Going beyond coding puzzles

Moving a robot through a maze or drawing a pre-defined shape are examples of well known coding puzzles available in every tool or curriculum. As a K-8 computer science teacher, I know we love handing out these structured exercises to our students. They are a perfect way to introduce programming concepts, and because they only have one solution, they provide a clear and definitive end to the lesson. It makes assessment easy, it takes away the stress of “what should I make” and it makes both teacher and student feel successful. It simplifies PD for new CS teachers and ensures that all students will learn the basics.

But K-8 computer science teachers need to go beyond these coding puzzles. We must show students that programming offers much more than a ‘one solution’ answer to a pre-defined problem. This can be messy, uncomfortable and it is not easy.  However, we also know it can be fun and deliver the “fall in love with coding” moment we hope to provide in these early CS classes.

When do we show our students that they can make anything with code?  Should we use K-8 as a time to focus on creative computing and make the first few projects completely exploratory?

I believe CS teachers must strike a delicate balance here.  While showing the students that there is so much more than mazes and shapes, we also want to give them constraints to ensure that they are still successful. In my own classroom, I see both excitement and fear when I tell  students they can make anything they want. Some students rush in – “I know exactly the kind of game I want to create.” However there are others who are frozen – they want suggestions, they want to look around for inspiration, they prefer to remix an existing project. To these students, the open ended project is a source of stress and can scare them away from coding. As teachers, our challenge is to find ways to be helpful but not limiting to these students, allowing them to explore their creative potential without fear.

During my days as an art student, I remember being given a blank white canvas and found myself in my own “make anything you want” moment. I felt that same fear many of my students have until my instructor gave me a wonderful tip – just paint a Burnt Sienna (brown) wash on it. Simply turning the canvas into something non-white made a difference. It gave me the courage to start, to experiment, and to make mistakes.

Writing code for a new project is a lot like starting a new painting. As a CS teacher, we have to be ready to give our students the help they need: a gentle suggestion, the first few lines of code, an exercise that could be extended. We must find the Sienna brown wash that will get them going.

Thinking Beyond College to Help Tech-Savvy Students Achieve Career Success

Author: Janice M. Tkaczyk, M.Ed., CAGS, National Director Counselor and Academic Relationships at Universal Technical Institute

It’s only January, but the end of the school year will be here before you know it. And with the end of the school year comes a crossroads for many students. While a majority of graduating seniors are ready to pack up and head to college, many others are still figuring out what they want to do with their lives post high school. It can be a trying time for students who are unsure what type of career they want to pursue or success they want to achieve. It’s likely that several of these students are sitting in your computer science (CS) lab right now, and it’s time to start talking to them about their options.

Not every student wants to attend college, and more specifically, not every CS student wants to be a computer engineer. A four-year degree is not the only way to an in-demand career in a high-tech industry, yet many students are simply unware of the good-paying technical jobs that exist today. Students who chose to enroll in CS courses, which are typically not required to graduate, do so because they have a passion for technology and problem solving. We need to embrace this passion by providing students with the tools and resources they need to make smart decisions about their futures to pursue a career that will lead to long-term success, and we must start including options that do not require a four-year degree.

Post-secondary technical education is a smart option for many students. It provides them with the skills they need for in-demand careers, including those in the manufacturing, health care and transportation industries. Technical schools offer practical, high-tech and industry-specific training that is simply not available in many traditional academic settings. For example, Universal Technical Institute (UTI) prepares students for long-term and rewarding careers in the transportation industry. These jobs are in-demand, pay well, can’t be outsourced and offer plenty of opportunities to move up. UTI has a single goal: to give students an education that sets them up for a successful career.

And now you might be thinking, “What does this have to do with computer science?”

There’s long been a stigma that a career in the transportation industry is a “dirty” job. While this was true decades ago, the modern day repair shop is more like a high-tech computer lab than you may think.

