Did you know? NSF programs for K-12 CS Education

It was my first CSTA conference(Omaha, NB: https://www.csteachers.org/page/2018conference) so all was new and exciting. I did peruse the exhibit hall when I first got there but didn’t spend much time. I went back the second day and wow! really glad I did. I spent a lot more time looking at each booth and talking with the people at places of interest. I learned A LOT!
While I don’t have the space to articulate everything I learned, I want to share one in particular that we might not think too seriously about.
The National Science Foundation booth was a natural for me to stop at – I was fortunate to have done 2 sabbaticals there during my career. It was great to visit with a former colleague and catch up on what’s new. I learned about 2 programs that I had not realized were applicable to the K-12 audience.

They are (quoting from the official NSF website):
STEM + Computing K-12 Education (STEM+C)
https://www.nsf.gov/funding/pgm_summ.jsp?pims_id=505006&org=DRL&from=home
The STEM+C Program focuses on research and development of interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary approaches to the integration of computing within STEM teaching and learning for preK-12 students in both formal and informal settings. The STEM+C program supports research on how students learn to think computationally to solve interdisciplinary problems in science and mathematics. The program supports research and development that builds on evidence-based teacher preparation or professional development activities that enable teachers to provide excellent instruction on the integration of computation and STEM disciplines.

Innovative Technology Experiences for Students and Teachers (ITEST)
https://www.nsf.gov/funding/pgm_summ.jsp?pims_id=5467&org=DRL&from=home
ITEST is a research and development program that supports projects to promote PreK-12 student interests and capacities to participate in the STEM and information and communications technology (ICT) workforce of the future.
The ITEST program supports research on the design, development, implementation, and selective spread of innovative strategies for engaging students in technology-rich experiences that: (1) increase student awareness of STEM occupations; (2) motivate students to pursue appropriate education pathways to STEM occupations; or (3) develop disciplinary-based knowledge and practices, or promote critical thinking, reasoning skills, or communication skills needed for entering STEM workforce sectors.
ITEST projects may adopt an interdisciplinary focus that includes multiple STEM disciplines, focus on a single discipline, or focus on one or more sub-disciplines. The ITEST program supports projects that provide evidence for factors, instructional designs, and practices in formal and informal learning environments that broaden participation of students from underrepresented groups in STEM fields and related education and workforce domains.
Why should we care about these programs? While you currently may not have time to write or participate in one of these projects, please to keep your eyes open for the projects that do get funded to see what interesting new ideas and activities are being developed. We’re part of an important emerging core area in K-12 education. These NSF-funded projects should give us much to think about. And you never know when you might be able to contribute.
Hurray for all of the things we can learn from the Exhibit Hall!!

Jane Prey
ACM Representative


Jane Prey, ACM Representative

FORTIFYING OUR POSITION

This past week I was asked to fill in for a speaker, at the NGA 2018 Governors’ Education Policy Advisors Institute, that was not able to make it due to Hurricane Florence. First, let me extend my sympathies to those on the East Coast that were affected by the storm and resulting floods; my thoughts and prayers are with you and your families.

During the short time, approximately 23 hours, I had to prepare for my speech, I thought about “what do I want to discuss.” Of course, I could have presented the same “Computer Science in Arkansas” discussion that I have given so often that I recite it in my sleep, but I decided since I had gubernatorial policy advisors in the room, that I would issue a challenge, or what turned into a series of challenges. I will share some of those challenges and thoughts here.

While a good portion of the speech focused on the technological displacement, or in a positive light “emerging jobs creation,” I also reminded the group of the following:

“Exposed deficiencies in our educational system come at a time when the demand for highly skilled workers in new fields is accelerating rapidly. For example: Computers and computer-controlled equipment are penetrating every aspect of our lives–homes, factories, and offices.
We must emphasize that the variety of student aspirations, abilities, and preparation requires that appropriate content be available to satisfy diverse needs. Attention must be directed to both the nature of the content available and to the needs of particular learners. The most gifted students, for example, may need a curriculum enriched and accelerated beyond even the needs of other students of high ability. Similarly, educationally disadvantaged students may require special curriculum materials, smaller classes, or individual tutoring to help them master the material presented. Nevertheless, there remains a common expectation: We must demand the best effort and performance from all students, whether they are gifted or less able, affluent or disadvantaged, whether destined for college, the farm, or industry.
The teaching of computer science in high school should equip graduates to: (a) understand the computer as an information, computation, and communication device; (b) use the computer in the study of the other Basics and for personal and work-related purposes; and (c) understand the world of computers, electronics, and related technologies.”

When I informed the group that this was from A Nation at Risk published in April of 1983, I noted quite a few shocked faces. Then I asked the real questions. What has changed in education over the past 35 years? Has the role of teachers changed to better utilize the technology that is becoming not only more prevalent within our classrooms, but also increasingly crucial for students to learn before they are sent into a job market that demands they have an appropriate amount of digital literacy mixed with problem solving skills?

