Enough with the Lecturing, Already!

Findings from studies comparing lecturing to active learning in undergraduate education show that fewer students fail science, engineering and math courses that are taught in an active-learning style than with lectures. The study was reported on in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in May (summary here).

On average across all the studies, about one-third of students in traditional lecture classes failed (withdrew or got Fs or Ds). About one-fifth of the students fail in classes with active learning.

According to Scott Freeman, University of Washington, and lead author of the study, “If you have a course with 100 students signed up, about 34 fail if they get lectured to but only 22 fail if they do active learning, according to our analysis. There are hundreds of thousands of students taking STEM courses in U.S. colleges every year, so we’re talking about tens of thousands of students who could stay in STEM majors instead of flunking out every year.”
For me, the main take-away from this is: Traditional teaching styles can kill the excitement, joy, and passion for learning CS, and if they don’t love it, they won’t stay. Perhaps we can help fill the pipeline we have been crying about for years by merely changing teaching styles! While the study was on undergraduate students, I’d bet similar patterns could be found with high school students.

The good news is that there are many resources for adding more active learning into high school CS classrooms. Check out the latest on the CSTA website under “Curriculum” and “Resources.” See what’s being recommended in the Exploring CS (http://www.exploringcs.org/) and CS Principles (http://www.csprinciples.org) curriculum. And a quick scan of the Session Descriptions for the 2014 CSTA Annual Conference reveals that almost EVERY session is about adding excitement to the CS classroom with innovative programs and activities.

No excuses now….drop the lecture.
Pat Phillips
Editor, CSTA Voice

Moving From “CS for a Few” to “CS for All” to “CS For Each”

When I first joined CSTA almost a decade ago, computer science education was absent from most school districts. Rigorous computer science courses were often tucked away in the classrooms of exclusive private schools and affluent public schools. Even then, the myopic focus on programming languages attracted a very narrow and homogenous subset of students. Computer science education was for the very privileged few.
The past few years have revitalized computer science education. Multiple groups including the NSF, non-profit education organizations, and industry have joined the policy efforts of CSTA with the shared mission of elevating computing education. This united public messaging echoes what teachers already know – computer science education is important knowledge needed for all students to participate in 21st century democratic and economic society. Indeed, CS for All has become a powerful policy movement.
But, as all the students gain access to computer science learning, teachers are charged with the task of teaching each student based on the lived experiences, prior knowledge, and the wonders of the world that the child brings to the classroom. Developing a computer science classroom that welcomes each child requires a culturally responsive pedagogy that views diversity as a strength that should be integrated within the curriculum. Additional instructional supports for English language learners and students with disabilities should be developed and shared to support teachers in a CS for Each model.
To see this in action, we can observe how our CSTA colleagues in the Chicago Public Schools focused on supporting teachers as the key component of increasing access and equity for students. Both before and after ensuring a district commitment to provide CS for all, the teacher corps in the city has committed to bring high quality professional development and curricular resources to their colleagues in order to transform this district policy into inclusive teaching practices. This dual model of policy push, with a strong emphasis on the professional support of teachers, gives us a concrete example of how CS for Each can be realized.
Joanna Goode
CSTA Equity Chair

