Wednesday, August 08, 2018

Computer Science Education Progress in New Hampshire

Things have been moving right along in New Hampshire. First we developed CS teacher certification (a joint effort with the department of education and a team of computer science educators). Now we have CS included in the legal definition of an adequate education as of earlier this summer. A set of CS standards, based on the CSTA Standards and K12 CS Framework have been adopted officially this week. Implementation plans are in the works. The latest announcement I received follows:

On June 18, 2018, NH House Bill 1674 was signed into law.

This bill renames our "ICT Literacy" program to "Digital Literacy," and adds Computer Science (CS) as a core K-12 subject area.

The NH Department of Education is currently working on the program rules (ED306) that will implement this law, as well as a timeline for developing CS programs.

We are looking at a two-year implementation timeline, with a target date in 2020 for districts to have programs in place.

There will be additional opportunities for educators and the broader public to provide feedback, with information posted on this group and on the Department website.

Additionally, the NH State Board of education today (August 8, 2018), voted unanimously to adopt the NH Computer Science academic standards.  Part 1 of these standards, "Context and Guidance,"  provides additional clarification about the relationship between digital literacy and computer science, how CS relates to STEM and other disciplines, and recommendations for developing or strengthening programs.  Part 2 is the grade-band standards.

The standards, and additional resources, are available here:

The policy tour slides provide a concise overview of our computer science policy efforts.

The Department of Education will continue to support implementation of these policies through federal and state grant programs, partnerships, and guidance and support.

Sunday, August 05, 2018

Computer Science and Farming

One of the things I tell students is that computer science is relevant to a lot of careers that they may not think of at first. An announcement I read last week and a visit to a farm reminded me of that this past week.

The article was about a joint effort between Microsoft and the Futures Farmers of America. (Future Farmers of America, Microsoft to develop tech-based agricultural curriculum) The FFA is an amazing group that does a lot to help prepared young people for careers in farming. Modern farming is a lot more than sticking seeds in the ground and waiting for plants to be harvested. Actually it has always been a lot more than that but technology has long had an expanding role in making farming for efficient and productive.

As I said, I also visited a farm last week. The owners are friends of mine and they are working other jobs as they build up the farm. Technology is a big part of how they manage things at the farm while not living there full time. Obviously there is we-fi available throughout the a farm. There are remotely accessed cameras and a very nice weather reporting system for starters. As I toured the farm we talked about future efforts.

One thing under consideration is RFID tags on each of the trees in their apple orchards. This would allow notes to be easily taken and recorded on the condition of individual trees. Other thoughts include computer (and remotely) controlled irrigation. Being able to pay more and better attention to individual plants or parts of a farm - precision agriculture – is something that computerization makes practical.

I’ve been reading about using computers to plan grazing patterns that make for more productive pastures, robots that scan and treat individual plants at high speed, and artificial intelligence analysis of aerial photographs of crops. I think we’re on the verge of a big jump in technology use in farming with a jump in productivity and efficacy in farming. Pretty darn cool!

Friday, August 03, 2018

School is Getting Close and Teachers Are Getting Ready

Two weeks from today I return to school for teacher orientation. Students come in the next week. summerThings are getting real. While I have been thinking about school a lot ever since the end of the last school year there is a renewed sense of urgency kicking in.

I’d like to report that I have solidly worked my plan (School Year is Over, Time to Get Ready for Next Year)  but that would be an overstatement. The start of a new school year seems so far away when one school year ends. It sneaks up on you.

The other day I got access to the learning management system with my classes enabled. I uploaded a lot of the resources that I have been preparing. That helps me feel like I am closer to being ready. I’m a little behind where I wanted to be but ahead of where I was this time last summer.

So the crunch is on! I’m working on the details for the first couple of weeks of classes. I’m outlining some things I will need later. I’m used to doing some things “on the fly” by which I mean adapting projects to the interests of the particular class. It is always amazing how much difference there is from one section and another in the same year or from one year to another. I don’t want to straightjacket myself. I don’t want to be totally without plans and options though.

I should get to it. I should also prioritize school prep over blogging. See you later.

