10 Lessons Learned from Developing a PK-12 Computer Science Program in SFUSD

by Bryan Twarek
Division of Curriculum & Instruction, San Francisco Unified School District

Computer science (CS) is becoming increasingly critical to a student’s success in preparing for college and career. In today’s digital age, all students must develop a foundational knowledge to understand how computers works and the skills required to creatively solve real-world problems. However, the vast majority of schools do not yet offer computer science instruction. In fact, in San Francisco public high schools, only 5% of students are enrolled in a computer science class, and only half of the schools offer a single course. Even at the schools that do offer computer science, the students in these classes are generally unrepresentative of the schools’ population as a whole, with far fewer females and students of color.

It is critical that we address this need with an equity mindset and ensure that all students have access to computer science, beginning in the earliest grades. With this in mind, the San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) has committed to expanding its computer science programming to ensure that all students at all schools have experience with high-quality computer science instruction throughout their PK-12 educational career.

Currently, we are developing a policy and implementation plan for integrating computer science into our core curriculum. As part of this work, we are crafting a PK-12 scope and sequence of essential knowledge and skills to be taught at each grade level. We will pilot at select schools next school year, with fuller implementation in 2016-2017.

I would love to share 10 lessons that I have learned through my experience with this initiative:

  1. There is a lot of excitement around computer science.
    Many schools had a taste during the Hour of Code and are now asking for more. Through surveys and interviews, we have determined that the vast majority of teachers, administrators, students, and families support expanding computer science instruction. In fact, 100% of surveyed teachers responded that it is important for their students to learn computer science.
  2. Most adults don’t have prior experience with computer science.
    It is challenging to begin teaching a subject that most never learned themselves in school. While most of our current high school computer science teachers have a degree in CS or relevant industry experience, this is not a scalable practice. We will have to develop teachers from within the district, and they will need to learn the content before learning how to teach it to their students. For this reason, we plan to utilize dedicated computer science teachers at all grade levels, rather than have all multiple subjects teachers to integrate a new discipline into their classes.
  3. Defining computer science is tricky.
    Many people mistake computer science as educational technology (i.e., integrating computing into teaching and learning). Others believe that computer science is just programming. Developing a thorough, yet concise definition of computer science is challenging even for experts. It’s been helpful to present the five strands in CSTA’s K-12 Standards as a way to simple way to articulate the various aspects of computer science. 
  4. We must begin teaching computer science at younger ages.
    Unfortunately, we have noted that females and students of color are underrepresented in computer science classes, even as young as sixth grade. Therefore, we must reach children before they develop constructs of who pursues and excels in STEM fields. We plan to normalize computer science education by guaranteeing access to all students when they first enter our schools in kindergarten or pre-kindergarten. 
  5. Little academic research and few curricula exist.
    There has been little academic research on K-12 computer science education since the days of Seymour Papert, which makes it difficult to know exactly what to teach and how to teach it. Additionally, there are very few cohesive computer science curricula targeted for elementary and middle school students. Only within the last one to two years have organizations like Code.org and Project Lead the Way created K-5 CS curricula, and it will likely be several more years before we have a clear picture of what works well.
  6. Great things are happening outside of the classroom.
    While few of our students currently take computer science classes, some excellent nonprofits, community-based organizations, and individual teachers have worked to fill in these gaps. Clubs, after school activities, one-time events, and summer programs offer additional opportunities to engage with CS. Some try to reach all students, including: Mission Bit, FIRST Robotics League, CS First, and Coder Dojo. Others target underrepresented populations, including: Girls Who Code, Black Girls Code, Chick Tech, and Hack the Hood.
  7. We must attack this issue from multiple angles.
    Developing a plan to go from 5% of students to 100% takes time, but we recognize that if we wait for our plan to be fully implemented, we will miss many students. We can start providing computer science education even before we create new classes by advocating for and supporting clubs, after school activities, and informal opportunities outside of the classroom. We can also quickly start trying ideas out with interested schools and teachers who already have the technology and time for instruction or space for integration. Additionally, we are also working to bring CS classes to more schools by leveraging industry professionals to volunteer and develop our teachers through the TEALS program.
  8. It is important to leverage successes.
    It is easier to gain traction when there are successes to point to. We already have strong three-course computer science sequences at two high schools, so we are using these as models for expanding to other high schools. Plus, pilot programs will allow us to learn from their trials, successes, and struggles as we develop our plans for scaling to all schools in the district.
  9. Competing priorities make it hard to fit in.
    Even when various stakeholders agree to the value of providing computer science education to all students, it still leaves the contentious questions of where and how this fits into the schedule. That is, how many hours do we devote to CS, and do we integrate into existing classes or create new ones? if we have dedicated CS teachers at all levels, we have to hire more staff, but we gain better quality control and more effective teacher development. On the other hand, if our science, math, and multiple subjects teachers teach CS, they can leverage their strong relationships with students and more seamlessly integrate with other content areas, but the majority don’t have background experience and are already working to transition to the Common Core, alongside many other important school and district initiatives. Since few K-12 models exist, it’s even more difficult to come to a consensus.
  10. Our plan will have to be continuously updated.
    The field of computer science is still relatively new, and technologies quickly become outdated. We must acknowledge that the field will continue to rapidly evolve in sometimes unpredictable ways, and as such, our plan for teaching computer science will also need the flexibility to continuously adapt.

