clearly not done. For a dedicated student who is used to working until the work is complete, it can be difficult to learn when to walk away, especially when the grade depends on the assignment. The difference between an overlooked missing semicolon and a significant logic error can be indistinguishable to a novice.

    How can we better support our students in learning when to give up, when to persevere, and how much time to allot for assignments?

    Michelle Friend Hutton
    Equity Chair

    Posted by cstephenson at 10:15 AM | Comments (1)

    November 08, 2005

    Sudoku Puzzles and Computer Science

    I have to admit that I'm a bit of a Sudoku addict. Rarely has a morning gone by that I don't play one or two of the many on-line versions of Sudoku that are available across the internet.

    If you've somehow missed the Sudoku craze, it is a very simple number puzzle. You are given a 9x9 grid with some of the squares filled in with numbers between 1 and 9. Your job is to complete the grid so that each number from 1 to 9 appears once in every row, once in every column, and once in each of nine 3x3 subgrids.


    For example, in the above grid, you can confidently put a 5 in the shaded box. Here's why. You need a 5 somewhere in the second column. Because there's already a 5 in the top-left and bottom-left 3x3 subgrids, the 5 must go in the middle-left subgrid. And in the middle-left subgrid, the 5 has to appear in the fourth row. (As a good teacher, I'll leave it to you as an exercise to figure out why!)

    To solve a puzzle, you fill in all of the empty squares by process of elimination. Depending on how many squares have already been filled in for you, this can be very easy or very hard.

    So what does this have to do with computer science?

    The other day I was talking with some fellow Sudoku fanatics when one of them mentioned that her daughter was particularly good at solving these puzzles. She said, "My daughter has this innate ability to recognize the patterns that occur."

    And then in her next breath, she said, "I wonder what sorts of careers would use that talent."

    Bingo. (The exclamation, not the career.)

    "Has she considered computer science?", I asked.

    "Computer science? Gosh no. The last thing my daughter wants to do is to sit in front of a computer screen all day."

    Naturally, this was my opportunity to tell her about what computer science really is. It's not just programming (though a typical computer scientist does some of that as well). Rather, it's about problem-solving and algorithmic thinking. The pattern recognition skills her daughter has in Sudoku will serve her well as a computer scientist.

    Finally, the thrill we Sudoku-lovers get when we finish a challenging puzzle is the same excitement I get when I solve an algorithms problem that has been particularly vexing. That satisfaction is what makes computer science so enjoyable.

    While I'm not sure that my friend's daughter is going to rush out and sign up for a computer science course, I feel fairly confident that she'll at least consider the possibility the next time she has to sign up for classes. It's conversations like this one that will help people to understand what computer science is and help to strengthen the role of computer science in K-12 education.

    Robb Cutler
    President, CSTA

    Posted by cstephenson at 05:57 PM | Comments (11)

    October 20, 2005

    Cheaters Never Prosper, Or Do They?

    I read a very interesting article about student cheating in Communications of the ACM recently that reminded me that finding ways to subvert the system is still very much a part of the mindset for many students and led me to wonder how much effort we can and should put into discouraging it.

    I never really thought very much about cheating among computers science students until the late 1980's when I was working in a computer science department at a very large university. When discussing this issue, the faculty tended to fall into two camps: the "perpetrators should be punished" camp and the "boys will be boys" camp. What surprised me, however, was that more of the faculty tended to fall into the latter than the former group.

    What I found particularly irksome was the opinion among these folks that somehow computer science students were different or should be treated differently than other students in the university. Being a fine old institution, our university had a history of being particularly harsh in matters relating to plagiarism. A student in the English department caught passing off a couple of borrowed sentences as her or his own in an essay would be publicly disgraced and dismissed from the program and from the university. Why should the case be different for computer science students?

    Keep in mind too, that this was back before the days when we began to look at our teaching methodologies in light of industrial practices relating to software development. There was no groupwork as part of the curriculum. There was just stealing, and the magnitude and creativity behind it was almost staggering. In those days people trooped off to the Computing Center to run and print their programs. Printouts were stolen with great regularity. Some students became seasoned dumpster divers, rifling through the cast off paper in the garbage for bits of useable code they could steal.

