Narrative imagining: A celebration of Computer Science in Arkansas

“Narrative imagining — story — is the fundamental instrument of thought.  Rational capacities depend upon it. It is our chief means of looking into the future, or predicting, of planning, and of explaining.”  – Mark Turner

A few weeks ago, I put out a call over our state’s Computer Science Education Listserv, which anyone is free to join at http://goo.gl/forms/FqGJ2CtXe1, with the subject line of, “Looking for a cool student story to highlight at a state level…” I wanted to share these stories with Governor Asa Hutchinson so he could continue to be aware of some of the real-life outcomes of his vision and focus. The response from the call was outstanding; I received feel-good stories about lives changed and practical implementation stories about the successes that schools are enjoying because they are focused on their students. Today instead of a call to action, as I have used my time on this blog in the past, I am going to share some of these stories just for your consideration, reflection, and as a celebration of Computer Science in Arkansas, its students, and schools!

John Mark Russell, Ignite Technology Instructor at Bentonville School District, shared the following:


“I have three of my Ignite Technology students working as interns at Walmart labs.  These students work on Walmart’s Next Generation Point-of-Sale system. Our students helped develop a new cloud-based system using Kubernetes.  The business objective was to create a seamless checkout experience for Walmart customers.
Our students worked side-by-side with Walmart IT professionals to build Docker images, and to write code using Java and NodeJS.  As of January, the student’s code is being deployed in over 5,000 Walmart locations. To quote Walmart manager and student mentor, Jeff Parker: Students should be able to point at the Self-Checkout’s and say, “I helped make that happen.”
I am thrilled that our high school students have production code running within the world’s largest retailer.  We call this Real. Relevant. Learning.”

Jason Crader, Middle School Teacher in Little Rock School District, shows how Computer Science is also impacting our middle-school students:

“We have two fifth grade students who have created the Book Bracket Battle to help improve reading at our school. It’s like the NCAA Basketball tournament, but for picture books. During the first semester, they filmed local celebrities reading books and then edited the videos to make them more interesting to watch. After getting everything filmed, they created this website (https://bookbracketbattle.com/)  for classrooms in our school and around the district to use to vote for their favorite books. There is a weekly battle that takes place between two books that will eventually lead to crowning a champion in April.”

Ryan Raup, of Conway School District, shared how Computer Science through Micro:Bits has made a demonstrable difference with a particular 3rd grade student:

“Earlier this year, I introduced some of my 3rd graders to the micro:bit. The students had prior experience with block style coding in Code.Org so the Micro:bit was a nice next step. Two students really stood out for me because the micro:bit, hands on learning and critical thinking of working through the tutorials and then personalizing their specific projects was a great fit for them as individual learners. Student A has Attention issues and was having some difficult days and weeks during this time. He is a bright student and excelled at the micro:bit and was able to focus and be self disciplined to work through different tasks on his own with minimal support from me.  Those same days he could not stay in his seat and work independently with a traditional resource like books, pencil and paper. The micro:bit was a wonderful option for me to have to help this student. Student B was also successful at manipulating the different projects and was glued to the display and the micro:bit. Student B also has some minor focus issues and can be rude and short with other students socially. He is also a bright student and loves a challenge. Not only was he able to work independently and work through the tutorials in micro:bit he excelled in working with other students and showing them how to use the micro:bit. He was calm, direct and considerate of those that he helped. I saw this new strength in him that I had not seen before. As educators we find ourselves looking for resources to help us reach students that can be difficult to teach at times for reasons as stated above and many others. We often talk about the higher level problem solving and the project oriented aspects of programming but forget that programming is great for behavior and learning disabilities as well. If you are a teacher in a building or district that is slow to try new things with technology, I would suggest stressing the classroom benefits side of micro:bit and other programming resources. I am so thankful for tools such as micro:bit which was introduced to me a couple of years ago and finally brought into my classroom last year. Every year, I reflect and base my success on the number of students I can truly reach or find their strengths and passions and Computer Science is a wonderful systematic approach available to me.”

