Prayers, Meditations, and Reassurances

“Teaching is not a lost art, but the regard for it is a lost tradition.” – Jacques Barzun

This past Tuesday, the daily rituals my home had fallen into over the previous two or so months were interrupted. My wife’s alarm, sounding thirty minutes earlier than usual, was the marker that for the next ten months our lives would be changing into a different, but exciting routine. It was “back to school day” for Michele, a teacher and my wife, William, a 10th grader and our eldest, and Harper, a newly christened middle schooler and our youngest. Every day most of my deliberations and actions are for and with them. Maintaining their well-being always in mind, helps keep me grounded on those individuals that should be most important in my and other educational leaders’ work, students and teachers across our communities, states, nation, and globe. I once had a supervisor who would often say, “teaching is not a fallback position, it is first choice profession;” she was, and is still to this day, 100% correct. I wanted to use my blog posting this time to remind all of our wonderful teachers that they are in a profession that deserves high-regards, support, more often than not, increased compensation, and a regular “pat on the back.”

During a training that I participated in recently, part of the introduction/icebreaker activity included each of us drawing a card with a question that we were supposed to individually meditate on and then answer out loud for the group. The question I received was, “who was the best supervisor, professor, or teacher you ever had?” After thinking about it for a while, and remembering so many people who have been extremely influential during my life, my mind drifted back and focused on 10th grade and Mr. Jack Knight. Mr. Knight was my social studies teacher, but he was so much more. He was a great teacher, a true professional educator. As I consider his class now, from an educational leader perspective, I can confidently say he was a master of maintaining classroom discipline while engaging his students in their learning. However, beyond that, Mr. Knight, who had a family of his own, also took the time to get to know and appropriately befriend and mentor a young man who greatly needed it during that time of his life; if you need a hint, that young man was me. I will not go into my personal life, but just know that his extra time, deep caring, and daily demonstration of what being a good teacher and mentor should be, has had a profound effect on me to this day and probably been more influential in my life than he will ever realize.

As teachers, you all have an immense responsibility within your position of power. You have the responsibility to teach, but more importantly you have the opportunity to make a positive difference in the life of a child which will follow them into adulthood. I hope you will never forget these facts, and it is my desire that some who are not in the classroom will soon be reminded of it.

Tuesday morning as wife and boys left our driveway to embark on this year’s adventure, I said a short prayer. That prayer, which was for safety, a “good day,” meeting new friends, and connecting with a person who really needs it, was not only for the members of my family. It was for all students and teachers; it was for you! As you progress through these first few weeks of this new year, take heart in the words of Galatians 6:9.

Go make that positive difference that I know each of you can; I wish each and every one of you a phenomenal school year!

Anthony A Owen
State Department of Education Representative

Chapter Leadership Summit – 2019 CSTA Annual Conference

On July 7-8, chapter leaders from more than 60 CSTA Chapters came together for the Chapter Leadership Summit at the 2019 CSTA Annual Conference. This two-day event provided chapter leaders with educational sessions and specialized training on various topics. It also provided an opportunity for chapter leaders to meet and connect with CSTA Executive Director Jake Baskin, as well as the CSTA Staff and the Board of Directors. The Summit ultimately gave chapter leaders the opportunity to foster an exchange of ideas and information while also developing leadership skills.

Some highlights from the sessions at the Chapter Leadership Summit:

Opening Session and Q&A

In these sessions, CSTA Executive Director Jake Baskin and members of the Board of Directors reviewed the mission and goals of CSTA and summarized the future direction of the organization, all the while answering questions from chapter leaders.

Chapter Rubric and Chapter Self Assessment 

CSTA Director of Education Bryan “BT” Twarek introduced chapter leaders to the Chapter Rubric. The rubric will be used to help chapter leaders assess the areas of strength and growth for their chapter. Chapter leaders were given time to review the rubric and then an opportunity to discuss strategies and plans of action with other chapter leaders.

Chapter Finances and Chapter Grant Program

Michelle Page, CSTA’s COO, presented valuable information on Chapter Finances and the Chapter Grant Program. She provided details on how to manage chapter finances and discussed potential future opportunities to benefit from CSTA’s non-profit status. She also reviewed the criteria of the CSTA Chapter Grant Program, the types of programs and events that earn grant funding, and creating a plan for applying for the next round of grants.

CSTA’s New Web Platform & Chapter Marketing Success

Stacy Jeziorowski, CSTA’s Marketing and Communications Manager led two very informational sessions during the Summit. One of her sessions was dedicated to CSTA’s new web platform, Member Nova. Chapter leaders were presented with the features and advantages of using CSTA’s new web platform and had the opportunity to start their website onsite. In addition,  current chapters that have already made the transition to the new web platform spoke about their successes and ideas. Stacy’s second session was dedicated to Chapter Marketing. During this session, chapter leaders were introduced to the CSTA’s chapter branding guidelines, as well as had the opportunity to develop a simple marketing plan for their chapter that would increase their chapter’s digital presence. 

