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

While I’m truly honored to be the first recipient of the CSTA Leadership Cohort APP (Advocacy Points Program) award, I wish to recognize members of CSTA Chicago Chapter whose sustained advocacy efforts over the past few years have contributed to this more than any individual action on my part. I didn’t do this on my own and I couldn’t have. So I share this honor with Don Yanek, Jeff Solin, Dale Reed, Lucia Detori, Terry Steinbach, Gail Chapman, Brenda Remes and Wilkerson, Diane Bell, Ron Greenberg, and dozens of other hard-working teachers and advocates in Chicago.
I didn’t do anything special to receive this award beyond what I do on a daily basis; working with my teacher-friends to convince anyone who will listen of the importance K-12 CS education. I know many of you out there do the same thing, day and in and day out, and I hope that you will be similarly recognized.
At the CS & IT Symposium in July, I talked about “Baker’s Rules for Advocacy,” which served as a gimmick for organizing the presentation. But in the months since then I’ve realized that, with a few modifications, these rules are powerful strategies. While situations vary from one district or state to another, my hope is that teacher advocates will find these ideas applicable. So here we go: Baker’s Rules for CS Advocacy:
Rule #1: You must believe (in your heart of hearts) that our country and the world would be a better place if every student learned something about CS before graduating from high school.
I really believe this, and quite frankly, the fact that many of the people I come into contact with on daily basis don’t, drives me to work even harder. This rule, above all others, is the most important one. You won’t be an effective advocate for K-12 CS without this belief and without being able to articulate this belief to others. There are many good reasons to believe why CS Education for all students is important; I was fortunate enough to find a group of similarly-minded people in Chicago to work with who helped each other articulate exactly what that belief meant for our community. If there is any “secret sauce” to our success in Chicago it’s that despite our numerous failures to make an impact over the years, we kept returning to this core belief and trying until our message stuck with policy makers who could help us make a difference.
Rule #2: Beer. It works.
This is my tongue-in-cheek way of saying that we’re in a people business, both as teachers, and advocates. To make an impact you need friends, and you have to be closer to the other CS teachers in your community than just professional acquaintances. A small group of passionate people can make huge changes, but that group must trust each other, like each other, and be driven by the same goals. We’re not used to doing this, either as computer scientists or teachers, so it helps if some kind of social lubrication is applied, for me, beer works.
It’s funny that the members of CSTA Chicago rarely socialize in Chicago. At home, CSTA chapter meetings are mostly business and, of course, we have families and daily teaching responsibilities and obligations that always seem to prevent us from getting together. Almost every good thing that has come out of CSTA Chicago was started at an out-of-town conference, including meeting each other in the first place. While it’s often a struggle to make time for it or pay for it, there is nothing like an out-of-town conference in terms of efficiency for getting together with colleagues from home, unencumbered by typical distractions. You have to get out there into the broader community and make yourself known.
Rule #3: Location, Location, Location
Imm reluctant to go into detail about any specific effort we made in Chicago because the reasons things worked or didn’t is inextricably linked with local politics and realities. The same will be true for you. Our chapter essentially started by indentifying a need for Chicago schools (more CS courses) and then set about figuring out who we needed to convince of that need, how we were going to convince them, and what could actually be done to solve the problem. Four years later, we’ve really made an impact. Your community also has a need for more and better K-12 CS. But the reasons your community needs it might be different from ours, and certainly figuring out who you need to convince and how to work your way through the maze of details will be different. That is your work as an advocate: to figure out the path to success. While the challenges and solutions will be unique to your situation, you won’t be alone in your quest. There are a growing number of teacher advocates out there, like me, who can help you. Just ask, and see rule #4.
Rule #4: CSTA is the force that binds us together.
While a lot of the advocacy efforts in Chicago have come from a variety of sources, our CSTA chapter is the glue that binds them all together. A local university received a large NSF grant to convert an introductory technology course in 35 schools into a real CS course because of the efforts of CSTA Chicago members. Several teachers are Co-PIs on the grant. Google, Oracle, Microsoft, and other companies that want to sponsor events for teachers in Chicago, now know to contact our CSTA chapter to coordinate their efforts. When the mayor of Chicago announced the formation of some new STEM schools in the city, CSTA was there pushing for required CS, and it looks like that will become a reality. No single person in our chapter made all of these things happen; the work in the trenches was done by teachers like you and me wearing our CSTA hats.
Follow four simple rules to be an effective CS Teacher Advocate:
1) believe K-12 CS should be a part of every student’s education
2) find other teachers in your community who believe the same thing
3) figure out what’s important to your community, and
4) and tap into the support and resources of CSTA. Along the way, you’ll make great friends, have an important impact in your community, and maybe, enjoy a beer or two.
Baker Franke
CSTA Leadership Cohort

