Thursday, October 31, 2013

Get Involved in Hour of Code 2013

Last week, Code.Org and others announced the Hour of Code to the world. Now backed by Microsoft, Google, Apple, Amazon, LinkedIn, Mark Zuckerberg, CSTA, the College Board, Boys & Girls Clubs, and over 100 other partners, we’re getting closer to 10 million students trying one Hour of Code during Dec. 9-15. We still need your help.
Every student should have the opportunity to learn computer science. Please join us at:

Learn to code - from Mark Zuckerberg and Angry Birds will provide tutorials for any browser, tablet, phone, even unplugged. Our own tutorial will feature Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Angry Birds, and Plants vs. Zombies. We’ll share a preview for feedback in early-November.

Win laptops or a video chat with Bill Gates for your class

50 schools who organize an Hour of Code for the entire school will win a class-set of laptops. 50 more will win video chats with Bill Gates, Jack Dorsey, or other tech leaders. So far, we have 990 "entire school" submissions.  You can see the list of schools at In some states, your school will be the first to sign up, making your chances of winning exceptional. The deadline is Nov. 15, so register now. More info about prizes can be found at

How can you help?

  • Ask your entire school to participate - download and share this handout and video with your teacher or principal at
  • Participate yourself (or with your child). Set aside one hour during Dec. 9-15.
  • At work, schedule a 1-hour team event to learn together.
  • In your community, recruit a local group. Or host an Hour of Code "block party.
  • Share on your social networks why you’re hosting an Hour of Code. Ask friends to join.

  • No experience needed

    We owe it to today’s students to start with one hour. CSEdWeek (Dec. 9-15) is in 7 weeks! Get started. Go to

    Tuesday, October 29, 2013

    We Are the Faces of Computing Poster Contest!

    CSTA LogoIn honor of CSEdWeek, CSTA’s Equity Committee will be hosting its annual poster competition "We Are the Faces of Computing".  This contest invites students of any age to design a poster that highlights the diverse and creative ways that students do computer science together.  Last year’s winning posters can be found at:

    A description of the criteria:

    1. An image of students must be in the poster.
    2. The theme, "We are the Face of Computing" must be clearly visible on the poster.
    3. Students should include creative images that reflect their lives, interests, and experiences with computing.
    4. Poster files must be no larger than 10MB and submitted in .pdf format using online form.
    5. Winners of Elementary School, Middle School, and High School competitions will receive a either three Finch robots or a Lego Mindstorms robot for their classrooms and have their posters published on the CSTA website.
    6. Winning schools must be able to provide parental permission forms for all students appearing in their posters. 


    1. Submit final poster, along with student names, teacher/advisor name, school, city, and grade-level, to form at by November 18, 2013.
    2. Winners will be notified by email and announced during CS Education Week, beginning December 10.

    Programmable Robots for Young Students

    play-i logo Play-I is a new start up using crowd funding to develop a pair of programmable robots for young students. I have a thing for robots. And these robots are pretty cute.
    Play-Is robots are called Bo and Yana. That’s Bo on the left and Yana on the right in the image below.

    Bo is an explorer. He is playful and curious. He loves going on adventures and making new friends. As you play with him, Bo learns new skills and becomes a more Bo_Yanacapable robot. Together, there's no stopping where you and Bo can go.
    Yana is a storyteller. She is clever and imaginative. She hasn't found her wings yet but she is full of dreams. Yana can surprise you and entertain you — with characters brought to life with gestures! Use the power of your imagination to unlock her potential.
    Play-i is creating a visual programming environment for its robots on touch devices for kids, that meets children at their level of cognitive ability and motor skills, starting as early as age five. Unlike other programming languages where children are first taught the syntax, Play-i focuses on learning through exploration, play and discovery.
    I find the ideas here somewhat reminiscent of Kodu but with physical robots rather than virtual ones. Cute robots, simple user/programming interface and an emphasis on learning by exploring. From what I am reading there will be an API that will work with most devices that support Bluetooth 4 networking protocols. That suggests some interesting experiences for more advanced programmers as well.
    It all sounds good and they have some good academic advisors including people who have done a lot of work with Lego Mindstorms and Alice. I find that encouraging. We’ll have to see how it works out with students at homes and in schools.