The high-end cars of today have more than 40 sensors and 50 computers all interacting as we drive. The sophisticated network in our car doesn’t just give us a warning when we’re encountering a crash, it fully applies the brakes, rolls up the windows, tightens the seatbelts, closes the sunroof and adjusts the seats to a safer position – all because one system can talk to the entire car. But that’s just one element of the sophisticated computer systems in today’s vehicles. Advanced technologies also help clean up car emissions. With fuel injection, a closed loop feedback system and our newest catalytic converters todays cars turn CO, HC, and NOx into CO2 and H2O. This gives us better performance, lower emissions and good fuel economy. Pretty impressive, and it takes a highly skilled technician to know how to maintain and fix these sophisticated systems. Yesterday’s mechanic is today’s service technician.

At UTI, students learn on the latest high-tech vehicles, and our curriculum is rooted in STEM and presented in practical ways that work for hands-on learners. We have partnerships with more than 30 manufacturers to deliver an education that’s built around employers’ needs and gives our students the technical and professional skills it takes to be successful in today’s transportation industry. While many college graduates are competing for a handful of jobs in their field or moving back home, transportation service technicians are in demand.

It’s time to empower students who are fluent in technology, geniuses at fixing things and action-oriented to make decisions about their future that will lead to success and happiness. For too long, we’ve pressured students to take the “right” path – attend college, earn a degree and land a good job. But as educators, we know that there is not a one size fits all approach for every student. We need to help students who have a passion for technology and mechanics, but perhaps don’t excel at book learning, pursue a career that makes them happy and leads to a lifetime of success.

Janice M. Tkaczyk, M.Ed., CAGS, is the National Director for Counselor and Academic Relations at Universal Technical Institute. She spent 35 years in public education, 30 as the Guidance Director at a regional, technical high school. She has been professionally active at the local, state and national levels and is an Adjunct Professor at UMass Boston in the Master’s Program for professional school counselors.

Developers’ Club Resource Platform & Clean Computing After-School Programs

Submitted by Emily Peed

Emily is an undergraduate college student and an entrepreneur. She has a strong interest in creating open source technologies, educational technologies, and pushing a movement of a cleaner form of computing. She is currently looking to build her resource platform at developersclubonline.com to help provide higher quality and more accessible technology resources. She is seeking dedicated, self-motivated volunteers to help. She currently attends online school through the University of Southern New Hampshire for Game Development and Design.

Developers’ Club is working to become an Open Source resource platform. I started this program as an after-school program during High School. During my time in High School I became involved with NCWIT, or the National Center for Women and Information Technology. Through them I was able to obtain the AspireIT Grant in college, which was a grant that focused on increasing female participation rates in technology at the middle school level. Through the grant I ran my first set of afterschool programs. It was a 3 site program that ran for most of the 2013 – 2014 school year, ending with a catered banqueted awards ceremony. During its duration it exposed 60 girls, and 64 students total, to hundreds of hours worth of technology education.

Developers’ Club is working to become the one stop shop for technology education by offering free modular tutorial series, structured learning content, source code downloads, 3D Printed/Raspberry Pi based hardware kits, and tools for student, teacher, and parent use. It is gearing up to encompass all K-12 education. Alongside our resources, we are also creating deployable after-school programs. Our platform is going to take a few years to build, but as we hopefully gain community support we will see our resources grow faster. We are gearing up to release our programs again in February of 2015 for a 16 week testing period, before resuming our normal year long duration for the 2015-2016 school year. Students are not required to participate for the entire year, we just want to offer a space year round for students who may have to juggle responsibilities to other after-school
obligations and programs.

Aspects of this program are under development, but if you go to developersclubonline.com, you will be able to see our dates for release of content, our campaign to create our imaginative and educational kits, and other important information about contributions, donations, and even possible sponsorships of the Developers’ Club platform and the associated programs. It also contains information on what is required to start an after-school program, the responsibilities of those who choose to execute the after-school programs, and other general program information. The program is set up to be an umbrella program, meaning we offer a wide variety of programs.

We will have programs that focus on increasing female participation and general participation rates in technology. Our after-school programs will be kicking off in February 2015. One of our more innovative programs, however, will be released over the Summer of 2015 and this will take a focus on clean computing.

The program is set to run for four months. Over the four months, participants will learn how to program, work with and assemble their Raspberry Pi based weather station or simple solar panel, gain insight into the computing industry when it comes to production, use, and disposal methods. They will also learn about the environment, renewable energies, and what the future could look like with a cleaner form of computing. The after-school programs are built to run for four months; however, due to the modular style of our resources the program can be expanded and contracted to meet different school and after-school facility needs. Students would primarily spend their time learning about technology, programming, and if they have purchased a hardware kit they would work on building that.

