Must-read (and Share) Report on US K-12 CS Education

They say you can have data without information, but not the other way around.  So for those of you seeking data on why CS in K-12 matters there is good news today.  There is a new report out from Google and Gallup, which I particularly encourage all of our members in the US to read and share.  Whether you are in K-12, higher education, government, or the corporate environment the data and information contained in this report is important.  As we head into another school year, it would be great if every school board member, superintendent, principal, parent, and legislative representative read the report as well.

The report is entitled, Searching for Computer Science: Access and Barriers in K-12 Education, and is available as a downloadable PDF here.

In short, the study illustrates that CS education matters, and that there is strong demand for CS education in K-12.  Two key barriers identified in the study are that administrators do not perceive that demand, and there is a shortage of teachers to teach CS.  The report also has some illuminating data around issues of equity and access.  As a whole, the report touches on critical topics we are working on in CSTA now and have even bigger plans for going forward.

Among some of the interesting findings:

  • 91% of parents surveyed want their child to learn Computer Science (CS), but <8% of administrators believe demand is high.
  • Half of principals and superintendents surveyed cite the lack of trained teachers as a barrier – greater than the need for technology. Less than half of administrators perceive school board support for CS.
  • 3 out of 4 principals surveyed say their school offers NO CS programming/coding classes.
  • More than 90% of students and parents surveyed believe people who do computer science have the opportunity to work on fun and exciting projects, and that people who do CS make things that help improve people’s lives.

Given that yesterday marked the “two-month mark” for me as the new executive director for the Computer Science Teacher’s Association, this news only reinforces for me that the mission of CSTA — to empower, support, and advocate for K-12 computer science teachers — is a mission that matters.

We can do more.  We must do more. CS matters, and we need more support to give all students better access to quality CS education, and ensure that CS teachers across the educational spectrum have access to the PD and resources they need to provide that quality CS education.  A great first step is making sure that the findings of this study are communicated and shared widely.

The Computer Scientist who Challenged the Nash Equilibrium

In November 2014, I was privileged to meet Constantinos Daskalakis, a Greek Computer Scientist and Associate Professor at MIT’s Electrical Engineering and Computer Science department. Daskalakis is best known for his work in the field of Game Theory, and his research on the Nash Equilibrium has earned him prestigious awards and an international reputation.

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Constantinos Daskalakis and Mina Theofilatou, November 2014

I had contacted Constantinos by e-mail earlier in 2014 regarding the awareness campaign Greek CS Teachers were running against the insane decision of the former Education Ministry’s administration to eliminate Computer Science from the National University Entry curriculum (read more about the problem here and about how it was resolved here) and, as one would expect, he was very supportive of our cause. When I wrote to him after booking my air travel for the CSTA November Board meeting – I had a 12-hour layover in Boston on the return leg, perfect for a visit to MIT! – he was willing to make some time in his hectic schedule to meet with me.

The meeting took place in his office at CSAIL in the Ray and Maria Stata Center; I had never been to Boston or MIT before so I followed the instructions he gave me (“it’s a crazy Frank Gehry building, you can’t miss it!,” he wrote). Our conversation naturally started with the situation in Greece, and inevitably ended with a discussion on the future for young computer scientists. I asked what he would advise exceptional students wishing to further their education at establishments such as MIT. He mentioned that what he is mostly looking for in Ph.D. applications is evidence of potential for ground-breaking research; that the clearest form of such evidence is prior research engagement; and that recommendation letters are crucial in assessing the student’s research potential.

That’s sound advice for those pursuing post-graduate studies, perhaps even an academic career. But what about Computer Science in Primary and Secondary Education? I asked Constantinos if he could write a few words about the importance of students having early exposure to computational thinking and computer science principles. Here is what he had to say:

“‘Information’ and ‘computation’ are just such fundamental concepts that there is no doubt they should be an integral part of primary and secondary education. All that takes place around us (or inside us) can be viewed as computing on information. Sometimes we want to process information efficiently—think Google trying to rank webpages. Other times we want to mine interesting information from vast amounts of raw information—think trying to identify chunks of the genome implicated in some disease. Sometimes we want to hide information—think cryptography. Other times we may want to release information while respecting privacy of individuals—think releasing medical data. Some other times, we want to incentivize individuals who have information to reveal that information to us…. And it is not just us trying to gain or operate on information. Biological, physical, and social processes are fundamentally computational, operating on information in some application-specific medium. Computer science principles can change one’s perspective on life, science, and society. Our educational system should teach that way of thinking early on.” 