Chapter Fundraising

Daniel Rosenstein, CSTA’s Manager of Philanthropies and Community Partnerships, offered a session on leveraging the unique and creative ways that chapters can raise money while increasing brand awareness. Chapter leaders also had the opportunity to set an annual fundraising goal and create a plan to meet this goal.

Chapter Workshop-in-a-Box

Chapter leaders were introduced to the Workshops-in-a-Box by a team from NCWIT. The Workshop-in-a-Box session was designed to assist chapter leaders in offering timely and relevant professional development to their members, as well as offer strategies that could be implemented in their classrooms immediately.

Introduction to Grassroots Advocacy

In this session, chapter leaders received a crash course in grassroots advocacy, including how to talk to elected officials, build coalitions, and develop policy recommendations. Chapter leaders also learned about the Advocacy Coalition’s nine recommended state policies that expand access to computer science and why equity-based policies create better outcomes for all students.

Chapter Leader Networking

There were also several opportunities at the Summit for chapter leaders to network with other chapter leaders and hear about the incredible work that is being done in chapters across the US. During the Chapter Spotlight sessions, chapter leaders discussed relevant ideas and strategies on increasing membership, keeping members active/engaged, and hosting events that other chapters could try in their own chapters. The Leadership (Un)Conference sessions provided an opportunity for chapter leaders to suggest topic ideas that they wanted to discuss and connect with other chapter leaders with similar interests, challenges, or contexts. The Meetup Chapter Role session allowed chapter leaders to connect with other leaders who have similar roles/responsibilities and receive answers and support for problems/issues they’re experiencing.

Closing Session

Finally, in the closing session, chapter leaders had the opportunity to put the tools and resources they have gained throughout the Chapter Leadership Summit to use. Chapter leaders used this time to map out what their chapter hopes to accomplish over the next year.

This event could not have taken place without all the hard work of Chapter Relations Manager Leslie Scantlebury and her Chapter Leader Task Force.

Kristeen Shabram
K-8 Representative

The AP Reading

For the last week, I have been at the Advanced Placement (AP) reading for the CS Principles course in Kansas City, part of a few hundred readers that evaluate the performance tasks submitted by students. It’s an incredible experience in many ways!

For those new to the CS Principles course, it is a breadth-first introduction to computer science emphasizing creativity and collaboration across topics like data, the internet, and the impact of technology in addition to programming. With a goal of increasing access to and success in computer science for underrepresented students, the course is an engaging introduction to computing that reached almost 75,000 students in the 2017-18 academic year.

But 75,000 students means 150,000 performance tasks to grade! Each student submits a programming project and write-up, the Create performance task, and a computational artifact and write-up on a computing innovation, the Explore performance task. Along with 100+ readers in Kansas City and hundreds more grading tasks at home, we’ve been able to see the incredible impact this course has had on students.

The AP reading process includes training on student samples so that readers can grade the tasks using a rubric as consistently as possible. After that, the readers grade…and grade…and grade some more. We’re here in Kansas City grading performance tasks 8 hours a day – which can be grueling! – and then there are speakers and professional development options in the evening. But the readers are all very positive, excited about the work they see from students, and they play a key role in what makes this course a success.

As a college professor, I used to think grading was the worst part of teaching. However, this is different. There is a lot of value for someone who teaches the course in seeing the fine details of how the rubric is applied, common student misconceptions, and then using that knowledge to improve their instruction. And of course there’s the community. Where else besides the CSTA Annual Conference do you have the chance to connect with computer science teachers from across the country who are so passionate about bringing CS to all students?!

I leave Kansas City tomorrow in awe of the incredible work ethic as well as the care and consideration that teachers bring to the AP reading. The CS Principles course would not be the success it is without them.

Jennifer Rosato
Teacher Education Representative

Yes, It Really Is About K-12

Now that I’m retired (and busier than ever!), I often reflect on how I learned to love science and computing. Back then, then computing didn’t really exist – it was math. I remember a middle school math class where I had to figure out how to turn on and off red, yellow and green lights. That was probably my first programming experience but they called it logic. I remember other similar activities in middle school and high school such as when we acted out directions EXACTLY as someone had written. The thinking concisely and with order was great fun and challenging! I loved it before I went to college and through a variety of twists and turns in my academic life, I ended back at (now known as) computer science.

