Tuesday, October 31, 2017

CS Educator Interview: Raji Gupta

Professional Development days are often a great opportunity to meet other teachers and share idea. Even though I pass his school twice a day on my way to my school I just met Raji Gupta recently at a CS4NH event. I was very interested in his school’s growing program and one course in particular - Edge of Computing . You’ll read about that below. And see a picture of his creative classroom!

Where do you teach? What sort of school is it?
I teach at Windham High School, in Windham, NH.  We are a public high school just north of the border with Massachusetts.  The school has just over 900 students.

How did you get started teaching computer science?
I am only in my third year teaching in total.  During my first year as a teacher, I was teaching math (not in Windham).  My friend/mentor reached out to me and asked if I would consider coming to Windham to grow a CS program.  Having no CS background I was at first hesitant, but as we talked through it, I came to the conclusion that our kids need someone to step up and figure it out.  And so here I am in my second year as a computer science teacher.

Prior to teaching I had a career in industry, but felt called to make a difference, and teaching was the right channel for me to move into.

Describe the computer science curriculum at your school. What courses do you have and what are the focuses of each?
WHS offered an object-oriented programming class for a few years, and then last year added AP CS A.  We had 44 students enrolled in AP CS A in its first year.  This year we dropped the OOP class and now offer: AP CS A, AP CS Principles, App Development, and Edge of Computing.  My overarching theme for all of my courses is that students are growing their problem solving, communication, and collaboration skills.  Obviously with the AP courses, I am trying to also help the students achieve a strong AP score.  I, frankly, think my role is less about instilling technical skills with my students and more helping them engage with CS and play with different environments and discover what they like.  So I don't offer introductory Java, or teach Javascript or Python, for example... yet. 


When we talked in person recently you told me about a new course you were piloting this year. Can you elaborate on it? What’s it about and what was your motivation for creating it?
Edge of Computing is a class that I sort of dreamt up.  I wanted students who had taken AP CS A to have a chance to explore really cool topics in technology.  We started the year by looking at Artificial Intelligence, for example.  The process wasn't about learning the technical aspects about AI, but rather to examine the social implications of this emerging technology.  Students ended up researching AI in ways I hadn't even thought of.  I learned so much from them.

Throughout the year we'll look at self-driving cars, quantum computing, Watson, virtual and augmented reality, etc.  I like to think that my class is like a form of recess.

My hope is that as the year finishes students will have dug into topics that they are curious about anyhow, and will be impassioned to really delve into that field during their undergraduate studies.  

What is your overall teaching philosophy? Project based learning? Flipped classroom? In short, what makes your CS program “your CS program?”
As I said earlier, I am not technical.  My prior career was in operations leadership.  I understand technology, and am trying to become proficient in Java, but I think what differentiates my classes is that I create an environment where kids want to learn, that they can use self-discovery, and partner-work to grow their skills and knowledge.  I am perfectly okay knowing less than my students.  I am experienced enough in life that I can ask them questions when they are stuck that helps them solve their own problems.  I think them growing this capability is really important.  My role is mentor, rather than teacher.

What is the biggest challenge in teaching CS at your school?
Capacity!  We had almost 200 students sign up for CS this year... as an elective!  I'm teaching an extra class, and I had to recruit one of my colleagues to teach a section of AP CS Principles.  It's a wonderful problem to have.

What is administration’s support (or lack of support) like at your school?
My director, Mike Koski, has been fantastic about giving me the freedom to develop a vision for CS at our school, and to then present that vision to our students. 

How do you measure success for your program? For your students?
With the AP courses, I certainly want my students to do well as it relates to College Board requirements.  But mostly I measure success by how many students we get to try CS.  They don't need to love it.  They don't need to take other CS courses.  But I do want them to have at least been exposed to CS and felt like they had a safe place to try and fail, and learn and succeed.  We have over 160 students taking at least one of the two AP CS courses this year. 

What is the one thing you like to talk about regarding your program that I haven’t already asked?
My classroom!  Last year I had all my APCSA students split into teams and enter the Verizon App Challenge.  One of the teams won best in state for New Hampshire.  Not only did the winning students get tablets, but the school also received a $5000 grant.  We used the money to redo a classroom.  You'll see in the picture that there is a good deal of whiteboard space (54' to be precise), there is fun furniture, and there are different levels that students can sit/stand at.  Prior to teaching I worked at Google and Amazon, so I've tried to make our classroom feel more like a creative space, and less like a classroom.

WHS CS Lab Small

Tell me about your online presence (if any)
· School name and web site: Windham High School.  http://whs.windhamsd.org/
· Twitter:  https://twitter.com/rajicgupta

Note: The index for this interview series is at http://blog.acthompson.net/2017/10/computer-science-educator-interview.html and is updated as new interviews are posted.























Monday, October 30, 2017

CS Educator Interview: Emmanuel Schanzer–The Update

I interviewed Emmanuel Schanzer in my last series. But like so many things, Bootstrap, the program he directs has grown and expanded. A number of teachers in this series teach using Bootstrap curriculum as well. So an updated interview with Emmanuel seemed like a good idea. Besides that I am a big fan of both Emmanuel and the Bootstrap program so highlighting them is a logical move for me.

Find out more about Bootstrap at http://www.bootstrapworld.org/
(Read my previous interview with Emmanuel Schanzer here).
bootstrap logo
When I interviewed you four years ago, Bootstrap was a single curriculum that was largely a mix of Algebra and computer science with game creation tossed in to make it even more interesting. Today Bootstrap has several courses. How did that happen?
Four years ago, Bootstrap offered a single course, which carefully-designed to align Algebra and Computer Science based on substantial research into both Math-Ed and CS-Ed (given the decade of work that went into it, I wouldn’t say the game was “tossed in” !). Back then we reached a little over 5,000 students each year. Things sure have changes since then! Today, we offer curricula for Algebra, Data Science, and more Advanced CS, and are piloting a course in Physics in conjunction with the American Association of Physics Teachers, the American Modeling Teachers Association, and STEMteachersNYC  We reach more than 25,000 students annually, making us one of the largest providers of in-school programming in the country.

There are two factors that led to this expansion:

1) We had hundreds of math teachers who dug into Computer Science with Bootstrap:Algebra, found that they liked it, and came back asking “what else have you got?” Schools that invested in Bootstrap:Algebra as a way to improve math instruction (or to check the “CS box”) suddenly found that there was now greater demand for dedicated CS classes, and were able to leverage their existing Bootstrap teachers teach them. This came as a happy surprise to us: rather than competing over the same small group of CS teachers nationwide, we were accidentally creating new CS teachers from the enormous pool of math teachers that have adopted our curriculum!

2) Lots of governors, superintendents and principals made pledges to bring CS to every child, but discovered that dedicated CS electives and required CS classes were either incredibly expensive (hiring/retaining new teachers), logistically impossible (adding a new class given finite hours in the day and rooms in the building), or actively undermined equity (opt-in classes are only taken by students with the means and/or inclination). As a result, they started asking how they might integrate CS into other subjects — and authentic integration is our special sauce! Squeezing CS into math is something folks have been trying to do for decades, with little success. Our success with Bootstrap:Algebra means we’ve got a track record of doing it right, which means we’ve been approached about integration into everything from Physics to Social Studies.


Bootstrap: Physics appears to be a way of integrating computer science and physics as a way to teach both. Is that a fair read or would you describe it differently?
Absolutely. When the AAPT and AMTA approached us about integrating computer science into Physics, we jumped at the chance! The modeling folks have an incredible research basis for their approach, which happens to dovetail perfectly with the pedagogical philosophy we use in Bootstrap. Modeling is a powerful approach to connecting the real world with mathematical abstractions, and students in Bootstrap:Physics blend empirical observations with mathematical models they literally build through programming. Seeing their own models running as a simulation - superimposed over data they’ve collected - is a potent experience. We’re piloting the course, now, and the response from teachers and students has been fantastic.