Inviting all “CS in K-8” Enthusiasts

So much has changed in the last five years since I started teaching programming to 6th graders in my district. At that time, it was considered outright strange for a public school district anywhere. Today, some large school districts like Chicago have added computer science (CS) to their curriculum, and entire countries are adding a required computer science class in the K-12 curriculum.

‘Why Should Fifth Graders Learn to Program?’ is an article I wrote in 2011 to help answer the question of why we must introduce CS in the early years. Today, that question has been answered many times over and in response we are flooded with resources from a wide range of “coding in K-8” experts.

Most K-8 CS teachers are not dedicated CS teachers, but classroom teachers or technology specialists who are “CS in K-8” enthusiasts. They find time to integrate CS into the curriculum or carve out a special class to add to the busy school day. These teachers are now deluged with the many ways to do what they love to do – bring the excitement of CS to all their students. How can they wade through this flood of resources to find the one that fits their needs, the one that is right for their class, the one that reflects their unique teaching style, or the one with the research or pedagogy piece they want? Maybe they want a tool that offers a blended solution, or one that maximizes creativity?

With every new tool or resource that comes my way, I rush into an excited experimentation mode to see if I can use it. In my role as the district’s computer science integration specialist, I must do this research but not every teacher has the time. Often, even after my trying out the new tool, I am not ready to test it on my students. I really need is to just ask someone, Did it work in your class?

That is why I need a community of K-8 CS teachers where I can connect and ask these questions. What tool did you use for your second graders? How do you move from visual programming to text based coding and when? How did you convince your administration that the CS department should expand from its current size of one? What do you do with that kid who thinks they will never be able to code or the kid who thinks he should start with Java in third grade?. What are you doing to celebrate Computer Science education week?

I remember my excitement when I first found this CS teachers community at my first Computer Science Teachers Association (CSTA) conference. Since then, I have benefitted from connecting with these teachers by email or Twitter. I now carefully mark the conference on my calendar each year so I can meet more of these teachers in person. For those who have never attended, it is a must attend event for any CS teacher. Save the date – the next CSTA conference is July 13-14, 2015.

However, the conference is only once a year, and the questions and teacher community support is needed through the year. In addition to the CSTA local chapters, mailing lists, and Twitter, there is now an additional way to connect to this community at any time: a new Google+ community set up by CSTA for K-8 teachers.

As a K-8 teacher who has learned from this community and in my role as the new K-8 Rep for CSTA, I invite all “CS in K-8” enthusiasts to become a CSTA member as well as join the Google+ CSTA K-8 community. Introduce yourself, share a resource that worked for you, post a favorite student project, and ask those questions. You will be welcome. I hope to see you online!

Sheena Vaidyanathan
6th Grade Computer Science Teacher
Los Altos School District
CSTA Board Rep for K-8


Giving Thanks

Today in the United States is one of our national holidays, Thanksgiving. As part of my family’s tradition, we each share what we are thankful for. As I have been reflecting on all the wonderful blessings in my life, one that doesn’t get said often enough is my thankfulness for our members, and especially those who are our tireless volunteers.

