The role CSTA has played in my professional life

This month the announcement for nominations for the board of directors made me think about my path through CSTA. The first time I heard of CSTA was in 2008; starting a new job in a new school having been teaching CS to High School students and was embarking on a new adventure of teaching K-5 Computer Science. It was the first time I was teaching Computer Science to that age group and I was apprehensive about some of the content and available resources. I teach at the American School of Tegucigalpa in Honduras, a small under-developed country in the heart of Central America. AST is a N-12 non-profit bilingual school, so we are an English spoken campus. Even though most schools offer computer classes, my school has always strived to give the best college preparation possible. So the expectations for me as a teacher were high. Being part of the smallest department in my school, it can be a challenge getting PD and resources. Luckily, I found the CSTA website and went directly to their resources and curriculum sections. As I explored the page I got interested and decided to become a member. As a new member of a community of teachers I now know we share similar challenges when teaching CS.

In 2012 CSTA was calling for nominations for the board’s upcoming elections. I was hesitant, thought the odds were not good for a Latin-American teacher. Turns out I got elected as the International Representative. I got to be part of their meetings which dealt with important topics, looking to improve and support K-12 CS education. I worked with the curriculum committee, alongside Deborah Seehorn and Tammy Pirmann reviewing the published CSTA K-12 Standards. Later I collaborated on my favorite project translating the Standards to Spanish which have been helpful for those teachers teaching CS in Spanish.  CSTA is not only meetings, it is also a place to grow and share, like the Annual CSTA conference which I always attend and volunteer to help out. It takes a lot of people and work to put it together. There are many ways to volunteer at the conference and it is a wonderful way to get involved and advocate for CSTA as well as make connections.

In 2016 I ran for a second term on the board, this time as Representative at Large and once again was elected to serve. This time around the experience was different as I was able to be part of different committees and meet more of the active, engaged and passionate members. I now know more about all the resources, workshops, scholarship, keynotes, PD opportunities CSTA brings to the K-12 CS teachers and how much heart is put into these. We hope that these efforts will improve CS education around the world. Family. My best advice as a CSTA member? Get involved, be an advocate, join a chapter or collaborate with other members. I guarantee that it will be worth it.


Michelle Lagos, Representative at Large

A Message from CSTA Incoming Executive Director Jake Bastin

As the incoming Executive Director of CSTA, I’m thrilled to introduce myself to the greater CSTA community. Instead of vague generalizations and platitudes, I’d like to share a story about my first year teaching computer science, and the role CSTA played in my development as a teacher.

I’ll never forget room 225 at Lindblom Math and Science Academy, my first classroom. It had some quirks: desks bolted down to the floor, four fewer computers than my largest class, a heating system that required opening the windows every day of a Chicago winter. Most importantly it had 150 students who were ready to learn computer science with me, even if I wasn’t so sure I was ready to teach it.

In that building I found incredible support — a principal who knew computer science should be a core part of the school, colleagues that I still count among my closest friends, and the most creative, determined and fun students I could ask for.

The one thing I couldn’t find was another computer science teacher.

While I knew it was best to go along with the jokes and eye rolls when mandatory department meetings were held, what I really felt was jealousy. Everyone else had a time to discuss what content and practices were working, and get ideas on how to reach individual students. A group of coworkers that didn’t always have the answers, but at least understood the challenges everyone was facing.

Then I went to the first Chicago CSTA meeting of the year and discovered I had something better: a CS department that spanned the entire city and connected me to the latest ideas in teaching and learning computer science. I had finally found my team and was thrilled to begin working alongside them.

A lot has changed in the CS education world since I joined CSTA eight years ago—a wave of publicity around computer science education and shifting policies around the world—but the heart of the movement remains the same: dedicated teachers fighting for all students to learn computer science.

Our vibrant local chapters are the heart of this organization, and in my new role with CSTA I will focus on identifying and highlighting the most successful work happening at local chapters so we can spread those great ideas to all of our members. This starts with sharing—if your local chapter has something amazing planned, or an idea you need help executing, please let me know. You can always find me at jake.baskin@csteachers.org, and if you’ll be at SIGCSE say hi in person!