Two of your courses, Reactive and Data Science, seem to be more purely computer science focused than anything else you do. Where do you see them fitting? Grade level, added to existing courses, etc.?
We’ve building Bootstrap:Data Science for students in grades 8-12, and it’s scalable as a first CS class or an in-depth course on Data Science for students who’ve taken years of programming. The module covers introductory statistics (measures of center, linear regression, plotting and graphing, etc.) as well as introductory CS (looping/iteration, methods, functions, unit testing, data types and structures, etc.). In Bootstrap:Data Science, students select a dataset they care about, and learn how to analyze the data, identify trends, and search for correlations. We’re also making sure the curriculum addresses the infamous "Austerity Problem” by teaching rigorous software engineering techniques — so that students know how to verify their claims, instead of just making them. Finally, every student in Bootstrap:Data Science completes a research paper that describes their dataset, their analysis, and their findings.

The beauty of Data Science is that it’s applicable everywhere: Business teachers use tabular data and charts all the time to teach students about business models and sales data; Statistics teachers use tabular data, mean median and mode, and plotting; we think a lot of CS teachers will start to be looking at Data Science over the next few years, as a way to engage students in questions they care about ("who is the best quarterback of all time?”, “which restaurants are the best value?”, etc.). We’ve already had a lot of interest from each group, but there’s one other audience of teachers who have largely been left out of the STEM discussion: social studies teachers. What IS the impact of the electoral college? How do we know if a policy is successful or not? Is “Stop and Frisk” racist? Social Studies teachers regularly deal with questions about data and society, focusing heavily on making inferences from data and writing persuasively about the results. So yeah, plenty of folks will use Bootstrap:DS as a semester-long CS elective, but we think the magic comes from integrating into courses like social studies, where data analysis and writing matters most. Add this to our work in Physics and Algebra, and every school in the US can now offer three courses in Computer Science — all without having to find room in the budget for a new teacher or room in the schedule for a new class!

Bootstrap:Reactive is your classic hardcore CS — we cover data structures, rigorous software engineering in a Python-like environment, and a twist on FRP and MVC-style architectures. We see it as a semester-long CS course, or an integrated module into a full-year AP or post-AP CS course. It’s designed to be a follow-up to our Algebra and/or Data Science modules, and allow students to build any program they can imagine. Even though it’s only been out for a short time, we’re already seeing hundreds of students each year complete the class, building everything from maze-solving and multiplayer games to cell-phone apps. Schools like New York’s Academy for Software Engineering are using Bootstrap:Reactive as the programming module for AP CS Principles, and seeing students build on what they know from algebra. Leveraging prior knowledge is a huge win for us, and when it’s prior knowledge from a class that every child takes it’s a win that reaches all children.

The original Bootstrap: algebra continues to grow and evolve. How is it different from four years ago?
People say “CS is like math” all the time, but it turns out that Math transfer is an incredibly difficult nut to crack. We’re thrilled to be the standard bearer here, and we’re constantly refining our approaches through careful research, student data and teacher feedback. With help from the entire Bootstrap:Algebra community, we’ve made improvements to the curriculum in terms of supplemental materials, deeper connections to graphing functions, and lessons dealing with topics like Ratio and Proportion, Quadratics, and Exponential Functions. We’re proud to be the first programming course to show real algebra transfer at this scale, and we’ll be announcing some exciting results at SIGCSE this year.


I noticed a Bootstrap Hour of Code lesson recently. Is that a “hook” for students to do more with Bootstrap? Is it also a way to expose teachers to a different way of teaching that they might not otherwise see?
Absolutely. For teachers who are curious about Bootstrap, or who are looking for something more challenging after the normal Hour  of Code, give our Hour of Code a try this year during CSEdWeek

I see announcements for Bootstrap professional development regularly. How do they workshops come about? Do districts come to you, ask for them, and fund them? Or is there some other model for when and where they are offered?
We run trainings for all our courses year-round, though obviously we do the bulk of them in the summer when most teachers are available for PD. The vast majority of our workshops come from either districts or states reaching out to us directly (Austin, Dallas, NYC, CPS, and DCPS just to name a few), or from companies looking to sponsor CS Education in their communities (Facebook, Palantir, LinkedIn, 3M, and many more). We encourage states, districts, schools and companies to contact us directly about running a workshop, at contact@BootstrapWorld.org.


What sort of background makes for a good Bootstrap teacher? Are you training mostly math and physics teachers to teach a new way of teaching their subjects? Who else picks up Bootstrap and adopts it?
We get a good mix of CS and non-CS teachers. In fact, we probably have the most diverse cohort of teachers in the business — with such a variety of courses, we have CS, math, physics, business and social studies teachers working with students as young as 9 and as old as 25, in settings from continuation schools in California to accelerated elementary schools Maryland! When computer science becomes “teaching a tool”, as it so often does, you tend to only get teachers who are excited by tools. But when you focus on teaching content, you get a much larger, richer and more diverse set of teachers reaching students everywhere. That’s been our experience with Bootstrap, and we’re going to keep using that strategy moving forward.

What might I not know about the current state of Bootstrap as an organization and curriculum that I should know?
People know that Bootstrap is one of the largest providers of in-school CS nationwide, but not everyone knows that we’re also one of the largest providers of in-school computer science to girls and students of color nationwide. Of the 20,000 students we reached last year alone, nearly 9,000 of them are girls and young women and nearly 9,500 of them self-identify as African American or Latinx. We’re also investing heavily on making our materials accessible to differently-abled students, thanks to support from the NSF, Google, and the ESA Foundation, and are a proud development partner with AccessCSforAll.

Note: The index for this interview series is at http://blog.acthompson.net/2017/10/computer-science-educator-interview.html and is updated as new interviews are posted.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

CS Educator Interview: Adam Michlin

Adam and I interact mostly on Facebook where he has created a number of very active Facebook groups including one called Computer Science Educators He's a man of ideas and opinions as well as a seemingly insatiable drive to share information with others. I was pleased he was willing to take the time with my questions.

Where do you teach? What sort of school is it?

I just started a new job at Golda Och Academy (K-12), a Jewish school in West Orange, NJ where I am responsible for the 6-12th grade curriculum.

How did you get started teaching computer science?

Historically, I have a Bachelor's Degree in Computer Science from the University of California, Santa Cruz, where I was an undergraduate teaching assistant to a whole host of lower division and upper division Computer Science classes.

When I finished my BS degree, I lasted (literally!) one day in the computer industry and went on to become a professional musician and music teacher.

Later, living in Naples, FL, my full time music teaching load was cut to 50% due to the national financial crisis and a single computer science class of all levels was added to my schedule for the following year to increase my load to 66% and give me full benefits.  Ultimately, that class turned into a full department of two teachers, 150+ students, and a four year 9-12 CS curriculum which I was training my fellow district teachers in for 3 years.

Describe the computer science curriculum at your school. What courses do you have and what are the focuses of each?

My previous private school had Introduction to Programming for students 8th-12th using Visual Basic taught by a colleague and I taught Intermediate Programming (C/C#), Advanced Video Game/Mobile Programming (C#/Swift), Advanced Computer Security/Web Programming (Assembly, C, PHP and JavaScript), and AP Computer Science A. I am currently working on expanding this curriculum to include 6th and 7th grade as well as to replace AP Computer Science A with a class of equal or more rigor and expect to be adding Data Structures in C++ shortly.

What is your overall teaching philosophy? Project based learning? Flipped classroom? In short, what makes your CS program “your CS program?”

Having first taught (as a TA) in an university environment, I find myself to be fairly traditional in my approach with lectures combined with lab time and prefer straight rows of desks with computers and mostly shy away from group work except in the most advanced classes. Where I depart from tradition is I avoid tests and homework and work very hard to intrinsically motivate students with project based learning. Students seem particularly motivated to write their own video games and learn advanced computer security (truthfully, hacking in the older MIT sense of the word - students are inundated with media surrounding computer security everywhere they get their news and I have found it to be my most popular class). My running joke is that my biggest discipline problem is that students don't want to leave my class when the bell rings, which isn't far from reality.