Cure for the CS Blues

Are you the only CS Teacher in your district? In your area? Are you feeling the pressure of trying to promote a curriculum that the schools/states do not always recognize? Do you need a friendly face that understands your struggles and even your successes? If you answered yes to any of these then I have the cure for you – CS&IT.
Having just attended the 2012 CS&IT I was reminded how important it is to meet with other CS teachers. I have a renewed sense of purpose, excitement, and gained many new ideas from the other attendees. There always is a great selection of workshops (first day) and sessions (second day) to choose from. Beyond the sessions there is always time to just sit and talk with other teachers. I had two great dinners where I was with different people sharing about our situations, classes, goals, etc. It was so refreshing. It isn’t all just shop talk either as we do get to know each others families, likes, dislikes, interests and in the process become friends. I love having friends that share the same passion about CS as I do. The conference gives me a chance to recharge before I start my school year again in the fall. It helps me get my “geek on” and it reminds me that I am not alone.
This year there was also the opportunity to go to the University of California Irvine to see what research and advancements in computer science are happening there. We were greeted by enthusiastic students and faculty who are pouring their efforts and passions into different areas of CS. I appreciated seeing examples of where the future of CS is headed. It is valuable for K-12 teachers to understand what is going on at the university levels and what opportunities our students have after they graduate. We need to be able to give examples to our students of current research and development. So a BIG THANK YOU to all involved at UCI!
We were also treated to a great closing speaker from ILM (Industrial Light and Magic). Alex Suter is a Stanford Computer Science graduate who is working in a prominent entertainment company. ILM brings computer graphics and simulation to life in the movies we all love to see. Not only did he share how their work is done but he was also an example of what a great career a CS university graduate can have. Again this gives me an example for my students of what you can do with computer science and where you can go with it. I could not give my students a better “real world” example than Alex.
CS&IT does a great job of giving attendees information K-16 and beyond. The camaraderie and friendships that are developed are priceless. The opportunities to learn new things or just to hone your knowledge base is invaluable. If you were not able to attend I encourage you to look on the CSTA website for the presenters slide and/or information. Also look and see if your state has a CSTA chapter or a Cohort leader. Look for those contacts and resources now and then next year I hope to see you at CS&IT 2013!
Stephanie Hoeppner
Ohio Cohort Leader
Ohio Chapter Vice-President

