AppInventor Goes Local: adult students build an app inviting islanders to test their knowledge on the local dialect

I haven’t been shy to expose the insane decisions of the Greek Ministry of Education when necessary; one such time was 3 years ago, when the government removed the elective “Application Development in a Programming Environment” from 12th Grade Curriculum and the Greek University Entry Exams, in the context of a law ironically titled “New High School”. My writings reached EU headquarters in Brussels to no avail, but an e-mail I sent to the CSTA caught the attention of Chris Stephenson and played a decisive role in my being nominated and elected as International Representative on the Board of Directors. In 2014 I had an article published in the online edition of UK newspaper “The Guardian”; soon after the Minister of Education stated in public “the decision [of the previous administration] to remove the programming class option from candidates intending to study computer science was not only unacceptable, it has absolutely no ground on an international scale”. The class was eventually reinstated.

That said, maintaining an open mind commands giving credit when deserved, even to people or agencies with whom you have previously clashed. In the beginning of school year 2014-15 Computer Science teachers in Greece were happy to see that the 10th Grade CS textbook had finally been replaced with a completely new and updated version. But what really surprised us was that there was an entire chapter dedicated to the AppInventor environment, complete with examples and detailed instructions guiding students through all the stages of developing their first app.

I taught the book for the first time in an adult-learner setting in 2015-16; in the computer lab we used the MIT App Inventor tutorials on YouTube to quickly get a feel for the kind of stuff we could build (language was hardly a barrier as most Greek students have good working knowledge of English, plus the video-capture tutorials make it easy to watch video and pause in one tab while working in the other). After brainstorming an idea for our app, we decided to take last year’s 10th Grade Project a step farther by using the local dialect words they had registered on Wiktionary to build a multiple-choice quiz in AppInventor. We explored different formats and decided to go with the simplest, as the evening school students have practically zero free time for homework and all the work had to get done in a semester of two 35-minute sessions per week. Christos carefully made sure each question was a challenge with his tricky choices; Kostas quickly learned how to set up the components in “Designer” view and move the command blocks from screen to screen in “Blocks Editor” view with the AI2 “backpack”; Meletis, Kimonas and Philippos connected their Android devices to test the app and offer ideas and feedback. The quiz now comprises 20 questions with four choices each… next year we plan to take it even farther by adding more questions, levels of difficulty and – why not? – voice and illustrations for a rich multimedia experience. Soon we expect to have it published and live on Google Store: keep up with us by watching our blog (generally in Greek but we will include an English snippet for our AppInventor post).

Kostas appinventor

(Camera-shy Kostas enters the questions in Designer view and then programs in the Blocks Editor”)

 

Meletis-Kimonas-philippos

(Meletis, Kimonas and Philippos check out the questions for the quiz while Christos (in the background) takes a break)

In closing my last post as a Board Member of the CSTA, I would like to extend my congratulations to the new International Representative, starting July 2016, Miles Berry, and wish him the best of luck and success in his efforts. Miles, keep an eye on the situation in Greece as the third administration in three years prepares once again to downgrade the role of computer science teachers, amidst a six-year-strong financial crisis that would only benefit from the advancement of coding and other labour – as opposed to capital -intensive fields of financial activity. Sometimes the only argument we need to promote the teaching of computer science is plain common sense; and sometimes common sense is so hard to find…

Mina Theofilatou
Kefalonia, Greece

Computer Science for All – Are We Asking the Right Questions?