And a summary of how his work has impacted international knowledge in computer science?

“My research studies the foundations of Economics from a computational standpoint. The starting point is that, besides sometimes being irrational, humans are definitely computationally bounded – in some sense, irrationality is a form of computational boundedness. So, studying economic behavior needs to incorporate computational thinking into economic thought. My research focuses at this interaction between Economics and Computation. One of my most celebrated results was showing that the Nash equilibrium – the crown jewel of prediction tools in Game Theory, defined by John Nash, the mathematician portrayed in “Beautiful Mind” – is computationally intractable. This means that, in complex interactions, it may take centuries of time before humans (even if they have access to super-computers to help them with their computation) behave as Nash equilibrium predicts. This casts doubt on how accurate the prediction ability of Nash equilibrium is, calling for better, computationally aware tools for predicting behavior. Research at the interface of Computation and Economics hopes to shed light on such issues of fundamental importance for understanding human behavior.”

A big thank you to Constantinos for providing valuable insight into the importance of Computer Science at all levels of education.

Mina Theofilatou, CSTA International Representative, Kefalonia, Greece

AccessCS10K: helping make high school computing courses more accessible and welcoming to students with disabilities


By: Richard E. Ladner
University of Washington

In 2010-2011, approximately 13 percent of K-12 students have a recognized disability according to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). This represents about 6.5 million students with disabilities in the K-12 education system. This only counts those students covered under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) of 1990.   There are many more who have 504 plans (under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973). Students with 504 plans need some accommodation to attend school, but not an entire Individualized Education Plan (IEP) like those under IDEA. In any case, teachers of high school computing courses are likely to have students with disabilities in their classes.

One group of students, namely blind students, are already severely disadvantaged in high school computing classes that use programming tools such Scratch, Snap, Alice, Processing, Greenfoot, and other highly visual user interfaces that are generally inaccessible to blind users. Will teachers in these classes say, “Sorry you cannot take my computing course because you cannot use the tools we are using to teach programming?” Will a special education teacher or guidance counselor recommend to the student that she consider another career choice than the one the student wants to pursue? This should not happen. Computer science is a great profession for blind people and they should not be discouraged from pursuing it at an early age. (For profiles of blind individuals – and other individuals with disabilities – who have pursued computing visit the Choose Computing website.)

The goal of AccessCS10K is to help make it possible for all students with disabilities who are intellectually capable of learning computer science to have the opportunity to do so. The project is specifically focusing on the Exploring Computer Science (ECS) course and the Computer Science Principles (CSP) course, both of which are being supported by the National Science Foundation’s CS 10K initiative.

AccessCS10K has two objectives to reach its goal:

  • Build the capacity of ECS and CSP teachers to serve students with disabilities through professional development training and individualized real-time support.
  • Create accessible materials that ECS and CSP teachers can use in their classrooms, both tools and curricular units.

To build the capacity of teachers, AccessCS10K is partnering with as many of the CS 10K projects as possible to help them include information in their professional development about inclusive teaching strategies and accessible tools and curricula that can be used in the classroom. AccessCS10K holds capacity building institutes for the leaders of these projects as one way to help them integrate this information in their professional development. It maintains a community of practice whereby teachers can share resources among each other.   It maintains a searchable knowledgebase of articles that can help teachers find information they need to solve problems. Finally, it provides real-time support for teachers who have specific questions about how to integrate a student with a disability in their computing class. To get support call 509-328-9331 or e-mail

AccessCS10K is building accessible tools and curricula that can be used in ECS and CSP courses. One major tool is the Quorum language which is an easy to learn text-based programming language that can be used for both visual and non-visual projects. AccessCS10K’s development partners are working to make other accessible tools and curricula, not only for the programming components of these courses but for the other components as well.

In an upcoming blog post we will present an introduction to Quorum. If you are curious about Quorum we encourage you to visit the Quorum web site or to try the Quorum Hour of Code

AccessCS10K is funded by the National Science Foundation as part of the Computing Education for the 21st Century program of the Directorate for Computer & Information Science & Engineering (Grant #CNS1440843). AccessCS10k is a collaborative project between the University of Washington and the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

An extra reason for you to head south this July!