Thursday, August 02, 2018

Encourage US High School Students to Apply for 2018-2019 ACM/CSTA Cutler-Bell Prize

Do you know a student working on an amazing computer science project? Maybe they need some recognition to take them to the next level. The Cutler-Bell Prize may be just what they need.

Every year, the ACM/CSTA Cutler-Bell Prize in High School Computing recognizes talented high school students in computer science. The intent of the program is to promote and encourage the field of computer science, as well as to empower young and aspiring learners to pursue computing challenges outside of the traditional classroom environment.

The application process involves a Challenge that focuses on having the student develop an artifact that engages modern computing technology and computer science. Judges will be looking for submissions that demonstrate ingenuity, complexity, relevancy, originality, and a desire to further computer science as a discipline. The application period closes January 5, 2019.

Up to four winners will be selected and each will be awarded a $10,000 prize, which will be administered through the financial aid department at the university the student will attend. The prizes are funded by a $1 million endowment established by David Cutler and Gordon Bell.

Detailed information, including the link to the online application, is available on the ACM/CSTA Cutler-Bell Prize in High School Computing website. Winners of the 2018-2019 Cutler-Bell Prize will be notified via email in February 2019.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Ethics, Accessibility, and Security–Condiment or Ingredient

Too often people think of ethics, accessibility, and security as condiments; something to add at the end rather than ingredients essential from the beginning.

Last night was the latest #EthicalCS Twitter chat and as usual it got me thinking. A pretty common occurrence during those chats BTW. The discussion was of course about ethics but I was thinking that people see ethics as an add on – something to tag in as a filler in a course or a later thought in a project. The same seems to be true about some other things like system security and accessibility.

These are all related in some ways. An ethical system is accessible and secure for example. More importantly, though they have to be baked into the system. They have to be considerations from the start if they are really going to be the best they can be for the most number of people.

As educators I think we have to make sure that our students learn that. Learn it by example, by discussion, and by plan.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Updated ACM Code of Ethics Released

ethics ACMThe ACM has released the latest update for the ACM Code of Ethics. It’s an interesting and important document. I wonder how many computing professionals know about and try to follow it though.

Clearly, as computing becomes more and more a part of daily life ethical practices become more and more important. As an educator I see it as my responsibility to make sure my students know about it though. The word “ethics” appears 100 times in the CS 2013 Curriculum report with specific mention of the ACM code of ethics listed as a reference and resource.

As I plan for the new school year I am thinking about how to incorporate more ethics discussion into the curriculum. I really want students to think, and think hard, about ethical issues.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Is This The Future?

Narrator: Alfred Thompson, you’ve just attended an amazing CSTA Conference. Now what?

Alfred: I’m going to Disney World!

magic bandAnd so I did. I just got home from about 5 days at DisneyWorld with my family. It was a great time  and I spent a lot less time online than usual. That doesn’t mean I wasn’t thinking about technology though. At DisneyWorld technology is everywhere. For most visitors this wrist band is the center of much of the activity.

It’s called a Magic Band and basically it is a cool container for an RFID chip. This band serves as the key to ones hotel room, a charge card, admissions to the various parks, and more. It’s not the only RFID chip one will run into though.

Fall-2015-Disney-World-Refillable-Resort-Rapid-Fill-Mugs-5-453x600Even the beverage containers also have RFID chips attached. The most obvious to may people are the refillable mugs. These mugs allow unlimited refills for a specific period of time. The dispensers only work if they read a valid RFID chip. Yes, in case you are wondering, even the paper cups have chips in them. The chips in the paper cups allow for a specific number of refills. I wish I had brought one of them home to play with. Anyone want to send me one (or more?) I really want to experiment with RFID.

So this is cool technology. The question really is, is the a utopian future or a dystopian future?

Disney uses this information to make the guest experience better. Well, that’s the theory and I suspect it is largely the case. I’m sure it helps them make money as well. No doubt it is useful to know how many refills people take. Tracking visits to the parks tells them a lot about guests interests and routines. Who knows what else they know about.

But what about outsiders using the data? Other companies? The government? What information can or does Disney provide to law enforcement and under what circumstances?

There is also the question of people with malicious intent stealing information. Not just from Disney RFID chips either. More and more credit cards and other ID cards are using RFID chips. My newest wallet is advertised as blocking RFID signals so apparently a lot of people are concerned about this sort of thing. With good reason I think.