Jake Baskin
Incoming Executive Director, CSTA

Common questions about the CSTA board

I hope everyone had a great holiday break is leaping back into the school year with renewed drive and energy. With all of the chaos of the new year, you might have missed the call for nominations for the CSTA Board of Directors. There is no better way to contribute to CSTA’s mission of empowering and advocating for K-12 CS teachers than to serve on the Board. There are five open positions this year, four representing specific perspectives and a fifth, at-large position.

K-8 Representative: A classroom teacher who is currently teaching computer science at the pre-high school level.
9-12 Representative: A classroom teacher who is currently teaching computer science at the high school level.
International Representative: An international (outside the United States) classroom teacher who is currently teaching or promoting computer science at the pre-collegiate level.
State Department Representative: An educator or administrator who reports to a state department of education and oversees, in some capacity, computer science education.
At-Large Representative: An educator with responsibilities for K-12 CS education.

To apply for one of these position, you simply need to submit a resume and a brief application form – details can be found at http://www.csteachers.org/news/379241/Announcing-the-CSTA-Board-of-Directors-Elections–Nominations-Period.htm. The deadline for submissions is January 31 (11:59pm PST), so don’t wait too long. Questions can be directed to nominations@csta-hq.org.

In case you were on the fence about applying for the Board, here are answers to five of the most common questions that potential candidates ask:

Q: How much work is involved in being a Board member?
A: You have probably seen the phrase “the CSTA Board is a working board” in several places. What this means is that members of the Board are expected to help carry out the business of the organization – not just advise or supervise. This includes monthly virtual meetings and two face-to-face board meetings, one held in conjunction with the CSTA Annual Conference and another held in the late fall. While these meetings are packed and productive, most of the Board’s business is conducted throughout the year by committees, with individuals working from home and coordinating via phone conferences. The time commitment can vary by task, e.g., the work conducted by the Elections & Nominations Committee is concentrated around setting up and running the annual elections, and is light during other times of the year. On average, I would guess that the workload averages out to 2-3 hours per week.

Q: Are Board members expected to cover their own travel expenses to meetings?
A: No, expenses for travel are reimbursed (within reason) following CSTA’s travel policy guidelines. This includes travel, hotel, and meals at Board meetings. It also includes expenses related to attending the CSTA Annual Conference, since Board members are expected to attend this event and help out by proctoring sessions and assisting with registration. A copy of the travel policy is provided to all newly elected Board members.

Q: Why are there different positions on the Board, such as 9-12 Representative and International Representative?
A: The mission of CSTA is a broad one, promoting K-12 CS education and supporting the interests and professional development of our 26,000+ members. It is essential that the Board have a diversity of perspectives and experiences to address the issues and challenges that arise in the organization’s business. Each position has requirements to ensure that key perspectives are represented on the Board. For example, the 9-12 Representative is required to be a “9–12 classroom teacher who is currently teaching computer science at the high school level.” Once on the Board, all members are equal in status and welcome to contribute to all initiatives.

Q: If I apply for a position, does that automatically mean I will be on the ballot?
A: Unfortunately, no. According to the CSTA bylaws, the election ballot will list at most two candidates for each open Board position. If more than two qualified candidates submit applications, the Elections & Nominations Committee is charged with selecting the two most outstanding candidates to be placed on the ballot. Committee members independently rank the candidates using a rubric that considers factors such as leadership skills and experience, understanding of core issues in CS education, and alignment of goals to CSTA’s mission. While this model does sometimes mean that highly qualified candidates do not make the ballot, it does allow for us to keep the ballot size manageable while still providing detailed statements from each candidate.

Q: Why should I consider running for the CSTA Board?
A: Serving on the CSTA Board of Directors is an extremely rewarding opportunity to give back to the teaching community. Board members help to set the vision for the organization and work to promote CS education on a global scale. Their work supports and provides professional development for CSTA’s more than 26,000 members worldwide. In addition, working closely with other amazing educators is rewarding in itself.