    Monday, October 28, 2013

    Interesting Links 28 October 2013

    The first quarter at my school closed last Friday. The year seems to be flying by. I guess it is true what they say about time flying when you are having fun. I hope your year is going well. And now some interesting links to share.

    Starting in 2014-15, the AP Computer Science A GridWorld case study will be replaced with a required hands-on lab component. It’s a big change and if you are currently teaching AP CS A and/or are planning on teaching it next school year you’ll want to take a lot a this on the College Board website: New Computer Science A Labs for 2014-15

    Not much time left to apply for the Aspirations Award! Know a HS girl who loves computing? Encourage her to apply here:

    Interested in incorporating some hardware hacking into your computer science program? Take a look at "Learning to Program in Visual Basic .NET and Gadgeteer"

    Ray Chambers writes about how Touch Develop is Not just for programmers!

    Tynker @gotynker has their Hour of Code page up This is only one of the first. Are you ready for Computer Science Education week and an Hour of Code?

    Watch the original video from the Lost Interview - Steve Jobs on Computer Science:

    Friday, October 25, 2013

    Twitter Recommendations for CS Educators

    Some time ago I wrote a post on top CS education people to follow on Twitter. It was very objective as I took the people on my CS Educator Twitter list and ranked them all by Klout score. It was an unsatisfying experience because the people I follow the most, enjoy the most, and learn from the most were not all there. And some of the top people on the list I don’t actually get a lot from. As I was tweeting Follow Friday recommendations today I decided to write a blog post with recommendations that are more personal.

    BTW many of these people also show up on my Computer Science Education Blog Roll.

    CS Teachers

    I will be adding to this over time as I review my retweets and think more about it but these people I follow a lot. When they tweet it is worth reading.
    • @lblanken  Laura Blankenship is the Computer Science Coordinator at The Baldwin School – a private girls school. She teaches a wide range of grades. My interview with Laura is at Laura Blankenship)
    • @dougbergmanUSA  Doug Bergman is a Computer Science teacher in Charleston, South Carolina. An award winning educator he does a lot of creative and innovative things with his students. (My interview with Doug is at Doug Bergman)
    • @lzulli Lou Zulli teaches computer science at a public school in Florida. His students create applications that are used daily in their school. (My interview with Lou is at Louis Zulli Jr.)
    • @reesegans Patrice Gans teaches at the Univ. of Chicago Lab Schools. She is also the K-8 CS education representative to the CSTA Board of Directors.
    • @gailcarmichael Gail Carmichael is a PhD-student-on-leave researching nonlinear storytelling in games at Carleton University. Currently teaching she has a lot of insights into teaching CS.
    • @superCompSci Rebecca Dovi teaches at Patrick Henry High School which is north of Richmond VA. I retweet her links a lot! (I interview Rebecca at Rebecca Dovi)
    • @zamansky Mike Zamansky teaches at a top rated public high school in New York City. He’s doing a lot of things in CS education and outreach that go beyond the classroom and even beyond his school. (I interviewed Mike at Mike Zamansky)

    Canadian Educators

    The education twitterverse sometimes feels like an American echo chamber. These top people in Canada keep my perspective broader than the US.
    • @dougpete If you only follow one educator in Canada Doug Peterson is who you should follow. If you live or teach in Ontario you must follow him. He’s just the most connected education person I have found. And a great guy who shares information broadly.
    • @pbeens Peter Beens teaches CS at Beamsville District Secondary School in a small town in Ontario. Peter takes and shares some great pictures from education events BTW. (My interview with Peter is at Peter Beens )
    • @PeterVogel Peter Vogel is an outstanding Physics and computer teacher in Western Canada. He’s one of the people I have been following longest on Twitter. I've learned a lot from the things he shares on Twitter on a range of education topics.

    Others in CS Education

    • @MrYongpradit Pat Yongpradit is the Director of Education at A former high school CS teacher he shares a lot of good information about what is going on in the area of CS education and activism for expanding CS ed in schools. (My interview with Pat is at Pat Yongpradit )
    • @caitsydney Cait Sydney Pickens is a computer science education researcher currently working on a project in North Carolina to spread more computer science education in that state. (My interview with Cait Sydney is at Cait Sydney Pickens)
    • @lsudol Leigh Ann Sudol-DeLyser is a former high school CS teacher wrapping up a PhD in CS education. She is active with some pioneering schools in New York City as well as other CS outreach activities.