The potential uses of RFID are both good and bad. We can use them for many things but should we? Good stuff to talk about with students. I think they need to understand this technology, how it works, and what its risks and benefits are.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Microsoft Makes Large Commitment to CSTA

One of the big announcements at the recent Computer Science Teachers Association conference was that Microsoft is donating two million dollars to CSTA over the next three years.

This is obviously a big deal. This money is first off a huge help towards building a strong financial base for CSTA to grow and to do more. It will allow more professional development, more help to local chapters for new programs, and generally make some long desired programs to happen. It is also a great vote of confidence in CSTA and its leadership.

I was able to chat with Mary Snapp, Corporate Vice President and Lead for Microsoft Philanthropies, who announced this grant at the conference. She told me that Microsoft strongly believes that CSTA is going to be able to expand and scale operations in a big way over the next few years.

A number of companies I talked to at CSTA told me they are interested in helping build computer science education. They all really need people who understand computing. Not just to hire (though there is some of that) but also the companies they partner with and sell to need more people. And of course a society where people understand computing is a benefit to us all.

So thank you Microsoft. And thank you to the other companies supporting CSTA in various ways.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Taking the Microsoft Technology Associate (MTA) Exam

Contrary to popular opinion I did not do it for the free t-shirt. Certaport was offering teachers at the CSTA Conference the opportunity to take a MTA exam (or exams) for free. If you passed you also got a t-shirt with your certificate. I had other reasons to take it though.

Yes, I wanted to test myself a bit. I had not studied for any of them and I hadn’t planned on taking any exams. When several of my friends took exams (and passed of course) I decided maybe I should try. I chose the Block Based Programming exam because I teach some block based programming. The exam is currently based around TouchDevelop which has been discontinued but the exam will be rewritten for the blocks in soon. In any case, I know some TouchDevelop so it seemed a good choice.

More importantly I was curious as to how the tests were given. What sort of questions where asked? How are they presented to the test taker? And more process sorts of questions.

It turns out that questions are asked several ways. There are a few ordinary multiple choice questions. There are a few questions where you have to read and understand code. There are also questions where a problem is explained and code is shown with “holes” that you have to fill from drop down lists. There are also Parsons Problems types of questions. In these you are presented with a problem, 6 to 8 lines or blocks of code and asked to place the right blocks in the correct order to solve the problem. There are usually extra blocks of code. It’s harder than you might think. There were also questions I would categorize as software design or software engineering questions.

In fact, the whole test is harder than you might think. You really do have to think and I was concerned about the 60 minute time limit for the 39 questions. My friend, Doug Bergman took the Java certification and told me he thought it was Advanced Placement CS level of hard. I feel pretty confident in saying that these are rigorous (especially for first level certifications) exams.

I wish I had a system like that to give quizzes and exams to my students. Especially the Parsons Problems style of questions.

Oh, yes, I did pass and I did get my free t-shirt.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Reflecting on #CSTA2018

I feel like I have really fallen behind on reporting on the CSTA Conference in Omaha. Part of the problem is being a bit overwhelmed. Usually I write blog posts in boring sessions. I didn’t attend any boring sessions.  I have to absorb some of it and I will write a more detailed post soon. I hope.

Right now I am sitting in an airport waiting for a delayed flight and not up to gathering all my notes. Who am I kidding. What I have for notes are tweets I have posted with the #CSTA2018 hashtag. A lot of people tweeted a lot of good stuff and others have already posted summaries on blogs.

This conference was a bit different for me. I wasn’t there as a presenter, a CSTA board member, or representing a company. Just me – teacher from New Hampshire. In some ways that was freeing but it felt different. The size of the conference is different as well. Back when there were 50 or 60 of us at the conference I knew almost everyone. At 700 attendees there was an amazing number of new faces. First time attendees. People brand new to teaching Computer Science and people in district roles that didn’t exist a few years ago.

That’s not a bad thing at all. It’s a great thing. When we were so small a group we risked too much group think. Now we have lots and lots of views. Having people with so many backgrounds and experiences is an amazing opportunity. So while I loved spending time with people I have known for years and years it was wonderful to meet and talk to so many new people.