    Sometimes, desperate times call for desperate measures. In order to curb what he perceived as a growing tendency toward "unofficial collaboration" one colleague of mine adopted a particularly successful strategy called "one cheats, two fail". When he found duplicate code on individual assignments, he called both students into his office and told them that both of them would fail unless the copier confessed. Both students were humiliated, the student who did the original work learned to protect it more carefully, and rough justice was often administered to the cheater who refused to admit to the act.

    In the 1990's I also worked for an educational publisher and I would frequently receive email from students posing as teachers requesting copies of textbook teacher guides so that they could have the answers to the class assignments. Over time, I developed an almost uncanny ability to spot the pretenders. Usually it was their appalling grammar.

    These days, students simply comb the Internet for snippets, applets, or entire applications to submit as original work. Some folks still defend this as justifiable on the basis that code reuse is a highly efficient and effective use of programmer time. Others remain vigilant.

    How about you?


    Posted by cstephenson at 06:03 PM | Comments (3)

    September 09, 2005

    When the World Intervenes

    Sometimes we get so wrapped up in our own challenges that it is hard to extend our focus beyond our immediate concerns. For some reason, though, just when we are buried about as deeply as we can be in the issues of the moment, something comes along and hits us over the head and reminds us of the limitations of our viewpoint. This summer there have been two events that have brought this home to me in a profound way.

    On June 28, I took part in a special panel session at NECC focusing on international perspectives on high school computer science curricula. This session, chaired by CSTA Curriculum Committee Chair Anita Verno and sponsored by the National Science Foundation, is part of a larger project to help us find successful models for developing and implementing a national computer science curriculum.

    The panel featured several speakers from different countries, each of which had already begun implementing a comprehensive curriculum for computer science. Anita spoke about CSTA's efforts to support the ACM Model Curriculum for K-12 Computer Science, Dr. Judith Gal-Ezer discussed Israel's highly successful CS curriculum, Jackie Martin described Scotland's national curriculum, Mike Chiles addressed South Africa's new national curriculum, and I spoke about the comprehensive curriculum implemented in Ontario, Canada, in 2000.

    As each speaker addressed the implementation phase of her/his curriculum development process, it became increasingly clear that countries who were further ahead in this effort than the United States had discovered several key factors that needed to be in place in order for the curriculum to succeed. These included a reasonable implementation time line, access to adequate resources (functioning hardware, support materials, textbooks), and professional development for teachers.

    All of these are important considerations for CSTA to address as we attempt to improve computer science education. But something else happened at the presentation. Mike Chiles, the Director of Information and Technological Services at the Western Cape Education Department in South Africa, reminded us, in the gentlest of ways, of the cost of focusing too closely on our own concerns. South Africa, he explained, faces a unique challenge in its efforts to ensure an adequate supply of trained computer science teachers. The HIV/AIDS pandemic raging across Africa is taking the lives of so many teachers, and so many technically skilled people in business and industry, that it is not possible to find enough teachers for the classrooms. And then it hit us, speakers and audience alike. It is not just some "them" dying in a far away place. It is "us." Teachers are dying. And I do not know what to do.

    And now, we have a similar reminder much closer to home. A part of this country lies in ruins, families lost, homes destroyed, children, adults, and even pets displaced and afraid, their lives in tatters. This hurricane and its aftermath are testing as at our most foundational level, and in a country as generous as this, I do not believe that the people will be found wanting.

    In Texas, everything is big, including the hearts of its people, and our friends at TCEA are already putting together a Task Force to help schools get their technology back up and running. This is the right thing to do. To offer what it is we know how to do best in the service of others. And I have promised TCEA's Executive Director Ron Cravey (cravey@tcea.org) that CSTA will be there to help in any way that we can.

    Right now, there are important things that you can do. Donate money to the Red Cross, to the Salvation Army, to the Humane Society, and to the many organizations that are tending to bodies and souls. Organize something in your school, your community, or your city. And when we let you know how you can help us help them, please answer our call.

    There are things we can do to help and doing something is always better than doing nothing. Find a way to show how thankful you are for all that you have by helping those who now have nothing.



    Posted by cstephenson at 01:14 PM | Comments (0)

    August 26, 2005

    Finding Funding

    Over the last twenty years, I have had the opportunity to work with many professional associations for teachers, both in Canada and the U.S. and one thing that has always amazed me is how hard these organizations must work to survive, and how many of them manage to do so.