Our members spend their days and nights helping educate K-12 students around the world in the joys of computer science. Being an educator is not a 9-5 job, it is comprised of long hours teaching, preparing lessons, parent/teacher meetings, planning meetings with administrators and co-workers, obtaining professional development, and reflecting on lessons learned inside and outside of the classroom. Educators are amazingly dedicated people, who put their hearts into sharing the subjects they love with today’s youth. There are no words of thanks passionate enough to say how deeply I appreciate what each and every one of you contributes to education and learning. You are incredible!

Those educators who volunteer for the Computer Science Teachers Association (CSTA) deserve even more of my thanks. You are unflagging in your dedication to the organization, the work we do, and to make sure that each and every student who wants to learn about computer science is given the chance. You spend hundreds of hours each year making CSTA a vibrant, relevant organization. You help bring new resources and opportunities to all our members around the globe. All of this is on top of your day jobs, daily lives, and the other demands on your time. I, for one, know that without you, CSTA would not be the success it is today. So, from the bottom of my heart, my thanks to each of you for dedicating your time, enthusiasm, and passion to CSTA, for without you, there would be no CSTA.

If you celebrate Thanksgiving, or even if you don’t, I hope you too get the chance to reflect on the blessings in your life and know that the CSTA staff is deeply grateful to have you not only in the organization, but also educating our youth.

Gratefully yours,

Lissa Clayborn
Acting Executive Director
Computer Science Teachers Association (CSTA)

Call for Nominations: Announcing CSTA Board of Directors Elections

Application Deadline: February 1, 2015 (midnight PST)

Term of Service: June 2015-2017

The following CSTA Director positions will be vacated on May 31, 2015. We encourage interested CSTA members to apply or to encourage other qualified members to submit an application. Late nominations will not be accepted.

The CSTA Board is a working Board. All Directors are required to attend two face-to-face Board meetings per year (including the combined Board Meeting and CSTA Conference on July 12-17, 2015) and are expected to contribute meaningfully by participating on at least two committees. Directors are required to participate in the following Board events in Grapevine, Texas:

  • July 12, 2015: New Board Member Orientation
  • July 13-14, 2015: CSTA Annual Conference
  • July 15, 2015 CSTA Committee Meetings
  • July 16-17, 2015: Full Board meeting


  • K-8 Representative (1 position): a classroom teacher who is currently teaching or promoting computer science at the pre-high school level.
  • 9-12 Representative (1 position): A 9-12 classroom teacher who is currently teaching computer science at the high school level.
  • At-Large Representative (1 position): An educator with responsibilities for K-12 CS education.

CSTA is dedicated to promoting diversity in K-12 computer science education as well as on its Board. We strongly encourage all qualified individuals to apply. The Nominations and Elections Committee of the CSTA Board will select the two best-qualified applicants in each position for inclusion on the ballot.

Nominations deadline: February 1, 2015.

How to submit your application

1. Download the 2015 CSTA Nominations Form at http://csta.acm.org/About/sub/AboutFiles/2015Election.html.

2. Complete the Nominations Form.

The form includes the following information:

  • Position for which you are applying
  • Your Name
  • Address
  • School or Employer
  • Current Title/Role
  • Email Address
  • Phone Number
  • Personal Statement that explains your motivation and why you are a strong candidate (limited to 130 words).
  • Answers to the following four questions (no more than 100 words each):
  • ​What experiences and/or interests in K-12 computer science/information technology education qualify you to serve as a leader for the organization?
  • What previous experience do you have with CSTA?
  • ​What leadership skills do you have that would enrich the Board and the organization?
  • What do you think are the most important issues for K-12 computer science education?

3. Submit the completed Nominations Form and your current résumé of experience to the Elections Committee by emailing them to nominations@csta.acm.org. The documents may be submitted in Microsoft Word or PDF format; PDF is preferred.

Each candidate’s personal statement and answers to the four questions will be posted on the CSTA website and included on the ballot. Statements will be truncated at the word-count limit if necessary. The candidate’s résumé will not be made public.

Ballot distribution: The election will take place online, beginning April 2, 2015. All CSTA members in good standing will be eligible to vote.