    School Administrators

    • @chrislehmann Chris Lehmann is the Founding Principal of thell Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia PA. A frequent speaker on education and education leadership you may have heard him at ISTE or seen his picture on the cover of ISTE magazine. An outstanding advocate for students he is just a great guy to know.
    •  @NMHS_Principal Eric Sheninger is the Principal of New Milford HS (NJ) He’s a regular speaker about education technology.
    • @ewilliams65 Eric Williams is a Superintendent in Virginia promoting teaching and learning that engages students. He directly sends me interesting links which I appreciate a lot.
    • @principalspage Sometimes serious, sometimes funny – always interesting. Michael Smith is the superintendent of a small school district in Illinois.

    Education Technology Reporters

    • @audreywatters Audrey Watters is a freelance journalist who casts a critical but fair eye on education technology. As independent as they come.
    • @kenroyal Ken Royal edits which is sponsored by Promethean. Well connected with educators and education companies I find a lot of good reads via his twitter feed. Oh and I occasionally write articles he publishes at Connected Learning Today.

    Thursday, October 24, 2013

    Would a TV Show Fix the CS Recruitment Program?

    A recent article in the New York Times called “I am Woman, Watch me Hack” brought up an idea I hear expressed pretty regularly. The idea is that the right TV show or movie with the right plot and actors could change the way computer science is viewed by young people in a good way.

    It’s a tempting idea. There is some indication that shows like “CSI” and “Bones” have increased interest in forensic sciences. A single scene in a single movie is often credited (or blamed) for a shape decrease in the number of men who wear undershirts. Most often computer scientists and others in computer science jobs in movies and TV shows are portrayed in unflattering ways. Does this contribute to the negative perceptions many people have of CS? Seems possible.

    Three-Days-Of-The-CondorThe portrayal of computer people in the media has been a mixed bag. We’re seeing more women playing computer expert roles but even there they tend to be a bit too geeky. They are often socially awkward for example. They are seldom as “Hollywood hot” as the Police detectives or FBI agents or CSIs are. And the guys? I just finished watching an episode of a TV show were almost all of the people working at a software startup were geeky looking guys with glasses who didn’t seem to know how to relate to women. hardly the image we want people thinking of as typical. On the other hand some of us remember Robert Redford in Three Days of the Condor. (And a PDP-8 in the opening sequence.)

    While some of these images are not exactly helpful are they hurting the field? Quite possibly. Would positive images help improve our image? Perhaps. I don’t know that it would or if it would help how much it would help. On the other hand I wish people in computer science roles were portrayed in a more favorable way. If nothing else it would make me feel better.

    Tuesday, October 22, 2013

    Closing the Gender Gap in Computer Science infographic

    I get email about posting things to my blog pretty regularly. Often the items have little or no relevance to my usual topics and I ignore them. Sometimes they are relevant, even very relevant. I know that some of them are at least in part “link bait” in which case I have to weight the pros of the link with the concern about where I am linking. For example I don’t know a whole lot about “Best Computer Science Schools”but I really like this infographic. So here it is. Doesn’t imply endorsement of “Best Computer Science Schools” as I don’t know enough about them to do so. But they include Jean Sammet who I admire so that is cool.
    Closing The Gender Gap In Computer Science
    Source: Best Computer Science Schools

    Monday, October 21, 2013

    Interesting Links 21 October 2013

    Windows 8.1 came out last week. I’ve updated one of my computers so far. Seems to go well so far. I’ll probably update the rest of my computers during the week. My school computers are still Windows 7 though. Hopefully that will change eventually. Anyway, I have a few good links to share.

    Rebecca Dovi provides a CSTA Chapter Toolkit – a bunch of tools that are helpful for running a CSTA Chapter.

    Are you interested in historical data about participation in the CS AP exam in your state? Check out this set of CS AP A exam data from 1998 to 2013 updated by Barb Ericson of Georgia Tech

    Don Wettrick@DonWettrick has started a new INternet radio podcast called InnovatED. His initial guest is Vicki Davis @coolcatteacher.