    Interesting research from Australia indicates that professional associations for teachers exist in a perpetual state of needs exceeded by resources. In an effort to provide as many benefits and services as possible to their members, they stretch themselves to the fiscal, intellectual, and emotional breaking point. While large associaitons may have the benefit of a greater pool of membership revenues, the reality is that very few have enough membership revenue to cover their expenses. They depend on their volunteers and they depend on external sources of funding.

    External funding can take many forms: government grants, foundation grants, corporate support, or contracts for service to some external body. In all of these cases there is a bargain to be made, something that the funding organization wants in return, something that will require association resources (staff, volunteers, equipment) to produce. The best possible projects involve getting funding to do something that the association wants to do for its members anyway. These projects are high mission. Some, however, require doing something that is not much value to the membership, but brings in considerable money. These projects are high revenue. There are also moral questions to be considered. Just because someone will pay your association money to do something, does not mean that you should do it. It may not be in the best interest of your members or their students. Associations are in a constant struggle to balance these considerations.

    Because CSTA has been in existence for less than a year and we provide members with free membership for their first year, we have no membership revenue yet to speak of. Instead, we have relied on the generous support of our parent organization (ACM) and many of its members who became charter donors to CSTA (honored on our website). The Special Interests Groups of ACM (under the auspices of the SIG Governing Board) have also made a significant financial commitment to helping CSTA address critical issues in K-12 computer science education. In these ways, ACM has provided the support we needed to get us going and to help us begin building the kinds of funding relationships associations need for long-term viability.

    So far, with the help of our fabulous volunteers and mentors, we have done a pretty good job of beginning to build these relationships. IBM and Microsoft have become Gold Level Sponsors and have provided funding for new resources and for professional development events. We are also now in discussions with Sun Microsystems and CISCO. The Sloan Foundation provided funding to pilot six JETT (Java Engagement for Teacher Education) workshops and helped us to get this highly successful nation-wide project off the ground. The College Board has supported us in more ways than we can count. And two separate branches of the National Science Foundation have provided funding for multiple projects that we believe will have a profoundly positive impact on K-12 computer science education. All of these organizations have helped us significantly in our first year.

    It is important for our members to know that ensuring CSTA's long term economic viability is a balancing act and we try to be very careful. We work hard to identify potential sources of funding and to design worthwhile projects. Our Board of Directors makes sure we stay on track. They keep our mission before us and the best interests of our members always in the forefront of our considerations.


    Posted by cstephenson at 03:03 PM | Comments (2)

    August 17, 2005

    Designing Really Smart Computers

    Sometimes I wonder if we are so enamored of technology and of our abilities to manipulate it that we are simply incapable of making sensible judgments about it.

    I must begin by confessing that I do not love technology. I am not a toy person. It is not the gadgets that thrill me, but what I can do with them to make myself a more productive, more knowledgeable, or more interesting person. Anything that gets in the way of what I am really trying to accomplish at any given moment just annoys me.

    This may be why I just do not get excited every time another feature-bloated piece of software comes on the market. Most of the time I would rather have an application that does a few things really well than some mammoth megabyte monster that does everything at the ultimate level of complexity.

    Sometimes I think that the developers believe that if they keep us busy trying to figure out how to use the next new thing, we will not have time to realize that we expect far less of our computing technologies in term of ease-of-use than we do of just about any other technology in our lives,

    I remember a lecture given by Bill Buxton at ACM 1 during which he compared his experiences in the public restrooms of the airport to his experiences with his office computer. Why, he mused, was a toilet in Chicago, with whom he had no previous relationship, capable of acknowledging his entry into and exit from the room and of taking the appropriate action, while his office computer, with whom he communed several hours each day, was incapable of any such thing?

    Maybe as teachers responsible for educating the next generation of people who will build the tools, we can start to change the way the we all look at and use computers. Maybe we can begin by encouraging even our best students to view technology with a critical eye, to think about designing from the user's perspective, to see the world's users as diverse and deserving of technology that truly makes their lives easier.

    The field of Human-Computer Interaction is rich with questions and ideas that need to be explored. If we open this world up for our students, maybe we can begin to break down the geek tradition. If we encourage all of our students, especially those who would never dream that computer science is for them, to ponder the hard questions about ease-of-use and simplicity and elegance, maybe we can open the doors to new ways of thinking about, designing, and using technology. Maybe we can begin to build computer technology that is at least as smart as an airport toilet.