Students Benefit from Programming Contests

“Go to a programming contest? Me? Never! I’m not good enough. I’m not fast enough. I’d never win. Why bother?”
That’s what I’d always thought. I started programming later in life (after I was 20) than all those really fast thinking, really “smart” programmers I met in grad school. Oh sure, I learned how to do some Basic programs on the Apple IIGS in 11th grade (yes, I’m dating myself), but my undergraduate degree was in Theoretical Math. And although I had managed to get a job as a programmer between college and graduate school, but I didn’t feel like I had the skills to compete. After all don’t these things reward the quick thinkers?
Recently I found myself as a high school computer science teacher and associated with the Puget Sound chapter of Computer Science Teachers Association. Under the the leadership of Crystal Hess of Tahoma high school, the group has spearheaded programming contests in the last two years for high school students based on the A+ Computer Science Contest Materials. I advertised the contests in my class and encouraged students to participate, trying hard not to project my own past reservations. Three of my students attended the first contest on their own in December of 2008. More students participated in the other bi-annual contests, and even more *want* to but can’t because of conflicts with other activities.
Students tell me they participated because they know they will come away with more practice (some even like the pressure aspect of it!) and confidence, some are nudged into it by peers, and still others like to thrill of competition (the free food and raffle prizes appear to be a bonus, not an enticement). One student mentioned that there is a freedom in working in a short time period and generating code for one time use without worrying about it being elegant and fast. Students also like the contest format where there are problems of varying degree of difficulty where the novice (first year) students can start with the easier lower point problems and gain confidence, while the more advanced students could jump to the more difficult problems for more of a challenge.
I have been incredibly impressed by what my students have learned from the process, above and beyond the thrill of hacking. They have learned to work efficiently as a team to solve a problem and overcome the “challenge” of sharing only one computer. A few of the students have received medals for placing 1-3 in either the novice or advanced division, but all of them are winners. Will I recommend the contests to my students again this year? For sure! In fact I plan on having my advanced students write problems for the novice student contests as one of their assignments. That way everyone can get involved.
Lauren Bricker
CSTA Member

Can Bloggers Rescue America’s Dropout Factories?

CSTA member Milt Haynes is looking for teachers and students in the Chicagoland area who are interested in using web 2.0 social networking technology (e.g. blogs, wikis, podcasts) as a teaching tool to get high-risk students more engaged.
A recent Chicago Tribune article by: Tara Malone called Bleak future seen for dropoutshighlights the growing number of inner-city students who are not completing high school and the social costs of failing to prepare students to be successful and engaged in today’s society.
Milt also sees schools in the United Kingdom who are successfully engaging potential drop-out students with blogging technology and Milt believes that it is entirely possible to have the same kind of successes in our schools. Nodehill Middle School, for example, may be the most bloggy school in the UK. (http://joedale.typepad.com/integrating_ict_into_the_/2007/10/the-nodehill-bl.html)
Milt is looking for some Chicagoland teachers and students interesting in making their own mark in the bloggosphere.
You can contact Milt at:
Milt Haynes
Chris Stephenson
CSTA Executive Director

If We had a Million Dollars or Even Two

“What would CSTA do if it had unlimited financial resources? What projects would it undertake that would truly improve K-12 computer science education and address our current enrollment crisis?”
CSTA is now beginning its third year of operations and once again we are doing extensive strategic and financial planning. Yesterday I presented an early draft of our sustainability plan to the CSTA Advisory Council and the Council members asked me these questions.
First, it is important to note that I am quite conservative when it comes to fiscal planning. I don’t like to spend money I am not sure we have. Also, I think that after having spent more than 20 years in K-12 education, I am so used to being told we have to do more with less, I have forgotten how to dream really big.
So I am turning this question over to you, the real experts, our member and colleagues in K-12 and asking for your ideas and dreams.
If CSTA had unlimited funds, what could we do that would truly impact K-12 computer science education for the better?
Chris Stephenson
Executive Director

Tells Us What You Need

Our research has consistently told us that what teachers want and need are resources, resources, and more resources but it is not always clear what kind of resources are most helpful.
First, what you need depends upon what you teach. The kinds of resources you need if you are teaching an introductory computer science course are very different from those needed by someone who is teaching AP CS.
Second, teachers use different teaching strategies and the students in their classes are very diverse. This makes it challenging to ensure that the activities and outcomes are engaging and achievable for all students.
So how do we decide what kind of resources would be most helpful to teachers?
Well, I guess we ask.
Here is the situation.
This Spring we completed a terrific project with IBM involving the creation of three new modules for teaching and learning: a module on web design for introductory courses, a module on learning object oriented programming by designing a pong game for more advanced students, and a module on project-based learning for teachers. This project was a great success for CSTA and IBM and we would love to work together to create more of these resources, but we need your guidance.
We are not talking about textbooks, or whole courses here. Rather, we would like to develop units that address a select number of key learning outcomes and can be easily fit into your exiting courses. You can expect that each resource would include a teacher’s guide, sample worksheets or assignments, a Powerpoint presentation on key concepts, and an assessment tool.
So here is your chance. Tell us what kinds of units would be most helpful to you and what key learning outcomes it should address.
We really want to know.
Chris Stephenson
Executive Director