The recent exciting news of being able to visualize a black hole because of an algorithm developed by a team lead by computer scientist Katie Bouman has certainly captured my imagination. If you’ve had the chance to read more about Katie, she credits her love of computing from her high school experiences. In graduate school, she didn’t even know what a black hole was but once she got involved, she was hooked on figuring out how computing could capture all of the data and integrate this information from the many different telescopes to produce an image. “If you study things like computer science and electrical engineering, it’s not just building circuits in your lab,” she says. “You can go out to a telescope at 15,000 feet above sea level, and you can use those skills to do something that no one’s ever done before.” ( hole.html)

Encouraging more students to try computing is one of the reasons I volunteer my time working with CSTA. I believe it’s K-12 that guides us to identifying what we find challenging and rewarding. Another organization that I have worked with extensively is National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT). While their primary focus is on girls and women in computing, many of their resources are applicable and valuable to all. For the K-12 audience, they have whitepapers with research references, podcast that are appropriate for high school students, tool kits which can help you organize events, great information in language that
everyone can understand, etc.

Some favorites include:

Communicating Research-based Interventions to Change Agents– to support the use of evidence-based interventions by change leaders;

Top 10 Ways to Engage School Counselors as Allies in the Effort to Increase Student Access to Computer Science Education and Careers – School counselors are eager to direct students to viable education and career opportunities. Consider these key points for collaboration as you
plan to meet with counselors to discuss ways their professional responsibilities align with your goals to increase student access to computing;

Computer Science Professional Development Guide – this computer science (CS) Guide not only empowers teachers, but also inspires students;

Computer Science-in-a-Box: Unplug Your Curriculum (2018 Update) – Computer Science-in-a- Box: Unplug Your Curriculum introduces fundamental building blocks of computer science — without using computers. Use it with students ages 9 to 14 to teach lessons about how
computers work, while addressing critical mathematics and science concepts such as number systems, algorithms, and manipulating variables and logic.

There are many many more resources of all forms that target the many facets of the K-12 world. The NCWIT website ( has an easily searchable K-12 resource section. Take some time and take a look. I’ll bet you’ll find some interesting things.

We are lucky to be living in a time where computing plays such an important role in our daily lives. We’re even luckier to be able to help student learn just how cool computing can be!

A Celebration of Arkansas Giants in Computer Science

In the past, I have typically used my blog space as a Computer Science Teachers Association (CSTA) Board Member as a place to advance policy or focus on initiative ideas. With this blog I will focus on the main purpose of CSTA, supporting computer science educators. On December 6, 2018 as part of the 2018 CS Education Week Announcements, Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced the creation of the Arkansas Computer Science Educator of the Year (CS-EOY) Award. During the planning and development of this award, we wanted this award to be on-par with the state’s Teacher of the Year award in terms of prestige and recognition.

My office launched the application request system on February 4, 2019 and over the next month we received 30 completed applications. The state’s #CSforAR / #ARKidsCanCode Computer Science Specialists, Jim Furniss, Tammy Glass, Kelly Griffin, Lori Kagebein, Eli McRae, Jigish Patel, Leslie Savell, and Zack Spink, under my facilitation completed the first level review. This review process, which focused on the overall quality of applications, each of which included a resume, letters of recommendation, and an applicant selected artifact; the applicant’s vision for and understanding of the value of computer science education for the current and future generations of Arkansas students; the applicant’s understanding of how their implementation of computer science education exemplifies quality teaching; and the applicant’s current and long-term impact on computer science education locally, statewide, and nationally, resulted in the selection of the five CS-EOY State Finalists:

  • Carl Frank; Computer Science Teacher – Arkansas School for Mathematics, Sciences, and the Arts; Hot Springs, AR
  • Josefina Perez; Business/Computer Science Teacher – Springdale High School; Springdale, AR
  • Brenda Qualls; Computer Science Teacher – Bryant High School; Bryant, AR
  • Kimberly Raup; Computer Science Teacher – Conway High School; Conway, AR
  • Karma Turner; Computer Science Teacher – Lake Hamilton High School; Pearcy, AR

Many of you probably recognize these names, as they have been significant members of the CSTA and greater computer science education community for some time both in Arkansas and nationally.

The second round review focused on the same criteria and was conducted by Anthony Owen, Arkansas State Director of Computer Science Education; Don Benton, ADE Assistant Commissioner of Technology;  G.B. Cazes, Metova Executive Vice President; Jake Baskin, Executive Director of Computer Science Teachers Association; Dr. Sarah Moore, Arkansas State Board of Education; and Sheila Boyington, Thinking Media/Learning Blade President/CEO.

On Thursday, May 2, 2019, Gov. Hutchinson held a press conference to recognize the work and selection of these five finalists. In addition, Gov. Hutchinson recognized Ms. Karma Turner as the 2018-2019 Arkansas Computer Science Educator of the Year. During the press conference, each of the finalists received $2,500 and recognition plaque. Ms. Turner received an additional $12,500 and a 2019 Computer Science Educator of the year trophy from Gov. Hutchinson. These awards were provided through funding from the ADE Office of Computer Science, which is a Special Project Unit formed to implement Gov. Hutchinson’s visionary Computer Science Education initiative. Arkansas is recognized nationally and internationally as leading the computer science for all education movement through Gov. Hutchinson’s #CSforAR / #ARKidsCanCode initiative.