    Posted by cstephenson at 04:40 PM | Comments (0)

    August 12, 2005

    A Little History and a Next Big Step

    In 2002, with the impending transition of the AP exam from C++ to Java, ACM's K-12 Education Task Force (the precursor to CSTA) launched an ambitious partnership with the College Board to address the immediate and pressing need for high school computer science teachers to learn Java. With the very active support of ACM's then-president Maria Klawe and Gail Chapman of the College Board, the Java Engagement for Teacher Training (a.k.a. JETT) program was born.

    JETT was conceived as more than a one-shot pd event for teachers. It was seen as a way of providing valuable, relevant skills upgrading for teachers while engaging colleges and universities across the country in the process of building on-going mentoring relationships with local high school teachers.

    JETT began with a dedicated Steering Committee of representatives from the College Board, the K-12 Task Force, and four pilot test sites (Columbia, Duke, the New Jersey Institute of Technology, and Tufts University). A needs assessment was developed and sent to all secondary computer science AP Teachers to help the organizers understand the teachers' specific needs relating to the learning and teaching of Java. The results of this assessment were then used to create a series of learning modules around which local JETT host sites would organize their workshops.

    A set of criteria was also developed to ensure that attending teachers received relevant and appropriate instruction. In addition to the Java modules, host sites were also required to include learning opportunities relating specifically to equity issues, with the goal of improving awareness and providing strategies to better engage under-represented students. They were also required to involve AP Computer Science Curriculum Consultants in the planning and delivery of the workshops.

    Being a JETT host site required a considerable amount of effort and some funding. While ACM/CSTA provided assistance with promotion, registration, evaluation, and identification of the AP College Board Consultants, the host sites had to submit an application that was reviewed by the Steering Committee and were required to cover all the on-site costs. Despite the effort and costs involved, more than 50 universities and colleges across the U.S. have now served as JETT workshop host sites (some multiple times).

    Although the number of attendees has varied greatly from site-to-site (depending on the relative strength of the local AP community) without exception, the sites have received glowing evaluations from teacher attendees and many have gone on to build strong mentoring and recruitment partnerships with local teachers. Last year, at the request of our now ACM president David Patterson, CSTA conducted a long-term evaluation of the JETT project and we were delighted to discover that 86% of the attendees indicated that they had learned and were now using new Java strategies as a result of attending a JETT workshop.

    But what about the rest of the teachers, those who are teaching essential courses in computer science foundations at the pre-AP level? Where do they go for much-needed professional development?

    Since January, our Professional Development Committee has been working on a new initiative—the Teacher Engagement for Computer Science (a.k.a. TECS) project. Like JETT, TECS involves colleges and universities in the provision of relevant professional development and community building for local high school computer science teachers. Starting in September, five host sites (CSU Chico, CUNY, Neumont (formally Northface) University, the New Jersey Institute of Technology, and the University of Pennsylvania) will be launching our program with six pilot TECS workshops. Once again, they will be making selections from among a set of recommended learning modules developed by the CSTA Professional Development Committee under the direction of Chair Fran Trees. This time, they will also have access to learning materials designed specifically for these modules by CSTA teacher volunteers.

    JETT and TECS exist because of a large number of dedicated educators and staff. ACM and the College Board have provided unwavering support over the years, our original pilot sites helped us create an effective and efficient model, our JETT coordinator Jennifer Wroblewski has coaxed, coordinated, and charmed her way to a powerful and prolific network of dedicated host sites, and our host partners have given generously of their time, funding, good works, and good will.

    Thanks to all of you for your hard work and dedication to providing professional development for computer science teachers. It would not have been possible without you!

    For more information on the JETT workshops: http://jett.acm.org/

    For more information on the TECS workshops: http://tecs.acm.org/


    Posted by cstephenson at 04:00 PM | Comments (1)

    August 02, 2005

    The Power of Partnership

    At this moment I am sitting in a meeting room in Portland OR surrounded by one of the most motivated and skilled work teams that I have had the pleasure of working with. This team consists of three teacher volunteers from CSTA (Margaret Butler from St. Francis High School in CA, Joon Yee Chuah from L. B. J. High School in TX, and Anita Verno from Bergen Community College in NJ) and three curriculum specialists from IBM (Jane Balin from CA, Cheri Borchardt from TX, and Bunny Taylor from GA). Our task, for the next four days, is to produce three brand new resources for computer science educators.