More Certifcation Insanity

No article in the CSTA Voice has generated more reponse than our article by David Devine on his attempts to become certified as a computer science teacher in Florida. Here is a great letter from another member, Tony Gianquinto, supporting David’s exasperating experiences and adding some new twists.
My name is Tony Gianquinto and I teach computers/computer science at a private school in Miami, Florida.
I am sending you this letter in response to the article written by Mr. David M. Devine titled Certifiably Insane that was published in the December 2005 CSTA Voice issue. I too am having an extremely difficult time getting my professional certification in Computer Science from the Florida Department of Education.
I have been teaching for five years and it is incredible what the Bureau of Educator Certification has put me through. I have a Bachelors Degree in Biology from the University of Miami and a Masters Degree in Computer Science from Barry University. Getting my Masters was easier than getting certified from the Florida Department of Education!
Back in June of 2001, the Bureau of Educator Certification sent me a Statement of Status of Eligibility along with a three year temporary certificate. I received the temporary certificate in February of 2002, which now makes it a 2 years and 4 month certificate. They informed me that I met the subject area requirements for Computer Science/(Grades K-12). For them to issue a Professional Educator’s Certificate I have to complete the following:
* Achievement of a passing score on the General Knowledge test. It is very similar to the CLAST and consists of four subtests: English Reading, English Language Arts, English Essay, and Math. I took the test and passed
* Demonstration of professional education competence submitted by my employer verifying that I am competent to teach.
* Achievement of a passing score on the professional education subtest of the Florida Teacher Certification Examination. I completed this test and passed.
* Achievement of a passing score on the Computer Science (K-12) subject area examination. Also completed and passed.
* Completion of a Florida approved alternative professional preparation program OR 20 semester hours in education courses to include 6 semester hours covering the sociological and psychological foundations of education. I completed and passed two courses in the above from Miami Dade College.
* 6 semester hours in general methods, curriculum, school administration or school supervision.
* 4 semester hours of teaching computer science in the elementary and secondary school.
* Completing the Practical Teaching Experience requirement by completing 6 semester hours in a college student teaching (internship) program in an elementary or secondary school or two years of full-time teaching experience in an elementary or secondary school.
Two years of my teaching experience was used to satisfy 6 semester hours of college credit in lieu of special methods of teaching computer science in the high school and 3 semester hours of general methods. The remaining three years of teaching experience cannot be used because I have utilized the maximum amount of teaching experience allowed by Florida State Board of Education Rules in this area.
So what’s left? My most recent Statement of Status of Eligibility states that I need to complete 3 additional semester hours in general methods, curriculum, school administration or school supervision and 2 semester hours in teaching Computer Science in the elementary school. I believe the 2 credit course is the same course that Mr. Devine states from his article as the Special Methods for Teaching Computer Science K-6 and a class that doesn’t exist.
I contacted the Bureau of Educator Certification to find out what to do about the 2 credit class and the response was they don’t know and to check with the University of Phoenix online programs. I also asked them why they simply did not just have a 6-12 Computer Science certificate and they said that they do not make the rules. I don’t think there is a school in the United States that teaches Computer Science to a child in Kindergarten!
I don’t even want to get into how much money I have spent on classes, applications, tests and finger prints.
As you can see, a Masters Degree is easier to obtain!
Tony Gianquinto
CSTA Member

Help Us Identify Contests for Computer Science Students

Some of our members have suggested that a central listing of contests would be very helpful since many teachers use contest participation to motivate and engage students.
We would be happy to collect and disseminate this information but we need your help in identifying contests that already exist at the state, regional, national, and international level for high school computer science students. This would include contests in all related areas (programming, robotics, etc.).
If you know of any contests that would fit in these categories, please post the information in this strand – including any contact information you might have.
Your assistance in this matter will be especially appreciated.
Thank you,
Charmaine Bentley
Membership Chair