Voting deadline: The election will close May 4, 2015.

Election results: Results will be posted by May 15, 2015.

Please send election related questions to:

Deborah Seehorn, Nominations and Elections Committee Chair, nominations@csta.acm.org

To the Stars

InnovatingWomenExcerpt | Innovating Women: The Changing Face of Technology

To the Stars
Anousheh Ansari

Anousheh Ansari is a serial entrepreneur and cofounder and chairman of Prodea Systems, a company that will unleash the power of the Internet to all consumers and dramatically alter and simplify consumers’ digital living experience. Prior to founding Prodea Systems, Anousheh served as cofounder, CEO, and chairman of Telecom Technologies, Inc. On September 18, 2006, Anousheh became the first female private space explorer, the fourth private explorer to visit space, and the first astronaut of Iranian descent. She is a member of the X Prize Foundation’s Vision Circle as well as its Board of Trustees. She is a life member in the Association of Space Explorers and on the advisory board of the Teachers in Space project.

I immigrated to the United States from Iran, a teenager who didn’t speak a word of English. Growing up in Iran, my head was always in the clouds. At night I would spend hours watching the stars, wanting nothing more than to become an astronaut, to fly to space and touch them. My mind was filled with a future where starships would fly to every corner of the universe. I would be the science officer aboard the Starship Enterprise, traveling through wormholes and exploring strange new worlds and new civilizations—to boldly go where no one has gone before. I dreamed of a future with time machines, parallel universes, teleportation and a United Federation of Planets. I was fascinated by all these possibilities because when you’re a child, everything is possible—there are no boundaries, and everything is a puzzle to be solved, every dark corner an opportunity for discovery.

When I arrived in the United States, the realities of life put me on a completely different path. I went to school and studied electrical engineering while working full-time. My family moved to the United States with nothing but hopes for a new life and a better future, so finding a job to support myself and my family was important. I found a job at a major telecommunications company, MCI, and started my career as an engineer. Working at MCI was a great experience—I learned the ins and outs of the corporate world while learning a lot about the telecom industry.

President Roosevelt once said: “Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure, than to rank with those timid spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much, because they live in the gray twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat.” I like to believe that’s how I live my life, and so, a few years later, after meeting my husband at MCI, we both left the company and started on our road to entrepreneurship.

Building a company from scratch and growing it is exciting, but also a big challenge. It is very much like raising a child: while it’s very rewarding, it also has its share of ups and downs. As a female CEO of a tech company, I learned that even though I lived in one of the most advanced western societies, certain prejudices against women in leadership positions, especially in high tech, still persevered. However, my philosophy has always been to do my best in everything I set my mind to and let my work speak for itself. This has proven to be a most successful strategy and has turned many skeptics into believers and friends.

Although I became a very successful entrepreneur, I still felt that something was missing in my life, and that was my passion for the stars. While I kept my dream alive in my heart and continued to study and learn about space, I wanted to do more. I didn’t want to become one of those people who would just complain about what’s wrong in this world—I wanted to do something about it and to change it. Sometimes it is easier to take risk when you have very little to lose, but as a successful entrepreneur, taking risk and daring to do big things takes on a whole new meaning. I think most people in my shoes would have given up on their so-called crazy dream and stayed in their comfort zone instead of stepping out and facing uncertainty and potential failure. But for me, it wasn’t just a dream. It was a burning passion that gave me a sense of purpose and direction in life.

I’ve always believed that if you want something bad enough in your heart, the universe conspires to help you achieve it. I consider myself a very lucky person, as one of the few who is living out a childhood dream, but as Louis Pasteur said: “Chance favors a prepared mind.” For me, a series of fortunate events led me to Star City, Moscow, and ultimately, to the stars.

It all started with meeting Peter Diamandis, the founder of X Prize Foundation. He is, like me, crazy about outer space, and wanted to do something about opening up access to space. Peter had launched a $10 million competition for anyone not affiliated with a government agency to build a spaceship that could go to space twice within two weeks. It sounded crazy, but to me it was the first opportunity to be part of changing the future for millions of people who shared my dream of space travel.