Arkansas will continue to lead by supporting our schools and students through this initiative. In addition, the Arkansas Department of Education Office of Computer Science and its team, under the vision and support of Governor Hutchinson, continues in our commitment to assist other states and our nation as a whole. The State of Arkansas is appreciative of the continued work and efforts of educators, policy leaders, and computer science advocates as we all continue to embark on and expand computer access and positive impacts.

Anthony A. Owen
State Department Representative


What Employers of Computing Professionals Want

There are lots of important reasons for teaching K-12 / pre-university students computer science.   Providing the first step towards ultimately becoming a computing professional is just one, which applies to a minority of the students; for most it is an important life skill that they will use as citizens and in whatever jobs they have.   But some – hopefully more as we teach more computer science in schools –go on to become computer professionals.  So it may be interesting to share some insights into what their prospective employers are looking for.

I’ve been fortunate to have the opportunity to interface with lots of computing employers for years, both tech companies and other companies looking for computing talent.   I’ve done this in a variety of regions of the US, primarily Indiana (where I was from 2007-15), Colorado (where I’ve been the rest of my adult life), and the Bay Area (where I go frequently for professional reasons and to keep our airlines solvent).

Regardless of the region, or the size or type of company, one hears a consistent set of desires for computing employees: 1) we need more of them; 2) we need better diversity; 3) we need them to have strong non-technical as well as technical skills.  K-12 computer science teachers can play an important role in all these regards.

The quantity need is self-explanatory.   If there is any surprise, it is that everyone says this – whether famous large companies or small ones, whether situated in a tech hotbed or not, whether tech companies or other types.  University computer science enrollments have exploded in recent years – tripled or more at many places – but it’s still not satisfying demand.   The huge increase in students taking things like CS AP hopefully points to even more growth.

Companies view diversity as a social imperative but even more as a business imperative.   It is documented that diverse teams produce greater creativity and better business results.   And products designed for a diverse market need diverse input in their creation.   We are seeing progress in the gender and ethnic diversity of students learning computer science in schools but have a long way to go to produce a computing workforce that reflects society.

Finally, managers almost always stress the non-technical skills computing professionals need beyond computing: communication, collaboration, often some business understanding, ethics, and more.   Being a computing professional has evolved to a job where one often works on professionally diverse teams, and on projects (e.g. autonomous vehicles, or social networks) that require a sensibility about people and the world.   Working practice of those skills into your computing course is a good way to reinforce their importance.   And when that student who already has taken several computing classes comes to you to ask about another, it might be good to point them to a communication class instead!

Bobby Schnabel, Partner Representative

Never too late to innovate

Last summer, after nearly 19 years as a CS teacher, I started thinking how my class has evolved exponentially over the years and how this school year I wanted more of those deeply gratifying “Aha” moments from my students. So, I started researching ways in which my Computer Science class should evolve beyond updating the content to align the new standards. I realized I was giving myself a big task, considering that I was still mapping my curriculum to the new CSTA standards which it is a lot of work by itself. My goal, my hope is that my experience is useful to other CS teachers out there looking to make some reinvigorating and refreshing changes.

So here is my journey to start the new school year. Part of my research included finding out how important Computer Science skills are in the work force. What would my kids really need once they leave our school and be prepared for both college and “real world”? There is so much information out there that is easy to become overwhelmed so I had to narrow it down to focus on my goal. What would bring those “Aha” moments to balance the covering of my content and preparing my students for when they leave High School? I remembered that when I was in High School, I was required to take a home economics and woodwork shop class. I remembered the best part about these classes was the satisfaction when I finished a project and could take it home to show off. The closest to that emotion I have seen in my students is when a program finally works and they get the result they want, or when a robot finally performs as expected due to its programming. So, I thought why not combine the CS skills and content with that satisfaction of creating something tactile that can be used in real life besides software. Basically, bring CS alive through STEM and real-world applications. I was able to pull this off with 3 simple steps that did not break my school’s budget:

Step # 1: I redesigned my computer lab. I didn’t want to be a makerspace; after all this is a Computer Science class not an engineering course but I needed some elements of the engineering process. This didn’t require a large budget so it is always good to start to look at what you have and how to use it, what your school has and how to recycle any pieces of furniture you can find. I’ve never had a class with more than 24 students as that is my school’s policy but my lab had 30 student PC computers. I took 6 student PCs out and kept 24 which left me with 3 long tables. I used two of those to create a working area, where students could 3D print and assemble robots & collaborate on other innovations. Now I had 3 main, clearly identified areas in my lab: The Research & Innovation Area, which is where the PCS are located, students can research and investigate prototypes, program and research. The Engineering Area, which is where students get their hands “dirty” building their prototypes and The Robotics Area where I have my robotics table to assemble and test robots.

Step # 2: I requested the school purchase materials that I needed that were not your typical Computer Lab things like included drills, screw drivers, sand paper, tweezers, wrenches, solders, cable strippers, etc. I also got lucky when my school got two 3D printers donated so now, I had 3 at my lab. These are part of the Engineering Area.

Step # 3: I had to “spice up” my projects for the semester so they were fun, engaging and aligned with the content I needed to cover. I took some time to research many innovative projects and found some that were just right. My students are now creating digital pets with Microbits, which are cheap and simple yet very adaptable electric boards, they are making collaborative projects like designing a drone 3D model that can be printed and programmed using two Microbits, building hats that sing and even video games played with controllers that they designed. Other simple yet valuable projects include measuring the humidity in soil.  

This past December I finished the first semester and I can say that these changes have been successful. It is possible to integrate Computer Science into STEM without losing the essence of what Computer Science is. The students were very engaged, they treaded unfamiliar territory with power tools and allowed their minds to be challenged while having fun. Yes, at times the classroom was a little bit of an organized chaos, but this is exactly how learning should be; challenging and fun.

Michelle Lagos

Michelle Lagos
Representative at Large

New Year, New Ideas, New Strategies: Personalizing Learning in Computer Science Education

It’s that time of year when everyone is reflecting back on the experiences they’ve had the past year and thinking about resolutions for the upcoming year. As teachers, we usually reflect back during the summer months on how the school year went. However, teachers also use the end of a semester as a time to reflection. Often times after winter break, teachers start new classes and have new students. With the start of a new semester, teachers have the opportunity to review and build upon previous experiences from first semester, but also implement new ideas and new teaching strategies. With the second semester quickly approaching, it has me thinking of my own resolutions for second semester and what I would like to do differently. At the beginning of this school year, I attended a workshop where I learned about the five elements of personalized learning set forth by my school district. I remember walking away from this workshop with a handful of ideas and strategies that I could implement in my own classroom. However, here I am at the end of the semester, and I haven’t had the chance to fully implement the five elements. So as my second semester resolution, I am committed to personalizing the learning experience for students in my computer science courses. Below is my plan as it aligns to the five elements of personalized learning.

Element #1 – Know Your Learners:  Knowing my students’ interests is the beginning of personalizing their learning experience. By using interest inventories, I can find out what areas of computer science they’re interested in, what they already know, what they would like to learn, and how I can help them to further their overall interests in computer science.

Element #2 – Voice and Choice: I know that all students learn differently, so why should I force all my students to sit through a lecture or have them all do the same project with the same requirements? By letting go of the uniformity, I provide voice and choice for my students. Students will not only be given a choice in how they access the content, but they will also have a choice in how they demonstrate their proficiency. Ultimately, I want my students to have the opportunity to demonstrate their learning in a meaningful way and give them more ownership of their learning.