New Docs Show Oracle Academy Alignment with CS Standards

The Computer Science Teachers Association (CSTA) and Oracle have released a series of new documents that demonstrate alignment between the CSTA K-12 Computer Science Standards and Oracle Academy’s Java Fundamentals course and Java Programming course.
The growing interest in K-12 computer science education led to an unprecedented interest in the CSTA standards. Much of this interest has been focused on how current programs, courses, and resources align with CSTA standards. Toward this end, CSTA has created a number of crosswalk documents that delineate the alignment between its standards and several well-known national standards including the Common Core State Standards, the Common Core Mathematical Practice Standards, and the Partnership for the 21st Century Essential Skills.
Oracle Academy recently joined in this effort by working with CSTA to create new documents that show the alignment between the CSTA standards and two of Oracle Academy’s most popular computer science courses: Java Fundamentals and Java Programming. These efforts have produced two documents for each course: an alignment checklist that provides a quick snapshot of the CSTA standards covered in the course and a comprehensive crosswalk that provides standard-to-standard matching.
Much of the work of this project was done by the CSTA Curriculum Committee. Committee Chair and CSTA Board of Directors Chair, Deborah Seehorn, notes that the committee sees considerable benefits to working with other organizations to help them improve alignment with the CSTA standards.
According to CSTA Board Chair, Deborah Seehorn, collaborating with CSTA industry organizations and other non-profits to align their curricula to the CSTA K-12 Computer Science Standards is a win-win situation. “After the alignment has been made, computer science educators have ready access to the alignment crosswalks to assist them as they plan, develop or expand their local or state computer science curricula. Businesses and other non-profits benefit from this collaboration because it helps them better align their materials with the learning needs of computer science students,” she said.
Seehorn also notes that the process helps other organizations identify potential areas for enhancement in future versions of their curriculum. “The CSTA K-12 Computer Science standards are transforming secondary computer science education, and the beneficiaries are our students and teachers, as well as the future computing workforce. CSTA is fortunate to work with such committed organizations.”
Alison Derbenwick Miller, Vice President of Oracle Academy, also noted the importance of documenting alignment with the de facto national standards for K-12 computer science education.
“Oracle Academy’s mission is to advance computer science education, and an important part of this is creating resources that are easily used by educators in classrooms. By demonstrating alignment to accepted curriculum standards, like the CSTA Computer Science Standards, we can facilitate curriculum reviews and help teachers and administrators integrate CS concepts and courses into the school day,” said Derbenwick Miller. For more information about this Oracle project, please contact academy_ww@oracle.com.
CSTA is providing access to the CSTA K-12 Computer Science Standards and to all of the current alignment documents on its website at:
CSTA is also committed to working with other partner organizations to help them understand the extent to which their standards, curricula, and resources are currently aligned to the standards and helping them improve that alignment. If you are interested in finding out more about this program, please contact Deborah Seehorn at Deborah.Seehorn@dpi.nc.gov.
Chris Stephenson
CSTA Executive Director

Appreciating Teachers

Today marks the end of National Teacher Appreciation Week and I find myself wondering how many current students or former students actually took the time to say “thank you” the teachers who have guided their learning and inspired them to become more than they might have dreamed possible.
In recent years we have seen unprecedented focus on measuring what teachers achieve, codifying what they do, assessing their value. Yes, it is true that there is a science of teaching, a body of knowledge about pedagogy and methodology that can help teachers become better teachers. But there is also an art of teaching and it is the art that transforms good teachers into great teachers. It is the heart of teaching that makes it more than a job; that makes it a commitment, a vocation, an inspiration.
I have always believed that most of us who come to work in education in K-12 do so because of a teacher. Someone in a classroom somewhere sparked our curiosity, our love of learning, and our understanding that problems had to be approached with tenacity and creativity.
In my role at CSTA I’ve had the honor of working with so many great teachers. But I think I got here because I was taught by so many great teachers. They include Miss Brown, who saved my life by teaching me to read, Mrs. Morrow who helped me understand that math was not to be feared, and Mr. Kress who taught me the complexity and beauty of language and how to use it to explore and describe my inner and outer worlds. These and many more are remembered with gratitude and I do my best to pay it forward.
So today, I hope all teachers will take a moment to acknowledge that what they do is important and good. It makes a difference and sometimes, it saves a life. I also hope that you will take a moment to watch this video created by Google in celebration of Teacher Appreciation Week. In celebration of you.
Chris Stephenson
CSTA Executive Director