What is the biggest challenge in teaching CS at your school?

My current administration is extremely supportive, but I will say that historically there are always two main challenges. One, is getting the administration to understand that the material being taught is experimental creating somewhat of a disconnect with traditional teacher evaluation solutions. Other people have books that tell them what to teach in what order and pretty much everyone agrees what should be taught in, for example, an Algebra I class, whereas I am working on classes with little to no precedent in K-12 that I ultimately hope to write the book for others to use. Two, is getting Information Technology to understand that the staggering pace of change in Computer Science means that a, to be diplomatic, less conservative approach to new hardware and software is necessary.

What is administration’s support (or lack of support) like at your school?

As above, administration is at my current school is extremely supportive. They well understand that Computer Science is a young subject and allow me the flexibility to create new classes and curriculum. Access to the 6th and 7th grade students is particularly exciting and I am already finding 6th and 7th graders who are capable of doing collegiate level Computer Science work.

How do you measure success for your program? For your students?

Having grown two entirely elective programs, one public and one private, to the point of overloading my schedule, the percentage of students involved in the program is part of how I define my success. We instituted a Girls Who Code club at my previous school and grew the female representation in the program from 5 students to over 50 in 3 years, which is one of the achievements of which I am most proud.

I also keep in touch with as many of my former students, particularly those majoring in Computer Science, to see how well prepared they felt walking in a collegiate computer science program. To me, a 5 on the AP exam means nothing if students aren't walking into college and knocking their CS classes out of ballpark. It fascinates me that one of most common things I hear from my students majoring in CS is how useful learning to programming in the Linux/UNIX command line was for them.

What is the one thing you like to talk about regarding your program that I haven’t already asked?

I am particularly proud of my interweaving of history with computer science. Students have access to a whole host of working vintage computer systems including Apple IIs, Ataris and (soon!) Commodores for hands on use. Vintage computers are also integrated into the curriculum using Apple IIs to teach beginners AppleBASIC, 6502 assembly to advanced students and we use famous early Atari games to teach concepts including object oriented design and applied trigonometry.
At the same time, other parts of curriculum are cutting edge with tools like Swift 4/Xcode 9 and Visual Studio 2017 (C#/Visual Basic). In part, the goal is to get students to stop worrying about Windows vs. Macintosh vs. Linux and realize everything is just a computer whether an Apple II+ from 1979 or their brand new Apple iPhone <insert latest number here> in their pocket. Hence the term "Cutting Edge Old School" (ceos) Computer Science.


Tell me about your online presence (if any)
Note: The index for this interview series is at http://blog.acthompson.net/2017/10/computer-science-educator-interview.html and is updated as new interviews are posted.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Observations on Parents Shopping for High Schools

We had an open house for prospective students and their parents at school on Sunday. We’re a private school so getting parents to see a reason to spend the money for their children to come is important. We talk to a lot of parents at these events. While not data I had a few interesting observations.

One: More and more girls are expressing interest in computer science every year. Many of them are actually doing some programming of sorts in middle school. Some in school, some in clubs, some in FIRST Lego league, some on their own. A lot of Scratch for sure. But that’s fine. It is driving interest in learning more. Girls have been happy to talk about what they are doing.

Two: Parents often tell me their child is into computers. I ask the student if that means they play video games or do they write programs. For boys it is usually video games or a mix of video games and some programming. For girls it is almost always programming. There is more programming by both boys and girls than these was a few years ago.

Three: Lots of interest in robotics. I credit FIRST Lego League. On the other hand I had one father ask about girl's involvement in our robotics team. He seemed surprised when I told him that team wide and in leadership roles it was about 50/50 boys and girls. I think that was the answer he wanted though.

Four: Mothers are as likely to come visit the CS department table as fathers. And both ask tough questions about the curriculum. Parents are looking for a solid CS program in high schools. One popular question is how long do students have to wait to take a CS course. For us, freshmen year with a required course. Parents seem to like that we start early and have a solid path for more depth in CS.

Five: I'm hearing about more middle schools using Scratch with students. It will be interesting to see how that rolls into HS CS. Clearly though middle schools are jumping into computer science in increasing numbers. I worry about the students at those schools who go to high schools without real computer science programs. Will they lose the interest that is built in middle school?

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

CS Educator Interview: Jackie Corricelli

Jackie Corricelli conducts Advanced Placement Computer Science summer institutes for teachers. That is how I first met here. And I learned a lot from her. She teaches workshops the way she teaches students so so practices what they preaches. She has won several state-wide and national awards for teaching.
WHERE DO YOU TEACH? WHAT SORT OF SCHOOL IS IT?
Conard High School, West Hartford, CT
Public HS
HOW DID YOU GET STARTED TEACHING COMPUTER SCIENCE?

I had a background in programming due to working at Raytheon as a Systems Engineer.  I learned C++ and Matlab on-the-job.  In addition, while growing up, I played with Basic Programming on a Commodore Computer that my Aunt gave to me.  The programs arrived in Ranger Rick Magazines and I would save them onto a tape.  I used Basic to make shapes and later, in high school to program my graphing calculator.  I never saw these things (playing on the Commodore or programming my calculator) as "computer science".  I did not get the connection until I worked at Raytheon. 
My certification is in teaching math.  I guess I started teaching CS when I helped students see how to program their calculator in math courses. 
My official start teaching computer science coursework was about 5 years ago at Conard when my supervisor and I agreed AP CS A would be helpful to our students to become better problem solvers.  So we started AP CS A in Fall 2012.  I was trained by Stevie Lord at Taft; two years in a row (Summer 2011, 2012).  Then I got involved as an AP CS Principles Pilot Teacher in Summer 2013.  This meant I received a lot of great training from College Board and many great CS Teachers from across the US and contributed to training for other teachers for College Board to support implementation of this course.  I did not hear about the CSTA until the College Board Conference.  I joined while at that conference in Summer 2013 and this gave me a network of CS teachers close to home.   At Conard, we started offering CS Principles as a course in Fall 2014. 
 
DESCRIBE THE COMPUTER SCIENCE CURRICULUM AT YOUR SCHOOL. WHAT COURSES DO YOU HAVE AND WHAT ARE THE FOCUSES OF EACH?

We have courses in computer science listed on page 22 here: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B9qL2-maX-Q0R2NGUWVUcDJKd3U3bTJRWDdjOFctd2Z2eWNZ/view
CS Courses are offered in our Math Department and in the Technology/Engineering Department.  Computer Science Courses are assigned STEM Credit. 

WHAT IS YOUR OVERALL TEACHING PHILOSOPHY? PROJECT BASED LEARNING? FLIPPED CLASSROOM? IN SHORT, WHAT MAKES YOUR CS PROGRAM “YOUR CS PROGRAM?”

My philosophy is to continue to love to learn with my students so I can help them to do the same to the best of my ability.  What works each year depends on my students.  Sometimes I create videos or "flip" the class, but that does not always work.  Sometimes I create a great project as a way to help them to learn.  For it to work, the project needs to be a good fit.  Sometimes I lecture and/or drill a concept for them to help them become more fluent.  It really depends on the students, the class, and what is working.   My favorite thing to do is to help students do something with what they just learned.
 
WHAT IS THE BIGGEST CHALLENGE IN TEACHING CS AT YOUR SCHOOL?

The biggest challenge is to be sure that people understand what Computer Science is so that students understand the courses that they are signing up to take and how these courses are related to their future.  Computer Science is interesting, accessible to all, and fun.  However, when you really start tracing code or understanding programming languages, it is not easy.  Helping students to see joy in this struggle is the key.   We continue to use the Hour of Code and rely on the support of many adults in our large school to help all students realize this and sign up for computer science coursework.  We have several amazing teachers, interesting courses and many great clubs, all to provide different access points for our students.  The more ways students can see how they are connected to computer science and the more adults that are working together with this goal in mind, the more likely it is that they will sign up and love it!  
WHAT IS ADMINISTRATION’S SUPPORT (OR LACK OF SUPPORT) LIKE AT YOUR SCHOOL?