Element #3 – Flexibility:  It seems like the term “flexible classroom” is all the rage these days. Providing students an opportunity to move their desks, sit in comfy chairs, and work in all areas of the classroom is said to increase learning and engagement. I was skeptical at first, but after trying it out for one week in my classroom, I was shocked. My fears of students not getting any work done and just socializing were quickly dismissed. My students really enjoyed having the freedom to move around and collaborate with each other, allowing them to make the classroom their own personal learning space. I also feel that a flexible classroom provides my students with a more realistic view of what they will encounter when they enter the workforce, especially in the field of computer science.

Element #4 – Data Informed Decisions: Students often look to teachers to be the experts, but rarely are students given the opportunity to be called the expert. By pre-testing each student, I can get a better understanding of their skill level and use this data to provide them with a more individualized approach to learning. I can also encourage students to step forward and be content experts, allowing them to do some peer-teaching.

Element #5 – Technology Integration:  The SAMR Framework is a commonly used model for technology integration. I find myself all to often integrating technology that only enhances my content, which only reaches the first two levels of the model (Substitution and Augmentation). I would like to stretch myself and explore types of technology integration what will reach the transformation levels of the model (Modification and Redefinition). One type of technology integration that I would like to implement is student-created podcasts and videos. I want to give my students opportunities to become creators of content and share their experiences with others.

I am excited to embark on my resolution of embedding the elements of personalized learning within my computer science courses. I think by embracing the mindset of personalized learning while structuring my classroom around the five elements will lead to an increase of student engagement. I am also excited to see my students take more ownership of their learning and pursue their passions further in the field of computer science.
Resources: http://westsidepersonalized.com

Kristeen Shabram
K-8 representative

CS Ed Week Celebrations

This is my first CS Ed Week as Executive Director for CSTA and I am so excited about the progress our organization has made during my tenure. While CS Ed Week is about inspiring students to take an interest in computer science, it is also an opportunity to honor dedicated teachers fighting for all students to learn computer science.

At CSTA, we’re celebrating CS Ed Week with two very cool events — both of which are honoring dedicated educators — and by sharing some big announcements. Keep reading to learn about the big things happening at CSTA.

CS Ed Week Kickoff

I was honored to kickoff CS Ed Week at the University of Washington in Seattle to award the 2nd annual Champions of CS winners. Along with the founder and CEO of Code.org, Hadi Partovi, and Melinda Gates, we honored a student, teacher, district and an organization for their outstanding work in Computer Science. Congratulations to Jocelyn Marencik, Robert Defillippo, Chanel White, Seaside High School, Lincoln Public Schools, GirlsCodingWithGirls, and AccessCSforAll — you truly are champions of computer science.

CSTA Honors Chicago’s Computer Science Teachers

In collaboration with Chicago Public School’s CS4All, CSTA and our Chicago and Suburban Chicago chapters highlighted and honored computer science teachers in Chicago at our CSTA Night for Excellence in CS Teaching. Held at Google’s Chicago office, the event included networking opportunities and the presentation of outstanding teaching and administrator awards to deserving computer science champions.

Congratulations to Chicago Public Schools awardees, Stephen Tow from Goudy Technology Academy and Jennifer Roscoe from Lane Tech College Prep, on your achievements and your scholarships to the 2019 CSTA Annual Conference. You truly are champions for your students.

CSTA’s 2018 Administrator Impact Award Winner

Each year, CSTA opens nominations for our Administrator Impact Award to honor an educator who has made a significant impact to improve access to and the quality of computer science education.

I am so excited to announce the winner of CSTA’s 2018 Administrator Impact Award Winner — Barb Schwamman, Superintendent of Osage Community School District, and Superintendent of Riceville Community School District, in Osage and Riceville, Iowa.

In Osage, Superintendent Schwamman started the 2017–18 school year with zero computer science opportunities. Recognizing the importance of computer science, she added courses at both the middle and high school levels and supported the CS Fundamentals training of about 40 K-5 teachers. Schawmman is working to add new options in game development and cybersecurity. In Riceville, she is working toward the same successes she had in Osage. Schwamman proves that rural students can benefit, sustain and grow computer science opportunities.

