The Second-Best Job

Don’t get me wrong, being retired is the best job ever (with teaching a close second!) but I must say I feel very lucky to be able to stay active in the computing education community. Particularly, being the co-chair of the ACM Education Board and participating as a CSTA Board member has given me opportunities to keep learning and participating with people around the world. 

I was invited to attend the ACM SIGCSE China conference in May, 2019 in Chengdu China https://www.acmturc.com/2019/en/SIGCSE.html(and yes, the panda bears were very cute). I was part of a panel which was titled Computer Education Research. Panelists included Junlin Lu (China), Juan Chen (China), Jane Prey (USA), Steve Cooper (USA), Andrew Luxton-Reilly (New Zealand), Brett Becker (Ireland), Bo Yang (China). While this may sound like a research discussion, we ended up talking about various scenarios for teaching computing in primary grades (aka K-12.) There were many opinions and ideas around the availability of resources, diversity and engagement. We discussed the different languages used, the various approaches, etc – takeaway #1: People from around the world ask the same kinds of questions we do on how to best teach their students. 

What I enjoyed most were our conversations on how “easy” vs “challenging” the content should be and if programming/coding should be the principle deliverable from the class. Particularly interesting comments included:  if it’s too easy, what are they learning?, how to keep students interested in doing something challenging?, how to challenge students and have them feel successful and rewarded for doing the hard work?, how to recognize when to push and when to hold back, how to have students add to their ability to solve problems? My takeway #2 is that our group (panelists and attendees) believe that computing in school should be fun, that fun does not mean easy, that fun should include moments of reflection and work, that work should be fun. 

Takeaway #3: there are many smart and passionate people around the world working to answer these questions. I am very lucky my grandchildren will be taught by such people. 

Happy New School Year!

Jane Prey ACM Representative

Yes, It Really Is About K-12

Now that I’m retired (and busier than ever!), I often reflect on how I learned to love science and computing. Back then, then computing didn’t really exist – it was math. I remember a middle school math class where I had to figure out how to turn on and off red, yellow and green lights. That was probably my first programming experience but they called it logic. I remember other similar activities in middle school and high school such as when we acted out directions EXACTLY as someone had written. The thinking concisely and with order was great fun and challenging! I loved it before I went to college and through a variety of twists and turns in my academic life, I ended back at (now known as) computer science.

The recent exciting news of being able to visualize a black hole because of an algorithm developed by a team lead by computer scientist Katie Bouman has certainly captured my imagination. If you’ve had the chance to read more about Katie, she credits her love of computing from her high school experiences. In graduate school, she didn’t even know what a black hole was but once she got involved, she was hooked on figuring out how computing could capture all of the data and integrate this information from the many different telescopes to produce an image. “If you study things like computer science and electrical engineering, it’s not just building circuits in your lab,” she says. “You can go out to a telescope at 15,000 feet above sea level, and you can use those skills to do something that no one’s ever done before.” (https://www.cnbc.com/2019/04/12/katie-bouman-helped-generate-the-first-ever-photo-of-a-black- hole.html)

Encouraging more students to try computing is one of the reasons I volunteer my time working with CSTA. I believe it’s K-12 that guides us to identifying what we find challenging and rewarding. Another organization that I have worked with extensively is National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT). While their primary focus is on girls and women in computing, many of their resources are applicable and valuable to all. For the K-12 audience, they have whitepapers with research references, podcast that are appropriate for high school students, tool kits which can help you organize events, great information in language that
everyone can understand, etc.


Some favorites include:


Communicating Research-based Interventions to Change Agents– to support the use of evidence-based interventions by change leaders;

Top 10 Ways to Engage School Counselors as Allies in the Effort to Increase Student Access to Computer Science Education and Careers – School counselors are eager to direct students to viable education and career opportunities. Consider these key points for collaboration as you
plan to meet with counselors to discuss ways their professional responsibilities align with your goals to increase student access to computing;

Computer Science Professional Development Guide – this computer science (CS) Guide not only empowers teachers, but also inspires students;

Computer Science-in-a-Box: Unplug Your Curriculum (2018 Update) – Computer Science-in-a- Box: Unplug Your Curriculum introduces fundamental building blocks of computer science — without using computers. Use it with students ages 9 to 14 to teach lessons about how
computers work, while addressing critical mathematics and science concepts such as number systems, algorithms, and manipulating variables and logic.

There are many many more resources of all forms that target the many facets of the K-12 world. The NCWIT website (NCWIT.org) has an easily searchable K-12 resource section. Take some time and take a look. I’ll bet you’ll find some interesting things.

We are lucky to be living in a time where computing plays such an important role in our daily lives. We’re even luckier to be able to help student learn just how cool computing can be!

“With a Little Help from My Friends”

With our ever-busier lives, I really appreciate my friends who help keep me up to date on interesting and exciting new developments in computing education. I am sure I saw the original posting but reminders from my friends help me remember to pay attention!!