Administration in West Hartford Public Schools is extremely supportive.  The number of Computer Science teachers in our school has increased with student demand.  We have teachers in our math department and our technology and engineering department working toward helping students learn computer science.  For us to attend training, have time and space to run the Hour of Code, manage and be supported for Clubs related to CS, and continue to offer interesting and fun courses that appeal to our students, we have needed and enjoyed their support. Without it, we would not have been able to develop and sustain our growth.
 
HOW DO YOU MEASURE SUCCESS FOR YOUR PROGRAM? FOR YOUR STUDENTS?

Success is measured by the extent to which students feel supported and challenged while they are here and are able to graduate and be successful at college and career pursuits.  My number one goal is to help students realize that they are in control of their lives and that their most important tool is knowledge.
 
 
YOU TEACH ADVANCED PLACEMENT WORKSHOPS AND SUMMER INSTITUTES FOR TEACHERS. WHAT’S INVOLVED IN THAT AND HOW DID YOU GET STARTED?

As a pilot teacher, I was asked to teach for AP CS Principles.  I graded the Performance Tasks for ETS in June 2016 and June 2017 to continue to be sure I have the information teachers need to support their students.
To become an institute teacher, I recommend that teachers participate in the grading.  From there, you will develop experience with the course that could lead to having  opportunities to teach.
 
TELL ME ABOUT YOUR ONLINE PRESENCE (IF ANY)

Note: The index for this interview series is at http://blog.acthompson.net/2017/10/computer-science-educator-interview.html and is updated as new interviews are posted.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Computer Science Educator Interview Series Index (2017)

From time to time I like to highlight computer science teachers with virtual interviews posted on my blog. The first series was in 2013 (CS Educator Interviews: The Index ) and I decided it was time to start a new series in 2017. New interviews will appear on Tuesdays and Thursdays when I have new interviews to share.

One improvement in this series is a larger number of teachers who teach elementary and middle school students. K-8 computer science is growing by leaps and bounds which is a wonderful thing.

This post will be regularly updated as new interviews are posted. Here is the current list of interviews.
  • Rebecca Dovi – The  Director of education and co-founder of CodeVA, a non-profit CS education effort in Virginia.
  • Emmanuel Schanzer - Director of Bootstrap - computer since mixed with algebra, physics, and more. 
  • Sheena Vaidyanathan - an amazing and innovative K-8 computer science teacher and technology integrator in California. 
  • Steven Floyd - Computer Science teacher from a secondary school in London, Ontario, Canada
  • Mike Zamansky - Hunter College New York City - new since he left the high school classroom
  • Saber Kahn – Computer Science teacher at the Browning School, a K-12 independent boy's school in Manhattan, NYC
  • Bob Irving – middle school computer science teacher at Porter-Gaud School in Charleston SC
  • Michelle Lagos De Javier – computer science teacher at the American School of Tegucigalpa, a bilingual private school in Honduras
  • Mike Thompson - Technology Education at Haverhill Cooperative Middle School in North Haverhill NH.
  • Adam Newall - middle school math/CS teacher using Bootstrap to teach algebra and CS
  • Vicky Sedgwick – computer science teacher for grades k-8 at St. Martin’s Episcopal School  in the Los Angeles California area
  • Jackie Corricelli - High School CS teacher from Connecticut, also AP CS trainer/consultant
  • Adam Michlin - Grade 6 through 12 computer science teacher in New Jersey.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

CS Educator Interview: Michelle Lagos

Michelle Lagos serves on the CSTA Board which is how I first met her. She is currently an At-Large member. Several years ago she was the International Representative.  She brings some interesting perspectives to board meetings and CSTA is lucky to have her involved. I was very pleased when she agreed to this interview.

WHERE DO YOU TEACH? WHAT SORT OF SCHOOL IS IT?
I teach at the American School of Tegucigalpa, a bilingual private school in Honduras. We are a U.S. accredited school (by AdvaceEd) which grants us the right to extend High School degrees and for over a decade have been offering the International Baccalaureate Program as well. Our students have the opportunity to graduate with up to three diplomas: High school, IB and Honduran Science and Humanities Baccalaureate as granted by the Honduran Ministry of Education. The American School of Tegucigalpa was founded in 1946 and it´s legacy families are now in their third generation of students.

HOW DID YOU GET STARTED TEACHING COMPUTER SCIENCE?
I started teaching CS in 2000 as a senior at the Universidad Católica de Honduras (Catholic University) while finishing my CS Engineering degree. I was offered a job in a bilingual school as a Computer class teacher. From there I got hooked on teaching and have dedicated most of my professional career to education.

DESCRIBE THE COMPUTER SCIENCE CURRICULUM AT YOUR SCHOOL. WHAT COURSES DO YOU HAVE AND WHAT ARE THE FOCUSES OF EACH?
Our computer science curriculum runs from K-12.  We started teaching application computing and over the course of a few years we have been moving gradually towards CS. We follow ISTE standards for K-2 and CSTA standards for 3-12. With high school (which is where I teach) we are currently basing our course in the Computer Science principles course, and using the common-sense media Curriculum for our digital citizenship unit.

WHAT IS YOUR OVERALL TEACHING PHILOSOPHY? PROJECT BASED LEARNING? FLIPPED CLASSROOM? IN SHORT, WHAT MAKES YOUR CS PROGRAM “YOUR CS PROGRAM?”
I consider my philosophy to be quite oriented to project based learning. Considering that our courses are one semester long, I find that we can get better results through projects. What makes it my CS program? My kids!!! Every year my course is different depending how fast my kids absorb the content.  As any teacher I guess, I tweak and adapt my lessons sometimes on the spot and the “aha” moments I get are the best reward!

WHAT IS THE BIGGEST CHALLENGE IN TEACHING CS AT YOUR SCHOOL?
The biggest challenge is time! We only get one semester as our students have a full academic load so we have to adjust the schedule so it doesn’t become too much for them. This then contributes to a lack of interest in the subject by most stakeholders at school.

YOU TEACH AT AN "AMERICAN SCHOOL" IN HONDURAS, IS WHAT YOU TEACH IN YOUR SCHOOL MUCH DIFFERENT FROM OTHER SCHOOLS IN HONDURAS?  ANY SPECIAL CHALLENGES OR OPPORTUNITIES THAT YOU HAVE?
I believe that what we teach is pretty different from our Honduran public system schools. (Honduras education system is divided into two mayor categories, public and private and within the private we have the Spanish-only speaking schools and then we have bilingual schools, mostly Spanish English. The latter is where my school fits into. For starters we teach in English, we aim for higher levels of academic performance than public schools but still try to comply with the country’s education curriculum objectives. We have the opportunity that my school is currently starting a STEM program and CS has found its place in it.  Again, our biggest challenge is time. Most of our schools public and private struggle with budget but the public system struggles much more. Remember Honduras is a third world country, second poorest in all the western hemisphere. This means that sometimes getting the resources we would like takes time and much negotiating. However, because most of our students leave Honduras for their higher education, we have the goal to prepare them the best we can to be a competitive student in most areas anywhere they would like to go. An opportunity I, as a teacher, takes advantage of is that our government has made CS credits mandatory for graduation, so that helps a lot.

WHAT IS ADMINISTRATION’S SUPPORT (OR LACK OF SUPPORT) LIKE AT YOUR SCHOOL?
My administration is more supportive than in other schools. We have a great curriculum director that understands the need of CS in today’s students lives. Our principals are also supportive when my department (which I am the head of) bring up new project proposals, they take them seriously and bring it up to the rest of the decision-making authorities. If there is any room for improvement it is along the lines of people understanding that CS is much more that hardware, plain coding or software. But we are doing our best to shed light on the vastness of the subject and its scope.