July is probably the most important month in the CSTA agenda: it is the time of year when computer science teachers from all over the world join to exchange ideas and practices while attending the premier professional development event tailored specifically to their needs.

This year, the CSTA Annual Conference will take place from July 12th to 14th in Grapevine, Texas; the lineup of workshops and presentations is so stimulating that many of us will have a hard time choosing which concurrent session to attend! But this year there’s an extra reason to head south, that many attendees may not be aware of: it so happens that this year the Annual Conference of Wikimedia* enthusiasts from all over the world will be held from July 15th to 19th in Mexico City, Mexico.

The conference is aptly named “Wikimania”: ask any long-time Wikimedia editor why and she’ll talk passionately about the values of the largest crowd-sourcing community in the world. I, for one, have been a Wikimedia editor since 2007 and most of my edits have been made in the context of school projects involving students of all ages in Grades 7-12. Over the course of nine school years to date, my classes have gained skills, knowledge, appreciation for teamwork and pride in contributing to five of the total fifteen Wikimedia projects in two different languages; it’s been an absolutely priceless experience, and every year it just gets better.

The Wikimania conference is annually held in a different place in the world since 2005.The conference program encompasses a number of tracks, which means there is always something fascinating going on no matter what your interests are: this year the first two days (15th-16th) will host a Hackathon (or DevCamp), followed by three days of workshops, presentations, quick meetings and much, much more. The tracks that educators will  be most interested in are, no doubt, Education and GLAM (that’s Galleries, Libraries, Archives and Museums)… and of course, computer science teachers and enthusiasts will be sure to enjoy the hackathon.

Each year the Wikimedia Foundation awards around 100 Wikimania scholarships to active members of the worldwide Wikimedia community to cover travel and accommodation expenses; I am proud to be one of the two Greek Wikimedians who earned a scholarship this year. So, why not join me as I head further South after Texas this July?

All in all, an exciting week of professional development, hacking, learning and sharing (not to mention, tequila parties!) lies ahead this summer… hope to see you in Texas and Mexico:)

More information about registration here (link should be active in a matter of days)… or just drop me a line and I’ll be glad to assist.

Read this post for more about how integrating Wikimedia projects into your classroom can enrich your students’ learning experience.

*Wikimedia is the “umbrella” Foundation for Wikipedia and it’s 15 sister projects.

Mina Theofilatou
CSTA International Representative
Kefalonia, Greece

End of year thoughts

Its that time of year for end-of-year projects, crazy state testing schedules (in Ohio at least) and other random activities. As an end-of-year project, many of us assign open ended projects so our students can demonstrate their knowledge, do something that interests them, and to stretch their minds. This year I have a very eclectic group of programming students and have been surprised many times by their interests and abilities. This end-of- year project is no exception.

What I have learned is that they are stretching my brain in the process of stretching theirs.  I have spent more time sitting next to students analyzing a problem, discussing possible solutions, teaching them a particular construct that they need that maybe we haven’t covered, and loving every minute of it. I have been busier than normal with questions and they are not slowing down.

This project had a component in it that previously failed with another class. However, I think it is what has pushed this group to envision possibilities. In the students project plan I had them give me four different variations of the program they could do – “something that works”, “average program”, “extras included”, and “the sky is the limit program”.  This group really thought about what they would do to have something working and then many different possibilities of the other versions. Most of the students are shooting for the sky and I am thrilled to watch them. Unfortunately, with time constraints, many will end up in the “extra” version of their program but even that will far exceed my expectations.

This class of students has reminded me of the old saying about if you have high expectations the students will rise to the occasion; however, in this case the students have the high expectations and are working hard to not let themselves down. These past couple of weeks have reminded me of why I am a computer science teacher and just how exciting CS can be when “the sky is the limit”.

Public-Private Partnerships in Computer Science Education

By: Lorilyn Owens, Director, Oracle Academy North America

Industry partners are content providers, augmenting and enhancing curriculum resources. Industry partners are funding sources, helping support classroom resources, professional development, and extracurricular clubs and activities. Industry partners provide volunteers to support classroom teaching, lending expertise and credibility to real-world ideas. All of these ideas were expressed by experienced educators at the 2014 CSTA conference during the Oracle Academy panel discussion focused on how to maximize public-private partnerships to better support computer science (CS) education. When it comes to CS education, which approach is right? Or are they all right? The lively discussion only began to scratch the surface. We did learn, however, there is no one right answer.