Looking Back, Looking Ahead, and Thank You for the Honor of Serving CSTA

CSTA exists because of the work of a great many people and the support of computer science educators the world over who understand the importance of K-12 computer science education. This year marks the 10th anniversary of the founding of CSTA, and it will also be my last year at helm of this organization. So it seems a fitting time to look at where CSTA has been and where it might be going.
ACM launched CSTA in 2004 as a result of recommendations from the ACM K-12 Task Force. This Task Force had taken on a number of critical projects, including the launching of the annual Computer Science and Information Technology Symposium and the development of the ACM Model Curriculum for K-12 Computer Science, which was created by a committee led by Allen Tucker. The Task Force felt, however, that supporting and improving K-12 computer science education would require something that other key disciplines already had; a professional association for K-12 practitioners.
In November 2003, ACM Director of Membership Lillian Israel and I put together a proposal for the ACM Executive Council. With support from ACM Chief Operating Officer Patricia Ryan and Chief Executive Officer John White and from high-level ACM volunteer leaders such as Maria Klawe and Stuart Feldman, the ACM Executive Council agreed to launch CSTA in January of 2004, and I was hired as the Executive Director.
Over the years, CSTA continued to evolve organizationally. By-laws were written, working committees were established, and the original Steering Committee transitioned to an elected Board of Directors. Robb Cutler served with distinction as CSTA’s first president, followed by Michelle Hutton, Steve Cooper, and now Deborah Seehorn who leads the volunteer side of the organization with enormous dedication and intelligence as the Chair of the CSTA Board of Directors.
CSTA also launched several projects that have deeply impacted K-12 computer science education. These projects included the Java Engagement for Teacher Training (JETT) program (also generously funded by ACM), which worked in partnership with universities to help teachers get ready for the Advanced Placement exam shift from C++ to Java, and the Computer Science and Information Technology Symposium, which has now become the CSTA Annual Conference. In April 2005, CSTA published the inaugural issue of the Voice, CSTA’s flagship member publication. In early 2006, CSTA also launched its regional chapter program, which today encompasses more than 50 chapters in 37 states and four Canadian provinces and fulfills the critical need for localized professional learning communities for teachers.
CSTA created and maintains the CSTA K-12 Computer Science Standards, provides deeply relevant and effective peer-driven professional development for teachers, and disseminates critical information on K-12 computer science to the entire computer science education community. CSTA also conducts critical research on key issues such as shifting trends in computer science education, the presence of computer science content within state standards, teacher certification, and profound concerns of equity. In 2011, CSTA worked with ACM and Congressman Vernon Ehlers (MI) to launch the first Computer Science Education Week. More recently, CSTA has become deeply involved in state-level advocacy efforts, and many of CSTA’s members and leaders have been on the front lines of every win in every state to date.
I think it would be fair to say that there is not a single K-12 computer science initiative in this country (and other countries as well) that has not benefited directly from CSTA and its many dedicated volunteers. This is something in which every CSTA member can take great pride.
In the last year we have seen the pay off for much of CSTA’s early work. Public interest in computer science education has never been so high. Coalitions of powerful education and industry allies are working together to change educational policy. Great research is underway. And teachers now have access to unprecedented opportunities for professional development. K-12 computer science education is an overnight sensation more than 10 years in the making.
So what of the next 10 years? Like any truly great organization, CSTA continues to evolve and change as the needs of educators and their students do the same. But as long as computer science is taught in schools, there must be a peer-driven professional organization that does the countless things needed to ensure that it remains relevant, supported, and strong.
I recently submitted my resignation as Executive Director of CSTA, and May 23, 2014 will be my last day. I will be moving on to my new role as a Computer Science Education Program Manager at Google where I look forward to continuing my work on behalf of the computer science education community.
I want to convey to CSTA’s leaders and members my deepest thanks for allowing me the honor of serving CSTA. I have always known that CSTA was more than the sum of its parts and very much more than one person. CSTA has the respect of the computer science education community and the confidence of its members because it has always lived its vision and celebrated teachers as the true agents of change. CSTA has also been a force for greater understanding and collaboration across all educational levels.
I know that CSTA will continue to grow and thrive because it has strong and capable leadership and the most dedicated volunteers I have ever met.
Thank you for allowing me to be a part of this marvelous organization and this discipline that I love so very much.
Chris Stephenson
CSTA Executive Director