Congratulations to Superintendent Schwamman! The CSTA family wishes her much success as she continues to expand computer science in her districts.

Infosys Grant

To commemorate this year’s CSEdWeek, Infosys Foundation USA is announcing several grants to support thousands of underrepresented and underprivileged students, young adults, and educators to learn about computer science through a combination of long-term programs as well as one-time coding events across the US.

I’m excited to announce CSTA as one of those grant recipients. This generous grant, in the amount of $150,000 will help support our initiative to grow CSTA+ membership, and more importantly, help support our 75 chapters.

Chapter Grants

From my first day at CSTA, I’ve told everyone who will listen that our chapters are the heart of our organization. I’m proud to announce the launch of CSTA’s chapter grant fund, which will make over $130,000 available to chapters interested in bringing professional development and programming to their regions. This more than meets our goal of putting 50% of CSTA+ dues back into supporting local CSTA chapters. Chapters leaders will receive more details later this week.

CSTA to take the CS Honor Society National

CSTA will be taking the CS Honor Society national for the 2019-20 school year! Launched by CodeVA, the CS Honor Society acknowledges academic excellence in CS disciplines — and the enthusiasm that surrounds it. Originally designed for Virginia high schools — with a growing number of out of state chapters — students must not only meet academic requirements but also must complete service hours in support of CS education. I am very excited about the expansion of this initiative and cannot wait to see its growth on the national level. Stay tuned for more information about getting involved.

2019 is shaping up to be a great year for CSTA. Thank you for all you do for your students, computer science education sphere and for your continued support of CSTA. I hope to see you all at the annual conference in Phoenix.


Jake Baskin
Executive Director CSTA

Celebrating CS Ed Week

This is my first CS Ed Week as Executive Director for CSTA and I am so excited about the progress our organization has made during my tenure. While CS Ed Week is about inspiring students to take an interest in computer science, it is also an opportunity to honor dedicated teachers fighting for all students to learn computer science.

At CSTA, we’re celebrating CS Ed Week with two very cool events — both of which are honoring dedicated educators — and by sharing some big announcements. Keep reading to learn about the big things happening at CSTA.

CS Ed Week Kickoff

I was honored to kickoff CS Ed Week at the University of Washington in Seattle to award the 2nd annual Champions of CS winners. Along with the founder and CEO of Code.org, Hadi Partovi, and Melinda Gates, we honored a student, teacher, district and an organization for their outstanding work in Computer Science. Congratulations to Jocelyn Marencik, Robert Defillippo, Chanel White, Seaside High School, Lincoln Public Schools, GirlsCodingWithGirls, and AccessCSforAll — you truly are champions of computer science.

CSTA Honors Chicago’s Computer Science Teachers

In collaboration with Chicago Public School’s CS4All, CSTA and our Chicago and Suburban Chicago chapters highlighted and honored computer science teachers in Chicago at our CSTA Night for Excellence in CS Teaching. Held at Google’s Chicago office, the event included networking opportunities and the presentation of outstanding teaching and administrator awards to deserving computer science champions.

Congratulations to Chicago Public Schools awardees, Stephen Tow from Goudy Technology Academy and Jennifer Roscoe from Lane Tech College Prep, on your achievements and your scholarships to the 2019 CSTA Annual Conference. You truly are champions for your students.

Congratulations to CSTA’s 2018 Administrator Impact Award Winner

Each year, CSTA opens nominations for our Administrator Impact Award to honor an educator who has made a significant impact to improve access to and the quality of computer science education.

I am so excited to announce the winner of CSTA’s 2018 Administrator Impact Award Winner — Barb Schwamman, Superintendent of Osage Community School District, and Superintendent of Riceville Community School District, in Osage and Riceville, Iowa.

