Increasing equity and inclusion in computer science education

Last month I attended my first CSTA conference. I LOVED the positive energy. From the keynote speakers to the exhibition space to the breakout sessions, everyone at CSTA2018 seemed genuinely happy to be together and they were clearly excited to share, learn, and ultimately do more for students.

My favorite part of CSTA2018 was the session with Andy (Andrea) Gonzales. In short, while in high school, she and a friend created a viral video game, won a Webby Award, wrote a book, were covered by multiple media outlets and now she is on a full ride scholarship to both UNC Chapel Hill and Duke. Impressively, she’s determined to leverage her space in the spotlight to do more for other young women like herself.

Andy talked about the exclusion she felt as a young woman learning computer science. She shared that the early support of an adult (her male summer camp counselor) was key to her success today. She described the misconceptions she had about computer science and the stereotypes that so many other young women and women of color struggle with. She emerged from her experiences more empowered and now wants to empower others.

Andy and her story are impressive. And yet, the thing that struck me the most about Andy was the response she garnered from the adults in the room.

Nearly all the questions Andy fielded from the audience of 700+ computer science education teachers and advocates were about they could do more to support girls and students of color in their computer science classes. How can I get more girls to join? What do you think I can do differently? Of the few girls I have in my computer science classes, how can I get them to engage more? How do I best support my students of color?

These questions clearly articulated the teachers’ desire to do more to help ALL their current or potential CS students succeed. They also illustrated the gaps that exist for teachers to find – and then implement – the resources that would help them reach this goal.

To be clear, I am not an expert on this topic. And in full transparency, I work for a tech company that is actively working on how it makes progress on diversity, equity and inclusion internally and how it can play a role in increasing equitable access to computer science education around the world.

I do know that there is a lot of good and important work that has been done on equity and inclusion in education broadly, and specifically in math and science. And while we are making progress, and there is a lot of great research on what the issues and challenges are in diversity, equity and inclusion in computer science, what I hear from teachers and others in CS education is that we still have work to do to make practical solutions easy for teachers to bring to life, specifically for computer science.

I know that by sharing a short list of resources, I am bound to leave things out. But with the goal to start somewhere, as I’ve been on my learning journey, others have told me that the following resources and information have been helpful in their work to support success for all students in their computer science classes and programs.

I’m sure you have some you want to share – please do! Post them on Twitter, tagging @csteachersorg with the hashtag #CSforAll so others can see them too. You can view all posts that use these two tags here.

Defining the issues:

Practical tools and resources for teachers and schools:

Recent blog posts by fellow CSTA board members:

Yvonne Thomas
Partner Representative CSTA Board

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

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!

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

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

The What, When & Where to Implement a CS course

Great things are happening for Computer Science (CS) education these days. It is exciting to see news and posts about more schools & districts incorporating CS courses. However, with the increasing speed that technology is changing and the more embedded it becomes in our everyday life, the conversation now derives on when and what to teach. The conversation also includes what knowledge or profile should a CS teacher have. There is no magic formula to incorporate CS into a school.  Every school is different, every group of students is different, and every teacher is different.

The whole idea of CS education is to introduce our students to the wonderful world of being creators of technology. Most of us are avid technology users and especially our students which are digital natives. So, what should a school or teacher take into consideration to begin their CS courses. Where does it fit in the curriculum? Are the credits part of math, science, STEM? What background should the teacher have? Should CS courses begin in elementary, middle school or high school or even younger?

So, what should we teach? Should we implement an introductory CS course? A programming, engineering, robotics, or a web and game design course? Should digital citizenship be part of it? Well, there is no curriculum in a box that would fill everybody’s needs, although there are organizations such as Code.org, CS for All, Oracle, to name a few that are producing and publishing material and provide professional development doing an amazing job orienting teachers, schools and districts on how to successfully implement CS.  It is also important to know that there is a huge community going through the same process and there are organizations such as CSTA that also support teachers in this endeavor.  Another option is to develop their own curriculum taking into consideration the school’s budget, student’s needs and teacher’s experience, but to be able to do that there will usually be the need to have an expert in curriculum development that can analyze all these needs and customize how a CS course will be implemented. There is not a standardized profile for a CS teacher, some won’t even have a CS background, which is not a requirement, but it is important to have a notion on teaching critical and computational thinking.