Here are 2 items that my friends Mark Guzdial and Alfred Thompson recently pointed out to me!

Mark has a really interesting blog and recently wrote about the new SIGCSE conference paper award. To celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the SIGCSE Conference, the “Test of Time” award has been created. Its goal is to identify the top 10 papers submitted to SIGCSE in the past 50 years! You can see the list and vote here.

In honor of this event, ALL SIGCSE conference papers are freely available in the ACM Digital Library until March 2, 2019.

Here are a few of Mark’s favorites:

It’s worth the time to skim through the list and see what catches your eye – download now for FREE and save them to read later. There are lots of fun papers!

Alfred keeps a list of interesting blogs – at http://blog.acthompson.net/2012/11/computer-science-education-blog-roll.html including:

  • Mike Zamansky Mike runs the computer science program at Stuyvesant High School in New York City. He’s a very creative person. he’s also built and maintained a community of students who stay connected after graduation.
  • Garth’s CS Teacher Blog  Garth Flint is a teacher at a private Catholic school in western Montana. Garth always gives me things to think about.
  • Mark Guzdial –  Computing Education Blog  Mark is probably doing more research in how to teach computer science right than anyone else I know. His posts include information about the CS Principles course, he is on the advisory board, which will probably be a new APCS course. 
  • Doug Bergman is the award winning head of Computer Science at Porter-Gaud School in Charleston, SC 
  • Set Another Goal By Clark Scholten Computer Science Teacher at Pinnacle High School
  • Dawn DuPriest – coding in math class –  Middle School Computer Science and Electronics teacher
  • Communications of the ACM: blog@CACM The CACM blog has posts from some of the top people in computer science. Some of the posts are very technical but many are potentially interesting for students, teachers and CS hobbyists alike.  

Oh, and one more thing – I was honored to be the guest editor for the ACM Inroads magazine celebrating the 50th Anniversary of SIGCSE organization.  This special issue came out in December 2018 and has a variety of articles about the history of the organization, thoughts about the future, challenges we may face, etc. My favorite section is the “My SIGCSE’ where some of the SIGCSE members who share their stories with us. Give it a look!

So thankful for my friends!!


Jane Prey, ACM Representative

Did you know? NSF programs for K-12 CS Education

It was my first CSTA conference(Omaha, NB: https://www.csteachers.org/page/2018conference) so all was new and exciting. I did peruse the exhibit hall when I first got there but didn’t spend much time. I went back the second day and wow! really glad I did. I spent a lot more time looking at each booth and talking with the people at places of interest. I learned A LOT!
While I don’t have the space to articulate everything I learned, I want to share one in particular that we might not think too seriously about.
The National Science Foundation booth was a natural for me to stop at – I was fortunate to have done 2 sabbaticals there during my career. It was great to visit with a former colleague and catch up on what’s new. I learned about 2 programs that I had not realized were applicable to the K-12 audience.

They are (quoting from the official NSF website):
STEM + Computing K-12 Education (STEM+C)
https://www.nsf.gov/funding/pgm_summ.jsp?pims_id=505006&org=DRL&from=home
The STEM+C Program focuses on research and development of interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary approaches to the integration of computing within STEM teaching and learning for preK-12 students in both formal and informal settings. The STEM+C program supports research on how students learn to think computationally to solve interdisciplinary problems in science and mathematics. The program supports research and development that builds on evidence-based teacher preparation or professional development activities that enable teachers to provide excellent instruction on the integration of computation and STEM disciplines.

Innovative Technology Experiences for Students and Teachers (ITEST)
https://www.nsf.gov/funding/pgm_summ.jsp?pims_id=5467&org=DRL&from=home
ITEST is a research and development program that supports projects to promote PreK-12 student interests and capacities to participate in the STEM and information and communications technology (ICT) workforce of the future.
The ITEST program supports research on the design, development, implementation, and selective spread of innovative strategies for engaging students in technology-rich experiences that: (1) increase student awareness of STEM occupations; (2) motivate students to pursue appropriate education pathways to STEM occupations; or (3) develop disciplinary-based knowledge and practices, or promote critical thinking, reasoning skills, or communication skills needed for entering STEM workforce sectors.
ITEST projects may adopt an interdisciplinary focus that includes multiple STEM disciplines, focus on a single discipline, or focus on one or more sub-disciplines. The ITEST program supports projects that provide evidence for factors, instructional designs, and practices in formal and informal learning environments that broaden participation of students from underrepresented groups in STEM fields and related education and workforce domains.
Why should we care about these programs? While you currently may not have time to write or participate in one of these projects, please to keep your eyes open for the projects that do get funded to see what interesting new ideas and activities are being developed. We’re part of an important emerging core area in K-12 education. These NSF-funded projects should give us much to think about. And you never know when you might be able to contribute.
Hurray for all of the things we can learn from the Exhibit Hall!!