Common Core and Computer Science

Last week my district offered common core workshops for all district teachers. The administrator whose responsibility was to plan the workshop for computer science/business works on my campus. A few weeks ago we discussed topics that could be part of the workshop for the computer science and business teachers. I had suggested investigating activities for the inclusion of the ELA Common Core Standards. We agreed that this could be applicable to both computer science and business.
After our conversation I began researching topics that could be discussed during our meeting. I put a request on the CSTA List Serv for strategies for ELA in the area of vocabulary development, writing or reading. I received a few responses. One response was a suggestion to contact the former CSTA president, Michelle Friend. She is currently a doctoral student at Stanford and had recently presented to the Silicon Valley CSTA Chapter in California about Reading and Vocabulary aligned to Common Core Standards.
I contacted her and we set up a Skype call to review what she had presented. Our conversation gave me insight into some issues that my students have with reading Computer Science textbooks. We spoke about vocabulary development and the 3 Tiers of Words. I had viewed Tier 3 as the tier that I had to devote most of class time to, but Michelle explained to me that most ELL’s (my computer science class has many) struggle more with tier 2 words. Those are the words that have multiple meaning depending on their use. I also discovered that 80% of reading comprehension is understanding the vocabulary.
We also discussed reading strategies. These include Pre-reading strategies such as Anticipation Guides, during-reading strategies such as Cornell Notes, and post reading strategies which include Frayer Models and Discussion. Discussion involves productive talk using such skills a probing, re-voicing and pressing.
After our discussion, I decided to prepare a discussion about vocabulary development with activities that are tied to Marzano’s Six Step Process that the teachers could use to develop a lesson for their classes.
I began the discussion during the district Common Core Training with 2 questions:
1) Do you feel that students come to your class already trained in literacy skills?
2) How much attention have you paid to literacy in your classes?
I received answers to question 1 that I had not expected. There were six teachers in our group. Four of the teachers are on a campus that could be classified as a magnet school because 60% of their student body test into the school and do not live within the school boundaries. All four of those teachers said that they all felt that their students were already trained. The other teacher and I are from another campus in the district and we felt that many of our students were not trained.
You probably have predicted the 4 teachers’ answers to question 2. They had not paid any attention to literacy. I discussed what I saw in my computer science classes. My students turn in assignments via a Learning Management System. I assign reading questions tied to sections of the text that the students are reading. I have read through my students’ answers and some of the answers that are off-topic. This year I have had more off topic answers than ever before. That has motivated me to investigate literacy teaching strategies and to check the reading levels of my computer science students. Below is a graph showing a summary of the reading levels of my students. I grouped their reading levels by levels in school.
After the responses I received from the teachers to the 2 questions, I rushed through the presentation and we did not plan any vocabulary activities.
Prior to the A.P. Exam I plan to review both Tier 3 and Tier 2 words that I feel the students will encounter on the A.P. Exam. One technique that I am using to select the words to review is to create a Wordle from the 2013 Free Response Test and one from the 2012 Free Response Test.
I will survey the students about their understanding of the predominant words. They will rate their knowledge on a Google form with the following choices:

  • I don’t know the word
  • I have heard of the word but I don’t know what it means
  • I think I know what it means
  • I know the meaning
    I plan to have the students complete a Frayer-type chart of the words that most of the students say that they don’t know the word or not sure they know what it means. The chart will ask the students to define the word, give an example, a non-example and an illustration.
    I will also have the students use some online tools to help them review such as Shahi or VocabAhead.
    This will be my first step incorporating the ELA Common Core standards into my CS Computer Science class. I will be incorporating more literacy standards next year as I continue my research.
    What other literacy strategies have you incorporated into your computer science classes?
    Myra Deister
    CSTA At-Large Representative