In Osage, Superintendent Schwamman started the 2017–18 school year with zero computer science opportunities. Recognizing the importance of computer science, she added courses at both the middle and high school levels and supported the CS Fundamentals training of about 40 K-5 teachers. Schawmman is working to add new options in game development and cybersecurity. In Riceville, she is working toward the same successes she had in Osage. Schwamman proves that rural students can benefit, sustain and grow computer science opportunities.

Congratulations to Superintendent Schwamman! The CSTA family wishes her much success as she continues to expand computer science in her districts.

Infosys Grant

To commemorate this year’s CSEdWeek, Infosys Foundation USA is announcing several grants to support thousands of underrepresented and underprivileged students, young adults, and educators to learn about computer science through a combination of long-term programs as well as one-time coding events across the US.

I’m excited to announce CSTA as one of those grant recipients. This generous grant, in the amount of $150,000 will help support our initiative to grow CSTA+ membership, and more importantly, help support our 75 chapters.

Chapter Grants

From my first day at CSTA, I’ve told everyone who will listen that our chapters are the heart of our organization. I’m proud to announce the launch of CSTA’s chapter grant fund, which will make over $130,000 available to chapters interested in bringing professional development and programming to their regions. This more than meets our goal of putting 50% of CSTA+ dues back into supporting local CSTA chapters. Chapters leaders will receive more details later this week.

CSTA to take the CS Honor Society National

CSTA will be taking the CS Honor Society national for the 2019-20 school year! Launched by CodeVA, the CS Honor Society acknowledges academic excellence in CS disciplines — and the enthusiasm that surrounds it. Originally designed for Virginia high schools — with a growing number of out of state chapters — students must not only meet academic requirements but also must complete service hours in support of CS education. I am very excited about the expansion of this initiative and cannot wait to see its growth on the national level. Stay tuned for more information about getting involved.

2019 is shaping up to be a great year for CSTA. Thank you for all you do for your students, computer science education sphere and for your continued support of CSTA. I hope to see you all at the annual conference in Phoenix.


Jake Baskin
Executive Director CSTA

The First Next Step

As we round the corner to the end of November and head into computer science education week, we know millions of students and teachers will try computer science for the first time. I am continually amazed how Computer Science Education Week drives so much action and awareness in such a short amount of time.

As critical as computer science education week is for the initial exposure to computer science, what might be even more important is the first next step.

The momentum from campaigns like those around Computer Science Education Week and the hard work of people and organizations around the world to create equitable access to computer science education has created a wide variety of resources that make access to information, training, curriculum, content, activities and planning tools accessible and suited for a range of learner outcomes, teacher readiness and school and community needs.

So whether you’re already implementing computer science in your classroom or school or you’ve just completed your first Hour of Code and you’re ready for the next steps, here are some no cost and low cost resources available nearly anywhere you are to get you started, and help you keep going!

Code.org
Get to know Code.org beyond an Hour of Code with the wide variety of resources available to support teachers, students, administrators and communities to bring computer science to every student. Check out the Teacher Resources and the Student Resources.

TEALS
Microsoft Philanthropies TEALS pairs technology industry professionals with classroom teachers to team-teach computer science education. School applications are open now!

Professional Development Resources
This Computer Science Professional Development Guide was built with input from experts from TEALS, CS for All, CSTA, Code.org, NCWIT and Microsoft. It’s intended to help education leaders build teacher, school counselor and administrator capacity to support equitable computer science education for all students.

CSTA
CSTA has a wide variety of supports available to computer science teachers. A CSTA+ Membership offers additional benefits, discounts and access to resources specially for CSTA+ Members.

ISTE
ISTE’s tools and resources are designed for teachers who bring computer science education into a wide variety of subjects across K-12.

This is just the start of a list and definitely not exhaustive. Share the resources you love with the CSTA community! 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.