HOW DO YOU MEASURE SUCCESS FOR YOUR PROGRAM? FOR YOUR STUDENTS?
I measure success in my program when I hear my students don’t have many issues in their CS courses in college. That feedback is extremely important and helpful. I assess my students by abilities and when I see them understanding coding and loving our robotics unit, I find my program successful.

YOU'RE VERY INVOLVED IN CSTA AS A BOARD MEMBER. WHAT MADE YOU GET INVOLVED IN THAT WAY?
Sometimes being a CS teacher is a lonely affair if your department is not that big and your school is a bit ahead than others. I started looking for a community of teachers where I felt I belonged and could rub elbows with. A place where I could go for news, resources and support. I browsed through many associations and felt that CSTA fulfilled the purpose of support I needed as a CS teacher. I wanted to be more involved, but I couldn’t belong to a chapter as international chapters don’t exist. So, when I read in The Voice the call for nominations I decided to apply for international representative. I thought it would be a long shot but I am so proud to say that I became the first female latina to be part of the board and now the first international member to be serving in a position other than the international representative.

When I started working with the board, I felt right at home with a group of people that shared my passion for both CS and teaching. People that were doing serious work and proposals to improve CS around the world and I couldn’t be prouder to be a part of it. To this day I feel that CSTA is doing a great job supporting K-12 CS teachers. Every year the conference gets better and bigger. There are lots of opportunities for teachers to get PD and network with other CS teachers which becomes a valuable thing.

WHAT IS THE ONE THING YOU LIKE TO TALK ABOUT REGARDING YOUR PROGRAM THAT I HAVEN’T ALREADY ASKED?
Who can benefit from CSTA besides Michelle and AST? I am constantly trying to renew and update my curriculum and I want my kids to have more opportunities to learn what's out there. PD would be good as well as speakers and invitations to conferences. I also try to promote CS in girls and help them discover different opportunities in life.

TELL ME ABOUT YOUR ONLINE PRESENCE (IF ANY)
  • ·School name and web site: American School of Tegucigalpa www.amschool.org
  • Twitter: @mglagos
  • .IG: @mglagos
  • .Facebook: Michelle Lagos Rico de Javier
Note: The index for this interview series is at http://blog.acthompson.net/2017/10/computer-science-educator-interview.html and is updated as new interviews are posted.






















Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Am I Doing It All Wrong?

My programming students are learning about methods. Functions, subroutines, what ever you want to call them they are important. Coming up with examples for demos and projects is an interesting exercise. There are actually several parts of teaching methods so starting with something that is too complex can overwhelm students. So I like to start easy.

Yesterday I started using area and circumference of a circle methods.

public double GetArea(double r)
{
     return Math.PI * Math.Pow(r,2);
}

public double GetCircumference (double r)
{
     return 2 * Math.PI * r;
}

Nice and simple. I can focus on the function specification – the function’s type, it’s name, and it’s short parameter list. I can also use the result very easily in the demo program.

Student want to know why they can’t just use that simple bit of code from the body of the function inline with the rest of their code though. And it is a fair question. That lets me talk about reusable code, avoiding redundancy, and all that stuff. It’s almost convincing. It’s all true of course but it hardly makes an impression. That requires examples that are a bit longer and more complicated.

Lately I have been using the Palindrome project for this next level. Now I have students create a program to determine if a string is a palindrome or not before this. They generally have the various steps (strip out not letters for example) inline in a single method. What I do here is ask them to break the various code segments out into methods. This makes the main routine simpler and easier to understand. (Assuming good names.) and this makes the point better, I think, than the simple one line methods.

It’s still hard to get students to think of this sort of modularization when they do their own designs. It gets easier when we talk about writing classes though.

I suspect that getting students to design around methods would be easier if I were teaching with functional programming language. I can actually hear several voices in my head saying “Yep” and “I told you so.”

graceThe problem for me is that a) I’ve never used a functional programming language, and b) since I tend to think of breaking things down into methods already there is a part of me that sees it as obvious. Yep, the old “I learned it this way so my students should learn it this way” attitude. Now I have an image of Grace Hopper standing next to me with a firm look on her face.

What’s my point? I guess it is that I have to constantly look at what I am doing with a critical eye to what I can do better. I’ve really liked the way I have been teaching methods but I have to ask myself if the design part is coming too slowly should I be doing something different? Darn but this thinking and caring thing is hard.


Tuesday, October 17, 2017

CS Educator Interview: Mike Thompson

I met Mike Thompson (no relation) just recently. He was giving a professional development session on teaching middle school students with AppInventor. I wanted to see how others taught that and I got some very helpful ideas and information from him.

WHERE DO YOU TEACH? WHAT SORT OF SCHOOL IS IT?
I teach Technology Education at Haverhill Cooperative Middle School in North Haverhill NH. It is a 4-8 Public Middle School in a rural district with around 250 students.


HOW DID YOU GET STARTED TEACHING COMPUTER SCIENCE?
My interest in Computer Science started in High School, then continued in college, and has always been some part of my life. Before being a Tech Ed teacher I was a Para Educator, and an enrichment provider with the after school program. I did an Enrichment using Lego Mindstorms, and part of the reason I was asked to apply for the Tech Ed position was the success of that program. As such, it was only natural that I add a heavy amount of Computer Science to my 4-8 curriculum.

DESCRIBE THE COMPUTER SCIENCE CURRICULUM AT YOUR SCHOOL. WHAT COURSES DO YOU HAVE AND WHAT ARE THE FOCUSES OF EACH?
I do all of the computer science here at HCMS, and am happy that 3 of the 5 grade levels I teach are heavily focused on Computer Science, and one other has a slight focus on it. My grade 4 students use Code.org pretty regularly to explore coding, my Grade 5 Students Learn Computer Science through programming Lego Mindstorms, my Grade 6 students continue their study of Lego Mindstorms, and my grade 8 students do Mobile Application Development with App Inventor 2.


WHAT IS YOUR OVERALL TEACHING PHILOSOPHY? PROJECT BASED LEARNING? FLIPPED CLASSROOM? IN SHORT, WHAT MAKES YOUR CS PROGRAM “YOUR CS PROGRAM?”
My program is project based, flipped, and focused on learning by exploration. Typically, I give my students some manner of design challenge, and guide them towards where they can find answers to solve the problem I present. Certainly some items, especially at first need to be given directly, but I find students are more engaged if they need to work for the answers they want. I am also developing some short videos on the basics of Lego Mindstorms Ev3 programming that my students will be able to use as refreshers when they get stuck.

WHAT IS THE BIGGEST CHALLENGE IN TEACHING CS AT YOUR SCHOOL?
The biggest challenge with trying to teach any subject other than Math or English is time. Each year the amount of time I have with my students has been reduced, or changed in a way that makes it difficult to have a rigorous program.

WHAT IS ADMINISTRATION’S SUPPORT (OR LACK OF SUPPORT) LIKE AT YOUR SCHOOL?
At my school the administration give lip service support to our STEM efforts, but continues to reduce class time for STEM. 


HOW DO YOU MEASURE SUCCESS FOR YOUR PROGRAM? FOR YOUR STUDENTS?
I consider my program successful when I see my students engaged in learning. I consider my students successful, when their ability to problem solve increases. I certainly believe that the technology I am using to teach my students is important, as is gaining some level of mastery over that technology. The true measure of my SUCCESS as a teacher however, is my students ability to creatively solve problems in any situation, NOT just in my classroom.

WHAT IS THE ONE THING YOU LIKE TO TALK ABOUT REGARDING YOUR PROGRAM THAT I HAVEN’T ALREADY ASKED?
How do you effectively teach students? By figuring out how they learn.



TELL ME ABOUT YOUR ONLINE PRESENCE (IF ANY)
Note: The index for this interview series is at http://blog.acthompson.net/2017/10/computer-science-educator-interview.html and is updated as new interviews are posted.






















