Wednesday, September 17, 2014

NCWIT Aspirations in Computing 2015


The nomination period for the 2015 NCWIT Award for Aspirations in Computing is now open. If you know a high school woman who is interested in computing nominate her or suggest she nominate herself. This is a great program to give some girls some recognition and support. And there are prizes too! From the web site:

The NCWIT Award for Aspirations in Computing honors young women who are active and interested in computing and technology, and encourages them to pursue their passions. This multi-tiered competition includes recognition at the national level (sponsored by Bank of America) and at the local level (sponsored by Microsoft), serving 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Criteria and Eligibility
Any U.S. high school woman with computing aspirations is eligible and encouraged to apply: NCWIT recognizes aspirations as well as accomplishments. Aspirations Award recipients are chosen for their outstanding aptitude and interest in computing, proven leadership ability, academic performance, and plans for post-secondary education. For more detailed information, please visit

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Why I Retweet Things From Heavily Followed People

I used to think that retweeting something that someone who had a lot of followers tweeted was a waste of time. After all they reach many more people than I do. Plus many of the same people follow both of us so I’d be duplicating things. Then I started to look at statistics that twitter provides. Mind opening.

For starters even though I have something around 5,000 followers it seems from the statistics that only between 150 and 250 people actually see the average tweet I make. Still an ego boosting number but it made me realize that just because I see a tweet doesn’t mean that all the other followers of a tweeter see it. In fact only a small percentage of followers see each tweet. So if I see someone tweets something really good then there is a chance someone who didn’t see the original tweet, even though they follow the other person, will see my retweet. And that is a good thing.

For me much of the value in tweeter is what people share with me. Sharing things with others, original to me or from someone else, is what keeps the whole thing working. This is also why I include links from people who have many followers on Twitter or on their own blog BTW. If information is good then it should be shared.

Linking from a blog or retweeting on Twitter also helps bring new readers/followers to people sharing good information. Since many of the visits to this blog come from search engines there is always a chance that someone will find a blog, a twitter person, or a piece of information that they were not looking for because they didn’t know it was our there.

So I retweet things I like no matter how many followers the person has and link to blog no matter how many readers they have. It’s what makes the web work.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Interesting Links 15 September 2014

Overshadowed, at least in the US, by the anniversary of the attack by terrorists on New York and the Pentagon, last week also included Programmers Day. Apparently started in Russia when Dmitry Medvedev issued an executive order establishing a new professional holiday, Programmers' Day, back in 2009.

Programmers' Day will be celebrated on the 256th day of each year, that is on September 13 or 12 depending on whether the year is a leap year.

I didn’t know in time to celebrate with my students. Maybe next year. I did collect a lot of good links to share with you. Read them all and don’t miss any.

Interesting article in @Marie Claire: How to Land a Job at Microsoft It’s good advice no matter what tech company you are interested in working for though.

Another hi-tech company is getting involved in promoting computer science education as Salesforce Pours $6M Into SF Schools, Computer Science Education Five million directly to schools and another million to CODE.ORG also announced their new  Code Studio set of tools for teaching programming last week. 

Computer science is now the #1 course at Harvard (Just passed Economics) How does that happen? I wonder.

Digital Literacy vs. Learning to Code: A False Dichotomy Worth reading as you probably need to talk about this. I know I do.

Debugging the Gender Gap Documentary thanks to the CSTA blog I found out about this movie and watched the trailer. Good stuff!

Laura Blankenship shows once again why teachers need to share what they are doing with other teachers.  Net Neutrality and other hot topics is about how she starts of class with a short discussion of current and important topics. I need to do this with my classes.

17 Rare Images Tell the Real Story of Women in Tech by @michaelmccutch About people who too often are left out of the history of technology.

Know any women in STEM fields looking for help with graduate education funding?  Microsoft Research is giving scholarships to female graduate students in CS, Engineering, Information Science and Math. Pass it on.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Getting Organized

Most years I have had a rough plan of what I wanted to teach.  I use the term “plan” loosely there. My granularity tended to be a week rather than a day. I knew the topics and the order of the topics but day by day plans tended to be recorded after the fact. This year I got really organized.

I’m teaching two courses and one of them includes sections of a course that two of us are teaching. Tom (the other teacher) and I (largely Tom) built up a daily plan based largely on records of how the course went last year. This seemed like a great idea so I did the same for the honors programming course where I am the only teacher. I laid out every day of the semester. Oh there is room if something runs long and I can deal if things go short and I adjust the schedule as that happens. But basically, in theory, I know what I am doing every day all semester long.