  • The Bad Side of Good Publicity

    As a teacher, I have spent the last eighteen years of my life dedicated to teaching technology skills and computer science. One of the most rewarding aspects of this work is when I am visited years later by former students who have become successful coders or engineers. It makes me happy to know that one of my classes helped introduce them to their chosen fields.
    Over the years, organizations such as CSTA, ACM, NSF, WIT, and WITI (to name just a few) have made enormous progress. This past year, Code.org has also done amazing work. Billions of lines of code written by students, regardless of gender or ethnicity has been nothing short of inspiring for classroom teachers like myself. But we still face important challenges. Here are some of the hard truths. The glass ceiling for women in technology is real. The declining numbers in enrollments in CS and engineering programs by women is real.
    And now we are seeing the ugly flip side of the good work that has been done. When you bring an issue to the forefront, you have to worry that some folks will take exception and satirize your accomplishments in name of humor. Enter codebabes.com, an organization brought to my attention by an article in the Washington Post. While not wanting to give it legitimacy by naming it, it is difficult to skip the opportunity to express my outrage. This organization and the website it has created flies in the face of the years I have spent trying to teach students to code for good.
    Fifteen years ago, my school had a guest speaker from the Internet Crimes Task Force. He spoke about computer hackers and portrayed the typical hacker as a teenage male (yes, usually a teenager, but always male). I wondered why this was the case, and decided that either there weren’t any female hackers, or they were so much better than their male counterparts because they had never been caught!
    As a middle and high school teacher, I have taught several talented young men. Some of them had great potential as hackers. I always felt a sense of obligation when I worked with them to try to get them to understand their potential and show them that it as important to do good things with their code. Sadly, code babes presents the antithesis of this message, portraying coding as dangerous to women and dangerous to our future.
    Too bad they couldn’t create a site that would not be offensive to women and offensive to computer science teachers. It is clear that the authors possess a really immature sense of humor, and we can only hope that someday, when they grow up, they will be ashamed of their sophomoric actions. At the minimum, let’s hope that if they pass on their coding skills to future offspring these offspring will all be girls, and that the antics of their fathers in their younger days will not dissuade them from bright coding futures.
    Joanne Barrett
    CSTA Member and Florida Chapter Leader

    Branching Out: Modeling Topics in Social Science

    Santa Fe Institute’s GUTS y Girls program, in partnership with Arizona State University professor Dan Hruschka, has developed a new curriculum to engage students in understanding how computing and complex adaptive systems play an essential role in the social sciences. In the curriculum, geared towards the high school level, students explore questions and test their own assumptions using methods and data from the social sciences (anthropology, sociology and psychology) and computer modeling in NetLogo, a text-based computer programming language. Student investigations center on the role of cooperation in human interactions and how cooperation plays a role in global issues such as resource management, health equity and climate change.
    Last year, the curriculum was piloted with a set of 12 high school students in a weekend club context. This summer we will be offering the program as a one-week summer intensive workshop for GUTS y Girls alumnae. We sought to address the issue of continuation of engagement for young women (high school age) who were initially interested in computing through our middle school GUTS y Girls program. We found that after being exposed to computing and computational thinking in the context of an all girls middle school program, young women were resistant to joining co-ed computing clubs and teams. Rather than viewing this phenomenon as a failing of either the girls or the GUTS y Girls program, we sought to prolong engagement and continue to build the skills of the young women whom we have mentored over the past years. It was our good fortune that at the same time we were looking for continuation opportunities for GUTS y Girls alumnae, Dan Hruschka was seeking a partner to develop an education outreach component as part of his research on social closeness.
    We are eager to share our resources and encourage other CSTA members to consider forming partnerships with social science teachers. The potential for integrating computing across disciplines through modeling and simulation is huge and largely untapped. These interdisciplinary projects and teams offer many routes to expose students to the breadth of computing, and demonstrate its connection to understanding and solving real world problems, while preparing students for future endeavors involving computing.
    Irene Lee
    CSTA Computational Thinking Task Force Chair

