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 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

Three student videos that you do not want to miss!

Most of you have probably seen the results of our latest Faces of Computing video competition themed around Computing for the Common Good, and I’m sure you’ll agree that the winning entries delivered powerful messages. The High School division brought in some really outstanding projects and it was a tough decision for the committee to make. Despite the fact that they didn’t make the prize, these two videos are winning material and definitely deserve special mention.

Camille Burke of Oak Knoll School in Summit, NJ held a brainstorming session with her class before they divided into groups to make their videos. The students then generated their own ideas and created a storyboard and script. Each group designated specific tasks to specific students (Director, Videographer, Actor, Film Editor etc.). In the process of making the video, her students learned how important technology really is and how big an impact it has on our lives: “Our storyline was inspired by our school and the huge part technology plays in the atmosphere. But it’s not just about learning or having fun; technology can be used to help others. Our school emphasizes the importance of service and we wanted to convey this message to others around the world.”

The end result is a fast-paced video that vibrantly demonstrates a multitude of ways in which computing has made a valuable difference in their lives.

On the other side of the US, Catherine Wyman from Xavier College Preparatory in Phoenix Arizona says the theme of “computing for the common good” was a natural fit, as the school continually focuses on service. Her students were inspired by the “Draw my Life” videos on YouTube and learned how to create the whiteboard animation by trial and error: “after planning the pictures we had to engineer a tripod – using a biology textbook, rubber bands and tape! – to keep the camera steady while filming. Then it was edit, edit, edit till we got it right. It was a challenge, but also a lot of fun. We really enjoyed the opportunity to be creative”.

Watch the video and learn how computer-programmed ICDs have saved the lives of thousands of people.

Finally, I couldn’t help sharing this video with the Advocate readers: the winners of the Elementary division send a special message to CSTA members around the world!

Congratulations to all the teachers and students who sent in their entries, thank you for showing us how your communities use computing to make the world a better place… and keep up the amazing work!

Mina Theofilatou
CSTA International Representative
Kefalonia, Greece

Artificial Intelligence, Art and Collaboration: Interview with Dr. Kenneth Stanley, UCF

As Computer Science teachers, we can all testify that we have spent hours developing our “hard skills” and using them in the classroom and beyond. Chances are a STEM professional will have been nurtured on computational thinking, mathematics, science and the like, often neglecting the importance of communication, social grace, friendliness and other EQ-related traits. Lately however there’s been a lot of talk about the importance of “soft skills” in the new workplace and “collaboration” is the new keyword in STEM circles. The title of this New York Times article by Claire Cain Miller “Why What You Learn in Preschool Is Crucial at Work” may seem perplexing at first glance; however the reader will soon realize that the fundamental social skills we learn in our early years are equally as important in landing a fulfilling job as our technical expertise. Says Miller: It’s the jobs that combine technical and interpersonal skills that are booming, like being a computer scientist working on a group project.”

A short while after reading the NY Times article, I stumbled upon an interesting video that reverberated the same concept: the talk is titled “Why Greatness Cannot be Planned” and was delivered by Kenneth Stanley last month in the context of the “Collaboration and the Workplace of the Future” summit in Washington DC. Stanley is an Associate Professor of Computer Science at the University of Central Florida and one of the creators of Picbreeder, an online collaborative art application that allows pictures to be “bred” almost like animals. I asked Dr. Stanley if he would be willing to be interviewed by e-mail for the CSTA International Community… here’s what he had to say:

Dr. Stanley, I am the International Representative of CSTA, an Association of Computer Science Teachers from all over the world. We’re a diverse community, and we’re looking for ways to build bridges of communication. Is diversity an asset or an obstacle when it comes to collaboration?

Thank you Mina for the opportunity to address the CSTA. I think most professionals would agree that diversity is an asset and I certainly count among them, but the interesting issue is why diversity is so important in particular in creative endeavors. What we’ve found in our research is that a critical component of a successful creative system is its ability to cultivate diverse stepping stones. By stepping stones I mean ideas that lead to other ideas. Creativity in a collaborative group tends to break down or converge prematurely when for example only the stepping stones approved by the leaders or through consensus are brought up for consideration. That premature convergence happens because there are not enough jumping off points to allow the group genuinely to explore the space of possibilities. Unfortunately, as a culture we often strait jacket innovation through just such consensus-driven processes, leading to less creative exploration.