A lot of people told me they read this blog or follow me on Twitter (@AlfredTwo) which was very encouraging. Like many who post to social media I don’t always know if there is anyone out there or if I am yelling in a vacuum. Speaking of Twitter. I talked about that already but it was humming. Lots more teachers are tweeting these days. It really is a good way to share information.

The exhibit hall was a lot larger this year,. I blogged about that the other day (Pictures From #CSTA2018) and I really appreciate the companies and organizations (three universities for example) who show up to talk to teachers. Even at 700 attendees, CSTA has an atmosphere that is a lot more conducive to real conversations with exhibitors than a conference like ISTE or TCEA (as great as those conferences are in their own ways.)

There were a lot of people who were at CSTA because of company funded scholarships. Rolls Royce funded about 25 people (including me). Oracle Academy provided grants and goodie bags to a bunch of people. Google provided money for CSTA Chapter leaders to come for two days of special training and the conference. This is real support of teacher development. These companies understand the need for teachers who actually know what they are doing and are willing to put some money behind their talk.

If you were there and we didn’t connect I am sorry. 700 people can make that harder than we might like. I hope though that you had some great conversations with others and learned as much as I did.

Next year CSTA will be in Phoenix, Arizona from July 7th to 10th, 2019. It’s going to be even better. I just know it.

Monday, July 09, 2018

Computer Science Teachers Association announces CSTA+

One of the big announcements at CSTA today was a new premium level of membership in CSTA. There is and will continue to be a free membership. This new premium membership offers some additional benefits and will also provide money for local chapters. Half of the CSTA+ dues will go to local chapters to enable them to expand their program.

This is something that has been under discussion for several years. My local ISTE affiliate, NHSTE has had a similar two levels of membership for some years and I have benefited from that paid level. I expect this CSTA+ membership to be well worth the money. Yes, I’ve signed up!

Find out more at There you can find some additional benefits and sign up.


Sunday, July 08, 2018

Pictures From #CSTA2018

Before I get into some pictures of the exhibit hall let me tell you that there are a lot of people here. This was lunch on Sunday.WP_20180708_12_35_44_Pro

Arkansas is in the house. A large and visible group from Arkansas. And they brought flags and pins and lots of personality. Arkansas is doing great things with developing CS for AllWP_20180708_12_36_49_Pro

The exhibit hall is much larger than in previous years and it really looks like a real exhibit hall. I went around while they were still setting up and took a few pictures. This is just a taste of who was there. I may post more pictures tomorrow but this gives you some ideas.

CoderZ showing off their virtual robots.


Amazon Web Services are here. No not selling books but sharing some of there tools and options for teachers to teach cloud computing. I will be looking closer at this for my AP CS Principles class among other things.


Birdbrain always has an interesting table. Physical computing is big again this year at CSTA.


Is this the largest Micro:bit in the world? Firia Labs has some interesting things on display. I need to spend more time there tomorrow.


CodeHS has a big booth and a large team here. A great opportunity to talk to them about their offerings – free and paid. I used some of their free materials last year with my AP CS Principles students.


 Vernier had some great sensor projects. Some even programmed in Scratch. I have to get their catalogue. I want to make some of those projects myself.


TEALS was here with a good crew. Very exciting program that places industry professionals in the classroom to co-teach with (and train) classroom teachers teaching computer science.


IBM is at CSTA for the first time. They are talking about heir Master the Mainframe contest, IBM Activity Kits, and other offerings. Surprisingly mainframes are a growing business for IBM and there are jobs for people who understand them. I’ve heard from others that kids learn a lot from that competition.


And it begins–#CSTA2018

Yesterday opened the CSTA Conference with afternoon workshops. And there was a nice reception put on by Google. For me it was a travel day and a getting settled day for the most part. Thant and a lot of opportunities to have conversations. I didn’t take any of the workshops so I can’t report on them first hand but from Twitter it seems like they went very well.

chibiThe conference bag had some real treats in it though. The big surprise was this Chibi chip starter kit.  There is a microchip and accessories with a book. I expect a lot of people will have some fun with that.

I’m helping out at the registration booth for a while this morning. Volunteering is a great way to meet people as well as to help the conference run smoothly. I’m glad I had time in my schedule to do so.

