Jennifer Rosato elected as incoming chair of CSTA’s Board of Directors

Dear CSTA community,

I am delighted to inform you that at the CSTA summer board meeting on July 11, 2018, Jennifer Rosato was elected as incoming chair of the board.

photo of Jennifer Rosato, CSTA chair-elect

Jennifer Rosato, CSTA chair-elect

Jennifer (“Jen”) Rosato is Director of the Center for Computer Science Education at the College of St. Scholastica and an Assistant Professor in Computer Information Systems. She leads the Mobile CSP project, including curriculum and professional development for the AP CS Principles course. Rosato also works on teacher education initiatives, including integrating computer science and computational thinking in pre-service programs as well as a graduate certificate program for current teachers.

Jen began her term as incoming chair immediately upon the election results being announced; at next year’s summer board meeting, she will become chair and I (Fred Martin) will become past-chair!

Also at the board meeting:

  • Newly elected board members Kristeen Shabram (K–8 Representative) and Amy Fox (9–12 Representative) began their 2-year terms.
  • Elections were held for 1-year terms on the Executive Committee. Serving for 2018–19 will be Anthony Owen, Bryan (“BT”) Twarek, and Jane Prey.

Our organization is fortunate to have such accomplished, dedicated, and generous volunteers to help make CSTA great.

Thank you to all CSTA board members, and a special congratulations and thank-you to Jen Rosato.

Yours,
Fred Martin, Board Chair

Microsoft Philanthropies has announced a $2 million commitment with CSTA

Today Microsoft Philanthropies announced a $2 million commitment, over three years, to CSTA. Support from Microsoft will help us launch new chapters and strengthen existing ones, expand professional development opportunities across the network, and attract new members and partners in order to build the foundation and community that every computer science teacher needs. With computer science skills more important for students than ever before, we are thrilled to join forces with Microsoft on this effort to broaden access for all students. Learn more about the commitment from Mary Snapp, Senior Vice President and Lead of Microsoft Philanthropies: Read the Announcement!

Welcome to the Silicon Prairie!

The 2018 CSTA Annual Conference is only days away, and I am looking forward to welcoming everyone to Omaha. We have an exciting conference planned, with workshops on Saturday and Sunday (along with a Chapter Leader Summit), birds-of-a-feather session on Sunday afternoon, and keynotes and sessions on Monday and Tuesday. There are numerous social and networking events, including a big reception on Sunday evening and a tour/reception at the University of Nebraska Omaha on Monday. This looks to be a record-breaking conference in a number of ways (no spoilers) and we locals are working to make it the friendliest as well.

Some last-minute pieces of advice as you prepare to come to Omaha:

  1. The convention center and conference hotels are only 3 miles from the Eppley International Airfield, and both the Hilton and Marriott have free shuttles. If you choose a cab or ride-share, we are still talking 5-10 minutes to get from one to the other. Pay attention on you ride from the airport and you will notice that you briefly pass from Nebraska into Iowa and then back to Nebraska. It’s an interesting historical fact that the Missouri River, which forms the boundary between the two states, changed its course in 1877, leaving a small piece of Iowa stranded on the Nebraska side.
  2. There is a lot to see and do around the convention center and hotels. If you are a baseball fan, TD Ameritrade Park, where the College World Series is held every year, is just next door. There are restaurants, bars and a movie theater adjacent to the park. The Marriott is connected to the new Capitol District, which also has restaurants, bars and shops and an outdoor social space. Within easy walking distance is the Old Market district, which has all kinds of dining, shopping and social establishments. If you are considering dinner some evening, I would recommend getting reservations ahead of time, as it is a busy place.
  3. If you have time to explore Omaha, I would recommend downloading the Omaha Savings app from the Omaha Visitors Center (https://www.visitomaha.com/savingsapp/). It has discounts on museums, restaurants, and the Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium. The Doorly Zoo has been named the #1 zoo in the world by TripAdvisor, and is well worth the trip (it is 6 miles from downtown, and can be reached using the hotel shuttle). My institution, Creighton University, is less than a mile to the west of the conference hotels. It is a beautiful urban campus, so if you are looking to stretch your legs, I would recommend checking it out. We will have maps of the downtown area available at registration.
  4. This has been a hot summer across the country, and Omaha has been no exception. The weather forecast calls for highs in the upper 80’s and lower 90’s. Currently, there is no rain in the long-term forecast, but that can certainly change. If you are staying in the Hilton, there is an enclosed walkway that goes directly to the convention center, so you won’t have to go outside if you don’t want to. The Marriott is on the adjacent block, and many other hotels are close by as well. Plan to bring some warm-weather clothes and get out. In addition to the Old Market, you’ll want to walk across the award-winning pedestrian bridge that crosses the Missouri River to Iowa. There are many walking and bike paths along the river and over on the Iowa side. There are several bike rental stations in the downtown area, including one right by the pedestrian bridge.
  5. Omaha is a clean, vibrant, and friendly Midwestern city. The population in the metropolitan area is around 930K, but it still has the feel of a small-town. The area also has a rapidly growing tech-sector, earning it the title Silicon Prairie. If you have never visited here before, I know you will find Omaha welcoming and engaging. Enjoy your time here!