Peter came to visit us and tell us about his prize, and without hesitation, we saw the value in what he was doing and partnered up with him. The prize was launched as the Ansari X Prize and had twenty-six teams competing from seven countries, each with their own unique and innovative approach on how they would reach one hundred kilometers into space. Ultimately, in a great historic moment, the team from Mojave Aerospace won the prize in October of 2004. After their success, no one would ever again question the power of a small group of focused innovators to achieve seemingly impossible tasks.

On that same day, Virgin Galactic was born, and we knew that our goal of launching a new industry was achieved. Many changes have occurred as a result of the prize, as well as all of the regulatory reform that came from our efforts with the X Prize. NASA started warming up to partnership with small private companies as well as using incentive prizes to bring a wide range of innovative approaches to solve many technical challenges.

On the first anniversary of the Ansari X Prize, I got an invitation to go learn about the Russian space program and train as a backup. I couldn’t have been happier. Even though it was one of the coldest winters in Moscow, I didn’t care. This was my chance to be part of the space program and get one step closer to my dream. Many people told me I was crazy—that I’d freeze in the Moscow winter, that training on a Russian military base alone was not safe. They even questioned my sanity, but I didn’t care. I was like a kid in a candy store: I couldn’t wait to get on the plane and meet all of the astronauts and cosmonauts in person, to walk in the hallways where Yuri Gagarin walked, to visit where Tereshkova—the first woman in space—prepared for her historic mission. To me, this was the opportunity of a lifetime, and I would not miss it.

So I went and trained as hard as I could. I was faced with some resistance when I first arrived in Star City, but after a couple of months of hard work, when they realized how serious I was about my training and how passionate I was, all of the instructors became my best friends and advocates. I worked tirelessly and trained for nine months as a backup for a Russian Soyuz mission to the International Space Station—and just three weeks before the flight, I was told that a primary crew member failed one of his medical exams and that I could take his seat.

I spent eleven glorious days in space. I saw Earth as a beautiful blue ball in the vast velvety darkness of space and felt its warmth and energy. I saw a sunset and a sunrise every ninety minutes, and billions of shining stars surrounded us.

There is nothing else like it out there. When you look at Earth from above, you have a new perspective. You can see how insignificant we are compared to the universe that surrounds us, and even more, how insignificant the things we fight over are. Floating in space, from my safe haven among the stars, I saw a world without division—just one Earth—in a vast universe. From my vantage point, the boundary lines separating countries and people had become blurred and then invisible. I knew that back on Earth these imaginary lines were very much present and causing all sorts of problems—but up there, the lines did not matter, did not exist.

Back on Earth, I am focused on my new company, Prodea Systems, which was launched on the same day I launched into space. At Prodea, we are trying to change how people use technology and make it easy and seamless so everyone, from any place, using any device, can enjoy and benefit from the use of technology. As I work to bring this to people all over the world, I am constantly reminded of that beautiful image of our planet and how we are all the same, with similar wants and needs.

In parallel, through my work with the X Prize Foundation and other organizations, I continue to make space more accessible to everyone so that anyone who wants to can have the opportunity to experience what I experienced. I want to make access to space safe and inexpensive so that we can fully benefit from the resources in space to better our lives here on Earth. We have also expanded the use of incentive prizes to solve the biggest challenges humanity faces. Whether at the bottom of the ocean or out in space, in the smallest building block of our bodies or the depth of the sun, we’re turning every challenge into an opportunity to advance human life and make our planet a better place for all of us to live together.

We live in a unique time, one that may become a pivotal point in the history of mankind. As humans, never before have we had so much potential to build or to destroy, to grow and seed the universe with our species or to annihilate, to give life or propagate death. Over centuries we have mastered skills and technologies that have given us enormous individual power and shrunk time and space between us, but with great power comes great responsibility, and we must use our imaginations to take risks, break all the boundaries, and challenge the status quo. We cannot be afraid because fear is death—a life in fear is a life not lived. Take it from someone who has been all the way down in the gutter and all the way up to the stars, someone who has gone from one high to a new low and then back up again. The journey is life, and how we live it is our choice. Let’s make the journey worthwhile.

