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.

CSTA High School Survey Results Are In

The Research Committee has been analyzing the High School survey results from May and below are some of the highlights. A detailed Summary of Results is available on our website.

  • 51% of the survey respondents have computer science teaching experience of 15 years or more
  • 45% of the teachers reported that computer science courses make up 50-75% of their teaching load.
  • 66% of the teachers reported that they are offering a CS principals course
  • 79% of the teachers reported that they offer the APCS A course.
  • 68% of those who offer APCS A course reported that half of their course enrollment are female, and between 20-40% are underrepresented minorities.
  • Majority of the teachers (68%) also reported that CS enrollment has increased in the past 3 years

These statistics are encouraging for the outlook of CS education and what is going on in the High Schools at this time. However, this data is self-reported and we need to examine ways to triangulate the numbers, especially the APCS-A enrollment numbers. We encourage you to view the full summary.

The Research Committee,

Stephanie Hoeppner & Aman Yadav

What are you doing this year?

What are you doing this year?

At the start of the year all educators like to refresh materials, think about what else we could use to teach our content and figure out new ways to engage and challenge our students. We do this to “turn on a light” in a student. We can all think back to that teacher who was the reason we looked forward to the school day, the teacher who made us smile, connected with us, and made us want to learn more. As this year starts I challenge you to be “that teacher” for your students. Be the teacher who teaches differently and diversely. Grow yourself by learning different pedagogy and methodology that can lead to more enriched classes and better student achievement.

So all this sounds great but you are thinking – HOW do I do all of that and do everything else my school requires me to do?  My answer – by connecting with other CS educators.  Teachers who do the best normally have a cohort of other teachers they work with, bounce ideas off of, and work through problems with. Teachers are not islands and sharing strategies allows us to become better teachers. CSTA is your best resource for finding a cohort or a connection of other CS educators.

Did you get some great ideas at the CSTA Annual Conference this summer and meet new people? If so, email them and ask what they are teaching and doing. Offer to share projects and ideas. If you missed the conference or want a refresher on what you saw check the CSTA Conference page for the presenters material. Past years are already available and the 2015 will be available soon. Presenters are always willing to answer questions and help you if you are trying something they presented.

Are you looking for people who are near you or a group of CS teachers to work with? There may be people in your area you can collaborate with. Check out the Chapters page. Or are you just looking for other resources right now? You can check out the Podcasts page, the CSTA Voice pagePD Videos page, or search through the blog for posts you may have missed.  All of the authors and/or presenters are approachable and are willing to connect with other CS educators.

So this year make it your goal to grow yourself, try something new and engaging, make connections with other CS educators, and most importantly do all of this to turn on the lights in your students. Show them the wonderment of CS and be the reason they want to come to school.

Stephanie Hoeppner

CSTA Board Representative

End of year thoughts

Its that time of year for end-of-year projects, crazy state testing schedules (in Ohio at least) and other random activities. As an end-of-year project, many of us assign open ended projects so our students can demonstrate their knowledge, do something that interests them, and to stretch their minds. This year I have a very eclectic group of programming students and have been surprised many times by their interests and abilities. This end-of- year project is no exception.

What I have learned is that they are stretching my brain in the process of stretching theirs.  I have spent more time sitting next to students analyzing a problem, discussing possible solutions, teaching them a particular construct that they need that maybe we haven’t covered, and loving every minute of it. I have been busier than normal with questions and they are not slowing down.

This project had a component in it that previously failed with another class. However, I think it is what has pushed this group to envision possibilities. In the students project plan I had them give me four different variations of the program they could do – “something that works”, “average program”, “extras included”, and “the sky is the limit program”.  This group really thought about what they would do to have something working and then many different possibilities of the other versions. Most of the students are shooting for the sky and I am thrilled to watch them. Unfortunately, with time constraints, many will end up in the “extra” version of their program but even that will far exceed my expectations.

This class of students has reminded me of the old saying about if you have high expectations the students will rise to the occasion; however, in this case the students have the high expectations and are working hard to not let themselves down. These past couple of weeks have reminded me of why I am a computer science teacher and just how exciting CS can be when “the sky is the limit”.