In any case, an important corollary to the insight that diverse stepping stones foster innovation is that of course diverse people are the most likely to generate diverse stepping stones. And that’s a good thing, because the divergence of ideas in a diverse group means that the possible avenues for exploration multiply and expand. So while you may decide individually to pursue a line of inquiry that I never would, in the end your pursuit is good for both of us because your idea could be the stepping stone to my next major discovery. In that way, it’s a good thing that you and I are different because it allows us to lay stepping stones that neither of us would have respectively encountered without such diversity.

(By the way, the research I cited is disclosed in our new book by the same name as the talk you mentioned, Why Greatness Cannot Be Planned: The Myth of the Objective, which is available online at or

I had never heard of Picbreeder before, and I was really excited to see an application that applies Artificial Intelligence algorithms to such a universal theme as art. Have you witnessed collaboration patterns developing among users of the site? 

We have indeed gained some deep and interesting insights about collaboration from seeing how users behave on Picbreeder. One of the most interesting is that it is important to protect individuals in a collaborative setting so that they can follow their own radical intuitions for a significant time without interference from the group. That is, the most successful collaborations on Picbreeder result from chains of users who individually pursue their own directions eventually to hand off whatever they discover to the next user in the chain. In other words, even in a collaborative setting, periods of individual autonomy play a critical role.

Another insight from Picbreeder is that people almost always benefit from the discoveries of other people quite different from themselves (which ties back to the diversity issue).   For example, someone on Picbreeder bred an image that looks like an alien face, which I personally later bred into a car. Interestingly, I would never have bred the alien face myself, but somehow the car I did breed only became possible because someone else bred the alien face. So in aggregate collaboration is feeding effectively off the collective sharing of stepping stones among many diverse users.

I believe you will be happy to learn that CSTA has a chapter in Florida… and I’m sure you know UCF hosts an annual High School Programming Tournament. What lessons can we learn from the collaboration between K-12 and higher education institutes for the future generation of computer scientists and tech professionals? 

It’s nice to hear of CSTA’s Florida chapter. This is a big question with many possible answers. I think effective teaching at the K-12 level often involves inspiring passion for a subject in the students. That is, it’s a lot easier to learn when you care about the subject matter.   In that spirit, the cutting edge research that happens in higher education can serve as an inspiration for younger students that demonstrates to them just how exciting a particular subject can become down the line. Picbreeder, which packages some pretty advanced technology into an intuitive and entertaining visual form, is an example of how it’s possible to present the cutting edge in a way beginners can appreciate.

On the other hand, the unbounded curiosity and yet-to-be-indoctrinated thinking of K-12 students can also push those in higher grades in new directions. I have the pleasure right now of hosting a 12th-grade participant in one of my lab’s projects. His questions are sometimes so surprising and unanticipated that they pull us back to confronting basic assumptions that we long forgot we had. In that sense, I think the undergraduate and Ph.D. students in my lab are learning perhaps as much from him as he is from them. K-12 students remind those of us long lost in the esoteric details of advanced fields why we were originally inspired to engage those fields in the first place.

Many thanks to Dr. Stanley for the inspiring interview… interestingly enough, even though the original purpose of this post was to reach out to our International Community, I believe his insightful comments touch base with anyone seeking ways to blend a tech-oriented background with the social skills so crucial for collaborating in diverse settings. It’s food for thought.

(which brings us to the next item on my international “agenda”: food! This video portrays a graduate from India who decided to pursue a computer science master’s degree in the USA… apart from the cutting-edge technology, he chose the country for its food! Like art, a topic as universal as food can only spur new opportunities for collaboration; we’ll explore them in my next post for the CSTA international committee).

Spotlight on the 2015 Faces of Computing Video Contest: How Does Computing Better our World?

Once again I find myself writing a blog post in a hospital setting and I can’t help but marvel at the wonders of computing technology; over the past week my dad has undergone exhaustive pre-op screening to determine whether he will withstand the vascular surgery he needs. Many of these tests were performed using computer aided technologies such as CT scanning and ultrasonography, and so far the results are encouraging.   

The timing is also perfect to write about our exciting new video competition: last year our Faces of Computing theme brought in a wide range of multimedia productions from schools all over the world, and it was quite a task to decide on the winning entries. This year we’ve decided to narrow the theme to “Computing for the Common Good,” in an effort to illuminate aspects of computing that are often overlooked by the younger generation. Sure, gaming and social media are a big part of our lives, and they involve a great deal of coding to create and maintain; it’s time however we gave some thought to all of the benefits society and mankind are gaining from the age of computing.