Before starting is important to know the school, district, students and teachers.  Once there is a clear picture, identifying if there is already a faculty member familiar with the school culture and environment who can fit into the profile of CS teacher the school needs. Determining standards, content and scheduling will come next. Some schools start CS as an elective course until they are ready to embed it into their regular course load, which is a good option. The ideal is to introduce CS on the lower grades, so the expectation and content to be taught in the upper grades can become either a college preparatory course or fulfilling the skills to be able to work developing different kinds of technology while still in high school or while in college, allowing them to start having an income at this age. Some schools have a one to one program established, some have computer labs, and some have devices that can be reserved and checked out from a media room or library. Depending on the type of devices that the school or district counts with is where the decision to what kind of software or online product can be used for the course. Fortunately, more and more there are products and resources available on a browser version and can be used with most devices that have an Internet connection and can be opened with most common web browsers.

In the end, each school or district must create its own customized blueprint that will work for taking advantage of all the resources and communities out there to help.


Michelle Lagos
Representative at Large

CSTA Annual Conference in Omaha

If you haven’t already registered to attend the CSTA Annual Conference on July 7-10, I hope you are planning to do so soon. CLICK TO REGISTER This is the first time the conference has been held in Omaha, which is hard to imagine given that the city’s nickname is “The Big O.” You would think every CS-related conference would want to be here. If this will be your first visit to Omaha, prepare to be impressed with a modern, friendly Midwestern city. I’ve lived in Omaha (technically, in the suburbs) for 18 years now, and will be happy to serve as your tour guide. Here is my top 5 list of things you need to see when you come to Omaha this summer:

  1. Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium: If you have any flexibility in your schedule, you absolutely have to go to the Henry Doorly Zoo. Rated the world’s best zoo by TripAdvisor, it has something that will appeal to everyone. It houses one of the largest indoor rain forests, the world’s largest nocturnal exhibit and swamp, one of the world’s largest indoor deserts (inside the world’s largest geodesic dome), the largest cat complex in North America, a walk-through aquarium, and a penguin house that is wonderfully cool in the summer. Unfortunately, it closes at 6pm, so try to come a day early or stay a day late to visit the best zoo in the world!
  2. Old Market: This historic district is only a 4-5 block walk from the conference hotels, so it will be an easy destination throughout the week. The four square-block district contains a wide variety of restaurants, bars, art galleries, and upscale shops, while still maintaining the feel of Omaha’s past as a frontier city and trade center. Some of my favorite destinations are Blue Sushi, which has a great happy hour (and awesome vegetarian sushi), Wheatfield’s Eatery and Bakery, which is famous for its breakfasts and desserts, and Hollywood Candy, which has every kind of candy there ever was.
  3. Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge: The conference site, the CenturyLink Center, and the conference hotels are right on the Missouri River. There are walkways and parks on both sides of the river and a 3,000-foot pedestrian bridge that connects the Nebraska and Iowa sides. Be sure to take time to stroll across the award-winning bridge and visit another state!
  4. Durham Museum: Located on the far side of the Old Market, only 0.7 miles from the conference site, is the Durham Museum. The region’s premier history museum is housed in Union Station, an art deco train station built in 1898. If you don’t have time to take in the exhibits, at least pop into the lobby and enjoy the architecture.
  5. Road to Omaha Statue: Right next to the conference center and hotels is TD Ameritrade Park, which is home to the College World Series every June. This is my favorite time of the year, when fans from the eight best college baseball teams take over Omaha for two weeks. Obviously, you will not be there for this event (maybe next year?), but you can get your picture taken with the famous Road to Omaha statue outside the stadium.

So, register now and I’ll see you in July.

Dave Reed
Past Chair, CSTA Board of Directors