Every two weeks, the CSTA K-8 task group hosts a twitter chat using the hashtag #CSK8. These twitter chats help teachers like me connect with other computer science education enthusiasts; they offer us a place to share and learn new ideas for our classrooms. Since I am part of the CSTA task force that hosts these chats, I have learned a lot on how to run these twitter events. Picking the right questions for a chat is key to its success.  The questions must provide the right amount of structure and be interesting so that all participants contribute to the chat. This is difficult since we do not know who will actually join the chat.
The chat on Feb 10 was on the new initiative proposed by President Obama called ‘Computer Science For All’ (To read more on this initiative, see  “CS for All”  and  Watch the president’s full remarks here). The chat was moderated by another CSTA Task force member Vicky Sedgwick and myself.
Computer Science For All initiative is still in the early phase, with of course no clear idea on whether it will ever be approved. However, the initiative has opened up the discussion on computer science access to a wider audience, and it was a perfect topic for our chat. Vicky and myself struggled to come up up with the best set of questions and we were modifying them as the chat progressed.   Selecting the right questions to ask on this topic helped us think more on the big question – how do we really provide computer science education to all? Here are the questions that we finally used on this chat. Take a look below –  what would be your answers?
  • Q1: Obama said “we have to make sure all our kids are equipped for the jobs of the future.” Is this really why #CSforALL is needed? #csk8
  • Q2: Why should #CSForAll be a federal initiative? Can’t we just rely on state/local/industry/non-profit efforts? Pros/Cons? #csk8
  • Q3:  How will we find teachers for #CSForAll & what is needed in terms of professional development & teacher credential programs? #csK8
  • Q4: There are currently many states with their own CS standards & more writing them. How does this affect #CSforAll or does it? #csk8
  • Q5: How would you spend $4 billion? What is most important? K-8/High School/PD/In-school programs/AfterSchool programs/Diversity? #csk8
If you are interested in reading the conversations on this topic (or other topics), check out the archives of the #CSK8 chats at the CSTA K8 G+ community at https://plus.google.com/communities/111803101139836526905/stream/00a8a67d-804b-4ee1-9c95-0852dfa0b171
Do you think we are asking the right questions? If you had five questions to ask on this topic, what would they be?

Vintage Computer Festival — five events this year!

If you’re looking for novel ways of inspiring students, then consider giving them some hands-on exposure to the past at a Vintage Computer Festival event.

Vintage Computer Festivals are a series of family-friendly events celebrating computer history. The event formed in the 1990s and gradually spread to other parts of the country and into Europe. Each event has an exhibit hall where anyone can see and try out historic computers from the 1960s-1980s. There are also keynote speeches by celebrities and VIPs, technical classes, tours of nearby museums, consignment sales, and more.

Upcoming editions include VCF East (April 15-17, New Jersey) and VCF West (August 6-7, Silicon Valley). Children enter free for most of the event.

These events are the only place where your students can see things such as a 1960s DEC minicomputer, 1970s systems such as an Altair 8800 or Apple-1, and all manner of 1980s eight-bitters — all up-and-running. Take a learn-to-solder class, play a round of Zork, see a UNIVAC mainframe, and learn how to load BASIC from paper tape.There’s no better way to make students appreciate modern smartphones than to see an 800-pound Cray supercomputer or boot a Commodore 64 into a flashing cursor prompt.

The series producer is Vintage Computer Federation which is a 501(c)3 educational non-profit. In addition to the shows, the Federation also owns the Vintage Computer Forum online discussion site, incubates regional chapters, and operates its own hands-on computer museum.

– Evan Koblentz, president, Vintage Computer Federation

www.vcfed.org 

evan@vcfed.org 

facebook.com/vcfederation 

twitter.com/vcfederation 

Introducing CSPdWeek

We shine a spotlight on CS education for students each December during CSEdWeek. Why not do the same with a perennial offering for CS professional development for teachers?

After all, professional development has long been recognized as one of the key ingredients in CS education. Bringing even one PD provider to train a handful of teachers and counselors in a small district is prohibitively expensive, and even the smallest school district will need multiple solutions to implement the dream of CS4All. One way to solve this problem is with grants and sponsorships, subsidizing local workshops for a handful of teachers at a time. However, this only solves part of the issue–even with limitless dollars, scheduling constraints make it extremely difficult to bring multiple providers in at the same time. This makes it nearly impossible for most districts to adopt the broad mix of offerings that are necessary to increase diverse participation in computing. In other words, coordination can be just as large a bottleneck as funding.

CSEdWeek is a model for coordinated advocacy. Schools in a district, in a state, and across the country effectively leverage funding and volunteer efforts at the same time every year. It’s time to do the same for professional development, and this is the impetus and foundation for CSPdWeek.

The first annual CSPdWeek is this July 18th-22nd, 2016 – find out more at www.CSPdWeek.org!

CSPdWeek Events

An inaugural event, offering PD from Bootstrap, NCWIT Counselors for Computing, AP CS Principles, and Exploring Computing Science will be held during the week of July 18-22nd at Colorado School of the Mines. The event is sponsored by the Infosys Foundation USA, with additional support from the National Science Foundation, The National Center for Women & Information Technology, and the Computer Science Teachers Association. We invite teachers and counselors from across the US to apply for full funding (covering travel, food, lodging and PD), with an emphasis on those working in high-needs schools. Join nearly 300 educators from across the country, and spend the first CSPdWeek with us in Golden, Colorado!

