Tips for countering the November Blues

Tips for countering the November Blues

November was always a tricky month for me as a teacher — the weather turns towards winter, the clocks fall back so it’s dark before leaving school, and there were just enough random days off that it was impossible to get a rhythm going. Here are a few tricks I used to keep the energy through November and the end of the year:

Get away from the computers

By November patterns were set, students walked into class generally knowing what to expect, with a structure to class, and projects to work on. In general this sense of routine was great, all the administrative stuff could happen quickly, but that energy from the beginning of the school year was gone. To counteract this I’d always find time in November to do some work away from the computers. This was great for two reasons, first it would break that monotony in the classroom, and lessons like the CS unplugged curriculum forced everyone to approach computer science from a different lens, and ensure that the collaboration and communication strands of the CSTA standards were being hit. Second (and maybe more importantly) it was an opportunity to swap classrooms with another teacher in my school. I got to teach every day in a computer lab and there was always a colleague who was looking for computer time. With one creative lesson plan I’d shake things up in my class and make someone else’s day! When class registration time came around, these teachers were always willing to help promote my computer science classes :).

Coach a team or after school club

For me, November meant the start of a new high school basketball season, and a new opportunity to see my students in a different light. I’m not saying that everyone reading this should immediately start coaching, but we all can find ways to see our students engaging in a passion outside of the classroom. The hours we spent in practice, on the bus to away games or waiting on bleachers during tournaments gave me a chance to see my students in a more relaxed setting, and learn more about them as people. These stronger relationships payed huge dividends on those days when I felt especially exhausted and everything I had planned for class just didn’t work out.

Dedicate some time to real professional development

First quarter grades were due in November for me, and assigning grades was always my least favorite part of teaching. I think mostly because it made me confront all the things I had hoped to teach, but clearly had not succeeded at actually teaching to my classes. It also meant a “professional development” day dedicated to fighting the online grading system that ran slowest when every teacher in the district was using it at the same time. In order to keep from going insane, I’d make sure to dedicate some time on those days, even if it was just an hour, for some real, self directed, professional development. It could be reading an article, taking an online course, or reaching out to my PLN (in my case the local CSTA chapter) to see what cool new things they were trying in their classrooms.

If you’re a CSTA+ member, there are some amazing free resources included in your membership to take advantage of on this front — try a online course from Pluralisght, get professional development on using robots, or read the latest issue of Inroads magazine to see what’s new in CS education research. Plus, you’ll be able to secure your spot at the 20th anniversary of the CSTA conference before anyone else (and at last year’s early bird registration price!) Join or upgrade today at http://csta.plus.

So, what are your tricks for combating the November blues? Let me know on twitter @jakebask or @csteachersorg using #csta


Jake Baskin
Executive Director CSTA

Shout out to chapter leaders!

If you’re reading this blog you probably know that the CSTA annual conference happened last month in Omaha. It was my first conference as Executive Director and I had a blast! If you weren’t able to make it I hope you could engage in some of the community and conversations via #CSTA2018. What you may not know is that 70 chapter leaders from 30 states and Puerto Rico came together for a pre-conference leadership summit. The energy and excitement from this group of passionate leaders was infectious.

Amy Fox, Fran Trees, Ramsey Young, and Chinma Uche made up the amazing team of volunteer chapter leaders led the full workshop and they all deserve a huge thank you for their hard work (and willingness to put up with long video calls). At the end of the workshop we had a survey for feedback, and there was one key comment that stood out to me:

Meeting everyone and hearing that we are making progress in my state in comparison to other states. It made me feel good about what we have accomplished but also give me direction as to what still needs to be completed.

During my first six months at CSTA I’ve had the opportunity to connect with most of our chapter leaders, and over and over I’d hear about innovative programs, strong communities and passionate teachers. I’d also always hear some form of “I just don’t know if this is enough, what else should we be doing.” It’s an important reminder that just like teaching CS, volunteering to lead a chapter or pushing for policy change in your local context is often lonely work.

It’s so easy these days to turn every minute of a workshop, conference or chapter meeting into targeted programming with a specific outcome, yet whenever we look at feedback it’s clear that the most important learning happens when dedicated volunteers are given the opportunity to interact with each other. None of us live in a vacuum, and without constant opportunities to connect and hear about what’s happening across town or around the globe, we’ll never be able to level set. As an outcome of this summit we’ll be launching regular video calls for chapter leaders to connect and learn from each other throughout the year.

Remember, you’re not measuring yourself or your chapter against perfection (it’s an impossible bar to set) and as we dive into the next school year I hope you use your CSTA community as a way to level set and celebrate the little wins. Oh, and let your chapter leader know when they’re doing something great — they all made big plans and deserve much love for the work they do!

Jake Baskin, Executive Director

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

A Message from CSTA Incoming Executive Director Jake Bastin

As the incoming Executive Director of CSTA, I’m thrilled to introduce myself to the greater CSTA community. Instead of vague generalizations and platitudes, I’d like to share a story about my first year teaching computer science, and the role CSTA played in my development as a teacher.

I’ll never forget room 225 at Lindblom Math and Science Academy, my first classroom. It had some quirks: desks bolted down to the floor, four fewer computers than my largest class, a heating system that required opening the windows every day of a Chicago winter. Most importantly it had 150 students who were ready to learn computer science with me, even if I wasn’t so sure I was ready to teach it.

In that building I found incredible support — a principal who knew computer science should be a core part of the school, colleagues that I still count among my closest friends, and the most creative, determined and fun students I could ask for.

The one thing I couldn’t find was another computer science teacher.

While I knew it was best to go along with the jokes and eye rolls when mandatory department meetings were held, what I really felt was jealousy. Everyone else had a time to discuss what content and practices were working, and get ideas on how to reach individual students. A group of coworkers that didn’t always have the answers, but at least understood the challenges everyone was facing.

Then I went to the first Chicago CSTA meeting of the year and discovered I had something better: a CS department that spanned the entire city and connected me to the latest ideas in teaching and learning computer science. I had finally found my team and was thrilled to begin working alongside them.

A lot has changed in the CS education world since I joined CSTA eight years ago—a wave of publicity around computer science education and shifting policies around the world—but the heart of the movement remains the same: dedicated teachers fighting for all students to learn computer science.

Our vibrant local chapters are the heart of this organization, and in my new role with CSTA I will focus on identifying and highlighting the most successful work happening at local chapters so we can spread those great ideas to all of our members. This starts with sharing—if your local chapter has something amazing planned, or an idea you need help executing, please let me know. You can always find me at jake.baskin@csteachers.org, and if you’ll be at SIGCSE say hi in person!


Jake Baskin
Incoming Executive Director, CSTA