Advocating the “Coolness” of CS

Quick – what is one “cool thing” about computer science? Hopefully several thought flooded your brain and you probably had trouble deciding what one thing you would reply with. I would assume that would be the case with most CS Educators and supporters; however, what would your students say?

It is scheduling time at our high school and students are making decisions about what courses to take and why. When a student looks that the computer science offerings what comes to their minds? What message have you gotten out to the students? Do they think it is cool? Important? Necessary for future? Fun?

We send messages to all students in our classes and I think we need to be purposeful about those messages sometimes. Over the past month I have reiterated how cool computer science is in my programming class by promoting “there is no one right answer – you can solve problems how your brain works and thinks”. My programming class had an ah ha moment when we were working on a program and I showed a couple different ways it had been completed and that both ways worked. For my part I did mention that as you learned more there may be better solutions in term of speed, efficiency, etc. but that right now I just wanted them to solve problems how they saw them.

A couple days ago we were removing an object (a car) that got to the edge of the screen (a frogger simulation game). We discussed a removeObject method and how you would go about using it and they all were happy they could now remove the pile up occurring on the side of their screen. I stopped them though and said….there is another way of doing this – maybe better or maybe not – but it is how I saw the program for the first time. Then I began to explain I wouldn’t remove the cars. I would reset their location on the screen and reuse them as if they spawned on the other side. Because of that I also would not continually create new cars, instead I would create a set number and kept reusing them. I said that is how my brain envisioned the game the first time I saw the program. There were some nods of understanding and then I said “but that is the beauty of programming, I could do it that way and others could remove cars but we would all still have a working frogger style game.”

I think we need to remind students why CS is awesome, why we love CS, and I think it is important we share how we view solutions especially when they may not be the most common way. It makes other students more comfortable to solve something the way they see it. Then maybe they tell their friends “Computer Science is cool. I can solve problems the way my brain thinks.”

Top Secret Rosies: The Female Computers of WWII

I showed the film Top Secret Rosies: The Female Computers of WWII in 3 of my classes for CS Ed Week (although it was a different week due to exams – such the life of education).  I had heard good things about the film from several other computer science teachers and thought it would be a great history/cs topic.   I also found the website very helpful for resources including a study guide and other reference links.  But enough about my decisions, it is the reactions to the film from my students that made this such a worthwhile experience.

The most profound remark occurred while the film was discussing how the women did not get credit for their work and it was showing how a picture was cropped so that it was just the man with the machine and not the women.  One of my male students remarked out loud “that’s not fair!”  I think he startled himself just as much as some around him because it was an impromptu emotional reaction. After the film this led to several comments about how none of them knew women did so much and why no one else knows about this.
During the film the students had questions to to fill out as well as opinions questions to answer.  Here are some of the best comments:
“I don’t get why they stopped and had a family instead of staying in computers”

“Why didn’t they stay in computers if they were doing well?”
“I think it is weird only one stayed in computers”
“Did men take back over all the jobs when the war was over?”

“I didn’t know women started all the programming”
“I think it would be hard to know your calculations killed people”
“Its cool that computers used to be knobs and levers.”
“I didn’t know computers was a name for people”
As you can see many students were surprised and actually upset that the women left computing for family and other opportunities.  The students collectively felt if the women started the job and were doing well then they should have stayed with it.  Some of them were also struck by the concept that what the women were doing with the calculations led to people being killed in the war.  This actually opened up a great conversation about understanding the consequences of your work and actions.  We discussed that people can have a far reaching effect when they are programming and it can be anything from bombs dropping to corporations making money, etc.  There were several other conversations centered around beginning computing, the people, the machines, and how different it is today.  Overall I would say this film had a much further impact that I would have thought.  The students learned history that included the women “computers” and also learned about the impact of war, computing, and jobs during that time period.
If you haven’t used this in your classes I would highly suggest it and my best advice would to not preface the film and just let them come to understandings and realizations on their own.  You might just be surprised what they say!

Speak Up: Do Your Part to Support CS Education and Educators

With people starting to make plans for CS Ed Week and the recent spotlight on making CS count for graduation I think it is important to remember the needs of the teachers. In order for CS to count and for there to be CS ED Week activities you need to have teachers who are teaching CS and/or who are raising awareness for it. You also need K-8 teachers who are given the freedom to incorporate CS into their elementary and middle grades curriculum. You need teachers.