After lunch the exhibit hall opens. There are a lot more exhibitors this year and I am really excited about that. My next blog will be a report on that.

Friday, July 06, 2018

Thoughts Before #CSTA2018

My bags are packed. Normally I pack the night before a trip but my suitcase has been packed for days for my trip to the annual CSTA Conference. I even got a haircut this morning. I cleaned out my computer backpack and loaded my Kindle with books for the plane rides. I’ve been to just about every one of these conferences dating back to before there was a CSTA and it was the CS & IT Conference. Somehow this year feels different. My level of excitement is higher.

Sure there are more workshops than ever before and the sessions next week look awesome. But there is more to it than that. There is real energy in the computer science education community these days. We’re making progress in getting computer science moved into the mainstream of education. Here in New Hampshire, teaching computer science is defined in law as being part of an adequate education. Similar things are happening across the country.

We’re seeing tremendous growth in students taking computer science courses. Advanced Placement Computer Science numbers are seeing amazing upticks.

Teachers are more and more involved in conversations in social media. Twitter, Facebook, blogs, and anywhere else teachers communicate online. The ISTE conference has more CS every year as well.

But for most of us in K-12 computer science the CSTA conference is the place to meet in real life. Besides sessions and workshops the hallway conversations look to me amazing. Informal gatherings of all sorts are being planned and more will happen spontaneously. They’ll happen in the exhibit hall. (Can I say I love that the companies and organizations who come to exhibit really see to understand our community?) They will happen in hallways, lobbies, nearby food and drink establishments, bus rides to receptions, and anywhere two or more CS teachers bump into each other.

I already know there will be conversations about pedagogy training rather than just content. I know there will be talk about training for more advanced teachers who have a solid content knowledge already. And this is besides the scheduled birds of a feature sessions.

I can’t wait. Hope to see many of you there. I’ll be wearing my hat so come find me.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Teach Me How to Teach NOT What to Teach

Today is the last day of ISTE and I’m not there. I am following a lot of conversation from there on Twitter though. One thing that is coming up is that a lot of the computer science related professional development there is for beginners and/or for K-8 teachers. Now this is wonderful but it is not what I need.

Sarah Judd had a couple of wonderful tweets that sum things up for me.



Some of us have a lot of content knowledge. This is especially true for career changers from industry such as myself. It is equally true for many teachers who have been teaching for some number of years. What many of us need is more about how to teach. In a word pedagogy.

I don’t mean “here is this robot and here are some example projects and code” and that sort of thing. I mean that is nice and all but it is usually a lot more about the tool and not the pedagogy. We are finally seeing some real research in how to teach computer science better. I’ve personally learned a lot from papers submitted to the SIGCSE conference and I’d really like to attend in person again.

The problem with SIGCSE for a lot of teachers is it at a tough time to get away for a lot of us. And there is that whole perception (not 100% wrong) that it is for higher education educators.

ISTE is going to be highly focused on beginners for some time to come. I don’t have a problem with that. I think ISTE can have a large impact on generating awareness among school administrators and technology integrators and teachers who are really serious about preparing students for a modern world that includes computers.

CSTA is the group I think should really increase their focus on training teachers how to teach. I would love to see a pedagogy track at the 2019 conference. 

Let’s hear about people using Parsons Problems, sub goal labeling, and other techniques. (BTW maybe take a look at How To Teach Computer Science where I talk about some of this) How about some case studies of project based learning? Not with a focus on the projects but with a focus on evaluation, maintaining student progress, and what does and doesn’t work about them?

I am reminded of a conversation with a peer when I was an undergraduate. Someone asked him why he was a business major when he grew up on a farm and planned to stay in the family business. Why not agriculture? He replied that he knew how to farm. Modern farming is also a business and that is the peace he didn’t learn growing up. Those of us who “grew up” in the computer science field know about computer science. Now we need help becoming bettor teachers.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Facial Recognition, Augmented Reality, and Teaching

Summer is a time of reflection and learning for me. I really want to be a better teacher and summer give me a chance to read more and to think more. This week I have been thinking a lot about facial recognition and augmented reality. One of the things that I know from experience and from research is that knowing students, especially their names, is a powerful thing for a teacher. Faces are hard for me. I don’t know if it is the way my brain is wired (there is a thing called prosopagnosia or face blindness that I would like to blame) or if I am just not working hard enough at it (as my son who knows every student in his elementary school – he’s the principal – suggests) but I would really love augmented reality that would let me know each student’s name.