    Did you know that you can apply now for the NCWIT Student Seed Fund, a $1k award for student-run programs promoting women in computing & IT?

    Can you name the most popular programming languages? I got about about half of them. Just went blank on the rest.

    Keith Ferrell @k_ferrell gives 5 Reasons to Teach Kids to Code 

    Vicki Davis @coolcatteacher talks to Lou Zulli @lzulli on @bamradionetwork Computer Programming for All Students

    Friday, October 18, 2013

    Deadline for Proposals for CSTA Conference Approaching

    The deadline for session and workshop proposals for the 2014 CSTA conference on K-12 computer science education is November 15, 2013.

    In addition to 3-hour workshops and 1-hour sessions, this year's conference will include a limited number of 20-minute mini-sessions that focus on pedagogy and best teaching practices.

    Proposals for all three session types must include:

    • the names and contact information for all presenters
    • an overview of the session
    • a description of the intended audience (level, knowledge, …)
    • a description of session activity (in sufficient detail for an informed decision)
    • presenter background and presentation experience

    All proposals must be submitted through the online symposium submission system that can be found at:

    If you encounter a problem with the submission system, please contact Duncan Buell at

    All proposals will be peer reviewed and submitters will be notified of a decision in early January 2014. Submissions will be evaluated on the following criteria:

    • technical quality
    • writing and presentation
    • relevance to CSTA (focus on K-12 computer science or information technology)

    Successful proposers should expect to be asked to submit a reasonably final copy of their presentation by June 8, 2014.

    Additional conference details can be found at

    We look forward to receiving your proposals and to your attendance at the symposium.

    CSTApdflogo2 color

    Thursday, October 17, 2013

    Career Technical Schools and Computer Science

    Over the years I have gotten involved with a number of career technical schools in New England. Several in New Hampshire where I live and several in Massachusetts which is near by. This is fall advisory meeting season so I have attended several so far. Career technical programs are required to have advisory committees made up of people from industry and education to make sure the programs are current, meet student needs and generally prepare students for careers. that career piece is what makes programs in computing different in career technical schools from  more traditional “academic” high schools.

    While most people think of career technical schools in terms of careers like auto shop, welding, agriculture, cosmetology and similar trades more and more of these school are adding more hi tech programs. Biotechnology and pre-engineering for example. And computing. Computing programs tend to be called “Programming and web development” rather than computer science. It’s the whole “learn a trade” thing I suspect. Ultimately though students in these programs learn a lot of computer science.

    These programs do well with students who don’t always do well in traditional schools. The environment is different. It is more hands on and project based for one thing. It has a clear short term goal. Even the vocabulary is different. Students don’t work in a computer lab but work in a “shop.” The teachers generally have some experience in industry and that colors the way they teach and the way they design curriculum.

    The programs I am advising generally have three year programs. Three full year programs. One doesn’t see that very often in traditional high schools. Students also generally learn multiple programming languages. Graduating with productive knowledge of three or four languages is common. The schools also work hard at finding the students co-op opportunities which place them in real world working environments which is itself a powerful learning experience. BTW if you are interested in hiring interns or other student workers in computing you should really look into a near by career technical school if there is one!

    Of course many of these “programming and web development” students will go on to college. Many of them to community colleges in part because of academic records but often also because of money issues. There they will show up very much advanced over their peers from “college prep” high schools at least in computing. Not a bad thing.

    These schools generally keep very current. They seldom teach the AP CS curriculum, finding it too limiting, but jump easily into things like cloud computing, mobile app development, and the latest in languages and operating systems. I haven’t visited a career tech program yet where the “shop” wasn’t running at least Windows 7. One I visited recently had a new shop where all of the computers ran with dual monitors which is a lot more like industry uses.

    And the students! Highly motivated, hard working, and eager to learn. They are there because they want to be there. These are kids who would often be trying to learn on their own if these programs were not available to them. having the support of a teacher, curriculum and other resources no doubt moves them much faster, deeper and broader than they could learn on their own.