For our after-school programs we end with a celebration! There is an end of the program awards ceremony where students receive certificates, recognition, and celebrate their accomplishments and participation in the program.

To elaborate on the term “clean computing,” there is a need for computing to become more biodegradable, renewable, and environmentally friendly. We have issues with the handling of E-Wastes, production, and energy consumption issues within computing that are only going to compound as technology becomes more integral to our lives. In the United States, which we are believed to be the largest producer of e-waste in the world, has been estimated that well over one hundred million computers, monitors, and televisions become obsolete each year. This trend is just growing year by year. E-Wastes consist of small and large appliances, batteries, technology, etc. Technology accounts
for more than half of this E-Waste, however, as much as 57%. The United Nations estimates that the world total generates twenty to fifty million tons of E-Waste each year.
We are improperly disposing of them when we do take the time to do so, which is only roughly 13% of the time. Improper recycling methods in China of E-Wastes, let me draw attention to the word improper, has left the ground spiked with toxicity due to higher levels of heavy metals and other chemicals caused by the uncontrolled acid discharge.

China is just one of the many countries who are experiencing damage from our E-Wastes.
When it comes to the production of computing we have other countries in Asia such as the Philippines, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Pakistan, Malaysia, and Vietnam becoming targets for dumping E-wastes. There has also been targeting in Africa as well, Nigeria, Kenya, Senegal, and Ghana are becoming the latest targets for dumping of these wastes generated by more advanced economies with stricter environmental regulations.

E-Wastes contain brominated flame retardants that are used in to print circuit boards,
connectors, covers, and tablets. These are found in high concentrations above improperly ran E-waste recycling sites in China, and areas like it, and can house exceedingly high concentrations of chemicals like polybrominated biphenyls and polybrominated diphenyl. These can be responsible for increased rates of breast, cervical, and uterine cancer in women; as well as, create serious developmental issues for males and females which include sexual, skeletal, and mental developmental issues when they are found in highly concentrated levels.

Computing manufacturing has a negative impact on the environment, the precious materials used to produce our computers, phones, tablets, and other electronic devices alone are very taxing. It has been said that making a computer is as resource intensive as making a refrigerator or a car. For example, the water that is used in computing has to be incredibly sanitized and it takes a lot of it. Microchips have to be cleaned and sanitized with each layer that is etched into them. With some of these crevices being smaller than a wavelength we have to utilize ultra clean water because even the smallest mineral is cumbersome on that chip. This is done with highly clean water, called Ultra Pure
Water (UPW), that is actually not recommend for human consumption because it can strip minerals from the body. It has to be dirtied before being placed back in the water supply, if it is not recycled and reused by the plant.

We are not getting the most from our resources when it comes to computing. There are so many who are uneducated about the boxes under their desks and the devices that run their life. Often times, when an inexperienced user has a simple hard drive failure or something go wrong there are many who just ditch their old system and purchase a brand new one. This pattern stands to why we need to include more technology educational programs in schools. Why we need to see its integration into the core curriculum, and other alternative institutions, so people can be more informed about their greatly needed devices and how to maintain and care for them properly. The internet alone consumes massive amounts of electricity every year. The internet is primarily fueled on the backbone of coal and oil energy and is thus making our most pervasive accessibly knowledge tool since the Gutenberg press a contender for environmental damage.

To put this in further perspective, Greenpeace is estimating that by 2020 our data centers will demand more electricity than is currently demanded by France, Brazil, Canada, and Germany combined. It seems that our thirst for knowledge has led us to create an energy chugging monster of mammoth proportions.

Data centers and the processing of data, which is exponentially skyrocketing alongside our ability to process data, like a Moore’s Law of data generation alongside processor speed will only see this problem compound as more people hop onto the internet and start to use it in their daily lives as technology becomes globalized.