Yvonne Thomas
Partner Representative CSTA Board

Direct Instruction and Discovery – Why Pick Sides?

I recently read a post by Mark Guzdial on the CACM blog entitled “Direct Instruction is Better than Discovery, but What Should We be Directly Instructing?”  (link).  

This led me down the rabbit hole to:

  • Felienne Hermans’ blog post , “Programming and direct instruction” (link)
  • NY Times article “Why Are we Teaching Reading the Wrong Way.”  (link)
  • Kirschner, Sweller, Clark paper “Why Minimal Guidance During Instruction Does Not Work: An Analysis of the Failure of Constructivist, Discovery, Problem-Based, Experiential, and Inquiry-Based Teaching” (link) (I’ll call this the KSC paper)

Felienne’s post doesn’t seem to make as strong a claim as Mark’s headline, but does make the point that, “[C]hildren need help with learning to program because they will get stuck otherwise, drop out and decide programming ‘is not for them’.”  She concludes with the idea that we have to “embrace direct instruction,” and to “rote memorize the ifs and loops, if we want all children to learn well.”

The NY Times article was a nice interlude, which made the following point:

  • “[W]hile learning to talk is a natural process that occurs when children are surrounded by spoken language, learning to read is not. To become readers, kids need [..] explicit, systematic phonics instruction.”

Okay, so kids need systematic instruction for basic building blocks that are not naturally learned.  I’ve seen this before, and I buy it. But does that mean, categorically, that, “Direct instruction is better than discovery”?

Well, from the links above, we have a picture of direct instruction (DI): explicit systematic instruction; rote memorization.  What about the “other side.” The KSC paper wastes no time in painting this as a simple dichotomy:

  • “On one side of this argument are those advocating the hypothesis that people learn best in an unguided or minimally guided environment [and] must discover or construct essential information for themselves.”
  • “On the other side are those suggesting that novice learners should be provided with direct instructional guidance on the concepts and procedures [..]”

The paper goes on to lump together, “Constructivist, Discovery, Problem-Based, Experiential, and Inquiry-Based” and consider them all to be equivalent to the most extreme version of a single ideology: students must figure everything out for themselves.

Before I go on, I will say that I make no claims to any special expertise here.  I’m basing my points on: (A) my past experience as a HS math and CS teacher, and as a state STEM education director; and (B) my current studies of STEM education research at a university, in the department of education, where constructivism is the dominant theoretical perspective.  This is not a research paper – I’m not going to cite sources. I’m not going to rigorously argue my points.

I also recognize that science, math, engineering, and CS are unique disciplines that require different pedagogical approaches.  That said, I will try to keep things general rather than referring to any particular discipline.

Here are my points:

  1. DI vs. Discovery is a false dichotomy
  2. “Constructivist, Discovery, Problem-Based, Experiential, and Inquiry-Based” learning are not identical, and are not equal to “just figure it out.”
  3. Inquiry-based learning has benefits that go beyond mastery of basic skills
  4. Rote learning has risks

DI vs. Discovery is a false dichotomy.  If anything, it’s more like a spectrum, but this is probably oversimplifying it too.  Educators can and should use a variety of strategies.

“Constructivist, Discovery, Problem-Based, Experiential, and Inquiry-Based” learning may all share a constructivist foundation (or maybe not necessarily), but they emphasize different strategies, or aspects of teaching.  Constructivism might hold that we construct knowledge and meaning from experience, but that does not imply that we need to “just figure it out.”

Benefits of constructivist learning include development of:

  • Autonomy / agency / critical thinking
  • Communication / collaboration
  • Creativity / divergent thinking

Although these benefits are more difficult to measure than basic skills, evidence has been described in a number of empirical studies.  These skills are generally useful, and highly valued by employers.