    These schools are an under appreciated resource when we talk about computing education. They don’t show up on the APCS numbers which makes them almost invisible in some ways. The teachers are interested in learning new things but an AP CS prep course is not in that category so AP teachers may not run into them often. And yet they are preparing students that the AP CS students will be competing with for jobs. Given a choice between a student with a passing APCS score and a year long internship who do you think some hiring managers will look at first? I’ve talked to students co-oping at companies like IBM and Lincoln labs BTW. So these co-ops are not all with small operations.

    Yes, I’m a fan. At a time when to many college prep high schools seem to be deemphasizing computing these career tech high schools are growing their “programming and web development” programs. They’re doing some good stuff!

    Tuesday, October 15, 2013

    AP Computer Science or AP Art History

    The news came across my social media links that last year more students took the Advanced Placement Art History exam than took the AP Computer Science exam. Given how much better the job prospects are for computer scientists than for art historians this seems counter intuitive.

    To those of us who are fans of computer science that more students take Art History than computer science just feels wrong somehow. It doesn’t quite seem logical.

    There are several reasons why students take AP exams besides career interest of course. Several people have suggested that high school students take AP Art History in hopes of avoiding taking a similar course in university. Apparently AP US History is also one such course.  For others I am sure interest is a motivating factor. On the other hand I also suspect that a good Art History course can help build more interest in art. That makes taking art history a good thing beyond just avoiding one more general education requirement later on.

    That building of interest is one reason I would like to see more students introduced to computer science at an earlier age. Not so that every student takes more computer science in university (though more should) but that they are at least able to develop a greater understanding of computer science and its role in their world.

    Computer science is hard. We hear that a lot. That probably scares a lot of students away  from it. Especially in schools where AP CS is the first computer science course. that’s pretty understandable. Imagine taking AP Calculus without having any previous math courses!  APCS is a terrible first course in computer science. Terrible!

    Computer science can and should be introduced to students long before we even suggest they take AP computer science. Computer science done right is fun, it’s exciting, it’s interesting, it’s full of WOW! But that’s not how we usually do it. I’ve written about the importance of the first CS course before of course. I feel strongly about it. I think we can do more than just whole courses though.

    There are events that can at least start to build interest. Most of Microsoft’s Digigirlz events show off computer science well for girls. And they are fun! The upcoming Hour of Code program for Computer Science education week is designed to provide a fun successful exposure to computer science for a great many students all over the US.

    We, for values of we that include people who want to see more students get involved in computer science, have to do more than just single events in a single week once a year though. There in lays the real challenge!

    CS ED Week logo_text

    Monday, October 14, 2013

    Interesting Links 14 October 2013

    Last week was Leif Erikson Day. Today in the US we celebrate some Italian guy who came to North America later. So I have no school. I’ll take it. A lot of stuff to catch up on. Including looking though links like the ones I share below.

    Educational Robots for Absolute Beginners, (a course for teachers and others interested)

    Bookmark this page: List of free programming books via @github

    Windows 8.1, HID and a Missile Launcher (OK maybe not if you are at a school with a zero tolerance for “weapons” that includes toy missiles.) (Channel 9) via @ch9  But some of us think this looks like fun.

    Standardize Your (CS) World  some information about computer science and standards from the CSTA Blog via @csteachersa

    Confessions of an Elementary Computer Science Teacher is yet another good blog post on the CSTA blog

    Using Kinect for Winnows SDK v1.8 to add speech recognition to your next web app (via @ch9) Now that is an interesting idea. 

    Databases - the next day more about the database unit that Mike Zamansky it running with his students. via @zamansky

    Western New York CSTA Fall K-12 Teacher's Conference: WNY Computes May be of interest for CS teachers in and around Western New York State. 

    Big Ideas Roundup  The latest update from Rebecca Dovi about her pilot course of Computer Science Principles. Follow Rebecca on Twitter

    Round Up of Student Technology Competitions 2013 updated to include ACSL.

    Thursday, October 10, 2013

    Chemistry, Computer Science and the Nobel Prize

    NobelMedalThere is no Nobel Prize in Computer Science. We do have the Turing Award which is as close as we get. It’s not as well known as the Nobel Prize though so when scientists get recognized by the Nobel Committee for work that is heavily involved in computing it is a big deal for those of us who care about computer science. That happened this week when three men were awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. Three win Nobel prize for taking chemistry into cyberspace

    The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, awarding the prize of 8 million crowns ($1.25 million) to Martin Karplus, Michael Levitt and Arieh Warshel, said their work had effectively taken chemistry into cyberspace. Long gone were the days of modeling reactions using plastic balls and sticks.