Teachers, help prepare the future generation of socially aware citizens by discussing the challenges of 21st century society and inspiring your students to seek solutions. Be it the advent of computer-aided medicine and biotechnology, volunteers crowdsourcing knowledge on the Wikimedia projects or crowdfunding donations for noble causes, robotics to the aid of disabled persons… there’s a multitude of applications that illustrate how computing is used as a tool to better our world. The entries we are looking for could resonate these tools. There may be youngsters who are involved in school communities who discuss social, gender and/or racial inclusion, or who are active in helping the recent international flow of refugees from war-ridden regions. Perhaps they could brainstorm a solution in their computer science class, and even develop it into an app (like the Neverlost group project: the page is now available in English). We’d love to see your ideas!

Entries should be submitted in the form of a video with a maximum duration of three minutes: see the competition guidelines for more information. Remember that the deadline for submitting your entry is November 7, 2015. So, get your creative juices flowing and show us how computing can play an important role in making the world a better place!

Mina Theofilatou

CSTA International Representative

Athens, Greece

This post is dedicated to the memory of my mother, who was always compassionate to those in need and an ardent supporter of positive change. Special thanks again to Dr. S. Matthaiou of Hippocrateio Hospital for helping me make the right decisions on my dad’s problem, and to Dr. N. Besias of the Hellenic Red Cross Hospital for taking good care of him and expediting the procedures.

We’d love to see more student-developed apps like NeverLost


A child goes for a walk in the nearby forest… all of a sudden she realizes that she has lost her way. How can she alert her guardian that she may be in danger, especially when she has a mental handicap? A challenging situation no doubt, calling for a practical solution… which came in the form of the “NeverLost” app, designed and coded by a group of students from four collaborating schools in Corfu, Greece.

As the website is in Greek only, I will attempt here to present an overview of their work.

The four schools met and got down to work on their first task: to roll out a plan. Here are the steps:

  • Investigate application requirements.
  • Carry out market research to explore the competition in apps designed for kids.
  • Design functions.
  • Delegate tasks to the individual schools.
  • Code app in App Inventor.
  • Design app in Photoshop.
  • Transfer design to App Inventor.
  • Publish app in Google Play Store.
  • Design and develop webpage.

Next they decided which school would be responsible for each stage of the plan; “Kato Korakiana Vocational High School” would work on the design of the app and the webpage, and Amfipagites Middle School, the 2nd General High School and the 4th General High School of Corfu would collaborate on developing the app and writing the code in App Inventor.

They concluded that the app should include six functions:

  • Make phone call (e.g. dad, mom, guardian)
  • Send message (e.g. dad, mom, guardian)
  • View your location on map
  • SMS your location (Latitude and Longitude coordinates)
  • SMS your location on map
  • Settings (assign phone number to receive calls and messages)

Finally, they decided that a short video would help explain the concept to potential users, so they filmed a “trailer” for their app.

The project was presented with great success at a Computer Science Teachers Conference in Northern Greece and received wide appraisal in the national press and the Internet. Μore information is available on their Facebook page or directly by email: scroll to the bottom of their webpage for details (I have checked that their admins are eager to answer questions and provide info in English).

We would really love to see more great projects like this: the students and teachers involved deserve all the credit in the world for their social awareness, teamwork abilities, app market savvy and  competitive design skills. Keep an eye out for this year’s video competition of the CSTA Equity Committee themed around Computing for the Common Good: dates and guidelines to be announced soon!

Mina Theofilatou
CSTA International Representative
Kefalonia, Greece



The Computer Scientist who Challenged the Nash Equilibrium

In November 2014, I was privileged to meet Constantinos Daskalakis, a Greek Computer Scientist and Associate Professor at MIT’s Electrical Engineering and Computer Science department. Daskalakis is best known for his work in the field of Game Theory, and his research on the Nash Equilibrium has earned him prestigious awards and an international reputation.

2014-11-18 11.54.32

Constantinos Daskalakis and Mina Theofilatou, November 2014

I had contacted Constantinos by e-mail earlier in 2014 regarding the awareness campaign Greek CS Teachers were running against the insane decision of the former Education Ministry’s administration to eliminate Computer Science from the National University Entry curriculum (read more about the problem here and about how it was resolved here) and, as one would expect, he was very supportive of our cause. When I wrote to him after booking my air travel for the CSTA November Board meeting – I had a 12-hour layover in Boston on the return leg, perfect for a visit to MIT! – he was willing to make some time in his hectic schedule to meet with me.