For more than 20 years Oracle, through its flagship philanthropic Oracle Academy program, has worked to advance computer science education and make it more accessible and engaging to students everywhere. Oracle Academy supports continuous computer science learning at all levels, and makes available a variety of resources including technology, curriculum and courseware, student and educator training, and certification and exam preparation materials.

Over the years, we have seen tremendous progress with public-private partnerships. Recently there has been an influx of both industry and nonprofit organizations that provide support for computer science education. While some of the resources come with a hefty price tag, many of them are free or low cost. The resources often differ in scope and objective. Some resources are vendor specific and some are vendor neutral and focus on core concepts and foundational knowledge. Some resources are event driven and others are curriculum based. Some resources focus on students and others focus on educators. There are e-books, videos, software, games, and countless websites with downloadable resources. With so much available, how do you choose what is right for you and your students? Rather than solely considering the available resources, perhaps you should also look at the resource provider and seek an opportunity for a public-private partnership.

Although we cannot provide specific guidance, in our experience, effective public-private partnerships in support of CS education do three things:

  1. They provide an opportunity for true engagement. If an industry partner is seen only as a project funder with little direct engagement with students or teachers, it is a missed opportunity for all involved. Seek a partnership that helps foster a strong and supportive community of practice, and provides support for educators at all levels.
  2. They are mutually beneficial. The arrangement should clearly articulate what the industry partner can offer the educational institution and what the educational institution can offer the industry partner. All involved need to be sure they deliver on commitments.
  3. They help address the need. Don’t lose sight of the problem you are trying to solve. Have a good understanding of what you are trying to accomplish and what is needed to achieve that goal. Then, seek a partnership that truly helps to deliver what is needed. Finally, consider including success metrics as a way to evaluate the effectiveness of the public-private partnership in addressing your needs.

Access to computer science education, regardless of gender, ethnicity, or socioeconomic status, is a defining 21st century social issue. Technology permeates our lives and drives the global economy. Future growth requires people with strong computer science skills. As we work collectively to prepare the technology innovators of the future, consider engaging in public-private partnerships to support your efforts. They can be effective avenues to increase access and opportunity in CS education.

New IT Roles Produce a Slew of New Job Titles

In case you missed this article in March, I thought I would share it here. The topic is a good one for discussion with students who might not see themselves as software engineers or computer scientists. The article discusses the new business landscape for some of the larger IT companies and how they are redesigning their infrastructures to accommodate the changing needs of the industry. The article touches on a few of the less talked about job positions that are needed for a vast majority of new, or re-envisioned jobs, for the changing IT landscape. This includes roles such as project manager, solution architect, data scientist, and new customer service oriented positions that some companies are developing outside the traditional “customer service” role.

Advocating the “Coolness” of CS

Quick – what is one “cool thing” about computer science? Hopefully several thought flooded your brain and you probably had trouble deciding what one thing you would reply with. I would assume that would be the case with most CS Educators and supporters; however, what would your students say?

It is scheduling time at our high school and students are making decisions about what courses to take and why. When a student looks that the computer science offerings what comes to their minds? What message have you gotten out to the students? Do they think it is cool? Important? Necessary for future? Fun?

We send messages to all students in our classes and I think we need to be purposeful about those messages sometimes. Over the past month I have reiterated how cool computer science is in my programming class by promoting “there is no one right answer – you can solve problems how your brain works and thinks”. My programming class had an ah ha moment when we were working on a program and I showed a couple different ways it had been completed and that both ways worked. For my part I did mention that as you learned more there may be better solutions in term of speed, efficiency, etc. but that right now I just wanted them to solve problems how they saw them.

A couple days ago we were removing an object (a car) that got to the edge of the screen (a frogger simulation game). We discussed a removeObject method and how you would go about using it and they all were happy they could now remove the pile up occurring on the side of their screen. I stopped them though and said….there is another way of doing this – maybe better or maybe not – but it is how I saw the program for the first time. Then I began to explain I wouldn’t remove the cars. I would reset their location on the screen and reuse them as if they spawned on the other side. Because of that I also would not continually create new cars, instead I would create a set number and kept reusing them. I said that is how my brain envisioned the game the first time I saw the program. There were some nods of understanding and then I said “but that is the beauty of programming, I could do it that way and others could remove cars but we would all still have a working frogger style game.”