    Hackathons as Possible Student Motivators

    A new phenomenon cropping up certainly among college age students that is trickling down to the K12 arena is the concept of a hackathon. Often the events take place over 24-48 hours and are sponsored by a college or university. Attendees are presented with an open-ended problem (or are left to come up with one themselves) and form teams to build a solution. Often, they revolve around mobile or web apps.
    Recently, MIT sponsored a hackathon for K12, called Blueprint. A dozen or so students from my school attended, with varying reviews. Although the event was advertised as open to all skill levels, some of my students with limited skills felt left out. Some even left early. Others jumped right into projects with other students from other towns and really enjoyed the energy of the event. The swag from sponsoring companies and limitless food were other benefits students really enjoyed.
    In my student population, there are a cadre of students, mostly seniors, who are beginning to regularly attend these hackathons, often traveling long distances to attend these weekend events. Because my senior students attend Worcester Polytechnic Institute, they are aware of most of the college level hackathons and can attend through their WPI connection. Hackathons seems to appeal to a certain type of student; one who is willing to work in a team, who likes meeting new people, and who is confident in his/her abilities! There is the option to work alone at the events, so some students will do that, but the majority team up with other attendees to collaborate on a project of interest to all of them. I have one female student who has been to several hackathons this year. Although a good Computer Science student last year, she never showed much interest in pursuing it as a career. Even though she currently intends to major in engineering in college, she has multiple programming projects that began at hackathons that she continues to work on in her spare time. She has made connections with other students around the country with whom she continues to network. She went out and bought an Android tablet so she can work on these projects. The hackathon connection has really changed her perspective on Computer Science. She sees limitless opportunities.
    These hackathons are definitely a motivator for certain students. It is a different mode of learning from many classrooms: intense, collaborative, energized, real world, and unstructured. As a teacher, it makes me wonder (a) if this is how students today prefer to learn and (b) if I can take some of the elements of hackathons to make my classroom more energizing and motivating for students.
    Karen Lang
    CSTA 9-12 Representative

    Texas SBOE Requires Districts to Offer Two Computer Science Courses

    This blog piece is reposted with permission from the TCEA Advocacy Network Blog. Please see http://tceaadvocacy.wordpress.com/2014/04/15/texas-sboe-requires-districts-to-offer-two-computer-science-courses/ for the original blog posting.
    On Friday, April 11th, the Texas State Board of Education made some changes to the education code in the chapter that tells districts what courses they are required to offer.
    The minutes for this meeting won’t be published until the SBOE approves them in July. However, below are the changes they approved for the courses that are required in Technology Applications.
    TEA has not updated the website to reflect the changes, but the change was made in Chapter 74. Curriculum Requirements, Subchapter A. Required Curriculum, 74.3, (b) (2) (I) as follows:
    (I) technology applications – Computer Science I and Computer Science II or AP Computer Science, and at least two courses selected from Computer Science III, Digital Art and Animation, Digital Communications in the 21st Century, Digital Design and Media Production, Digital Forensics, Digital Video and Audio Design, Discrete Mathematics for Computer Science, Fundamentals of Computer Science, Game Programming and Design, Independent Study in Evolving/Emerging Technologies, Independent Study in Technology Applications, Mobile Application Development, Robotics Programming and Design, 3-D Modeling and Animation, Web Communications, Web Design, and Web Game Development;
    This is the portion of education code where it lists what school districts are required to offer. This change requires districts to offer Computer Science I and Computer Science II OR AP Computer Science, and then choose two other Technology Application courses from the list, for a total of four courses.
    Jennifer Bergland
    Director of Governmental Relations