The meeting took place in his office at CSAIL in the Ray and Maria Stata Center; I had never been to Boston or MIT before so I followed the instructions he gave me (“it’s a crazy Frank Gehry building, you can’t miss it!,” he wrote). Our conversation naturally started with the situation in Greece, and inevitably ended with a discussion on the future for young computer scientists. I asked what he would advise exceptional students wishing to further their education at establishments such as MIT. He mentioned that what he is mostly looking for in Ph.D. applications is evidence of potential for ground-breaking research; that the clearest form of such evidence is prior research engagement; and that recommendation letters are crucial in assessing the student’s research potential.

That’s sound advice for those pursuing post-graduate studies, perhaps even an academic career. But what about Computer Science in Primary and Secondary Education? I asked Constantinos if he could write a few words about the importance of students having early exposure to computational thinking and computer science principles. Here is what he had to say:

“‘Information’ and ‘computation’ are just such fundamental concepts that there is no doubt they should be an integral part of primary and secondary education. All that takes place around us (or inside us) can be viewed as computing on information. Sometimes we want to process information efficiently—think Google trying to rank webpages. Other times we want to mine interesting information from vast amounts of raw information—think trying to identify chunks of the genome implicated in some disease. Sometimes we want to hide information—think cryptography. Other times we may want to release information while respecting privacy of individuals—think releasing medical data. Some other times, we want to incentivize individuals who have information to reveal that information to us…. And it is not just us trying to gain or operate on information. Biological, physical, and social processes are fundamentally computational, operating on information in some application-specific medium. Computer science principles can change one’s perspective on life, science, and society. Our educational system should teach that way of thinking early on.” 

And a summary of how his work has impacted international knowledge in computer science?

“My research studies the foundations of Economics from a computational standpoint. The starting point is that, besides sometimes being irrational, humans are definitely computationally bounded – in some sense, irrationality is a form of computational boundedness. So, studying economic behavior needs to incorporate computational thinking into economic thought. My research focuses at this interaction between Economics and Computation. One of my most celebrated results was showing that the Nash equilibrium – the crown jewel of prediction tools in Game Theory, defined by John Nash, the mathematician portrayed in “Beautiful Mind” – is computationally intractable. This means that, in complex interactions, it may take centuries of time before humans (even if they have access to super-computers to help them with their computation) behave as Nash equilibrium predicts. This casts doubt on how accurate the prediction ability of Nash equilibrium is, calling for better, computationally aware tools for predicting behavior. Research at the interface of Computation and Economics hopes to shed light on such issues of fundamental importance for understanding human behavior.”

A big thank you to Constantinos for providing valuable insight into the importance of Computer Science at all levels of education.

Mina Theofilatou, CSTA International Representative, Kefalonia, Greece

An extra reason for you to head south this July!

July is probably the most important month in the CSTA agenda: it is the time of year when computer science teachers from all over the world join to exchange ideas and practices while attending the premier professional development event tailored specifically to their needs.

This year, the CSTA Annual Conference will take place from July 12th to 14th in Grapevine, Texas; the lineup of workshops and presentations is so stimulating that many of us will have a hard time choosing which concurrent session to attend! But this year there’s an extra reason to head south, that many attendees may not be aware of: it so happens that this year the Annual Conference of Wikimedia* enthusiasts from all over the world will be held from July 15th to 19th in Mexico City, Mexico.

The conference is aptly named “Wikimania”: ask any long-time Wikimedia editor why and she’ll talk passionately about the values of the largest crowd-sourcing community in the world. I, for one, have been a Wikimedia editor since 2007 and most of my edits have been made in the context of school projects involving students of all ages in Grades 7-12. Over the course of nine school years to date, my classes have gained skills, knowledge, appreciation for teamwork and pride in contributing to five of the total fifteen Wikimedia projects in two different languages; it’s been an absolutely priceless experience, and every year it just gets better.

The Wikimania conference is annually held in a different place in the world since 2005.The conference program encompasses a number of tracks, which means there is always something fascinating going on no matter what your interests are: this year the first two days (15th-16th) will host a Hackathon (or DevCamp), followed by three days of workshops, presentations, quick meetings and much, much more. The tracks that educators will  be most interested in are, no doubt, Education and GLAM (that’s Galleries, Libraries, Archives and Museums)… and of course, computer science teachers and enthusiasts will be sure to enjoy the hackathon.