We are at an interesting time in technology and society. We need more professionals in this field to combat the growing need for the development of technological tools and resources. We are at the crossroads of decisions that we can make to transform technology to become more sustainable for our future while teaching people to properly use it, not just slam code on the board and tell them “this works.”  We can use this powerfully encompassing tool to continue achieving a higher quality of life and making it more effective. We can do this through educating younger and current generations about computing, getting them excited about what the future holds with a form of green and sustainable computing in the meld, make them realize what their impact could be by their participation, and teach them the skills necessary to execute their plans for the betterment of computing technology for the future. We have to inform those around us of the production, disposal, and energy consumption dilemmas in computing in order for it to continue to be our most effective tool yet.

Written By: Emily Peed

Article Links:

Assessing Computer Science Education

With the current national focus on making computer science (CS) count as a high school math or science credit or as core admissions credit for colleges and universities, the first step is to examine CS assessment landscape in K–12 education. In particular, it is imperative to conduct a landscape study on how the key players (teachers and CS education researchers) utilize assessment in their work. As more and more states adopt CS as a requirement, quality assessment will be a necessity that not only measures knowledge, but also assess student conceptual understanding. Currently, the quality and state of computer science assessment is generally unknown and opinions differ on what is available to the K–12 community at a cost effective rate (or free) and is easy to implement and access. Furthermore, the open-ended nature of computer science tasks makes it imperative that assessments are carefully developed and they fit the philosophy of open-ended algorithmic thinking.

Why is assessment so important? Having students demonstrate their understanding of the topic is essential to their learning process. Assessment helps to evaluate the student’s understanding of the subject matter and provides instructors with evidence of whether or not their educational goals are being met – both as a formative and a summative tool. However, the use of different programming languages and tasks in computer science classrooms make it challenging to develop a standardized test. Hence, it is important that we develop an understanding of what assessments are available, the caliber of the assessments including validity and reliability of available CS assessment.

Given the role of assessment, CSTA with funding from Google is undertaking this important task of examining the assessment landscape in high school computer science classroom. To meet the objective, CSTA Assessment Landscape Planning Committee will conduct a study to learn more about how CS teachers are using assessment in their own classrooms both to inform day-to-day instruction as well as end of course learning outcomes.

Aman Yadav
Chair, CSTA Assessment Landscape Planning Committee

CSEdWeek – Looking Back and Looking Ahead

And so we begin a new year. A time to reflect. I have been reflecting on my activities for CSEdWeek. Since the first CSEdWeek in December 2009, I have celebrated the week on my campus trying different activities each year.

For the first CSEdWeek in 2009, I was able to arrange for an after school walking field trip to a nearby business, Hydraflow. It was exciting to see the expressions on my students’ faces as they toured the business and listened to how the company had gone completely paperless!

For the CSEdWeek in 2010, I wanted to do more! I was able to arrange for a walking field trip to Raytheon during the school day. The students were amazed at the “trailer” where equipment was set up to demonstrate a disaster and how Raytheon had built a system where different law enforcement agencies could “talk” to each other even though they were using various type of hardware. A parent from my school also graciously arranged for some employees from his company to speak to my students about how computer science had opened up opportunities for them.

For CSEdWeek 2011 the students once again had the opportunity to tour Raytheon and visit the “trailer” again as well as the outdoor mock-up of a toll system. I also arranged for a student ambassador from University of California, Irvine to visit the class and discuss his experiences as a computer science student in college.

For CSEdWeek 2012, I had asked the school board for my district to recognized CSEdWeek. They agreed to do that and I was asked to select two students to be honored at a board meeting. It was a difficult decision to only select two, but I was happy that I could have these students recognized! Raytheon tour was also a highlight of the week. The students appreciated meeting the wife of one of the school’s science teachers during the Raytheon tour. Additionally, one of my former students dropped by school and spoke to the students about her career working in the CS Field.

Last year we celebrate Hour of Code during CSEdWeek. The local community college assisted with advertising for our community event. There were about 30 community members that attended the event with the computer science students assisting them. Several students commented to me about how much they enjoyed helping others to learn to code. I also held a lunch time birthday party for the students at the high school to celebrate Grace Hopper’s birthday. The school board also recognized CSEdWeek and I selected two students to be recognized.