JRN, Journalism, Media, Computing faculty members


Dave Reed
Past Chair, CSTA Board of Directors
Chair, Nominations & Elections Committee

AI and CS Teaching

Last week, I had the interesting experience of giving evidence at a hearing of our House of Lords Artificial Intelligence select committee. The House of Lords is the (entirely unelected) upper house of the UK’s legislature, so for me, this was quite a big deal.

Their lordships were interested in the applications of AI to education in general, but they seemed much more interested in the opportunities that England’s computing curriculum would provide for our students to learn about AI.

In terms of the uses of AI in schools, we’re already seeing a fair few applications of machine learning and other aspects, and I think these look set to continue in the short to medium term. I certainly don’t see AIs replacing teachers any time soon, but I think there are plenty of aspects of the teacher’s role where some support from smart machines might be quite welcome, for example in assessment, with marking essays, judging the quality, rather than merely the correctness of a student’s code; in recommending appropriately challenging activities, resources and exercises for students; in carefully monitoring student activity, privacy concerns notwithstanding; and in responding quickly to students’ questions or requests for help.

If teaching can be reduced merely to setting work and marking work, then I would fear for the long term future of the profession: ‘Any teacher that can be replaced by a machine, should be’, as Arthur C Clarke famously put it. My Roehampton students think there’s much more to teaching than this though: teaching students how to be a person, how to get on with other people, and inspiring them to learn things that they’re not already interested in, to give just three examples. I don’t see the machines taking over these responsibilities any time soon.

More interesting are the opportunities to teach students about AI as part of CS education, or the broader school curriculum. The English programmes of study for computing are phrased broadly enough to allow, or perhaps even encourage, students to develop a grasp of how AI, and particularly machine learning, works, in age-appropriate ways from age five to eighteen. CSTA’s new standards allow scope for pupils to learn about machine learning too: between 3rd and 10th grade students should be able to use data to highlight or propose cause and-effect relationships and predict outcomes; refine computational models based on the data they have generated; and create computational models that represent the relationships among different elements of data collected.

There are some great tools out there to make this accessible to students, from Google’s teachablemachine, through Dale Lane’s fabulous, IBM Watson powered, machinelearningforkids.co.uk, to building machine learning classifiers in Mathematica (easy!) and Python (more tricky, but really not out of the question), as well as the fun that can be had building simple chatbots in Scratch or Python, and hacking Google Assistant using the Raspberry Pi Foundation’s AIY kit.

Great as these opportunities are, I am concerned that we’re not doing enough in schools to get students thinking through the ethical implications for individuals, society and civilisation of AI. Worryingly, England’s education ministers removed the wider ethical references to the computing curriculum we’d developed. Machine learning algorithms already make life-changing decisions for many of us, and the impact of these technologies on our lives seems likely to only increase over our students’ lives. Education is, at least in part, about preparing our students for the opportunities, experiences and responsibilities of their later lives, and I’m not sure we can do justice to this if we’re not teaching them how AI works, and to think through some of the big questions about how AI should be used.


Miles Berry


Miles Berry, International Representative

What’s It Like To Serve On A Board?

Throughout my professional career—academia, industry, government, I’ve been involved with many boards. Most of my experiences have be positive; most of them were part of loving, respectful, inclusive communities. I’ve served on boards that focus on teaching in higher education, boards that are charged with the welfare of a community, boards that are responsible for specific events, boards that are strictly oversight or advisory and others that are active doers.

I have recently been lucky enough to join the CSTA Board of Directors. Based on my early experience, the CSTA Board is a hybrid of doers and overseers. It’s a wonderful mix of high school teachers, higher education faculty, state and local K-12 administrators and industry representatives.

When you attend the CSTA Annual Conference, or participate in one of the many activities offered from the chapters or other members of the CSTA community, all of these people, ideas and activities have somehow, someway passed by the attention of the CSTA Board. Board members are active participants in all areas of the organization and execution of the Annual Conference, aiding the conference chairs with whatever and helping keep the Board posted on all of the great ideas and activities. The Chapters as well are encouraged by the Board, which always welcomes their creative ideas. Board members live to be enablers!