Each year the Wikimedia Foundation awards around 100 Wikimania scholarships to active members of the worldwide Wikimedia community to cover travel and accommodation expenses; I am proud to be one of the two Greek Wikimedians who earned a scholarship this year. So, why not join me as I head further South after Texas this July?

All in all, an exciting week of professional development, hacking, learning and sharing (not to mention, tequila parties!) lies ahead this summer… hope to see you in Texas and Mexico:)

More information about registration here (link should be active in a matter of days)… or just drop me a line and I’ll be glad to assist.

Read this post for more about how integrating Wikimedia projects into your classroom can enrich your students’ learning experience.

*Wikimedia is the “umbrella” Foundation for Wikipedia and it’s 15 sister projects.

Mina Theofilatou
CSTA International Representative
Kefalonia, Greece

Computing for the Common Good

In starting to write a long overdue blog post, my thoughts are inevitably on the reason it took me so long: my mother has been seriously ill since the beginning of the year. Throughout the past two months I have been consulting with doctors and medical specialists on a quest to find the best possible solution to her current symptoms, fully aware of the fact that her condition may soon become terminal.

I live on an island on the west coast of Greece; it may be one of the largest islands in the country but there are many shortcomings when it comes to healthcare. Although we do have a hospital, several departments (e.g. gastrointestinal), procedures (e.g. ERCP) and an Intensive Care Unit are missing.

Throughout the three years of my mom’s illness, I am more than certain that she wouldn’t have made it this far if it weren’t for computing. Hardware and software – scanner, digital camera, smartphone, imaging software, e-mail, cloud drives – have all been employed to transmit vital information to doctors in Athens so that they can make timely decisions on her treatment. Sometimes the necessary actions can be taken in Kefalonia – in which case ICT “takes over” to complete the feedback loop. Usually she needs to be transferred to Athens – seven endoscopic and one standard (this last one) surgical procedures plus intensive care, all dependent on cameras, probes, monitors etc. – plus a “fighter” attitude and she’s still here with us, with good quality of life for as long as humanly possible.

On a different note, the school project I am probably proudest of was completed by my students four years ago: amidst a severe humanitarian crisis in Greece we devised a system for distributing meals to the needy based on the concept that volunteers need only contribute a plate of food from their daily cooking. All the material needed to deploy the system in a community is available under a Creative Commons license at (in Greek. For an English summary featured in the European Year of Volunteering 2011 see here)

Now that smartphones and tablets are ubiquitous we may even develop an app for mobile users (anyone interested in furthering the project is free to do so: that’s what the CC Share Alike license is all about!)

The point I am trying to make in this post: all too often when we talk about teaching our students computing we naturally focus on computational thinking, coding classes, how to successfully pursue a career in computer science and technology… for students on the other hand, all too often computing means gaming, social media, entertainment and a profitable career. The videos I reviewed as a member of the Equity Committee in the recent “Faces of Computing” competition showed that this is the primary message our students are getting (though there were some brilliant exceptions!). Perhaps it’s time we encouraged our students to explore the wonderful prospects computing has unlocked in dealing with illness… in helping people in need… in fighting injustice. Perhaps it’s time to shine a spotlight on Computing for the Common Good.

This post was written in Ippokrateio General Hospital in Athens, Greece and is dedicated to its medical, nursing and administrative staff (especially Drs. A. Romanos and S. Matthaiou). In Greek “Ippokrateio” means “belonging to Hippocrates”… I am certain the “Father of Medicine” would be proud of them!

Mina Theofilatou, CSTA International Representative

The Wonderful World of Wikimedia

Let’s face it: Wikipedia may still be lacking in academic credibility, but that hasn’t stopped us from resorting to the world’s free online encyclopedia time and time again when we need quick facts on a new concept.

What many people don’t know is that Wikipedia is only one of a total of fifteen projects under the Wikimedia Foundation “umbrella,” and which absolutely anyone can edit. In learning communities, teachers and students are encouraged to introduce Wikipedia editing to the learning process: there are a number of Wikipedia Education Programs involving schools and universities all over the world, with impressive results.