Friday, October 13, 2017

CSTA 2018 Conference Call for Proposals

It’s that time again! I have to get to work on a proposal. Or two. This is the best conference for computer science educators. If you have something good to share you should definitely submit a proposal.


CSTA Logo white

The Computer Science Teachers Association (CSTA) invites you to submit a proposal to present at the 2018 CSTA Annual Conference. This event will be held July 7-10, 2018 in Omaha, Nebraska.

The CSTA 2018 Program Committee seeks proposal submissions related to the practice of teaching and learning computer science and information technology in K-12. This year the conference is seeking 3 hour workshops; 1 hour sessions; 20 minute mini-sessions; and 1 hour Birds of a Feather sessions.

Proposal submission requires presenter and presentation information including a brief overview/abstract used to inform attendees about the session; as well as a PDF providing more detailed information about the session.

All proposals will be submitted through our online system; however, You may preview the application before starting your submission here.

Proposals may be started and updated between the opening and closing of the system. The deadline for proposals is midnight (Hawaiian time) on November 26, 2017. Review of proposals will occur shortly thereafter and notification of the program committee's decisions will be made in December/January 2017.

All submissions will be evaluated on the following criteria:

  • appropriateness and relevancy for professional development for K-12 computing;
  • feasibility of the proposal;
  • timeliness of the topic;
  • writing and presentation;
  • completeness of the submitted information; and
  • consideration for the breadth and balance of topics at the conference.

Successful proposers should expect to submit a draft copy of their presentation by June 1, 2018. Draft presentations will be posted on the website for attendee reference and note-taking. Some sessions may be selected for videotaping, which will be shared online post-conference. All workshops and sessions will be photographed. Workshop presenters will be given a list of registered attendees prior to the conference so that they may email them with any pre-workshop materials or downloads. All presenters are expected to register for the conference.

Why present at CSTA 2018?

The CSTA annual conference is the only CS conference specifically dedicated to meeting the needs of K-12 computer science educators. Come network with your peers, present your great ideas, and learn best practices. Here is what some 2017 conference attendees had to say about the conference:

  • I learned so much and am more motivated than ever to bring essential CS skills
    to my students and to my colleagues.
  • Amazing conference with so many takeaways and ponderings.
  • I am leaving with specific strategies for our district,
    and numerous contacts for help, as we move forward.
  • It is a real live computer science conference. Loved it!
  • The resources...Best Exhibit hall, great sessions.... it was just... timely

Additional conference details can be found here.

The deadline for proposals is midnight (Hawaiian time) on November 26, 2017.

Submit your proposal here.

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

The 2018 Annual Conference Planning Committee

Thursday, October 12, 2017

CS Educator Interview: Bob Irving

Bob Irving teaches middle school students and seems to have a lot of fun doing so. He constantly learning new things to share with his students. He is half of of a great CS team at Porter-Gaud School in Charleston, SC. I interviewed the other half a couple of years ago – Doug Bergman. Between the two of them students have some great opportunities to learn computer science.
WHERE DO YOU TEACH? WHAT SORT OF SCHOOL IS IT?
I teach at the Porter-Gaud School in Charleston, SC. It's a 150 year old k-12 independent school with enrollment of about 900.

HOW DID YOU GET STARTED TEACHING COMPUTER SCIENCE?
I actually taught history and English in high school for years. Was an early adopter of computers (owned a Commodore 64!) and used them in my classes, eventually became a tech integration coordinator. Went back to school to learn application development, which included building business applications with databases. Plan at the time was to segue into development. Graduated just in time for the first tech bubble to burst! Decided to go back to teaching school and haven't looked back since!

DESCRIBE THE COMPUTER SCIENCE CURRICULUM AT YOUR SCHOOL. WHAT COURSES DO YOU HAVE AND WHAT ARE THE FOCUSES OF EACH?

We have a fabulous curriculum at Porter-Gaud, which was started by Doug Bergman. CS is a required course for all students from grades 5-9, after which students may apply to be in our program. Current upper school enrollment is about 35% of each class, with about that percentage of female participation.
I teach grades 5-8. I have each student in the middle school for a quarter. We just were able to institute required classes in 5 and 6 this year, so I am building those out. CSTA said middle school computer science should be about exploration with different technologies, and I heartily concur. So in our ever-changing landscape of tech, right now I am teaching the following in various grades: micro:bit, Kodu, Dash robots, LEGO robots, Scratch game programming, HTML, Minecraft Pi (intro to Python by coding Minecraft), Sonic Pi (live music coding), and physical computing using Raspberry Pi's. I have 2 networks of computers in my room: Windows 10 and Raspberry Pi. I use both according to what best suits the needs. As always, there are other things on the horizon that I am investigating for future use. Right now that includes 3 new 3D printers and MIDI controlled music, and looking into Makerspace stuff that fits with what we do.

WHAT IS YOUR OVERALL TEACHING PHILOSOPHY? PROJECT BASED LEARNING? FLIPPED CLASSROOM? IN SHORT, WHAT MAKES YOUR CS PROGRAM “YOUR CS PROGRAM?”
I live for the "aha" moments in education, and I think they are best achieved by having a very hands-on, project-based experience. I like to answer student questions with other questions ("Where do you think you could find help for that?" or "Have any of your neighbors figured out how to do that?"). I believe in giving as little direct instruction as I can get away with, though I do supplement lessons with videos on my YouTube channel (crouchingpython). Middle school students do not want to listen to me talk! But I am sensitive to those who are struggling and need some hand-holding!
 
WHAT IS THE BIGGEST CHALLENGE IN TEACHING CS AT YOUR SCHOOL?

I really can't complain. We have amazing support from our administration and have a lot of latitude to explore different approaches. One factor that helps us is being an independent school. That not only frees us from mandated teaching to various tests, but our CS program has become a major selling point to prospective families.

WHAT IS ADMINISTRATION’S SUPPORT (OR LACK OF SUPPORT) LIKE AT YOUR SCHOOL?
See above. We get financial support, as well as time in the schedule.

HOW DO YOU MEASURE SUCCESS FOR YOUR PROGRAM? FOR YOUR STUDENTS?
This is going to sound a little cheesy, but I measure it by the excited students who usually run into my classroom to get started! I'm always trying to up the engagement factor. I also get a wide range of interest and ability, so I try to make sure that those students who are self-described "not techy" are also getting it, are engaged, and leave the class feeling that all this coding and stuff is actually pretty cool.

WHAT IS THE ONE THING YOU LIKE TO TALK ABOUT REGARDING YOUR PROGRAM THAT I HAVEN’T ALREADY ASKED?

I promise my students on day one.... HARD FUN. This is something that I stole from one of my heroes, Seymour Papert. They all know exactly what I mean by that in a week or two! It's not easy stuff, but they want to make it work.
I also host a Minecraft Club here, which this year has over 70 members. This is just for "playing" Minecraft.
   TELL ME ABOUT YOUR ONLINE PRESENCE (IF ANY)
Note: The index for this interview series is at http://blog.acthompson.net/2017/10/computer-science-educator-interview.html and is updated as new interviews are posted.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

CS Educator Interview: Vicky Sedgwick

My first teaching jobs were teaching in a pair of schools (half time in each) where I saw students from kindergarten through eight grade. It was a great learning experience but I was happy to move on to high school after a year. Vicky Sedgwick has been teaching computer science to grades K to 8 for ten years now and has developed a great program. I was very pleased when Vicky agreed to answer a few questions for this interview series.

WHERE DO YOU TEACH? WHAT SORT OF SCHOOL IS IT?
I teach at St. Martin’s Episcopal School which is located in the Los Angeles area, specifically in the San Fernando Valley. It is a very small Preschool-8th Grade private, religious school. I teach Kindergarten-8th Grade.

HOW DID YOU GET STARTED TEACHING COMPUTER SCIENCE?
In the summer of 2007, the computer teacher at my youngest daughter’s school left and I agreed to take over the computer classes – at least until December. Well it’s now 10 years later and I’m still there even though my daughter moved on from the school years ago. When I started teaching the classes, they were focused on learning computer applications, learning to keyboard, and playing curricular related games.