Many industry leaders I interact with say that the K-12, or even the K-16, system is not providing the workers with the skills they need. The current workforce has more computing power and digital resources at their disposal than at any time in history, yet we find that some just cannot or choose not to “get the job done.” Our industries do their best to provide the latest technology, a safe and comfortable work environment, and on-the-job training. They encourage, correct, direct, and support their employees, yet they still are often left with producers of subpar work. Why is this? Is it because we at the K-16 space have in many ways failed? I do believe that the fault has to partially lie at the feet of educators, and I include myself in that fault group. We are failing to produce more problem solvers than brain flushers.

What is the solution? It is to not teach (or at least teach as it is currently understood). A big part of the solution will be educators who become facilitators of learning. They will allow our kids to grapple and struggle with real problems on a daily basis; allow them to get frustrated occasionally and find a solution to that frustration on their own; and stop rewarding bad practices and mediocre effort in order to not hurt someone’s feelings. Industry doesn’t reward poor performance, so why should education establish this as an expectation within our students?

One of the reasons I love technology and computer science is because it doesn’t care about feelings. It expects and demands perfection because it knows nothing different. Students and adults who are programming computers have to be precise. They have to work out a way to a solution that works all the time. They have to try to break their own product through testing. These are all actions that develop communication, problem solving, self-reflection, and personal growth. Teachers moving to a facilitator mode, can leverage technology to meet the needs of our high performers, main stream students, and those that need additional support. This type of approach is what will produce a workforce that better meets the soft skill and technological prowess needs of our industries.

If we want the excitement and movement that is happening in the computer science education community to continue and have a positive long-lasting impact, we must each ask ourselves on a daily basis, “what am I going to do to ensure that the educational system undergoes radical positive change that will prepare our students to meet the needs of industry?” In short, what are we doing to make sure that in another 35 years, we are not still a nation at risk.

Anthony A. Owen
State Department Representative

What does it mean to be a Computer Science Teacher?

Two weeks ago, I had the opportunity to attend a robotics competition with a team of students that I coached through the summer, and I was amazed by the feeling I got being in the same room as many other CS teachers. This got me thinking about the CS teacher profession. I believe that CS teachers are a unique breed. I’ve read so many articles, seen so many posts from other CS teacher friends and all have something in common, one way or another at some point the fact that it can be a “lonely” position is brought up.

Indeed, almost everywhere CS teachers may be the only one within their departments, their school or even their district. Honestly, CS is an amazing, beautiful and engaging subject but none the less not an easy subject to teach. Many of us who have embarked in this adventure for a while now know that being a CS teacher means you become a life time learner and that mapping a curriculum every 3 to 4 years is just part of the main to do list. Other subjects have many years’ worth of curricula with minor changes happening through the years, but computer science is constantly on the move and the content becomes obsolete fast. So, a lesson plan that might have worked wonderfully 5 years ago might not be useful now. Of course, there are the basics that are modified but not vastly changed. So, creating a curriculum is just part of our daily tasks.

A computer science teacher may have different backgrounds. Some come from the CS industry and have a CS background, others are “imported” from teaching other subjects such as science or math and some have a technology education degree. I was searching online for a specific degree in Computer Science education and although you can easily find a master’s degree with a CS education concentration, I had a hard time finding a CS education bachelor’s degree. What most colleges or universities recommend is getting an education degree to later get a CS education master’s degree or have a CS degree and get a teaching license. All that is perfect, but I think that CS teachers need better training and just as I mentioned before it can become hard to teach a subject you are not properly trained for. I read this past week a post from a CS friend on Facebook that was asking mostly himself if he knew “too much” about CS to teach a beginner’s class, and I thought that this is the kind of things that make us unique. A math teacher will probably never ask themselves if they know too much math, or maybe they do, and I just don’t know.

A Computer Science teacher also becomes a “fix it all” individual, the teacher that quite possibly has a charging cable in their labs, knows the basics of fixing a computer and has students going into their class asking if you how to fix theirs.

Throughout the years organizations such as CSTA, ISTE, Code.org, Oracle, and the College Board among others have taken big steps to support CS teachers and making our jobs easier in the planning phase, prepping and the dreaded paper work part. Still, in our own hometown, there is yet a very small number of Computer Science teachers and that needs to change. Every time I have the chance to attend a conference, event, competition or workshop that is specifically for CS, that is when I feel I am home. I know that the people around me have the same challenges and successes, have the same feeling of sometimes teaching a lonely subject. So, getting this sense of community goes along way. I hope that at the rate CS education is growing around the world, that sense or community remains.


Michelle Lagos
Representative at Large

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