This year the CS students participated in a community Hour of Code event. I asked the local school principals to advertise the event on their webpages. There was such an overwhelming response that I had to shut down the Eventbrite Site. I continued to receive emails from parents that wanted to attend with their children. They were invited to attend. There were enough reservations to fill two classrooms. I was concerned about supervision until the online teacher contacted me and offered to help. My husband also stopped by and offered his help. We were ready to go! I had set up a poster on smore.com with choices for activities that students could use on the computers in the computer lab. You can view my poster at https://www.smore.com/180ce

Pic1 Pic2 Pic3

In addition to the successful Hour of Code event, the students were able to connect with a Skype employee through Skype in the Classroom program. You can set up a session at https://education.skype.com/. The speakers were great and very patient answering the students’ questions.

The district school board also celebrated CSEd Week at the school board meeting. This year I was able to select three students to be honored. The school principal took picture of the event and uploaded them to the school’s Facebook page.

The week ended with a birthday celebration at lunch. All students were invited and the CS students served cake and assisted the students with Hour of Code activities.

I am looking ahead to next year’s CSEd Week. I plan to hold the community Hour of Code event in the library which the principal has already agreed to. I hope to add a Maker Faire with the help of the Engineering Classes. I will contact the principals at the local elementary and junior high schools to advertise the event and I will use Eventbrite again. Through Eventbrite, I have sent out a survey to this year’s attendees to evaluate and improve the Hour of Code event next year.

What did you plan for CS Week that was a success? I am looking for more activities to add to the week!

Myra Deister, CSTA At-large Representative

Featured Mobile App: The Computer Wore Heels

Review by Duncan A. Buell

Three years ago, producer/director LeAnn Erickson came out with Top Secret Rosies: The Female Computers of WWII, a documentary about women mathematicians who held jobs as “computers” during the Second World War. Their primary job at the Philadelphia Computing Section connected to Aberdeen Proving Ground was to compute ballistics tables. The film was well done and has been well received. It tells the story of women who broke the gender barrier doing scientific work in the war years when men were wanted elsewhere.

The Computer Wore Heels is a mobile application telling much the same story but in a different format. The app is book-like, with pages of text, backgrounds that include calculations, mathematics, and photo images, and touch-activated photos, video, and audio. The text is done as if on a manual typewriter, and the format and background are done as if this were sort of a scrapbook, with some annotations done as handwriting.

The story line isn’t linear. It goes back and forth largely as the personal story of women given an opportunity. One waits until halfway through to see the letter to the AAUW from the Dean of the Moore School asking for names of women who would be suitable to work as computers in the ENIAC era, and only because the letter was the same letter as was used for the initial recruitment of women.

Where the film seemed to be largely the personal story of these women pioneers in computing, the app feels much more like the personal stories of women who have professional lives. I found this appealing. Instead of just interviews, one gets from the interspersed documents and backgrounds a good feel for how these women worked with the technology of that era. In many ways, this version of the story improves on the version from the film. Interestingly, I don’t see a single clear photo of a woman wearing high heels.

I have a few complaints. Not all the photos enlarge, and it’s not clear why that could not have been done. At times it does seem to be text-heavy, but there are also places that would seem to cry out for more text. There is a letter from Herman Goldstine offering Doris Blumberg a job as a “Junior Computer” that is a priceless artifact of the terminology of the 1940s. More could have been said, but perhaps not without being dull for the intended audience.

I think The Computer Wore Heels is a great app. My only hesitation is that, if this were to be used for school purposes, the teacher would be well advised to read up on the background. Students will have a hard time today understanding the barriers women faced then to do mathematics and science. In a world that seems constantly engaged in wars that have little impact back home, students may have trouble understanding an entire nation’s mobilizing for the effort of WWII. But the whole story is a large story, and would not have fit in an app in a way that would engage the target audience. The app presents a compelling and inspiring story of women being able to use their intellectual and mathematical talents in an era when that was not common and a story of some of those who were in the thick of things at the dawn of the computer age.

CSEdWeek Stories

As I write this post, CSEdweek 2014 is nearing its end. There have been numerous articles in the national press spreading the message of K-12 CS education, including President Obama becoming the first President to write code (http://www.wired.com/2014/12/obama-becomes-first-president-write-computer-program/). However, the biggest impact of CSEdweek is at the local level, where teachers in the classroom are working with their students to show them the power and fun of computing. I recently talked with Terrie Brown, who is a 2nd grade teacher at Fairview Elementary in Bellevue, Nebraska. Her class made a video of their CSEdWeek activities. Check it out at http://youtu.be/uNCtJkMsERA and see the looks of excitement and empowerment on the students’ faces. Also, if you have stories or videos from your CSEdWeek activities, why not share them here?