On a personal note, this meeting marks the end of my term on the CSTA Board of Directors. I have made so many great friends and colleagues over the past nine years, and want to thank you all for the hard work and passion you bring to CS education. I look forward to continuing to work with you all, and I know that CSTA’s future is bright with Jake and Fred at the helm.

JRN, Journalism, Media, Computing faculty members


Dave Reed
CSTA Board Member, Past-Chair

It’s Conference Season!

Ah, summertime – a time for rest and relaxation. For educators, summer is also often a time for professional development. A highlight of my summer PD each year is the annual CSTA Conference. I love a conference where I don’t have to search the program trying to find computer science sessions. With the start of the conference only a little over a week a way, my conference planning has begun!

Do you make a plan for a conference before you attend? I’m not talking about planning a session or workshop, if you are a presenter. I am talking about planning your experience as an attendee. I do.

Before going to a conference, I read the conference program and create a document of the sessions that I think I would like to attend. I include information from the conference program along with any resources that have been shared for the session. I also try to find links to the presenters which might include their Twitter handles, LinkedIn profile, website, etc. This helps me to follow up after the conference if I didn’t get information from a session during the conference. My list of sessions always includes more than I could possibly physically attend so I rely on crowd-sourcing to get information on sessions I can’t actually attend.

During the conference:

  • If I am attending with colleagues, we get together to make sure to attend different sessions. Then, we all add information to a collaborative document for those sessions. I can then use that to update my document.
  • I share my document on Twitter using the conference hashtag and ask for collaborators. This lets people who are in the room contribute pictures, notes, and other resources from the sessions that I can’t physically attend.
  • I use the document to watch for tweets from those sessions I’m not in and add the information to my document as the conference progresses. If I see people tweet about a session without much information, I will reply to their tweet asking for links to resources so I can add them to the document.
  • I also use the document to see where I want or need to be. I don’t know about you but often sessions at conferences can spark a curiosity that I didn’t have before. This means I might want to change my mind on which sessions I attend as the conference progresses. It’s nice to have all the sessions I might be interested in on one document rather than having to click multiple times to see descriptions of sessions on the actual program.

For this year’s CSTA conference, I have included the sessions from the program that are applicable to K-8 CS on my document. I always try to check my document against the conference program just before the conference starts because there are sometimes room changes or cancellations.

Have you ever missed something at a conference that you meant to attend? To try to avoid this, I add any workshops, sessions, meet-ups, etc. that I am definitely attending, presenting, or proctoring to my Google Calendar. Then, I have reminders sent to me at whatever interval I like which is typically 15 minutes to 30 minutes before something is scheduled to start. This helps me to be where I am committed to be.

What are you waiting for? The 2018 CSTA Conference starts in just over a week. Create your own #CSTA2018 resources document for the conference and add your must attend events to your calendar.

What if you’re not attending the 2018 CSTA Conference? No problem, you can still create your own document of sessions that you would have liked to attend and follow along on Twitter using the #csta2018 hashtag to collect resources from the sessions. I have done this the last few years for the ISTE Conference, which I have not attended. It is amazing what you can learn from a conference even when you’re not physically there. Create your own #NOTATcsta2018 document and follow along virtually!

Vicky Sedgwick
K-8 Teacher Representative

Mathematics and Computer Science

As attention in England (and elsewhere) turns to the World Cup, I’ve been reading a couple of books about the mathematical modelling of football: Anderson and Sally’s The Numbers Game and Sumpter’s Soccermatics. I’d recommend them both if you’re interested in learning more about some of the patterns in the data that football (i.e. soccer) generates. I suspect young (and not so young) people are already quite familiar with the computational modelling of football, not through books such as these, but through computer games such as FIFA and Football Manager. These games make extensive use of real data, and are excellent examples of what the English computing standards describes as ‘computational abstractions that model the state and behaviour of real world problems’

The parallel between mathematical modelling and computer programming is no coincidence: there are deep historical connections between computer science and mathematics, and these remain strong to this day. Doing mathematics, at its heart, is a two-step process of thinking about a problem and then manipulating symbols according to rules: before Turing’s day the symbol manipulation (typically arithmetic) was done by people called computers, since his time (in the real world, if not always in school), this work is done by machines called computers. In either case, it’s the thinking about the problem and its solution where the real mathematics lies. Similarly, programming is a two-step process: thinking about the problem and how to solve it (the ‘computational thinking’), and then writing the instructions (the code) which mean the solution can be carried out by a dumb machine.