In addition, at my first (and currently only) face to face meeting, we dealt with more serious issues like the budget and strategic plans. I was impressed with the many ideas and differing perspectives offered by all of the members of the Board—this isn’t a shy group! I was also happy to see how respectful and seriously everyone reacted to divergent opinions. We’re all trying to do our best for CSTA. It’s amazing how much business gets covered in this one-day meeting. To keep up to date and keep moving forward, we also have monthly video and conference calls with full agendas, too. I appreciate well-run meetings where people do get a chance to visit and catch up but where the focus still on getting the business done. Fred Martin (CSTA Board Chair) is a master!

We all know that it’s really fun, useful and professionally stimulating to be a member of CSTA and that its members (YOU) are what make it the GREAT organization it is today. But if anything about being on a board intrigues you, if you’re interested in seeing how the behind the scenes stuff works and you have the time to invest, the CSTA Board is a pretty amazing place!

Jane Prey
ACM Representative

Growing Up Leadership

I sat in a small conference room in the summer of 2009 with several other CS teachers from around the US. CSTA brought us all there for advocacy leadership training and the beginning of what some called a grass roots movement for CS. I remember feeling excited that there were all of these other people just like me – passionate about CS Education and who were interested in helping it grow however they could. We learned about advocacy at local, regional, and state levels. We talked about our struggles, the situation of teacher certification, whether or not our state recognized CS, and formed friendships that last till this day.

Through that week and a subsequent training the following year the Leadership Cohort was born (now called CSALT). Through these passionate people districts were changed, courses were added, local government actions were taken, some states passed resolutions about CS ED Week, and there were even opportunities where one or two spoke to National leaders. All of these things were accomplished by volunteers and the support of CSTA.

We were also encouraged to start local chapters. Some were able to do this and are still apart of the chapter’s leadership today. Others of this group has gone on to write curriculum, provide professional development to other CS Teachers, developed and pilot the CS Principles course (and others), have become leaders for CS in their state, have presented at many different conferences including our own CSTA Annual Conference, and still some have been elected to serve on our CSTA Board.

This is not to say that all of our great volunteers and CS advocates started this way; however, there is a strong core group that I can point to that all got their start in those advocacy leadership trainings.

Growing leadership is important for organizations to thrive. Creating lasting friendships and networks of people and resources is also essential. I have “survived” my years of teaching and advocating because of so many of the people that I met that summer. So I say thank you to CSTA for the foresight to start CSALT (formerly Cohort Leadership) and for continuing to support all CSTA members through the conference, other professional development, and the great network of people and support. I urge any of you to attend the conference, a local chapter meeting, or anything you can to be a part of the larger CS Education team.

Most of all I say thank you to CSTA for giving me a chance seven years ago to be part of the CS movement. I have learned beyond my expectations, worked harder than I would have ever imagined, and I have some lifelong friends because of it.

AppInventor Goes Local: adult students build an app inviting islanders to test their knowledge on the local dialect

I haven’t been shy to expose the insane decisions of the Greek Ministry of Education when necessary; one such time was 3 years ago, when the government removed the elective “Application Development in a Programming Environment” from 12th Grade Curriculum and the Greek University Entry Exams, in the context of a law ironically titled “New High School”. My writings reached EU headquarters in Brussels to no avail, but an e-mail I sent to the CSTA caught the attention of Chris Stephenson and played a decisive role in my being nominated and elected as International Representative on the Board of Directors. In 2014 I had an article published in the online edition of UK newspaper “The Guardian”; soon after the Minister of Education stated in public “the decision [of the previous administration] to remove the programming class option from candidates intending to study computer science was not only unacceptable, it has absolutely no ground on an international scale”. The class was eventually reinstated.

That said, maintaining an open mind commands giving credit when deserved, even to people or agencies with whom you have previously clashed. In the beginning of school year 2014-15 Computer Science teachers in Greece were happy to see that the 10th Grade CS textbook had finally been replaced with a completely new and updated version. But what really surprised us was that there was an entire chapter dedicated to the AppInventor environment, complete with examples and detailed instructions guiding students through all the stages of developing their first app.