In a previous life, I had been a programmer and systems analyst so when I got bored watching students type for class after class and wanted to do more, I started to investigate what others were doing with programming and kids. Initially, I started with having my Middle School students do some coding in Scratch. Then I found the CSTA 2011 standards and realized that I could be teaching all of my students about computer science and I had even been including some CS into classes already! That’s when I started adding more computer science to all the grades that I teach and each year has become more computer science and less other things.

DESCRIBE THE COMPUTER SCIENCE CURRICULUM AT YOUR SCHOOL. WHAT COURSES DO YOU HAVE AND WHAT ARE THE FOCUSES OF EACH?
At St. Martin’s, all Kindergarten through 8th grade students have class with me twice a week. Those classes focus on five main areas: Computer Science, Digital Citizenship & Literacy, Productivity Software (yes, I do still teach this), Computer Graphics / Computer Art, and Keyboarding (a small block of time at the beginning of the class to practice technique). We are on a quarter system at my school and at least one-quarter of the year for younger grades and about one-half of the year for older grades is devoted to Computer Science.

I am lucky in that I can set my own curriculum which I try to scaffold each year based on what the classes have learned the year before, what new things are available, and this year, the new CSTA K-8 Standards that were released in July. I am really excited about using Micro:Bits and Circuit Playgrounds with my Middle School students and using some Raspberry Pis to teach networking concepts.

WHAT IS YOUR OVERALL TEACHING PHILOSOPHY? PROJECT BASED LEARNING? FLIPPED CLASSROOM? IN SHORT, WHAT MAKES YOUR CS PROGRAM “YOUR CS PROGRAM?”
I’m a “less me, more them” person as much as I can be. I do a lot of “flipped classroom” IN the classroom with tutorial videos that my students can watch if they need help rather than a lot of whole group lectures. I am also a big believer in students sharing their work. All classes have either a classroom blog (for K-2) or student websites (grades 3 and up) where students share what they are creating.

For most grades, I like to have a major “project” that students will end up creating during their CS classes and often these will tie into another subject of the curriculum. For example:
  • Kindergarten students used ScratchJr to show what they knew about the butterfly life cycle
  • 2nd grade created tours of parts of the school in Scratch to share with a class outside of our school
  • 3rd grade students also coded the butterfly life cycle, but they used Scratch
  • 5th grade students created math games in Scratch last year that the younger students in the school played and rated
  • Middle School students created light-up music boxes using Arduino and then had a showcase day at school to show them off
WHAT IS THE BIGGEST CHALLENGE IN TEACHING CS AT YOUR SCHOOL?
The biggest challenge is outdated equipment and lack of budget to update things. It is amazing what you can do with older equipment though and I like to think that I’m very good and coming up with solutions that cost little or no money.

WHAT IS ADMINISTRATION’S SUPPORT (OR LACK OF SUPPORT) LIKE AT YOUR SCHOOL?
My principal is great. She trusts me and lets me have control over the curriculum. She loves to tell the community what we are doing and makes sure to bring visitors to the lab to see what is happening there.

HOW DO YOU MEASURE SUCCESS FOR YOUR PROGRAM? FOR YOUR STUDENTS?
Since all students in my school are required to take computer classes, I measure success based on:
  • The engagement in the classes
  • The “fist bumps” or “hi-fives” when things work well
  • The number of students who want to know if they can do this at home and then actually DO it at home
  • The students who take interest in community events I share that are CS related
  • The “when can we do that again” comments or questions like “Do we get to do that when we are in whatever grade?”
In the future, I want to look at how many students take a CS course in high school, if I can get that information for all of them.

WHAT IS THE ONE THING YOU LIKE TO TALK ABOUT REGARDING YOUR PROGRAM THAT I HAVEN’T ALREADY ASKED?
There is something truly special about being able to teach all students from Kindergarten through 8th grade. It is a real asset to modifying the curriculum to the needs of the students when you see all of them every year they are at the school. It really is gratifying to see the growth of the students throughout their time at our school. They amaze me every single year.

LAST QUESTION. YOU’RE ONE OF THE KEY PEOPLE INVOLVED IN THE #CSK8 CHAT. CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT THAT? WHEN, WHY, WHO, ETC?
Back in late 2014, Sheena Vaidyanathan, who was the K-8 Teacher Representative on the CSTA Board at the time, put together a K-8 Task Group for CSTA which included: Sheena, Todd Lash, Aung Nay, Laura Blankenship, Patrice Gans, Myra Deister, Irene Lee, and me. We were tossing around ideas of what we could do to bring together K-8 (ages 5-14) CS teachers and help to promote CS in K-8 (ages 5-14). Back when Patrice Gans was the K-8 Teacher Rep on the CSTA Board, she had hosted some #csk8 chats on Twitter and we decided to resurrect those. They started up again in January of 2015 and have been going ever since.

The task group doesn’t actually exist anymore but the chat continues with a core group of people which includes Sheena, Todd, Grant Smith, and me. We are also having guest chat moderators more regularly. The live #csk8 chats currently happen on Twitter on the 1st and 3rd Wednesdays of each month at 5pm PT/8pm ET and cover topics of interest to K-8 (ages 5-14) teachers of computer science. We invite anyone who is interested in computer science for students ages 5-14 (you don’t have to be a K-8 CS teacher) to join us during the live chat or just follow the hashtag #csk8 at any time for posts about K-8 Computer Science.

TELL ME ABOUT YOUR ONLINE PRESENCE (IF ANY)
Note: The index for this interview series is at http://blog.acthompson.net/2017/10/computer-science-educator-interview.html and is updated as new interviews are posted.























Thursday, October 05, 2017

CS Educator Interview: Rebecca Dovi–the update

imageRebecca Dovi is a ball of energy. She is full of ideas and always doing cool things. When I last interviewed her (http://blog.acthompson.net/2013/08/cs-educator-interview-rebecca-dovi.html)she was a classroom teacher. Today she is the Director of education and co-founder of CodeVA, a non-profit CS education effort in Virginia. I thought is was time to catch up with her is learn more about what she is doing.

Tell us a little about CodeVA and what your goals are?

We are a statewide non-profit with the mission of bringing computer science education to all kids in Virginia. We are the first state in the country with mandatory computer science standards.

The legislation that passed in 2016 makes computer science co-equal to the other four subjects. In other words computer science must be integrated with math, science, language arts and social studies from kindergarten through eighth grade. This includes coding, and non-coding computer science topics.

Our goals are to support schools and teachers with the training and resources needed to support them as they implement the new standards.

Why did you move from classroom teaching to starting something like CodeVA?

I honestly never thought it would happen. My husband is our Executive Director. In his former life he was an investigative journalist, and saw the impact of poor access to computer science on the communities he covered. When he first mentioned me leaving and us forming a nonprofit I was not exactly enthusiastic about the idea. He made the case - and he was right. Over the last 7-8 years of my classroom life I was doing more and more teacher training. On top of teaching I was our district's computer science lead and doing curriculum and professional development. I also worked for the local NMSI group running AP Computer Science A training across the state. I developed a MOOC for AP CS A, which has been 10% of the growth in APCS A over the past three years - including a lot of the increase in the number of females taking the exam.

Seeing the impact that these programs had on the number and diversity of kids able to access computer science was what finally convinced me we needed to try to do this at scale. I miss my classroom, but not including this year (we don't collect demographic data until mid-October) our teachers have taught over 21,000 middle and high school students computer science. I never could have done that from my little classroom.

At CodeVA you are doing a lot of teacher education. How is preparing teachers to teach different from teaching students?

Teachers won't ever shush! ;)

Seriously though, adults really need to buy into what you are presenting. After 20 years in the classroom I experienced a lot of professional development, and very little of it impacted my classroom practice.