It’s early to see how it will work for the semester but so far I think it is going well. The plan forced me to spend more time and do more exercises with students on some of the early stuff. This is stuff I think I rushed too much last year. Very basic stuff like variable types, proper use of assignments, breaking down problems into little pieces, and other concepts that really have to be solid before getting serious about things like loops and decision structures and all that. Without the plan I might have rushed too much.

I have planned out what projects and exercises to do as well. I spent some time during the summer tuning them up a bit from previous years. While I leave myself open to changing projects based on student interest at least I know what I need and when I need it.

What I have found most amazing is how this has kept my stress level down. I know what I did when I did it and what to do  today. When I get in to school I review the plan for the day and I am good to go. It feels great.

This is not to say I don’t spend my prep time doing things. I do. Grading of course takes up some part of it. Mostly though the time is spent improving what I had or have used in the past. And some time improving things for the next time I present the same topic. Improving slide decks and building additional support resources for students seems like a natural result of almost every class. our learning management systems makes it easy to share things with students and I encourage them to go there for review information.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Fun With Code Monkeys

In industry demos I have worked on over the years the people who enter code as part of a demo, usually with someone else explaining what they are doing, are referred to as “code monkeys.” It’s all in fun and taken with humor. This year one of the things I am working on is putting more students hands on and taking an active part in demonstrations of code. I know that most good teachers do stuff like this but I’ve had trouble giving up control of the keyboard. Embarrassing to admit.

I know that I need to get away from being the boring voice in the front of the room. So having students do more “board work” is a step in the right direction.These students are sort of like code monkeys except that there is more interaction between them and me. So far having students do the work seems to be getting students more focused. So I’m happy. Why didn’t I do this years earlier?

I have instituted one primary rule – anyone who makes fun of or gives the student doing the demo a hard time has to replace that student. It seems to cut down on teasing and makes the student in the demo a bit more comfortable. Interestingly enough it seems to encourage other students, not just the demo student, to call out peers for unsupportive behavior. Since a mutually supportive environment is one of my goals this may help there as well.

One other thing I have done is to let the demo student call on others when I want an answer from the audience. They find that empowering and as it turns out they are better about spreading the questions out than I am.

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Can I Look That Up?

The other day a student wanted to add something to a program using functionality we had not covered in class. His question to me was “Can I Google how to do that?” I resisted telling him to use Bing and just said “sure.” I want students to go beyond what we cover in class. And in fact being able to find and learn things from ones own research (internet or other source) is a valuable skill that I want to see students develop.

Another student who had finished the required code for an assignment asked me if he could add more features to his program. Again I answered in the affirmative. Any time a student wants to do more than the minimum required I am all for it.

I almost wondered why students felt they had to ask me these questions but I realize that there are teachers who demand precise work that doesn’t vary from a comment set of standards or rubrics. Schools do not always encourage creativity and when they do there are often limits placed on it.

The one big limit I try to enforce though is that the minimum requirements for a project have to be done first. Once that is done I really want the students to make the project theirs. I don’t want to grade a classroom set of completely identical projects. That is boring for me and it means the students are likely to be bored as well.

I want students to make the project their own but more than that I want them to stretch themselves in directions that interest them.  Students who learn to do something because they want to learn it and use it seem to learn those things much better than if they are just learning for a test. Passing a test is pretty sad motivation. Yes some students will never get as excited about computer science as I am and that’s ok. Some of them will need the pressure of a test to make them study. That is reality. But for the most part I want students to want to learn to solve problems that interest them. If that means looking things up or adding additional features that work fine for me.

Monday, September 08, 2014

Interesting Links 8 September 2014

Busy busy last week. I feel like I am getting back into the rhythm of school but grading takes up a good bit of time. As it always does. Still enjoying working with my students though. This week the post ends with a couple of images I found this past week. Some I have already shared with students and some I will be sharing.

From  @sbceoedtech and the BBC A computing revolution in UK schools Things are changing in the UK and it is not always smooth.

Check out the latest (Summer) edition of The Journal for Computing Teachers (JCT). Here's the link:

Great video from NSF about ECS! Use it to help administrators understand the impact of CS!

 Pushing the Start button on a computer science curriculum for K-12 schools. People are talking in California which is often a bellwether state in education.

And now some images. Hope you enjoy them.

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My students were surprised this week when I showed them the first floppy disk some of them had seen.