    "Today the computer is just as important a tool for chemists as the test tube," the academy said in a statement. "Computer models mirroring real life have become crucial for most advances made in chemistry today.

    Computing is involved in pretty much all fields today. In many fields, Chemistry included, computing and software that helps with things like simulations makes a lot of research possible that would be otherwise impossible. Students who are interested in Science careers today really need to have some understanding of computer science. They are going to need it!

    Wednesday, October 09, 2013

    Computer Programming Is Women’s Work

    When two related posts come though my screen at about the same time it always screams for me to write a blog post. That’s the case today as I saw Why schoolgirls are not interested in studying IT (thanks to a link from Mark Guzdial’s blog One schoolgirls’ story: Why schoolgirls are not interested in studying IT) and then from Twitter Computer Programming Used To Be Women’s Work.

    The article on the Smithsonian about programming being women’s work has an interesting quote from Grace Hopper that really resonates with me.

    Dr. Grace Hopper told a reporter, programming was “just like planning a dinner. You have to plan ahead and schedule everything so that it’s ready when you need it…. Women are ‘naturals’ at computer programming.”

    Planning meals is only one example. A short brainstorming session could easily come up with many examples of ways that we socialize women from a young age to plan things out and deal with coordination and scheduling. Boy? We don’t force them to do it quite so much. And yet men have gradually pushed women out of the field for which much of the rest of how we train women prepares them for.

    In fact as the Smithsonian article points out:

    According to test developers, successful programmers had most of the same personality traits as other white-collar professionals. The important distinction, however, was that programmers displayed “disinterest in people” and that they disliked “activities involving close personal interaction.” It is these personality profiles, says [historian Nathan] Ensmenger, that originated our modern stereotype of the anti-social computer geek.

    This sort of thing created and reinforced the stereotype that Lottie McCrindell  writes about in the WITsend article.

    I think of someone working in IT as male, old, bearded, not bothered about his clothes, his looks, or going outside. All his friends are boys and he's never had a girlfriend. He gets excited about new gadgets and he likes reading comics even though he's over 40, and he collects things, like little figures from games.

    The stereotype that Lottie McCrindell is not near as true as she thinks it is. And she probably knows that at some level but how can she be sure? Who is going to tell her different? And let’s face it, telling her it is different is not enough. She needs to see it somehow.

    This is why things like the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing is so important. It shows women they are not alone. I love that more and more college women are attending. 

    And for girls in secondary school the NCWIT Aspirations in Computing Talent Development Initiative is a great program to encourage young women. I encourage my own female students to apply to the NCWIT Award for Aspirations in Computing.  Microsoft has their DigiGirlz program which exposes girls to women in computing and shows them that the field is much more than the stereotype. We need to encourage young women who show interest and aptitude in the field. As with so many things we get what we reward!

    dig-logoNCWIT AinC White

    These are great programs but there is still too much exclusion of women in the field that actually does happen. That has to change as well. I’m sick of reading stories of misogyny and harassment in the workplace. Not just in computing fields of course but in our connected online world those text examples get so much attention it has to discourage women. The industry has to get its act together. We can’t wait for enough women to get in and force the change. Rather we have to make the change to make the field more welcoming to women.

    Tuesday, October 08, 2013

    American Computer Science League (ACSL)

    This was posted to the CSTA announcement list. I don’t have first hand experience but I hear good things.