    This project came about as a result of discussions we began with Robin Willner of the IBM Foundation many months ago. IBM was interested in working with CSTA to address the needs of K-12 computer science educators. One of the things that we agreed on very quickly was that teachers need access to more and better resources to improve student learning and also to allow them to continue to enhance their own teaching skills. And so, with funding from the IBM Foundation and help from several IBM resource people, we assembled a collection of learning materials that IBM had already created and put together a team. Our goal is to produce three new classroom-ready resources that address specific learning outcomes identified in the ACM Model Curriculum for K-12 Computer Science Education.

    We began our meeting yesterday with each team member presenting an in-depth review of the example resources and a proposal for new resources that could be created. When the presentations were complete, the entire team decided that we would begin with three major themes and build a new resource for each that would draw on, enhance, and add to the original materials, The themes chosen were: principles of web design, object oriented programming, and project-based learning. The team divided into three work groups and by the end of the day each work group had produced and presented its project plan.

    From now until Thursday afternoon, the groups will be working frantically to achieve their ambitious plans. The entire team will then come back together and each group will present its new resource for review and feedback. The resources will then be distributed to pilot schools who will continue the feedback loop to help us ensure that they are truly useful for teachers and students. Finally, the resources will be made available free of charge to teachers by both IBM and CSTA.

    I think that this project is an excellent example of how professional organizations such as CSTA and major industry partners such as IBM can work together to do good things for education. We did not go to IBM hat in hand asking them to just write us a check. We asked for much more. We asked for a relationship. We asked them to share the time and expertise of their employees and consultants. We asked them to listen to teachers about what kinds of resources would be truly useful to them. And of course, we also asked IBM for staff and financial support. And here we are in Portland.

    This is the true power of partnership, the power to bring people together, to create something new and useful, to share a commitment to teachers and students.

    CSTA is a fairly new organization as educational associations go, but we believe in partnerships and we believe in our ability to work with companies such as IBM and Microsoft (who provides funding for our Computer Science and Information Technology Symposium). We know that there can be pitfalls to these relationships (being perceived as being under the influence of any one vendor) but we try to be sure that we begin with a shared understanding of our mutual goals and limitations. We know that the issues we need to address are too big for any one organization to take on alone. We need support from all levels of education, from industry, and from state and federal governments.

    We know that supporting K-12 computer science is the key to future technological innovation and economic viability, and we are hoping that as more people come to understand this, they will join us in this partnership. It is truly a win-win opportunity.

    Posted by cstephenson at 01:53 PM | Comments (2)

    July 25, 2005

    Getting Out the Message

    Since CSTA first came into being last September, we have been aware that one of our biggest challenges would be getting out the messages.

    First we worked on defining who we are, which problems we are trying to address, and why we believe that CSTA is the organization to address these issues.

    Here is how we currently define the challenges we face.
    * The number of computer science teachers is decreasing overall, particularly within the high school and middle school grades. This means that fewer college students will be enrolling in computer science courses, and fewer graduates with computer science degrees are going on to earn their Ph.Ds.
    * Minority students are dramatically underrepresented in K-12 computer science coursework. For example, less than 3% of AP Computer Science students in 2004 were African American.
    * Women are underrepresented in computer science.
    * Computer science is at a crossroads. A renewed focus on educational standards and accountability, particularly in English and math, has forced many schools to take resources away from computer science and other non-core courses.

    And here is why we think CSTA is the right organization to address them.
    * CSTA offers members access to curriculum standards, professional development, and other cutting-edge computer science resources that have not previously been available.
    * CSTA provides a voice for K-12 computer science educators, representing their interests at all levels of the educational system and with the state and federal authorities whose policies impact educational content, practice, and funding.
    * CSTA helps makes the case for computer science by pointing out its vital place in the world.
    * CSTA works with teachers to build a community of educators who will offer each other the support, guidance, and resources they have sorely needed. Many computer science teachers are alone in their schools with no other staff in their line of work.
    * CSTA provides a bridge between high school educators, university educators, and the high tech industry. This bridge enables these groups to share information about what students need to learn in their K-12 years to be ready to go into computer science majors in higher education and into computer science careers.
    * The key resources provided by CSTA for teachers are the Java Engagement for Teacher Training (JETT) program and the Model Curriculum for K-12 Computer Science. With these and other materials to be developed, CSTA will be the source for information for computer science teachers and others interested in the field.