In his classic 1957 text, How to Solve It, Polya identifies four principles for problem solving in mathematics: understand the problem, plan a solution, carry the plan and review or extend the solution. I think all of these apply to problem solving in computing, with all but the third stage sitting comfortably within most approaches to computational thinking. There’s much common ground between computer science and mathematics: both domains demand logical thinking and a systematic approach, both result in computation, and both draw on the idea of abstraction. In her 2008 paper, Wing drew a distinction between abstraction in computer science and abstraction in mathematics, indicating that in CS, abstraction was both more general and more practical than it is in mathematics.

For those teaching in elementary school, there are so many opportunities to exploit the connections between mathematics and computer science, as they’re likely to find themselves teaching both to their class. Papert’s turtle graphics have long had their place in the mathematics curriculum as well as providing what remains a great way into coding. Scratch introduces pupils to four quadrant coordinates. Away from programming, dynamic geometry software such as Geogebra or graphics programs like Pixlr can introduce the ideas of transformations. Pupils can be introduced to probability through simulations in Scratch or Excel, and statistics through online surveys and data logging with the micro:bit.

Further up the education system, it becomes harder to bridge the artificial gap between CS and mathematics, but it’s well worth the attempt. Take any mathematics investigation or open-ended problem and, after trying a few ideas with pencil and paper, explore how you might program a computer to solve it: personal favourites are problems like ‘how many ways can you make 50 cents using coins?‘, or ‘how many perfect shuffles does it take to get a 52 card pack back in order?‘ Modelling works well here too, perhaps showing how a ball bounces, or estimating pi through the ratio of random points inside to those outside a unit circle, to creating a class (and overloaded operators) to perform fractions arithmetic. All of these are great coding activities, but they’d also develop pupils’ mathematical understanding of these ideas.

There are some great resources out there for folks interested in linking mathematics and computer science more closely. Top of my list would go the Scratch Maths project for 4th/5th grade math from University College London, and the Bootstrap World courses for algebra and data science. It’s notable that both of these have taken impact evaluation very seriously.

Miles Berry, International Representative

OMSCS : On-line Masters of Science in Computer Science

I get a lot questions about the on-line program I am in at Georgia Tech. I thought I would share details about my experience to help others in our CSTA membership who might consider online education as a possible option for their own education. I know there are several CS teachers in CSTA in the same or a similar program who can also add to the discussion.

The OMSCS (Online Masters of Science in Computer Science) at Georgia Tech has broken through barriers, stereotypes, and obstacles and created a world class master’s program that not only has kept its academic integrity and rigor, but has done so at a cost that is tremendously lower than many on-campus programs. The program has been recognized world-wide for its innovative approach and financial model. A typical class runs about $800, including tuition and fees. Students have to complete 10 classes for a degree, putting the total cost of attendance at about $8000. Within those 10 classes, students are required to choose a specialization (Computational Perception & Robotics, Computing Systems, Interactive Intelligence, or Machine Learning), which usually means you have to choose some classes(usually 6 out of the 10) from a specific set of required classes. Most students take 2-3 years to complete their degree, but can take up to 5.

Yes, it’s different than being on campus. Yes, there are things we don’t get access to. No, we cannot go to football games. We don’t have student IDs (I don’t think). Classes have the same expectations of rigor online as they would on-campus. There is freedom to choose which classes to take, and in what order. Classes tend to be project-based, very student-driven. Not all classes in the entire CS program are offered online; currently, there are about 30 class offerings. Any class that is offered has to be “converted” to this online format. We use the same system to register and get grades as other students at Georgia Tech. Each class is different, but many of them take advantage of Udacity for regular “lecture.” The designers of the program have coached the class professors how to record interactive and engaging videos for class. These videos are broken up into bite size chunks never more than a few minutes in length…and they are not dry and monotonous. Many include interactive quizzes embedded in each video. We are able to sense the passions, intonation, and enthusiasm of the professors. Having completed a MOOC with some terrible prerecorded lessons, I have thoroughly enjoyed this online experience.