Excerpted from Innovating Women: The Changing Face of Technology by Vivek Wadhwa and Farai Chideya. Copyright 2014 by Vivek Wadhwa and Farai Chideya. Excerpted by permission of Diversion Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Computer Science Open House for CS Ed Week

Are you starting to think about what you want to do for Computer Science Education Week (Dec 8-14, 2014)? There is more than just the Hour of Code (although that’s a great way to get ALL the students involved)!

Every year, I have a Computer Science Open House. It is one night at the high school with three guest speakers, about twenty colleges with computing majors, and one student showcase table for each of my courses. We celebrate Grace Hopper’s birthday with cake or cupcakes and punch. I invite all of the high school and middle school students and their families. Each group has a different reason to attend, but the guest speakers are a hit with most.

The guest speakers typically come from three groups: one will be someone working as a computer scientist in the “tech” industry; one will be an IT or CS person working in any “non-tech” industry; and the last person will be a college professor of CS or IT. When possible, one of these speakers is also an alumni of my program. Each speaker has ten minutes for a prepared speech and Q&A, then has a table for the rest of the event. When the three speakers are finished, we serve the refreshments and our guests are free to walk around to all the tables and talk to the people that interest them.

Select students man the tables for my courses and each student has a project to showcase to the public. This gives them something concrete to talk about, and the younger students love to see what they will be able to do after taking some courses in Computer Science.

Overall, a Computer Science Open House is a great event that helps you market the CS courses at your school, allows your students to shine and gives them the opportunity to hear from current professionals and to talk to many colleges with interesting majors.

Tammy Pirmann
School District Representative

Computer Science Principles: Getting Started

After attending the CS Principles Summit in July, I was convinced that I needed to get this course started at my school site. The Summit was so informative and inspiring.

I had planned to attend the summit online, but due to some cancellations I was able to attend in person. If you were not able to attend either online or in person, you are not out of luck. You can still view the agenda and links to the recorded sessions.

The Summit began with Deborah Seehorn’s introductory remarks summarizing the rationale for the CS Principles course and welcomed all of the participants that were attending in person and virtually. Chris Stephenson also added her introductory remarks.

Fran Trees and Owen Astracan discussed the history and development of the CS Principles course. There were some audio issues. The first few minutes you cannot hear Owen speaking but hang in there the audio does return. Then Fran spoke about the course outline. I will be using this document at the computer science curriculum meeting that I am attending this week to promote CS Principles. I also plan on forwarding it to my principal. He had offered to inquire about the process to offer the course as a pilot. My plan is to begin recruiting for the course to offer it Fall 2015. I am also actively recruiting other schools in the district to pilot the course next year because currently only 2 high schools out of 6 offer computer science courses.

Jeff Gray and Kelly Powers were next on the Agenda. They discussed information that could be used for recruiting. The information was very informative!

Next on the agenda was Flash Talks. There were audio issues again so I would fast forward the video 5 minutes to the point where audio returns. The pilot teachers discuss successes and challenges resulting from CS Principles. The resources by presenter with their links are:

Lien Diaz and Rich Kick are the presenters for the next session. Lien discusses statistics behind why the course has been developed as a future AP course. Her slides are available for viewing. The participants had an opportunity to ask their questions. Lien and Rich answered each question. Rich is a pilot teacher and shared his resources with attendees.

The session facilitated by Emmanuel Schanzer and Rebecca Dovi was the one that really started by thought process about how to get this course started at my school and in my district. They presented a set of questions we were expected to answer in our group. The groups presented their responses in the next session facilitated by Rich Kick.

The summit overall was a great experience for me. I had to opportunity to create a plan to ask my district to allow me to pilot the course next school year.

Myra Deister

CSTA At-large Representative

What’s Changed and What’s Stayed the Same

As I drove home from the 2014 CSTA Annual Conference last week, I reflected on how things have changed in my 33 years of teaching computer science. CSTA is beginning its 11th year and it has been an invaluable resource for those of us who remember the days when there was little to no support from anyone in our field. It is still too hard for us to make sure that others in our school communities know and appreciate how important computer science is, but at least we have each other.