But what’s in it for students? Being a Wikipedia editor offers students a multitude of benefits:

  • Writing a Wikipedia article helps students develop their skills in spelling, vocabulary and grammar.
  • Properly referencing a Wikipedia article can be challenging: citations are necessary for even the simplest of articles (known to the Wikipedia community as “stubs”). This means that students need to learn how to identify valid sources, undoubtedly a useful skill for essay-writing.
  • You don’t need an account to edit Wikipedia, but if you do open an account you will soon find that you are a member of an exciting, multicultural community that values learning and volunteering. Editors are not paid for their work; what drives them is their passion for sharing knowledge.
  • Assignments don’t end up merely taking up space on a school shelf or hard disk: on Wikipedia they are dynamic content that can be expanded, translated, enhanced with multimedia etc. in spiraling progress… they may even have a chance at being nominated as featured articles!
  • A Wikipedia editor can proudly share the content he has created on social media, or monitor the popularity of the article she started or edited by viewing its statistics page (click the “View History” tab of an article and then “Page View Statistics”). She may be surprised by how many people found the article useful!
  • And much, much more…

What’s in it, especially for Computer Science students?

  • Using Wiki markup is an excellent introductory “exercise” to learning HTML (so long as you don’t opt-in to the Visual Editor). HTML is also used in wikitext: see the special “how-to” article here.
  • Wikimedia Commons – the Wikimedia Foundation’s multimedia repository – is a perfect place for aspiring computer scientists to share photos and/or videos of computer hardware, source code etc. and enhance Computer Science articles by introducing links to their  files (provided they are willing to share their work under a proper license)
  • Girls interested in pursuing a career in Computer Science may be excited to find out that Wikipedia has an article titled “Women in Computing,” with ever-growing content that they can browse and edit. In fact, numerous Wikipedia “editathons” were held all over the world to celebrate Ada Lovelace day last year. Writing a new article (or expanding an existing one) on a notable woman computer scientist is a great way to draw inspiration and contribute to the available online knowledge on women in STEM.

I have been using Wikipedia and Wikimedia editing in the classroom since 2007, and my students have contributed to over 50 articles on Wikipedia and uploaded over 200 files to Commons. It is a rich experience, which earned us a significant distinction at a European STEM conference: “Why the High School Student Became a Wikipedia Editor” won first prize in the 1st Scientix poster competition in Brussels, Belgium. We have worked on Greek Wikipedia, started two galleries on Wikimedia Commons and this year we’re adding local dialect words to Greek Wiktionary. If you decide to enter the wonderful world of Wikimedia and need guidance/inspiration, don’t hesitate to visit my user page and drop me a line!

Mina Theofilatou
CSTA International Representative
Kefalonia, Greece

Promising news in European Computer Science Education

On Friday September 19th 2014 I was invited to attend an open panel discussion titled “The Need to Improve Computer Science Education in Europe” at the ACM-Europe Council Meeting in Athens, Greece. Unfortunately I was not able to attend the meeting in person, as the beginning of the school year is a very sensitive period for a second-chance learners’ school and being away for two days – it’s an 8-hour trip from my island to the capital – would upset the school program. I did however communicate with the distinguished panelists, and the chair of the panel Dame Wendy Hall offered to read out a statement I sent about Computer Science Education in Greece.

It’s no secret that the Greek government had downgraded Computer Science Education in the country’s High Schools by eliminating the rigorous course “Application Development in a Programming Environment” from the University Entry Exams, ironically in the context of a law named “New High School” that passed in September 2013. For the past year I have been advocating our issue internationally with the help of CSTA (Chris Stephenson wrote a post titled “Greece proposing giant step backward” in August 2013) and The Guardian (the popular UK newspaper published my article “Greece should be protecting coding lessons in school, not cutting them” in June). It seems that the international outcry against such a backward decision has shaken up the new Minister of Education and he has made important steps to remedy the situation: it has now been officially stated that the “New High-School law” will be amended to include Computer Programming in the Science/Technology orientation of the Entry Exams.

ACM-Europe members have eagerly embraced our cause and are following up in their efforts to ensure that the positive changes do indeed make their way to the Greek Parliament. But what’s even more exciting is their action plan for promoting CS Education in Europe:

  • The newly established Committee on European Computing Education (CECE) plans to map not only the current situations in European countries, but also the systems which develop curricula and teacher training and how to approach them.
  • A step in the direction of generating maximum influence, and which constitutes the second main goal of the CECE, is the development of a new European Computing Education conference.

ACM-Europe will be releasing a full report on the Athens meeting in due time. As CSTA’s International Representative – but also as a European Computer Science Teacher – I am enthusiastically looking forward to supporting ACM-E’s efforts and disseminating the outcome to the international Computing Education community.

Mina Theofilatou
CSTA International Representative
Kefalonia, Greece