Tests and exams are always administered online with a 4-day window (you can usually take it anytime from Friday- Monday night) and uses software called ProctorTrack which virtually eliminates the possibility of cheating. With all the obvious possible opportunities for dishonesty with a 100% online class, the program takes it extremely seriously; the honesty element is a regular topic of discussion. In fact, what I notice is that the students themselves take pride in the sense of honor that we all embrace as members of the program.

I have had every type of educational experience possible. I have had theoretical classes with lots of textbook reading, quizzes, and tests. I have had classes with no tests at all, but lots of writing assignments. I have had classes with only a midterm and an exam. I have had classes with large group projects. I have had classes with large individual projects. I have had projects that lasted days, weeks, and even months. I have had classes with required graded homework and classes with ungraded homework. I even had one class where we found out the one of the TA was actually a “virtual assistant.” The one thing every class has in common is that they are all very challenging and expect your undivided attention. I spend anywhere from 10-30 hours per week on a typical class.

One of the major drawbacks that I have experienced is simply not having the inter-student conversations, overhearing a fellow student question to the professor, hanging out after class to talk about ideas with fellow students, chatting with the professor before class for a lesson clarification, or impromptu collaborating in the lab while working on projects.

Once students have found their way into the first class, they quickly learn that the online discussion board, PIAZZA, is the lifeblood of the program. The board is heavily monitored by TAs every day all day. Most classes have lots of (T)eaching (A)ssistants to handle the 100-200 students in the class. Students are also heavy contributors, but not only posting questions…..they are actually equally as active responding to others. In fact, some classes require (or encourage) participation in Piazza. In some classes, we’ll even have responses from the professor. Without giving away too much in the response (honor part plays a part here as well), fellow students give hints, explanations, and advice to each other. Students truly feel like they are in this together. Each class also has a SLACK channel for instant communications for those that prefer that style of medium. TAs also monitor these channels, so students will post questions here as well.

Some classes offer office hours (by TA or the professor) several times throughout a week through Piazza, SLACK, or Bluejeans.

Grading is exactly the same as it would be on-camopus. Any grade can be challenged by asking for a regrade, as long as there is a valid explanation for the request. This happens all the time. Because it is online and there are students from all over the world, most classes usually give at least a week notice for most assignments, giving students the ability to manage class with full time jobs (which many students have). That gives us time to research, plan, and struggle with the projects.

Students who complete 10 courses successfully earn a Master’s Degree, which is the exact same degree earned by on-campus students. Students are offered the chance to come to campus to graduate with fellow classmates during the regular graduation.

Doug Bergman headshot - Gr. 9 to 12 teacher representative

Doug Bergman – 9 to 12 teacher representative


Doug Bergman
9-12 Representative

Leeroy Jenkins!

Now that Ready Player One is exiting theaters and transitioning to home video, I figured I would start with a quote from Armada, another book written by Ernest Cline.

“I had been hoping and waiting for some mind-blowingly fantastic, world-altering event to finally shatter the endless monotony of my public education.”

While this quote is from a fictional story, the first time I read it, I paused and took time to read it again. Though this was in the first chapter of the book, I continued thinking about it in the context of today’s students and the work we have in front of us. In Armada, the protagonist, Zachary Lightman, thought these words to himself when he saw something truly remarkable happening outside of his classroom window. While the details of everyday life are not as dramatic as those in the book, this scenario is not fictional.

Millions of children are finishing their last few days of school this week, and they are feeling like a prisoner about to be paroled. Why is this the case? Well my opinion is that for the past 40 or so years, we have established a system that in many ways labels over 1/3rd of our kids as “losers.” No, I am not talking about kids that scored at a certain level on an assessment or kids that didn’t make football, band, cheerleading… I am talking about the roughly 35% of our high-school graduates that do not go to college. Our nation, and states, have established public school systems that are trying to be assembly lines to produce college applicants; notice that I didn’t say college graduates. Approximately 40% of those that enter college do not graduate. When this taken into consideration, we are establishing a system that is set up to work efficiently for 39% of our population; what about the other 61%? Well many of them have thoughts, on a daily basis, like Zach, or cry out like Job in his final defense. That 61% figuratively, and sometimes literally, cry out to their teachers, principals, superintendents, parents, and state leaders, “why do you not answer me? You see me and know my current and future plight, but you continue to make decisions that support the others and leave me in the dark!”

Now that the drama is out of the way, I will get to the point. Computer science (CS) is not the panacea we all wish it was, but it is a great start for this 61%. Not only will CS be a direct benefit for many of them, it is a catalyst for changes that can positively affect all students. In my state, I have long disliked that we set state-level pre-requisites, based on seat time, on our high-school mathematics courses. When Arkansas adopted CS standards and courses, I made sure that we did not set state level prerequisites on our high-school courses; it should be up to the local teacher and school to determine what level course the student is ready for. This policy has been a phenomenal success! Students are actually enrolling in courses that are more attuned to their skill level, abilities, and desires. The best part is, our state leadership is now having discussions if this is something we should replicate in other subject areas, including mathematics.