While we need teachers, the teachers need the administration and the local, state, and national governance boards to recognize certifications, preparatory programs, and many other form of professional development for CS. Until CS teachers are recognized and supported as other content areas are, we will run the gamut of types of CS programs in our schools from full curriculum to nothing.

We have made much headway with CS but we still need stronger support through certifications and legislation. I think that sometimes we need to better educate ourselves of the landscape of CS and use successes to our advantage. For example, Ohio has had a computer science certification for many years. I have been teaching for 16 years and it was in place way before me. Others could use the example of our certification as a starting point for conversation with their state education boards. It is completely plausible to ask your state why Ohio recognizes CS certification, has for a long time, and yours does not. Okay so it may not be that easy but you never know. Last year CSTA put out a document that took a look at all of the states, what they recognize, and information about CS. It was called Bugs in the System:Computer Science Teacher Certification in the U.S. and is a fantastic resource if you are trying to raise CS awareness in your state.

So maybe you are thinking that you are not in a position to talk to your state education board and that is fine. However, with resources from other states you can also go to your local administration and board and propose that you start CS or improve your CS offerings. Use the states around you with CS certifications or programs as a selling point. If the states near you are doing something, you can propose that your school get ahead of the rest of your state and begin a CS program/ increase your program. The idea of being “first” at offering something or getting ahead of other places appeals to many schools.

I think as we approach CS ED Week we need to take a look around us at what is going on in classrooms and states around the nation. Even look at other countries and the CS curriculum they are creating. Use this information to show someone, whether local or on a bigger stage, that CS is happening, it is on the move, and it will be a part of our futures. How fast it becomes a part of our schools’ future depends largely on us. It depends on our passion, our resources, and how many people we can reach.

So spend some time on the CSTA website and find some resources that you can use as you are planning events and talking to your administration. There is a whole organization (CSTA) supporting you and standing with you as you advocate for CS.

Good LUCK!

What do you want your students to know?

As I was rethinking some of my courses and the approach to take with my students this year I thought about why I want them to take my classes. While I had lots of great philosophical answers and typical CS catch phrases, I kept coming back to I want them to know how to think and to have fun. Those really are two of my core beliefs as I look at lessons and assignments. I want them to be in awe of what computer science is and what it can do. I want them to be excited. I want it to change the way they think about things. I love the #3 reason in the article Six Reasons Why Studying CS is Worth It. I laughed when I read it because I break everything down in my mind as well. This is what I want my students to do. Do I want them to major in CS? – sure that would be fantastic but if they don’t, I want them to think like a computer scientist and I want them to know that solving problems can be exciting and fun.

So what do you want your students to do with computer science? Is it different for different courses? Do you find that you focus solely on programming or do you encourage them to think about other perspectives of computer science? Here are some resources* I use to broaden my students thinking and how they should look at computer science in the world around them.

  • Blown to Bits – I use different chapters in different classes. I use this to also fulfill my districts reading and writing across the curriculum requirement.
  • Videos of CS from University of Washington – I use the Pathways in computer science to dispel the concept of CS people sitting behind a computer in a cubicle.
  • Luis Von Ahn – I don’t have a specific link because there is so much out there. In one of my classes we start talking about captchas and I let the students complain about them and how sometimes they can’t read them, etc and then I tell them about what really is going on and show them a talk he gave about it. We then talk about computer scientist are people who can solve larger problems. Again this is not the stereotypical geek image of CS and they see what it is doing. I also go on to show them Duolingo and the students are amazed.
  • – of course I also use the viral video that shows famous people talking about code but I only use this when we are specifically coding as I want my students to understand the multiple facets of computer science.
  • CSTA Resources – There also are several great videos and resources from our own CSTA website. There are posters and past those link are videos and resources about careers in CS.

Many of these resources still point students to a career in CS and above I claimed I know they all will not. What I think these resources do is show how problem solving, computational thinking, and aspects of computer science are different than what my students believe them to be. I think some students do not want to go into CS because they have a misconception of what it really is. So yes I love CS, I love teaching, but most of all I want my students to see the excitement and wonder of the world through the lens of CS and how the skills they learn could aid them in anything they chose to do.
(* There are many resources out there and I am only listing ones I frequently use – feel free to comment below this blog with your own resources)

Stephanie Hoeppner
9-12 Representative

To Conference or Not to Conference

To Conference or Not To Conference–that’s not even a question! Of course you want to conference. I am of course referring to the annual CSTA Conference. This year we were in St. Charles, Illinois, at the wonderful Pheasant Run Resort. The attendance was larger this year than in the past and the energy and networking that occurred was great.