Jane Prey
ACM Representative


Jane Prey, ACM Representative

Tapestry Workshops: Diversity-focused Professional Development

When my children were growing up, I remember Teacher Professional Development time as days when I had to remember not to send them to school! (lol)! After joining the CSTA Board, I learned how absolutely critical these Professional Development opportunities are in keeping our teachers excited, engaged and current in their classrooms.

My former UVA colleague and dear friend Jim Cohoon and his late wife Joanne McGrath Cohoon developed a diversity-focused professional development workshop for high school computer science teachers who are interested in attracting and retaining more and diverse students to computing. The Tapestry Workshop has been successfully enabling teachers since 2008 and financial support is available.
The 2018 Tapestry Workshop application is now open but closes April 2, 2018 so time is short!
Many thanks to Leslie Cintron for her words below.

What is a Tapestry Workshop Diversity-Focused Professional Development for High School Computing Teachers?

Tapestry Workshops (tapestryworkshops.org) are diversity-focused professional development workshops for US high school computing teachers. The workshops focus on providing research-supported training and motivation for high school computer science teachers to attract and retain more and diverse students to computing. Tapestry Workshop participants learn about proven practices for increasing the number and diversity of students in high school computing classes. In addition to learning about evidence based diversity-focused strategies for teaching computing, participants discuss teacher challenges and how to overcome them. The multi-day workshop allows participants to actively engage with peer teachers and to reinforce and integrate inclusive pedagogical strategies into their teaching.

Why Focus on Teachers?

By focusing on teachers, Tapestry Workshops produce measurable and ongoing improvements in computing diversity. Teaching the teacher ultimately affects many more high school students than direct student intervention would affect. Since 2008, in excess of 600 teachers have received Tapestry Workshop training. Independent evaluation shows that after taking a Tapestry Workshop more than 80% of workshop participants report enrolling more Computer Science students in general, and more female and under-represented minority students in particular.

Apply for the Tapestry Workshop

This year, thanks to generous support of the National Science Foundation, NCWIT and the Infosys Foundation USA, Tapestry will offer an enhanced 5-day Tapestry Workshop at the Pathfinders Summer Institute 2018, July 15-20, 2018, in Bloomington, Indiana. The Infosys Foundation USA is generously covering 50% of all expenses (including tuition, airfare, accommodation and meals) for each Tapestry Workshop participant from a US public high school. Full scholarships are also available.
To apply go to Pathfinders Summer Institute 2018 at infypathfinders.org and choose “Tapestry Workshop”.
The deadline for applications is April 2, 2018, but Tapestry is accepting participants on a rolling basis. Enrollment is limited, so high school computing teachers are encouraged to get applications in soon and tell your colleagues too!

Can’t make Tapestry at Pathfinders Institute but still want to participate or host a Tapestry Workshop? Contact the Tapestry team at lighthousecc.tapestry@gmail.com or jpc@virginia.edu

Jane Prey
ACM Representative


Jane Prey, ACM Representative

What’s It Like To Serve On A Board?

Throughout my professional career—academia, industry, government, I’ve been involved with many boards. Most of my experiences have be positive; most of them were part of loving, respectful, inclusive communities. I’ve served on boards that focus on teaching in higher education, boards that are charged with the welfare of a community, boards that are responsible for specific events, boards that are strictly oversight or advisory and others that are active doers.

I have recently been lucky enough to join the CSTA Board of Directors. Based on my early experience, the CSTA Board is a hybrid of doers and overseers. It’s a wonderful mix of high school teachers, higher education faculty, state and local K-12 administrators and industry representatives.

When you attend the CSTA Annual Conference, or participate in one of the many activities offered from the chapters or other members of the CSTA community, all of these people, ideas and activities have somehow, someway passed by the attention of the CSTA Board. Board members are active participants in all areas of the organization and execution of the Annual Conference, aiding the conference chairs with whatever and helping keep the Board posted on all of the great ideas and activities. The Chapters as well are encouraged by the Board, which always welcomes their creative ideas. Board members live to be enablers!

In addition, at my first (and currently only) face to face meeting, we dealt with more serious issues like the budget and strategic plans. I was impressed with the many ideas and differing perspectives offered by all of the members of the Board—this isn’t a shy group! I was also happy to see how respectful and seriously everyone reacted to divergent opinions. We’re all trying to do our best for CSTA. It’s amazing how much business gets covered in this one-day meeting. To keep up to date and keep moving forward, we also have monthly video and conference calls with full agendas, too. I appreciate well-run meetings where people do get a chance to visit and catch up but where the focus still on getting the business done. Fred Martin (CSTA Board Chair) is a master!

We all know that it’s really fun, useful and professionally stimulating to be a member of CSTA and that its members (YOU) are what make it the GREAT organization it is today. But if anything about being on a board intrigues you, if you’re interested in seeing how the behind the scenes stuff works and you have the time to invest, the CSTA Board is a pretty amazing place!

Jane Prey
ACM Representative