    Computer contests for high school students are available in many varieties.   However, for those schools that annually compete in the American Computer Science League (ACSL), there is nothing BETTER.  Here are some reasons why:

    •   ACSL offers all students exposure to foundational concepts in computer science that will serve them well in current high school and future college courses.
    •   ACSL enables all students to compete with others at their grade level with similar programming experience by offering a Junior, Intermediate, and Senior Division.
    • ACSL has provided newly written, never previously used, interesting short answer problems and programming problems every year since 1978.
    • ACSL is administered in four local contests throughout the year at your school so that all of your students can participate either as part of their CS classes or as an extracurricular activity.
    • ACSL offers a Classroom Division for students who want exposure to the concepts but without a programming problem.
    • ACSL allows students to solve the programming problems using any language  their teacher allows.
    • ACSL provides all preparation materials necessary, fast email responses to all inquiries, and follow-up feedback by posting top scores and sample programs.
    • ACSL is on the Approved Activities List of the National Association of Secondary School Principals and run by current and former high school Computer Science teachers.
    • ACSL is an institutional member of CSTA and will include a free contest CD in the registration for all new teams if the teacher or advisor is a CSTA member.
    • ACSL sponsors an Invitational l All Star contest in a different city at the end of each year for qualifying teams. Prizes are awarded on a regional basis to top scoring students and teams in addition to winning schools after a full day of face-to-face team competition.

    If you are interested in participating, please visit our web site:
    for more information. All questions about ACSL can be sent to Jerry Tebrow at

    Monday, October 07, 2013

    Interesting Links 7 October 2013

    I’m staring off today with two other sets of links. Some good resource lists created by some friends of mine.

    Michelle Lagos, International Representative to the CSTA Board of Directors has an interesting article called Confessions of an Elementary Computer Science Teacher about her experiences teaching CS in elementary school.

    Congratulations to Mike @zamansky and @cstuyrun on coverage of the Saturday hack sessions for high schoolers! “It’s the first major effort to teach non-Stuyvesant students by his non-profit organization, “CSTUY," a name that reads as a play on Stuyvesant (called “Stuy” for short), but stands for Computer Science and Technology for Urban Youth.”

    Students Are 'Hacking' Their School-Issued iPads: Good for Them by one of my favorite education journalists Audrey Watters in The Atlantic. If you’ve been reading about the 1:1 programs that are causing issues in some school districts this is a must read.

    Program the Microsoft Kinect with Scratch is an interesting application of Kinect technology and the Scratch block programming environment created by Stephen Howell @saorog

    Have you seen the new Kinect For Windows Library (including Kinect Web Applications) from Microsoft?

    Friday, October 04, 2013

    Teaching Problem Solving

    One of the things we like to say learning computer science in general and programming in particular leads to is learning problem solving. It’s a nice theory and I’ve said it myself. It’s really more complicated than that of course. A student can learn all the syntax for a programming language but that doesn’t make them a problem solver. Not automatically. What I see all too often is a student who can create, for example, a loop on a test or tell me what a loop does but still has trouble applying the right tool (like that loop) to a new problem.

    Problem solving is largely about taking one idea or concept and applying it to a problem that is completely new to the problem solver. It is about saying something like “x worked for problem a and problem b is similar to problem a so x may work here.” It seems simple and obvious to state. In reality sometimes it takes a bit of perception to see that problems a and b have base similarities behind superficial differences. Other times a solution requires parts of solutions for several different problems put together in a new or unique way. Visualizing those more complex solutions can be difficult. This is especially true for people with limited understanding of the tools available to them. (Note: I talked about this a bit in Hammers and Nails and Writing Complicated Code)

    The problem that is keeping me awake lately is how to teach that sort of problem solving. How do I teach how to see the problem in a way that makes it more clear which tools should be considered?  It’s vitally important to me to do this better than I have been doing.

    Some students “get this” easily and early. Some people have more of knack for problem solving than others. To some extent I think this is a visualization problem. It depends on how people picture a problem in their mind and how they relate different problem images to others. On one hand some people just see solutions pop into their heads and go do it. On the other hand are people for whom dealing without a clearly laid out, step by step set of instructions makes a task all but impossible. It’s like people bringing IKEA furniture home. Some can look at the picture on the box and see in their mind how it comes together. Others need that step by step set of instructions and can’t imagine how it all comes together until it is done.

    What I am thinking about now is discussion a lot of different problems in a semi-abstract way and seeing if I can get students to start visualizing how to solve them. Perhaps is the see a bunch of related problems they can start to better extrapolate to new problems. The idea being the more uses for tools they are exposed to the better they will become at looking at future problems. It’s one thought. I’m trying hard to come up with more ideas..