Now we are able to deliver professional development that really meets the needs of computer science teachers. We have a group of 20 experienced facilitators, from elementary all the way through high school. Since 2014 we have trained over 330 middle and high school teachers and almost 1000 elementary teachers. The best part is watching the community the grows from the teachers in our programs.

At CodeVA you also have student programs. What age groups are you working with and what are you doing with each age group?

We do camps and programs for kids from first through twelfth grades. All of our programs are arts-integration. Kids spend half their time on computers, and half on hands on activities that support learning the concepts of computer science.

As an example one of our most popular camps is called Critter Code. The students participate in a design process to create their own sock animal. They learn Scratch, sew their animal, and by the end of the week they use their sock animal as the sprite in their Scratch story. We've had everything from mosquitoes to falcons, they get really creative.

We partner locally in Richmond VA with various organizations in town to bring computer science programs to kids that wouldn't otherwise get access. We are very proud of our numbers. This summer our programs were 55% underrepresented minorities, 49% female, and 35% underrepresented minority female. Out of the kids we served 44% were able to attend through needs based financial aid.

This past year we were awarded a Google Rise grant to build an online platform to share out our camps to schools and programs across the state.  This is especially important as districts move to incorporate computer science into their core curriculum. These camps give kids more access to computer science,and allow the teachers to practice and try out teaching computer science outside the pressure of the classroom.

For high school students we also run a Computer Science Honor Society. We had a lot of requests from our teachers who were required to run co-curricular clubs. Central to the program is the completion of service hours. These hours help teachers run programs, recruit and do tutoring programs in support of computer science. As an example the students from Powhatan HS from a rural district with only one high school completed over 1700 hours of Computer Science Community Service.

As a non-profit you must rely on external support. Who is supporting your work these days?

We have been very fortunate in our partners. We work closely with a local foundation, the Robins Foundation, that has supported our programs since 2014. In addition we have great continuing corporate partners such as Capital One, Car Max among others. Grants like the Google Rise program have really supported spreading computer science across the state.

We have worked closely with Microsoft on our legislative agenda and they have been invaluable in supporting our efforts.

This summer we were awarded a grant from the The Tobacco Region Revitalization Commission grant of $361,625 to bring computer science programs to the most rural parts of the state. This is especially exciting for us as we move to learn about the unique needs of teachers and students in this part of the state.

What else should people know about you and what CodeVA is doing?

We have three really exciting things on the horizon.

First, we have been working very closely with our department of education, and the computer science standards are about to come out of draft form and be finalized.

Second, to support the new standards we are currently piloting a K5 Coaches Academy that prepares local school district personnel to be elementary computer science coaches and deliver professional development in their home districts. This past summer eighteen people participated, and next summer we will be running multiple cohorts across the state.

And finally, to support districts we are working to create district Computer Science Roadmaps. Districts give us data, and participate in interviews, then we supply them with a list of suggestions as they work to implement the new computer science standards over the next few years. We are especially looking at what programs and systems districts already have in place that can be used to support the effort.

Learn more about CodeVA at https://www.codevirginia.org/ image






Note: The index for this interview series is at http://blog.acthompson.net/2017/10/computer-science-educator-interview.html and is updated as new interviews are posted.

Tuesday, October 03, 2017

CS Educator Interview: Saber Khan

I believe I first met Saber Khan over Twitter. Since them we have interacted in a number of ways on and off line. We met face to face for the first time this past summer at the CSTA Conference. To say we’ve had some interesting conversations would be putting it mildly. His was one of the first names that popped into my head when I decided to restart interviewing CS educators for my blog.

WHERE DO YOU TEACH? WHAT SORT OF SCHOOL IS IT?

> I teach at the Browning School, a K-12 independent boy's school in Manhattan, NYC.


HOW DID YOU GET STARTED TEACHING COMPUTER SCIENCE?

> I used to teach math and science and was very interested in tech. I became a tech integrator and teaching some tech classes where I really enjoyed teaching coding. Over the past past five years I taken a deep dive into learning and teaching coding.

DESCRIBE THE COMPUTER SCIENCE CURRICULUM AT YOUR SCHOOL. WHAT COURSES DO YOU HAVE AND WHAT ARE THE FOCUSES OF EACH?

> I am fortunate that we have a comprehensive tech education program at our school. Starting in kindergarten and all the way up to the Upper School we have dedicated tech classes that focus on CS, design and engineering. We have electives in CS and Engineering in the Upper School. I love teaching Python, JavaScript, Ruby with resources and programs such as CodeHS, Codesters, Ruby the Hard Way, etc. I have outlined our program here - https://medium.com/@ed_saber/k-12-tech-ed-w-computing-engineering-e552f8abb9e9

WHAT IS YOUR OVERALL TEACHING PHILOSOPHY? PROJECT BASED LEARNING? FLIPPED CLASSROOM? IN SHORT, WHAT MAKES YOUR CS PROGRAM “YOUR CS PROGRAM?”

> Learning together is essential, both because I am still learning but also it create a environment that supports risk-taking. Blended learning tools, such as CodeHS and Codesters, along with books and online tutorials and help sections such as Stack Overflow have been essential for me and my students. I explained this approach in a video with CS50 here - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t0I7wQhuHdI

WHAT IS THE BIGGEST CHALLENGE IN TEACHING CS AT YOUR SCHOOL?

> We are fortunate in many ways, we have a strong team, good resources, etc. Our challenges are turning student learning into projects to share with a larger community. We have started a Tech Expo to create more excitement about sharing projects. We are also focusing more on creative coding with the p5.js library. On a bigger scale, we need to figure out and act on being a helpful and supportive member to the CS learning community. I put on the CC Fest event in NYC and LA to create a K-12 community around creative coding - http://ccfest.rocks.

CC Fests are organized collaboratively with a great group of people. In NYC I work with Danny Fenjves of Upperline Code,  Stephen Lewis of the Heschel School, Dan Shiffman of NYU and others. The LA version was organized with Jolina Clement of Archer School for Girls, Maxwell Bigman of Immaculate Heart, and Lauren Mccarthy of UCLA.  


WHAT IS ADMINISTRATION’S SUPPORT (OR LACK OF SUPPORT) LIKE AT YOUR SCHOOL?

> They are supportive and encouraging. The best thing they have done, aside from resources and staffing, is let us evolve as a department and let us find our focus on CS, design, and engineering.


HOW DO YOU MEASURE SUCCESS FOR YOUR PROGRAM? FOR YOUR STUDENTS?

> Good question, not sure this is the best answer but I look at enrollment in our elective class, which is going up. I also look at the quality of the projects and engagement in the Tech Expo. After a couple of years of doing that I think we have created an expectation about creativity and portfolios that will show the community what we do.


WHAT IS THE ONE THING YOU LIKE TO TALK ABOUT REGARDING YOUR PROGRAM THAT I HAVEN’T ALREADY ASKED?

> I am always striving to build an inclusive and diverse CS ed community. I am excited to collaborate with anyone on that. Please get in touch.

THIS PAST SUMMER YOU STARTED #ETHICALCS CHAT ON TWITTER. WHAT MOTIVATED YOU TO DO THAT AND HOW IS IT GOING?

> I think that despite good intentions we have not done a good job is showing our students the impact of computing. To support a holistic CS education we need to engage deeply in ethics and identity while we learn the tech. The #ethicalCS edchat is an attempt to build a community of teachers and experts that will work together to create this curriculum. This project is a collaboration with Jeannie Crowley (Ethical Culture Fieldston School), Kara Chesal and Aankit Patel (of NYC Department of Ed CS4All team). I outline our hopes in this Medium essay: https://medium.com/@ed_saber/ethicalcs-bring-ethics-identity-and-impact-to-computer-science-education-eae5a9d4682


TELL ME ABOUT YOUR ONLINE PRESENCE (IF ANY)

Note: The index for this interview series is at http://blog.acthompson.net/2017/10/computer-science-educator-interview.html and is updated as new interviews are posted.