Can’t make it to Golden? That’s okay! CSPdWeek is for everyone, and we encourage other PD providers to offer their own professional development events during the week. Professional development matters, and will be a crucial component of CS4All. By staking out one week during the summer, and coordinating our efforts, we can amplify the impact of everyone in our community.

It’s going to be an incredible summer, and we hope you’ll join us in celebrating CSPdWeek 16!
Owen Astrachan (CS Principles)
Gail Chapman (Exploring Computer Science)
Joanna Goode (Exploring Computer Science)
Jane Krauss (NCWIT Counselors for Computing)
Emmanuel Schanzer (Bootstrap)

DRAFT 2016 CSTA K-12 CS Standards: We Need Your Feedback—Again!

Much excitement and activity continues to take place in the K-12 Computer Science Education space. The K-12 Computer Science Framework and the Computer Science for All initiative started by the White House both continue to evolve. Many states and school systems are working to implement computer science into their curriculum. And, the CSTA K-12 CS Standards Revision Task force continues to refine the draft 2016 CSTA K-12 CS Standards.

Thanks to all of you who took time to provide us feedback on the draft 2016 CSTA K-12 Computer Science Standards during the first review period. We received many great recommendations and comments about the standards. The CSTA K-12 CS Standards Revision Task Force members met in person on March 5 and 6 to read and analyze the feedback that we received. They have been diligently working to revise the first draft of the 2016 CSTA K-12 CS Standards to reflect the feedback. The second DRAFT of the 2016 CSTA K-12 CS Standards is now ready for public review and feedback. We need your assistance once again!

Please take some time to review the revised 2016 draft standards and complete the 2016 CSTA K-12 CS Standards Feedback Form. This will provide the CSTA Standards Revision Task Force members with additional constructive feedback that will assist us as we seek to refine the standards and make them most useful for K-12 educators. You will have the opportunity to give us detailed feedback on individual standards in each of the grade levels (Level 1, Grades K-5; Level 2, Grades 6-8; Level 3A, Grades 9-10 (for all students); Level 3B Grades 11-12 (enhanced standards for students who wish to further study CS). You will also be able to provide feedback on all the standards for a grade level within a concept area.

Feedback for this second review period will be accepted from April 6 through April 20, 2016. The task force members will analyze this feedback and further refine the standards as needed. CSTA is committed to an iterative process that allows multiple drafts and revisions before publication. Our goal is to release the interim 2016 standards at the 2016 CSTA Annual Conference.

We want your feedback. We need your assistance. Please thoughtfully complete the CSTA K-12 CS Standards Revision Feedback Form. This second round of feedback on the standards will be accepted until April 20, 2016.

Thank you for your time, expertise, and enthusiasm in supporting K-12 CS education.

Deborah Seehorn, CSTA Board of Directors Past Chair & CSTA K-12 CS Standards Revision Task Force Co-Chair

Tammy Pirmann, CSTA Board of Directors District Representative & CSTA K-12 CS Standards Revision Task Force Co-Chair

Website Links

Computer Science for All https://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2016/01/30/computer-science-all

K-12 CS Framework http://k12cs.org/

2016 CSTA K-12 CS Standards Revision Task Force http://www.csteachers.org/?StandardsTaskForce

CSTA K-12 CS Standards Revision Process http://www.csteachers.org/?StandardsProcess

2016 CSTA K-12 CS Standards Feedback Form http://www.csteachers.org/?SubmitYourFeedback

2016 CSTA Annual Conference http://csta.acm.org/ProfessionalDevelopment/sub/CSTAConference.html.

 

 

 

Choosing a computing major

Teachers are an important resource for students when it comes to their college decisions. Indeed, undergraduates students often state that a high school teacher influenced their decision to become a computer science major. This blogpost includes a number of  for CS teachers to help their students learn about computing related majors. It might also help teachers recruit students in their computer science courses and highlight the breadth of majors available for students. Along with my colleague Susanne Hambrusch, we have developed the following list of resources for computer science teachers as a part of our NSF-funded PD4CS project.

There exists a range of four-year computing and computing-related degrees a student can pursue. It can be daunting to determine differences and commonalities.

Four-year Liberal Arts Colleges will typically offer one degree, most likely in Computer Science. The simplicity may have a drawback: the number of courses offered may be small and few opportunities for specialization may exist. On the other hand, many liberal arts colleges provide a strong computer science education that is often combined with flexibility, allowing students to take diverse courses in other areas.