    And I am open to suggestions. How do you teach problem solving to your students?

    Thursday, October 03, 2013

    Spirit of Innovation Challenge

    A new competitive event for students via this announcement from the CSTA mailing list.

    Spirit of Inovation logo>The Spirit of Innovation Challenge is an excellent way to help your students channel their creative thinking and demonstrate their knowledge. The annual program is a multi-phase, business and technical plan competition, free and open to students ages 13 - 18 from around the world. The program invites teens to work in teams of 2-5 students and use science, technology, engineering and math skills along with creativity, collaboration and entrepreneurship to develop innovative products and services to benefit humanity and address global sustainability.

    The first round submission can be completed in less than five hours from start to finish. The deadline for the 2013-2014 one-page abstract qualification round is Oct. 24.Not sure you have all the tools needed for your team to be successful? The Spirit of Innovation Challenge provides free access to mentors, webinars and forums to answer all your questions.

    Join today at, or email us for more information at

    Wednesday, October 02, 2013

    CS Ed Week and an Hour of Code are coming

    An announcement for Hadi Partovi, founder of, about Computer Science Education Week (Dec. 9-15) and the Hour of Code initiative.

    To celebrate Computer Science Education Week (Dec. 9-15), and dozens of supporting partners are organizing the largest initiative of its kind: a campaign to get 10 million students of all ages to try computer science for one hour. I’m writing to ask your help.

    What is the Hour of Code? No experience needed

    It’s a one-hour intro to CS -- on a browser, smartphone, or unplugged. We expect teachers from all disciplines to host it in classrooms, and we’ll provide tutorials that require no prior experience. We’ll announce an amazing list of partners over the coming weeks, but we need your help.

    Recruit your entire school to participate

    Most students are intimidated by CS; this campaign is a chance to inspire them to try. Please recruit your principal and other teachers to get involved. Share this brochure, or this homemade how-to video. Or get creative and define your own “Hour of Code” activities. More info

    Prizes for EVERY Educator!

    Every educator who hosts an Hour of Code will get a gift of 10GB of free DropBox storage. And I will personally donate a full class-set of laptops to one school in every state that hosts an Hour of Code for all its grades. Just register your school’s participation by Nov. 1 to qualify.

    Please, start planning now and help make a difference.
    Thanks for your support,
    Hadi Partovi

    Tuesday, October 01, 2013

    Flipping The Computer Science Classroom

    I’m a bit of a “flipped classroom” skeptic. Let’s just get that our of the way up front. But I want to get my thinking out there in hopes that people will educate me on the whole idea.

    To me it seems a lot like “read this chapter and we’ll discuss it tomorrow” but with videos in place of reading chapters. That seldom seems to work well in my experience. A few kids, maybe, do the reading while the rest expect to pick it up via osmosis or something. Or from class discussion. But most will miss out on a lot.

    Yes, I know I hear stories of it working great but I don’t really understand how teachers get kids to watch the videos. What’s the secret? Do I have to be a real rock star presenter? If so, I’m in trouble.

    The computer science class is different in many ways from other classes as well. In college we heard lectures and then went on our own to work on lab exercises. If the lecture was replaced by videos what would be the point of having classes? Just to ask questions about the videos? Maybe that works in college. College students are more likely to do the work at home (or dorm as the case may be.)

    In high school we tend to have classes that are part lecture and part lab. A lot of the learning goes on in the lab time with students asking questions and getting one on one attention when they don’t understand things. At first glance this seems like a natural for flipping the classroom. Use videos that students watch at home and then have more time for labs. Sounds great. Well except for that whole “will kids really watch” and if they do will the videos be enough? And I have enough trouble getting kids to ask for clarification of ideas during in person lectures. Will they do it after watching a video?

    I like the idea of videos for review. I’ve been recording some (see Videos for My C# Class if you are curious) and at least one student has viewed some of them. Stats show not many more than that. But that one student did tell me he found them useful and that he appreciated that I had put them out there. So that’s good. My hope is that a course set will make my life easier going forward. But depending on them to replace interactive lectures I’m not so sure about.

    Anyone reading this using a flipped CS classroom? How do you get students to watch the videos? How to you handle your class time? What makes it work for you?