I taught the book for the first time in an adult-learner setting in 2015-16; in the computer lab we used the MIT App Inventor tutorials on YouTube to quickly get a feel for the kind of stuff we could build (language was hardly a barrier as most Greek students have good working knowledge of English, plus the video-capture tutorials make it easy to watch video and pause in one tab while working in the other). After brainstorming an idea for our app, we decided to take last year’s 10th Grade Project a step farther by using the local dialect words they had registered on Wiktionary to build a multiple-choice quiz in AppInventor. We explored different formats and decided to go with the simplest, as the evening school students have practically zero free time for homework and all the work had to get done in a semester of two 35-minute sessions per week. Christos carefully made sure each question was a challenge with his tricky choices; Kostas quickly learned how to set up the components in “Designer” view and move the command blocks from screen to screen in “Blocks Editor” view with the AI2 “backpack”; Meletis, Kimonas and Philippos connected their Android devices to test the app and offer ideas and feedback. The quiz now comprises 20 questions with four choices each… next year we plan to take it even farther by adding more questions, levels of difficulty and – why not? – voice and illustrations for a rich multimedia experience. Soon we expect to have it published and live on Google Store: keep up with us by watching our blog (generally in Greek but we will include an English snippet for our AppInventor post).

Kostas appinventor

(Camera-shy Kostas enters the questions in Designer view and then programs in the Blocks Editor”)

 

Meletis-Kimonas-philippos

(Meletis, Kimonas and Philippos check out the questions for the quiz while Christos (in the background) takes a break)

In closing my last post as a Board Member of the CSTA, I would like to extend my congratulations to the new International Representative, starting July 2016, Miles Berry, and wish him the best of luck and success in his efforts. Miles, keep an eye on the situation in Greece as the third administration in three years prepares once again to downgrade the role of computer science teachers, amidst a six-year-strong financial crisis that would only benefit from the advancement of coding and other labour – as opposed to capital -intensive fields of financial activity. Sometimes the only argument we need to promote the teaching of computer science is plain common sense; and sometimes common sense is so hard to find…

Mina Theofilatou
Kefalonia, Greece

Computer Science for All – Are We Asking the Right Questions?

Every two weeks, the CSTA K-8 task group hosts a twitter chat using the hashtag #CSK8. These twitter chats help teachers like me connect with other computer science education enthusiasts; they offer us a place to share and learn new ideas for our classrooms. Since I am part of the CSTA task force that hosts these chats, I have learned a lot on how to run these twitter events. Picking the right questions for a chat is key to its success.  The questions must provide the right amount of structure and be interesting so that all participants contribute to the chat. This is difficult since we do not know who will actually join the chat.
The chat on Feb 10 was on the new initiative proposed by President Obama called ‘Computer Science For All’ (To read more on this initiative, see  “CS for All”  and  Watch the president’s full remarks here). The chat was moderated by another CSTA Task force member Vicky Sedgwick and myself.
Computer Science For All initiative is still in the early phase, with of course no clear idea on whether it will ever be approved. However, the initiative has opened up the discussion on computer science access to a wider audience, and it was a perfect topic for our chat. Vicky and myself struggled to come up up with the best set of questions and we were modifying them as the chat progressed.   Selecting the right questions to ask on this topic helped us think more on the big question – how do we really provide computer science education to all? Here are the questions that we finally used on this chat. Take a look below –  what would be your answers?
  • Q1: Obama said “we have to make sure all our kids are equipped for the jobs of the future.” Is this really why #CSforALL is needed? #csk8
  • Q2: Why should #CSForAll be a federal initiative? Can’t we just rely on state/local/industry/non-profit efforts? Pros/Cons? #csk8
  • Q3:  How will we find teachers for #CSForAll & what is needed in terms of professional development & teacher credential programs? #csK8
  • Q4: There are currently many states with their own CS standards & more writing them. How does this affect #CSforAll or does it? #csk8
  • Q5: How would you spend $4 billion? What is most important? K-8/High School/PD/In-school programs/AfterSchool programs/Diversity? #csk8
If you are interested in reading the conversations on this topic (or other topics), check out the archives of the #CSK8 chats at the CSTA K8 G+ community at https://plus.google.com/communities/111803101139836526905/stream/00a8a67d-804b-4ee1-9c95-0852dfa0b171
Do you think we are asking the right questions? If you had five questions to ask on this topic, what would they be?