    Next, we had to begin getting the message out. We have tried a number of ways to let teachers know that we exist and that we need them to help us build this community. Sometimes we have done this in fairly traditional ways. For example we have sent out information by email and direct mail, made conference presentations, and spoken to teachers at the many professional development events we sponsor (the JETT workshops and the Computer Science and Information Technology Symposia). Sometimes we take a more lighthearted approach, as exemplified in our tension-releasing squishy CS Rocks rocks.

    We have also begun reaching out to key organizations that share our interests and concerns. To date we have held productive meetings with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Software Business Association, the Business Roundtable, and the folks working on the Teacher Quality Bill. We have also done interviews with key people in the media who are both knowledgeable about and interested in our issues and this has resulted in some excellent articles about computer science education.

    Outreach and advocacy are just a part of what CSTA does, but it is a key element and we need to keep doing it.

    We also need you to help us get these messages out to the people who count in your world: parents, principals, administrators, school district superintendents and others.

    I would love to know what you have been doing to promote K-12 computer science. Let me know by posting a comment about the most ingenious method you have used to get out the message about computer science education. I'll even send the person who posts the best on their own CS Rocks rock.


    Posted by cstephenson at 11:22 AM | Comments (7)

    July 15, 2005

    Entering the Forbidden Forest of Teacher Certification

    So many issues affect computer science education these days that sometime it is hard to know how best to apply our resources (people, time, and funding). In addition, some issues should come with a big sign that says "Go back" or "Abandon hope all who enter here" or "Don't even think about it." Teacher certification is one such issue.

    Two years ago we surveyed 5000 high school computer science teachers as part of our on-going commitment to begin tracking pre-college computer science education in the U.S. One of the questions we asked was "Does your state offer certification for high school computer science teachers?" We tabulated the results nationally and determined that 46% of the respondents answered "Yes" and 54% answered "No." This appeared to be a reasonable response all things considered. And then we looked at the answers by state, and we discovered that the pattern was the same, with approximately half of the teachers saying their state does offer certification for high school computer science teachers, and half saying it does not.

    Our Research Committee decided that we had made a mistake and set out to correct it. One year later we surveyed 15,000 high school computer science teachers, and this time we were much more careful about how we posed the question. We divided it into two parts: asking "Does your state consider computer science a certified teachable?" and "Are you required to hold this certification to teach computer science in your state?" Once again, the answers within individual states came back with approximately half of the participants responding "Yes" and half responding "No."

    After much gnashing of teeth, the CSTA Research Committee decided that either teachers are extremely confused about the teacher certification requirements for their states or that policy awareness and enforcement varies so much from district to district that no conclusive answer is possible. If we could not even get a consistent research-supported picture of what is happening with teacher certification for computer science, how were we ever going to begin working on finding ways to make it more consistent nationally?

    Recently, Ben Felller of the Associated Press wrote a terrific article on high school computer science education that included mention of CSTA. And so I began to get questions via email. And what were most of the questions about? That is right, teacher certification! More specifically, folks were finding it incredibility difficult to get useful information about the teaching requirements in their states.

    Over the last few months, our Standards and Certification Committee has been consistently contacting State Departments of Education and collecting information about their high school computer science teacher certification requirements. So far, about half of the states have replied, and the committee continues to work on the rest who have not yet responded. Once the committee has all of the information in place (or at least as much as it is ever going to get), the plan is to find a consistent way of categorizing the information provided by each state and to collect it all together in a searchable database that will be available to all CSTA members. As you can imagine, this is going to take a considerable amount of work, and we are still looking for good volunteers to assist with the project, but we are hoping to have the database ready within six months.

    This is just one of the many current CSTA projects. Teacher certification, like most issues, is complex and full of potential sources of conflict. But it is important, and in the end, we hope these efforts will provide valuable information for our members.


    Posted by cstephenson at 10:41 AM | Comments (25)