Dave Reed
Chair-elect & College Faculty Representative
CSTA Board of Directors

CS Ed Week Promotion in Your City

The Philadelphia skyline is sporting a bright promotion of CS Ed Week thanks to the efforts of CSTA Philly founding member, Mary-Angela Papalaskari and Villanova University. The PECO building has a scrolling light crown that often draws attention to worthy events in and around the city.

The PECO website has a page devoted to the crown lights and how to request a message. Mary-Angela submitted the request many weeks ago in preparation for CS Ed Week. PECO informed her in October that the request was approved and would be the crown lights message for the beginning of this week! Here is a 30 second video of the scrolling message that is currently visible all over the city:

This is a great idea if you live or work near a city. Many cities have a building with crown lights, just give yourself plenty of time to negotiate the request process and follow all the rules to get your own message up in lights!

Tammy Pirmann
District Representative, CSTA Board of Directors

Fan Letter to Computer Science Teachers: You are the Coding Heroes

Posted on behalf of Elizabeth Vandenburg, GEMS Public Outreach Director and Founder of GEMS-Nova Labs Girl Makers. 

As we prepare for next week’s Computer Science Education Week as well as the “Hour of Code” initiative, Girls Excelling in Math & Science (GEMS) thanks YOU, the computer science teachers who are walking the walk every day, teaching and motivating students to pursue computer science. GEMS particularly thanks you for creating inclusive girl-friendly computer science classrooms.

Like Computer Science Teachers Association, GEMS is a NCWIT K-12 Alliance member, using and seeing results from research-based strategies to reach an important goal for gender equity in tech,  “50/50 by 2020.”

I’ve heard hundreds of great stories about what teachers do to support girls and tech. One teacher, Laura Reasoner Jones, who -founded GEMS, ran a STEM after school club in Northern Virginia for 20 years. She plastered her walls with posters of female role models. One day, a 4th grader named Maria, who ate her lunch every day with Jones, turned to the “Expect the Best From a Girl and That’s What You’ll Get” poster behind her and asked, “Do you really believe that?” When Jones replied an empathic yes, Maria stood taller. “I could tell she felt differently about herself, “ said Jones.

sphero photo

So here’s a GEMS challenge for your CSEdWeek/Hour of Code event: Tweet a photo of your girls participating during the week of December 8-14 and tag with @GirlsExcelling // #CSEdWeek. Photo ideas include girls (and boys!) holding up posters of female role models, pictures of girls’ actual STEM work, or girls participating in an Hour of Code/CSEdWeek activity. Please remember to obtain consent from your students’ legal guardian(s) prior to posting pictures.

Should you require a poster for this challenge, or just to stimulate thinking in your classroom, Code.org offers two promotional posters featuring women. Everyone who participates will be entered into a drawing for a Sphero 10 pack for your classroom!

Next week’s activities are important for the growth of computer science education, but make no mistake, your daily work is where the change happens.

ECEP Alliance: Measuring CS Education progress in US states

Posted by CSTA on behalf of The Expanding Computing Education Pathways (ECEP) Alliance

The Expanding Computing Education Pathways alliance (http://ecepalliance.org) is an NSF-funded alliance to broaden participation in computing. Our focus is on the education pathways (from elementary through high school, to community college and universities), because that’s our best chance to reach underserved populations. Our challenge is that education policies vary dramatically from state-to-state, so we can’t come up with one solution that works for everybody. A model that we promote for getting started in a state is:

  • Step 1: Find a leader(s): You need a leader (or a couple) who will take the initiative and who see(s) the big picture of how schools, higher education, businesses, and state politics have to work together to make change within a state.
  • Step 2: Understand your state’s policies: Who makes the decisions in your state about high school graduation requirements, teacher certification, and high school curricula? Where does computing fit within your state’s policies? Think about writing a landscape report that lays out the current state of computing education within your state. (There are several of these available at the CSTA website, such as one from South Carolina and another on Maryland.)
  • Step 3: Gather your allies: Efforts that speak with multiple voices from different sectors promoting computing education tend to get more influence in state government. Computing education summits are where you meet face-to-face, to talk about shared goals and come up with strategies that all the allies can work on.
  • Step 4: Get initial funding: Landscape reports, summits, and other meetings take some small pots of funding to get you started, before the big ticket items, like professional learning opportunities for all your high school teachers.