Every time I attend any form of Professional Development, I am overwhelmed with how much I still don’t know about. In just the past 5 years, I’ve learned SNAP, HTML and JavaScript, C# with XNA Studio, Greenfoot, Calico including Scribbler robots, Scratch, Alice, Processing, GameMaker, Python 2.7 and 3.3, AppInventor, and much of the content for the new AP Computer Science Principles course. The AP Computer Science A course has been taught in Pascal, C++, and JAVA with object-oriented programming being a brand new paradigm. However, what I learned in high school in 1973 about using 3 control structures and lists/arrays to represent data is still the foundation for any program development. Designing algorithms is still the hardest part of programming and using pencil and paper still works better than simply starting to code. My involvement in the American Computer Science League reminds me of this as students use newer languages to solve hard problems, but still need to know about computer number systems, recursive functions, graph theory, bit strings, prefix and postfix notation, binary trees, stacks and queues, FSAs & regular expressions, Boolean algebra, and digital logic gates.

As Michael Kölling said in his closing keynote, “Every generation needs a new language. Languages grow or die.” He didn’t mention how exponential the growth is. The Hour of Code did wonders in promoting computer science and CSTA has been instrumental in equipping teachers of all ages and levels K-12 to keep pace and make a difference for the next generation.

Carlen Blackstone
Computer Science Teacher, Emmaus High School


How to Do a Computer Science Open House

Like many of you I wanted to hold a Computer Science Open House during CSEd Week in December to showcase the work of my students and to educate parents, administrators and other guests about computer science. I utilized my Computer Science Club to organize and host the event which, including 20 club members had over 75 attend. I was very happy with how the event turned out and it did not take a huge effort on my part.
The first thing my CS Club members did was to identify what they wanted to showcase. Their list included:

  • Cisco Binary Game for guests to play
  • Scratch games and stories written by students
  • Java games and programs written by students
  • CyberCIEGE (gaming environment that teaches cyber security)
  • CTeLearning DarkBasic video games by students
  • AppInventor apps written by students
  • Make a Network Cable (yep, they wanted to crimp their own network cable)
  • Trophies and awards from competitions
  • NCWIT winner and Google CSSI participants
  • Now that we knew the what, my students mapped each to specific computers and locations in my lab and the lab next door. Club members then divided themselves into small groups to take care of the various tasks needed to make the event happen such as, develop an invitation to be sent via email, develop a list of refreshments to provide, make colorful page-sized labels to place at each location explaining what guests were seeing/doing, and a flier that was placed in every intermediate, middle, ninth and high school campuses in the district advertizing the event. They also updated an existing PowerPoint presentation that defined computer science, showed statistics on the shortage of computing majors for the number of jobs openings, described computer science courses offered in the district and highlighted successes and achievements of my students.
    The invitation was created as a PowerPoint slide that I saved as a PDF file. I emailed the PDF invitation file as an attachment to:

  • parents of all my students (done through our grade book software)
  • faculty and staff at my high school
  • district superintendent, cabinet members and public information officer
  • district technology and secondary curriculum directors
  • school board president and members
  • college computer science professors (local contacts I made through CSTA)
  • local newspaper editor
  • local city councilmen and state representative and senator (district public information officer assisted to find these)
  • As I said, CS Club members were the hosts and therefore were required to attend. They wore their club t-shirts and were expected to hang out at the various stations to answer questions and explain what guests were seeing. Several were assigned to be photographers and several others were assigned to man the refreshment tables outside the classrooms. We served several finger foods along with bottled water and lemonade to drink. We also had a sheet cake with “Happy Birthday Ada and Grace” written on it. One trip to Costco was all it took for all of the refreshments. I made a PowerPoint slide for each lady with their name and accomplishments listed that we taped to the wall above the cake. I also put a framed picture of each lady on the table as decoration. Some club members were also assigned to clean up at the end of the event.
    During the open house, I watched my students enthusiastically show programs they wrote to their parents. I heard my students describe to the district superintendent the design process they went through to come up with their application of “intelligent fabrics” that took second place in a state-wide competition. I smiled as my students demonstrated to the district technology director how CyberCIEGE uses gaming to teach cyber security. And it thrilled me to see my students comfortably answering questions from college computer science professors about what they had learned and what their future plans were regarding computer science.
    If you have not held a computer science open house I strongly encourage it. The kids really take ownership of it. The cost is minimal; mostly for the food and the positive press your students and your program gets makes it well worth it.
    Gerri Lynne Ryan
    CSTA Leadership Cohort Member
    North Crowley High School
    Fort Worth, TX