Large, research-oriented schools tend to offer multiple computing degrees. The types of degrees and specializations offered are often influenced by whether Computer Science is in a College of Science, a College of Engineering, or in its own College (e.g., College of Computing, School of Information).

Most schools provide information and guidance for incoming students. For example,

Many rankings of computer science programs exist. No ranking is perfect and many schools not ranked or not ranked highly can provide an excellent undergraduate education. The US News and World Report rankings have a good reputation and are respected by universities and colleges. They rank different types of institutions, different research areas, different geographical regions, and more.

Students majoring in a STEM field often consider getting a minor in Computer Science. Having a CS minor will give them additional and often attractive job opportunities after graduation. A minor typically consists of 5-6 CS courses (the student is expected to have the appropriate math courses).  Students majoring in math or physics can often double count courses and may be able to complete a minor with less effort.  Guidelines and expectations differ and a student needs to find out the details for the particular program.

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Aman Yadav is an associate professor in the College of Education at Michigan State University. He serves as the teacher education representative on the CSTA board of directors. Follow Aman on Twitter @yadavaman

2016 CSTA Board Election — One More Day to Cast Your Vote!

The 2016 election for five open positions on the CSTA Board of Directors runs through March 22. If you were a CSTA member as of February 16, you should have received an email from ElectionBuddy.com with a personalized link to the online ballot. If you didn’t receive the email, contact customerservice@csteachers.org.

The CSTA Board of Directors consists of eleven voting representatives, elected by the more than 22,000 CSTA members worldwide. The candidates for the 2016 elections are:

  • 9-12 Representative: Stacey Kizer, Chinma Uche
  • At-Large Representative: Myra Deister, Michelle Lagos
  • International Representative: Miles Berry, Michael Jones
  • State Department Representative: Anthony Owen, Doug Paulson
  • University Faculty Representative: Darcy G. Benoit, Fred G. Martin

Full details about the election, including statements by the candidates, can be found online at http://www.csteachers.org/page/boardelections.

Dave Reed
Chair, CSTA Board of Directors

A History of the New Math (and lessons for CS Ed)

Spines of New Math paperbacks from the 1960s (courtesy wikimedia.org)

Spines of New Math paperbacks from the 1960s (courtesy wikimedia.org)

Many of us remember the New Math from personal experience. I do from elementary school in the 1970s in West Hurley, NY.

I loved it. I learned that the decimal system is arbitrary and numbers could be expressed in any base. That was fascinating.

Of course, I was the kid who learned his times tables for fun.

The New Math emphasized understanding the rule-systems that underlie numbers. In elementary school, it constructed the very concept of number with set theory rather than by rote counting.

There wasn’t a focus on students being able to do arithmetic computations. This upset people, and by the 1970s, the New Math was under attack.

The “back to basics” movement re-established an emphasis on computations in the 1980s.

As described by Christopher J. Phillips in his book The New Math: A Political History (The University of Chicago Press, 2015), it’s not a coincidence that this is the same decade in which the country elected Ronald Reagan as president.

Phillips cogently makes the case that the rise and fall of the New Math movement traces our cultural mores and larger political beliefs about who should be making decisions in our society.

Going back two thousand years, Phillips shows how the argument about how mathematics should be taught has been a proxy for a conversation about how people should be taught to think.

For the developers of the New Math, their approach would help American citizens be critical and creative thinkers—what was required to counter the Cold War threat of a dominant Soviet Union.

Indeed, the federal funding that was leveraged in the 1950s to build the New Math movement was appropriated as literally a matter of national defense. This was followed by the Elementary and Secondary Education Act in the 1960s, which continued the federal government’s role in fostering national education curricula.

The consensus that the federal government should be deciding what’s taught in our nation’s schools frayed with the cultural changes in the 1960s and collapsed with the horrors of Vietnam in the 1970s.

As we work towards making computer science a first-class citizen in the pantheon of school teaching and learning, what lessons can we draw from the rise and fall of the New Math?

Computer science is a liberal art—not just a vocational skill. It’s true that becoming accomplished as a software developer is a path to a good career, including good pay. And it’s true that there is a social justice dimension to broadening participation in computing—everyone should discover whether they love computing and then have access to these career paths.

But the reason to institutionalize computer science in K-12 is deeper than that. It’s because computing is beautiful and powerful—like all forms of knowing and doing.

We must go beyond the zero-sum game. One of our big challenges is creating time for teaching and learning computing. We don’t want to create winners (computer science) and losers (other areas of study).