Risks of rote learning include:

  • False impression of what “doing science / math / engineering / CS” is really about.  
  • Students may not have opportunities to have a voice in the class, or may not feel like their prior experiences are valued.
  • Whole-class direct instruction assumes that all students require the same instruction at the same time.  This can lead to frustration (and disengagement) for students who are not ready, or boredom (and disengagement) for students who have already advanced beyond the skills being instructed.

In closing, I encourage the reader to consider the pros and cons of different pedagogical strategies and draw their own conclusions.  

David Benedetto

David Benedetto, At-Large Representative

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

Why submit a proposal?

CSTA just announced the Call for Proposals.

Why should you considering submitting a proposal?

The most rewarding part of the process is actually not presenting at the conference (although yeah it’s pretty cool in itself)….but the best part is creating and building your application. It requires you to define exactly what you do, how you do it, and why you do it. And then it can’t just be you who think it’s awesome; you have to provide evidence that you are actually meeting the goals and results you say you are.

There is something satisfying about spending the time, and yes you will spend many hours, figuring out how to best explain and describe what you do. It forces you to ask tough questions: is what I am doing important? Will my professional peers see value in it as well? Is what I say I do really what I do? Is the impact really as powerful as I think it is? Are the results I am seeing reliable and valid? Is my innovation really an outlier? Will others appreciate my work and ideas? Will I be able to communicate what my project is really about?

It forces you to choose the project or topic you are most proud of in your work as a K-12 educator. It forces you to document the entire process–the preparation, the activity itself, and then actual results or completed work or evidence. It may involve interviewing students about their experience. It might be you have a completed paper. Maybe you just have some new ways of looking at something we all do in our classrooms. Perhaps you have figured out some new technology which you are excited about. Maybe you are passionate about a topic related to CS education, such as diversity, inclusion, the digital divide, or access. Is there some research you are proud of? Perhaps you have built something you’d like to share. Maybe you and some colleagues want to lead a panel discussion?

It forces you to create presentation ready resources and documentation so that others may find out more.

What I’ve found is that in most cases, as I am describing the project and the experience, I am also evaluating it myself and actually thinking of ways to enhance it.

And it’s a gutsy move. You are putting your everything out there for your peers to see, and you are saying this is the best I’ve got. Then your peers evaluate that and decide if it meets the criteria for the national stage. You are going to stand before tens or even hundreds of people and share your experience. What an awesome opportunity.

There is also an element of perception. While your project might be amazing, is it relevant to the state of CS Education right now? Will others see the same value that you see? Are you presenting about a tremendous success you have had and want to share so that others may benefit, or are you presenting about your struggled and even failures so that other may learn and use your experience to leap pad their own ideas? Are there others with similar proposals?

If you are selected, what’s the reward? Vindication and validation that what you are doing matters, has value, and has been worthy of your time. Other professional in CS Ed have looked at what you do, and said, “Yes, this is something others need to know about and see.” What an honor to be part of the “leadership” of the conference. Those in the audience are there because they are genuinely interested in what you have to say. In some cases, this might the first people to hear about your experience. Those folks will challenge you on your ideas and ask you to help them explore the same thing. You will meet others who have the same unique passion and now, finally, you have others to collaborate with.

Now, here is the deal, I have submitted many proposals over the years. I have been rejected as often as accepted. In fact, I was rejected by CSTA several years ago– now I am a sitting board member. Go figure. Rejection is not to be looked at as a negative. A rejection is not saying your proposal is not good or not worthy. All it is saying is that there were other proposals which made more sense this year. Perhaps that exact same proposal is accepted immediately next year. Or maybe you go back, make some enhancement to the learning experience or project, and resubmit with an even stronger application. In some cases, you’ll get feedback from the reviewers with comments on the proposal evaluation.

But the best thing is you get one of those cool colored presenter tags for your badge.

See you at the CSTA annual conference in Phoenix, either from the podium or from the audience.

Doug Bergman headshot - Gr. 9 to 12 teacher representative

Doug Bergman – 9 to 12 teacher representative


Doug Bergman
9-12 Representative