I think we need to remind students why CS is awesome, why we love CS, and I think it is important we share how we view solutions especially when they may not be the most common way. It makes other students more comfortable to solve something the way they see it. Then maybe they tell their friends “Computer Science is cool. I can solve problems the way my brain thinks.”

Computing for the Common Good

In starting to write a long overdue blog post, my thoughts are inevitably on the reason it took me so long: my mother has been seriously ill since the beginning of the year. Throughout the past two months I have been consulting with doctors and medical specialists on a quest to find the best possible solution to her current symptoms, fully aware of the fact that her condition may soon become terminal.

I live on an island on the west coast of Greece; it may be one of the largest islands in the country but there are many shortcomings when it comes to healthcare. Although we do have a hospital, several departments (e.g. gastrointestinal), procedures (e.g. ERCP) and an Intensive Care Unit are missing.

Throughout the three years of my mom’s illness, I am more than certain that she wouldn’t have made it this far if it weren’t for computing. Hardware and software – scanner, digital camera, smartphone, imaging software, e-mail, cloud drives – have all been employed to transmit vital information to doctors in Athens so that they can make timely decisions on her treatment. Sometimes the necessary actions can be taken in Kefalonia – in which case ICT “takes over” to complete the feedback loop. Usually she needs to be transferred to Athens – seven endoscopic and one standard (this last one) surgical procedures plus intensive care, all dependent on cameras, probes, monitors etc. – plus a “fighter” attitude and she’s still here with us, with good quality of life for as long as humanly possible.

On a different note, the school project I am probably proudest of was completed by my students four years ago: amidst a severe humanitarian crisis in Greece we devised a system for distributing meals to the needy based on the concept that volunteers need only contribute a plate of food from their daily cooking. All the material needed to deploy the system in a community is available under a Creative Commons license at (in Greek. For an English summary featured in the European Year of Volunteering 2011 see here)

Now that smartphones and tablets are ubiquitous we may even develop an app for mobile users (anyone interested in furthering the project is free to do so: that’s what the CC Share Alike license is all about!)

The point I am trying to make in this post: all too often when we talk about teaching our students computing we naturally focus on computational thinking, coding classes, how to successfully pursue a career in computer science and technology… for students on the other hand, all too often computing means gaming, social media, entertainment and a profitable career. The videos I reviewed as a member of the Equity Committee in the recent “Faces of Computing” competition showed that this is the primary message our students are getting (though there were some brilliant exceptions!). Perhaps it’s time we encouraged our students to explore the wonderful prospects computing has unlocked in dealing with illness… in helping people in need… in fighting injustice. Perhaps it’s time to shine a spotlight on Computing for the Common Good.

This post was written in Ippokrateio General Hospital in Athens, Greece and is dedicated to its medical, nursing and administrative staff (especially Drs. A. Romanos and S. Matthaiou). In Greek “Ippokrateio” means “belonging to Hippocrates”… I am certain the “Father of Medicine” would be proud of them!

Mina Theofilatou, CSTA International Representative

L’Oréal For Women in Science Program

I don’t hear often enough about the accomplishments of young women in professional or near-professional accomplishments in CS, so I was excited to learn about the annual L’Oréal For Women in Science program that recognizes and rewards the contributions women make in STEM fields and identifies exceptional women researchers committed to serving as role models for younger generations.  More than 2,000 women scientists in over 100 countries have been recognized since the program began in 1998.

The L’Oréal USA For Women In Science fellowship program will award five postdoctoral women scientists in the United States this year with grants of up to $60,000 each. Applicants are welcome from a variety of fields, including the life and physical/material sciences, technology (including computer science), engineering, and mathematics.

Do you know someone who qualifies? Do you have acquaintances in universities who might know candidates? Please send them the information.

Applications opened on February 2, 2015 and are due on March 20, 2015.

The application and more information on the L’Oréal USA For Women in Science program can be found at

Should you have any questions or require additional information, please e‐mail