It seems clear that infusion approaches—integrating computing into other subjects—will be an important part of the future.

It’s a team effort. One of the big take-aways from Phillips’ book was the reach of the School Mathematics Study Group—the organization that was created to develop and support the New Math. Curriculum writers from all over the country were involved in creating the reference texts; these individuals then served in leadership roles in the adoptions in their home states.

Most importantly, now we live in a time where everyone’s involved in curriculum decisions, particularly parents.

We need everyone together to make this happen.

P.S. I highly recommend Christopher Phillips’ book. His writing is clean and compelling, and the story is engaging and compact. He also published an essay-length version of his thesis in the New York Times on December 3, 2015.

Better Know a Committee – 2016 edition

The CSTA Board of Directors is a working board. Board members work closely with the Executive Director to articulate the vision for the organization, plan initiatives and activities, and help carry out the organization’s business. Much of this work is done through standing committees and task forces. Following a tradition begun last year, the chairs of the various CSTA committees and task forces will be posting brief reports in the Advocate. Keep an eye out for these reports in the coming weeks to stay informed about current CSTA activities.

If you would like to know more about a committee or task force, or possibly volunteer to help out, please feel free to contact us.

  • Communication & Publications: Stephanie Hoeppner (smhoeppner@gmail.com)
  • Curriculum: Deborah Seehorn (deborah.seehorn@outlook.com)
  • Equity: Alfred Thompson (act2@acthompson.net)
  • Funding Development:  Fred Martin (fredm@cs.uml.edu)
  • Governance: Myra Deister (mjdeister@fjuhsd.k12.ca.us)
  • International: Mina Theofilatou (theoth@otenet.gr)
  • Membership: Laura Blankenship (lblanken@gmail.com)
  • Nominations & Elections: Deborah Seehorn (deborah.seehorn@outlook.com)
  • Professional Development: Tammy Pirmann (tpirmann@gmail.com)
  • Research: Aman Yadav (ayadav@msu.edu)
  • Teacher Certification: Tammy Pirmann (tpirmann@gmail.com)
  • Assessment Task Force: Aman Yadav (ayadav@msu.edu)
  • Chapters Task Force: Fran Trees (fran@ftrees.com)
  • Computational Thinking Task Force: Irene Lee (lee@santafe.edu)
  • K-8 Task Force: Sheena Vaidyanathan (sheena@computersforcreativity.com)

Dave Reed
Chair, CSTA Board of Directors

Do You Have a Professional Learning Network (PLN)?

Before anyone can answer that question, a definition is needed. According to Brianna Crowley in her article, 3 Steps for Building a Professional Learning Network, at http://www.edweek.org/tm/articles/2014/12/31/3-steps-for-building-a-professional-learning.html , “A professional learning network is a vibrant, ever-changing group of connections to which teachers go to both share and learn. These groups reflect our values, passions, and areas of expertise.”

I started thinking about my PLN after Brandon Horn on the AP Computer Science Facebook page asked for suggestions for additional information and support for current and new AP Computer Science Teachers. He said he usually recommends the AP CS Community on the College Board site, the AP CS Summer Institute, the AP Computer Science Facebook group and the local CSTA chapter, if there is one. In a comment, I suggested the CSTA Listserv (I am one of the moderators).

This question, I feel is more important to those of us who are the “onlys” on our campus. What do I mean by the “onlys”? “Onlys” are the only computing teacher on campus. For those of you who are one of those, who do you turn to for advice?

For me it depends on the class I am seeking advice for. I teach 4 different computing classes: Visual Basic, Computer Science Principles, AP Computer Science A and Computer Science AB. For general advice, I will look to the CSTA Listserv. For example, in October, I was told that I needed to decide on new furniture for the lab and only had a few days. I turned to the CSTA Listserv and asked what furniture the members had purchased recently that fit their needs. I received several responses that helped me to quickly make some decisions.

In another situation when one of my students asked a java coding question that I did not readily have an answer, I turned to the AP Computer Science Facebook group and received responses very quickly. When I needed to write a Computer Science Principles Final Exam, I turned to the CSTA Listserv and several teachers responded with help. I appreciated it so much! I have asked questions on Twitter when I want to incorporate an ed tech tool into my computer science classes. Also, I always leave my local CSTA chapter meetings with some great ideas! All of these groups are my PLN.

Who is in your PLN? Please share so we can all grow ours.