    The Importance of Funding

    More than five years ago, my school expressed an interest in adding computer programming classes to the curriculum. Since I had not taught programming in over ten years, I wasn’t sure what languages to pursue and exactly where to start. As a technology coordinator, I was a member of ISTE and emailed some of the folks there for advice. They pointed me in the direction of CSTA. I emailed Chris Stephenson, and received excellent advice. Not only was Chris able to provide great information, she connected me with other educators and provided her entire organization’s worth of support. I joined CSTA and within the year I added Introduction to Programming to our curriculum, and students wanted more!
    The summer after I joined CSTA, I decided to attend the CSTA CS&IT Symposium. The information I learned through that, and successive symposiums has been the best professional development I have had since becoming a teacher. It became clear that while ISTE was widening the net, to appeal to a broader audience, including classroom teachers and administrators, the shift displaced the resources for computer science education. CSTA on the other hand, has provided great professional opportunities and surpassed the value of ISTE, in my opinion, for a computer science educator. The two days spent at Google in Mountain View two years ago, were the best professional development I have had.
    While in Mountain View, I noticed that CSTA was sponsoring and encouraging the formation of local chapters. When I discovered there was no recognized chapter for our state, I seized the opportunity, and with Chris’s help, reached out to Dr. Jan Yates. Well, Florida is a big state, and it is safe to say that computer science has not been a priority. Indeed, most Florida schools do not offer computer science courses.
    Through Jan’s access at the university, we were able to form a virtual chapter, and we have been working and lobbying the state’s Department of Education to recognize the importance of computer science education and to keep it for our students. The fight is ongoing, and it is exceedingly difficult to get folks who do not understand what computer science is all about to understand why it is important to keep and expand in our schools.
    The majority of computer science educators, if they are lucky enough to teach computer science full time in our state are often the only members of the staff at their schools. The ability to share and collaborate with a colleague in person on a daily basis is something that we, unlike our colleagues in math, science and most other disciplines is one of the shortcomings of our chosen profession. For these reasons, the formation of our chapter has been important to me.
    I have been fortunate to attend CSTA events, and last year was elevated to the Leadership Cohort. The learning, sharing and camaraderie I have experienced in this group have been amazing. Last year, when I was offered the opportunity to have funding to provide professional development for our chapter members I seized it.
    I knew it was going to be a lot of work, and this endeavor was going to take me way outside my comfort zone, but I felt in my heart it was the right thing to do for many reasons. I dove into the process of developing a training opportunity. Again, because of the size of our state, I felt that if I could team up with an existing conference, then I wouldn’t have to deal with every detail of lining up housing, travel and designing the conference. I approached the Florida Council of Independent Schools, and they allowed me to create a “track” at their existing annual November conference. Because we had our own funding secured from CSTA and Google, they allowed us to pursue our dream of a professional day for CS educators. Without the financial support it is doubtful that they would have allowed us to participate.
    FCIS agreed to let us invite non-FCIS members, and I spent months planning, designing, and executing the event. Many independent schools do not offer computer science. I was lucky enough to have two speakers, Drs. Guzdial and Ericson from Georgia Tech speak about the importance of CS education, and timed it so that many of the administrators from all of the FCIS member schools would be able to hear them speak. Even if only a couple of the administrators that heard them speak expand their computer science curricula in any way, then we have achieved a lot with our opportunity. While working within the confines of an existing conference was not without its challenges, the gains to students and educators in our state made it worthwhile.
    The support that I received from CSTA needs to be recognized as one of the most important components of our event’s success. Having someone answer questions, no matter how tedious, and then be present to lend a hand during the event clearly elevated the quality. The CSTA and Google funding provided many of the educators in attendance their first opportunity to spend a professional day of learning devoted solely to computer science topics. Our sessions were extremely successful and well attended. Our efforts to invite people outside of membership (emails to every school in the state) brought in folks who have become new members. In addition, the networking opportunity for attendees is something special our virtual chapter meetings cannot provide.
    This funding was exceedingly important to our Florida CSTA chapter, and we would like to express our gratitude to CSTA and Google for making it happen.
    Joanne Barrett
    CSTA Florida Chapter, President