For additional information:

Karma Turner’s NCWIT Aspirations in Computing biography may be read at

The Computer Science Educator of the Year award was announced by Gov. Hutchinson on December 6, 2018 as part of the 2018 CS Education Week Announcements:

The application process was announced by ADE Commissioner’s Memo on February 4, 2019, at

Anthony A. Owen
State Department Representative

Teacher, Facilitator or Guide?

These past weeks I have been thinking about how Computer Science education and the way to teach it has evolved. I have been a teacher for about 19 years now, and most of the time my students make the most interesting questions that get me thinking and researching about certain topics. That is how this blog was conceived. I am currently teaching my 9th graders how to work with BBC Microbits. (By the way, Microbits are awesome!) To introduce them I start giving them instructions that are very detailed about how the Microbits work and to get acquainted with the Make Code interface. When I say detailed, it is very detailed. I give them a step by step guide including screenshots of where to find the necessary blocks, how to save, download the program and upload it to the Microbit. How to use the Microbit simulator included in the Make code interface. Once we do several projects in which we learn how to make the Microbit sing, how to work with the LED screen and how to connect alligator clips, I assign a project in which they have to come up with a character and incorporate the Microbit as part of it adding at least 2 actions with it. That’s when it all goes south!!!!

Many kids seem lost. It’s like they have never used a Microbit before. That got me thinking. When I started learning programming, I learned using Pascal with a green and black screen and all programming was text based. It was hard!!! But I also remember a professor telling us that if we learn the hard way then after any programming language should not be as hard to learn as we had the base and logic to programming. At the time I really hated that comment as any student would’ve but today as a teacher I wonder if I am up to something here. Am I, as a teacher, allowing my students to really think on their own? To really grasp the logic of creating a program. Or are they just little robots following my instructions?

I decided to analyze the progression of my students to get to ninth grade Computer Science. Throughout their early years we want to engage them and get them to like and be interested in Computer Science and all the possibilities they have with it. As we introduce them to all the wonderful things that we can achieve with Computer Science, we look for tools that are engaging and fun. Many companies have helped produce such introductory tools, which make it so easy for kids to learn that they start enjoying programming. However, they get so used to it that then the progression to more complex programming seems harder. Emphasis on “seems”. Making the transition from block programming to text programming is set by many of these tools, including the Microbit. The Microbit can be programmed using blocks, JavaScript or Python so that is covered. But there is an element that only teachers can do and it is to facilitate the transition between just giving guidelines that are so specific that it seems students are only copying a program while truncating their creativity and promoting the ability to create and discover on their own or by giving a task for them to solve on their own. I realize that although I am teaching Computational Thinking skills my kids are used to getting very specific instructions for programming. This is not bad it’s just that the transition is not as seamless as it seems. So how should the transition take place? I believe a good starting point is to be cutting on the screenshots on the instructions guide and limit them to the instructional part of the lesson, by going through the steps with them and let them take their own notes. Then when a project is assigned, they can take a look back at their notes as a reference. Another tip is to include videos as additional help but getting away from giving too detailed step by step instructions starting in the Middle School area so that when presented with these kinds of projects in High School, they have a base on how to solve them. Let the instructions be a guide and not a solved problem for them to copy.

Michelle Lagos
Representative at Large

Announcing the 2019 CSTA / Infosys Foundation USA Teaching Excellence Awards

  • “For years I never thought I was good enough”
  • “I wonder…am I doing this right”

These are quotes from our 2018 CSTA / Infosys Foundation USA teaching excellence award winners. A group of teachers that have not only made an outstanding impact within their own classrooms but also started new district wide programs; built engaging, strident led, inter-school partnerships; and lead the team revising the AP CS A exam! The truth is that even the most effective teachers find themselves facing doubt. Teaching is a HARD job, especially as a computer science teacher.

CSTA is here to make sure we take time to recognize the amazing work that’s happening in computer science classrooms across the country. This week we launched the application for the 2019 CSTA / Infosys Foundation USA Teaching Excellence Award with a few updates:

  • The application is split into two parts, making it easier to apply, and only requiring additional steps, like letters of recommendation after an initial review. We hope this will encourage more teachers to apply before that self doubt we all have creeps in.
  • We’ve doubled the number of awards, because there are so many outstanding teachers and we want to acknowledge them all.  Starting this year there will be five winning teachers and five honorable mentions.
  • You can now nominate a great teacher, encouraging them to complete the application and letting them know that you think they are an excellent computer science teacher.

The first round of the application is open through April 14 and shouldn’t take more than 45 minutes to complete. For more information and to apply now visit the award page.

Jake Baskin
Executive Director CSTA

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, 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 (  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