Computer science is the bipartisan wave we can all ride to change the culture of our educational systems. I challenge everyone of you regardless of your position, to use the computer science movement in a way that is beneficial to our students, by demonstrating that our educational system, your district, your school, or your class can be nimble and reflective of student and societal needs. If we all will rise to this challenge, the community can respond to future generations with “you’re welcome.”


Anthony Owens, State Department Representative

Reflections on the NCWIT Summit

Last week, I attended the annual summit of the National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT). (CSTA executive director Jake Baskin was there too.) The NCWIT summit is a meeting of about 700 people who are involved in the activities of NCWIT – K-12, higher education, workforce. It’s a working meeting – people come to discuss and learn ways to effectively increase the meaningful participation of women and girls in computing-related fields. It also always includes several inspiring keynote talks related to diversity, ranging from motivational to scholarly.

One thing that always has been special about NCWIT is the active participation of men as well as women. The issue of striving to improve the involvement of women and girls in IT is crucial to all of us in computing and to our entire society, and requires the involvement of all of us. The gender breakout at the summit reflected this.

Two of the keynote talks at the summit embraced this theme of shared responsibility and took it further. One, by Dr. Jackson Katz, addressed the more general issues of sexual harassment and gender violence by men towards women, and their hugely harmful effects that can go well beyond the people directly involved. The speaker stressed the responsibility of men not only not to behave like this, but to not tolerate this behavior by other men. Another keynote talk by well-known sociopolitical comedian Kamau Bell addressed racism in the United States, with an analogous message: the responsibility of Caucasian Americans not only to not behave in this manner but to stand up to this behavior by others.

How do these messages impact all of us, particularly educators in K-12 and other settings? Very directly. We each have the responsibility to assure that all voices are given equal opportunities to be heard, in our classrooms and in our professional meetings. We also need to model inclusive behavior, and to stand up to behavior that is discriminatory. Ideally, we will do this not by shaming, but by making responses that sustain a positive environment and often, create a teachable moment. Doing this in the heat of the moment isn’t easy and can be aided by some preparation, such as the NCWIT resource https://www.ncwit.org/resources/interrupting-bias-academic-settings or many resources that have become available on “Bystander Training”.


Bobby Schnabel, Partner Representative

Big Wins for CS Policy in 2018

It’s been amazing to see the power of teacher voice finally getting the respect it deserves this spring. In states across the country teachers have come together to speak with one voice and policy makers have listened.

Although not as high profile, the same is true in the amazing policy gains for computer science education. Teachers across the country have come together to make sure their students have access to high quality computer science courses.

Just since January, 20 states have passed new laws or initiatives to support computer science, and many of those would not have happened without the the direct work of local CSTA chapters and members. I wanted to highlight three states where CSTA chapters and their leadership played a key role in this work:

  • Arizona
    Arizona CSTA president and state board of education member Janice Mak along with vice-president Brian Nelson have been a tireless champions for CS education. The chapter co-hosted a “Coding at the Capitol” event where students could program with state Senators. Thanks to their work with a coalition of leaders in the state, the Arizona Department of Education is developing standards for computer science education (I’ve got a great idea of where they can start) and the state funded $1 million for computer science education. I hope to see CSTA members participate in the standards writing process.

  • Hawaii
    The recently launched Hawaii CSTA chapter acted as a hub for the CS community to meet regularly was part of the larger CS coalition that encouraged the state board of education to adopt the CSTA standards. Many CSTA members were part of the state working group and were present when the Board adopted the new standards.

  • New Jersey
    The state’s new requirement that every high school teach computer science is the culmination of 5 years of grassroots advocacy from the three NJ CSTA chapters. They worked together to craft a policy vision for the state and built a steering committee that effectively communicated their vision to all stakeholders. Over that time they also changed policy for CS to count towards a math graduation requirement and update the state’s computer science standards. Next up is a bill the CSTA chapters helped draft that would create a new CS teaching endorsement.

These are just a few of the amazing stories that are the result of a teacher led movement. I’m so proud of the work that local CSTA chapters and members have done in the policy space, and if you’d like to be more involved in advocacy work consider engaging with our advocacy committee. There’s a wave of policy decisions to be made in computer science education and it’s essential we work together to ensure teacher voices are heard when these decisions are made.


Jake Baskin
Executive Director CSTA