If every state has different policies, how do we measure progress? How can we tell that things are getting better, or which states are moving ahead and faster than others? Every year, Barbara Ericson of ECEP collates the College Board data on who took the Advanced Placement® Computer Science (AP CS) exam. Data on AP CS doesn’t cover all computing education in a state, but it’s likely a close measure and it gives us a way of comparing progress in states. The College Board doesn’t know how many AP CS teachers there are, but does track how many schools pass the audit which allows them to offer AP CS. Most schools that pass the audit have exactly one teacher, so counting schools that pass the audit is a rough count of AP CS teachers.

Barbara’s analysis of AP CS A in 2013 (available here) got a lot of press coverage, including the New York Times, CNN, Slate, and Washington Post (see a list here). Barbara has a preliminary set of results available now on the 2014 data (her analysis and data are available here). Here are some of the national highlights:

  • The number of AP CS exam takers rose 26.29% in 2014 (from 29,444 to 37,327).
  • The number of schools passing the audit rose a little over 10% (from 2,252 to 2,525). The big difference in those two statistics (27% more test-takers, only 10% more teachers) means that each teacher is getting more students to take the AP CS exam.
  • Women, Black (the College Board’s category), and Hispanic exam takers all increased about 35%. That’s faster than the overall exam taker growth at 27%, but just barely. In 2013, 18.5% of exam takers were female. In 2014, 20.0% of exam takers were female.
  • A smaller percentage of students passed (from 66.86% to 61% overall), and that was true within demographic groups, too. 62% of female exam takers passed in 2013, but only 57% this year. A drop in pass rates is not too unexpected if we are getting more students into the exam, especially if new students are coming from schools and teachers new to teaching AP CS.

When we get to the individual states, the picture is more complex, but is still striking in terms of how little AP CS there is yet in some states.

  • 18 states had less than 100 people total take the AP CS exam in 2014. Montana had only 4 exam takers (all male). Mississippi also had four exam takers (one female), and though the state is 38% Black, they had no Black AP CS exam takers. Wyoming didn’t have a single AP CS exam-taker in 2013 or 2014.
  • California leads the nation in number of AP CS exam takers and had the biggest gain in exam taking, with a 34% increase from 2013 to 2014. Florida jumped from 8th in the US to 4th with a 39%. Maryland had surprisingly little growth from 2013 (from 1629 students in 2013 to 1639 in 2014) and dropped from 5th to 8th.
  • California is also the most populous state. Maryland has the most exam takers for its population, followed by Virginia and New Jersey.
  • We are nowhere near gender-balance in AP CS exam taking. With 1/4 (25%), Mississippi has the highest percentage of females taking the AP CS exam. The next three top states are Washington (260/1048 = 25%), Oklahoma (42/171 = 25%), and Texas (1102/4551 = 24%). The states with the least female participation in AP CS exam-taking are Montana (0/4), Wyoming (0/0), Mississippi (1/4), North Dakota (1/14), Nebraska (2/71), Kansas (3/40), Alaska (4/30), South Dakota (4/29), Utah (5/104), and Delaware (7/79).
  • Barbara is still going through the race data, but even the bright spots still aren’t that bright. Maryland had the most Black exam takers (192) with a 30% pass rate, which means that 12% of their exam takers were Black. 30% of Maryland’s population is Black. Texas was second (161 exam takers, 40% pass rate), which is 4% Black exam takers in a state that is 12% Black.

These results are positive in terms of growth, but we have a long way to go. AP CS is smaller and more gender-skewed than any other AP exam (see Brian Danielak’s insightful visualization here). We use AP CS as a measure for CS education in the United States overall. Computer science in high schools is rare, mostly male, and mostly white or Asian. That’s what we’re trying to fix.