2016 CSTA Board Election — One More Day to Cast Your Vote!

The 2016 election for five open positions on the CSTA Board of Directors runs through March 22. If you were a CSTA member as of February 16, you should have received an email from ElectionBuddy.com with a personalized link to the online ballot. If you didn’t receive the email, contact customerservice@csteachers.org.

The CSTA Board of Directors consists of eleven voting representatives, elected by the more than 22,000 CSTA members worldwide. The candidates for the 2016 elections are:

  • 9-12 Representative: Stacey Kizer, Chinma Uche
  • At-Large Representative: Myra Deister, Michelle Lagos
  • International Representative: Miles Berry, Michael Jones
  • State Department Representative: Anthony Owen, Doug Paulson
  • University Faculty Representative: Darcy G. Benoit, Fred G. Martin

Full details about the election, including statements by the candidates, can be found online at http://www.csteachers.org/page/boardelections.

Dave Reed
Chair, CSTA Board of Directors

A History of the New Math (and lessons for CS Ed)

Spines of New Math paperbacks from the 1960s (courtesy wikimedia.org)

Spines of New Math paperbacks from the 1960s (courtesy wikimedia.org)

Many of us remember the New Math from personal experience. I do from elementary school in the 1970s in West Hurley, NY.

I loved it. I learned that the decimal system is arbitrary and numbers could be expressed in any base. That was fascinating.

Of course, I was the kid who learned his times tables for fun.

The New Math emphasized understanding the rule-systems that underlie numbers. In elementary school, it constructed the very concept of number with set theory rather than by rote counting.

There wasn’t a focus on students being able to do arithmetic computations. This upset people, and by the 1970s, the New Math was under attack.

The “back to basics” movement re-established an emphasis on computations in the 1980s.

As described by Christopher J. Phillips in his book The New Math: A Political History (The University of Chicago Press, 2015), it’s not a coincidence that this is the same decade in which the country elected Ronald Reagan as president.

Phillips cogently makes the case that the rise and fall of the New Math movement traces our cultural mores and larger political beliefs about who should be making decisions in our society.

Going back two thousand years, Phillips shows how the argument about how mathematics should be taught has been a proxy for a conversation about how people should be taught to think.

For the developers of the New Math, their approach would help American citizens be critical and creative thinkers—what was required to counter the Cold War threat of a dominant Soviet Union.

Indeed, the federal funding that was leveraged in the 1950s to build the New Math movement was appropriated as literally a matter of national defense. This was followed by the Elementary and Secondary Education Act in the 1960s, which continued the federal government’s role in fostering national education curricula.

The consensus that the federal government should be deciding what’s taught in our nation’s schools frayed with the cultural changes in the 1960s and collapsed with the horrors of Vietnam in the 1970s.

As we work towards making computer science a first-class citizen in the pantheon of school teaching and learning, what lessons can we draw from the rise and fall of the New Math?

Computer science is a liberal art—not just a vocational skill. It’s true that becoming accomplished as a software developer is a path to a good career, including good pay. And it’s true that there is a social justice dimension to broadening participation in computing—everyone should discover whether they love computing and then have access to these career paths.

But the reason to institutionalize computer science in K-12 is deeper than that. It’s because computing is beautiful and powerful—like all forms of knowing and doing.

We must go beyond the zero-sum game. One of our big challenges is creating time for teaching and learning computing. We don’t want to create winners (computer science) and losers (other areas of study).

It seems clear that infusion approaches—integrating computing into other subjects—will be an important part of the future.

It’s a team effort. One of the big take-aways from Phillips’ book was the reach of the School Mathematics Study Group—the organization that was created to develop and support the New Math. Curriculum writers from all over the country were involved in creating the reference texts; these individuals then served in leadership roles in the adoptions in their home states.

Most importantly, now we live in a time where everyone’s involved in curriculum decisions, particularly parents.

We need everyone together to make this happen.

P.S. I highly recommend Christopher Phillips’ book. His writing is clean and compelling, and the story is engaging and compact. He also published an essay-length version of his thesis in the New York Times on December 3, 2015.