So why should you be here? Let me give a few examples of things I experienced and heard:

– At lunch several tables had people sitting and meeting for the first time. I heard people sharing what they had attended in the morning, what they learned, and how they could use it. This benefited the whole table since several were in different workshops. Beyond the workshops they also began sharing experiences from their own classrooms and districts and were able to find commonalities and share ideas.

– In an afternoon workshop the presenter referenced a workshop he had attending that morning and mentioned how something from it fit well with what he was doing. Wow, a presenter learning something in morning and applying that to his information! This allowed for a few comments and discussion among the attendees and it showed how learning connections can be made.

– There was a fantastic Monday night reception at one of the locations of Universal Technical Institute (UTI) with a tour of the facility, great food, and a special 10 Year CSTA Anniversary presentation.

– Tuesday had two fantastic keynotes, with thought provoking presentations that left attendees with conversation topics throughout the remainder of the day. There were also a host of sessions as well as new mini sessions where three small presentations were presented in one time slot. Also new was a vendor specific area that allowed for conversations about new curriculum options, technology to support teaching, and organizations that had resources to support computer science education.

– Lunch on Tuesday again brought a different mix of people to the tables to talk about different topics. The table I was at was comparing and contrasting different programming environments, how different teachers used them, and the age appropriateness of the environments. It was a great sharing of teaching experiences.

– I also saw many different people introducing colleagues to other attendees they met and felt could benefit from talking together. I was introduced as well to someone new from my state that I am going to be able to share information with and hopefully add to our Ohio Chapter. Meeting new people and making connections is one of the best benefits of the conference.

These are just some of the tidbits from the conference and I am sure there are many more. So if you are looking for ideas, connections, pedagogy, curriculum talks, and much much more, grab your boots and your ten gallon hat and mosey on down to next years conference. (Can you guess where?)

Stephanie Hoeppner
9-12 Representative, CSTA Board of Directors


Do Your Students Still Surprise You?

As my year concluded I was reflecting on the students, my courses, and the changes I need to make for next year. I was thinking about what students surprised me and which I thought could have done more. That led to me thinking about why some students surprise me. What was it that gave me the impression that they may not do well or like computer science? Mostly the answer was lack of response on the students part or their demeanor in the classroom; however, as the class went on their spirit and their faces lifted. That proverbial “light bulb” turning on is what surprised me in some.

So why would these students surprise me? I was making an assumption that when they walked in my room the attitude or lack there of that they gave me was accurate. I took their first reaction as an true representation and it was a bias of a different sort on my part. It was not a gender, ethnic, privileged, etc bias it was simply a bias based on what they gave me the first few days of class.

While I am excited and completely tuned into computer science I forgot that my students are not initially that way. I forgot that they are used to typical classes and have a preconceived notion what will occur in a classroom when they walk in. I live in my own little world of CS bliss and forgot that not everyone else does ( What? Not everyone else does? Crazy, I know!).

The good thing is that I proceed full steam ahead in my bliss and most if not all students jump on board somewhere along the way. My class plays with toys, makes things, tries new things, eats worms (gummy ones that is, for a project), and many other non-typical classroom activities. This is when the light bulb comes on for some and the students “surprise me”.

So this fall I vow to not believe the opinions and attitudes of the students. I vow to believe that all students love CS and it just has not manifested itself on their faces yet. I vow to excite and challenge them all and expect great things out of them. While this may sound a little fairy-tale-ish, I don’t want to judge any student as I fear it may subconsciously affect how I deal with them. In my reflecting I do not feel there was anything really different in my teaching but I want to look at my students differently and I want to look at them in such as way that they do not surprise me if they do well or really get into what we are doing.

So I challenge you to think about how you look at your students when they come in to your room this fall. What do you believe of them, what do you want from them, and will you make them play, stretch their minds, and just expect that the light bulb comes on?

Stephanie Hoeppner
9-12 Rep