I also think “wouldn’t if be nice if a computer scanned the class room and took attendance for me?” On the other hand if we take that to a (perhaps) logical conclusion were get computers that track every student’s face to see who is paying attention. They are trying that in China (link below) and that scares me. It especially scares me if it gets tied into a ‘social credit’ ranking system like China is setting up. (Link below or search for China social credit) Oh boy! I can’t see a lot of students liking that one! Below you will find a link to an article about the CEO of a company that develops facial recognition who warns about how ready it is – or is not! Are we really ready to have it judge people? I think I’d rather see people doing the evaluations.

BTW, there are schools experimenting with tracking students with RFID chips. Does using facial recognition take this to a new level or is it just a logical next step? Do we really want to normalize this level of tracking? I’m a little uneasy with the idea. Maybe more than a little.

But to keep this positive and closer to education and making teaching better, Vicki Davis is seeing a lot of artificial reality and augmented reality at the ISTE conference (link to her recent post below) and seeing some positive things. As well as some risks. Could artificial intelligence replace teachers? Maybe the bad ones but what about the good ones? She doesn’t talk about the costs of teachers vs AI though. You and I know that some people would rather have poor to average “teacher” who are inexpensive than spend more money for the best.

I see artificial reality and augmented reality as being very different. Later this week I am getting a demo of the VR system my wife’s school has installed. I may blog about that after. But for now, augmented reality.

Things that lead to more and better interaction between students and teachers is a good thing. Imagine if every teacher in the school could address every student by name the first time they saw them. My gut tells me that is a good thing. Students want to be known and a name is a powerful part of that.

What if a student showed up at my desk and asked me what they got on the recent test? They do that you know. Somehow they think you remember every grade for every one of their students. A AR system could pop that information up for a teacher. That would be good. Right? Potential for abuse? Sure. There is a fine line between deciding to call or not call on a student based on their grades as a good thing or a bad thing. A reminder that a student is on a concussion protocol might be a good thing though.

So both risk and benefit to facial recognition and AR. How we balance that determines if we use it to improve education and learning or just become control freaks who limit student options. Do we use it to build relationships or to hand off everything to computers? Do we use it to share excitement and new ideas or do we just use it to make education inexpensive at the cost of quality?

So much to think about!

Recommended reading

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Autonomy, Motivation, and Teaching Computer Science

Of the several courses I teach, my favorite course is call Honors Programming. Its a one semester course that is the first real programing course for my students. Its my favorite course because it is the one I have the most autonomy teaching and because I am very prepared to teach it. I extend this autonomy to my students as much as possible. I find that the end of year semester wrap up project is the best learning experience of the course. In large part that is because the students select their own projects and seem very motivated to learn what ever they need (and somehow missed during the semester) to get their projects to work.

My biggest frustration with the course is that students get a solid base, do one pretty interesting proj3ect and then they are done. At least for a while. Many take Advanced Placement CS (some AP CS A and some AP CS Principles) but both of those courses tend to be pretty constrained. They don't really allow for really big projects that as self selected.

What I really want to do is teach a follow on course that is purely project based. I want students to pick a major project that they are really interested in and commit to learning, on their own, the things they need to know to complete it. Yes, I want a whole classroom full of students learning different things and working on different projects. I've seen amazing projects come out of classrooms run this way over the years. I am tired of grading simple easy to create programs that are only mildly challenging.

I'm working on a proposal for this sort of course. My friend Doug Bergman runs some serious project based courses and is partly the inspiration for this. As are a couple of other teachers I have learned from over the years. It seems that students really get motivated to work on big projects, even scary projects, when those projects are meaningful to them. A motivated student will really put in a lot of work. They also pay attention when a teacher points them in a direction.

One plus about Doug is that he has written the book on this sort of thing. I'm learning a lot from Computer Science K-12: Imagining the possibilities!: Bringing creative and innovative Computer Science to your school  It really has me excited. (I recommend Doug's book BTW for anyone looking to create or expand a computer science program. Lots of good stuff there.

I'm looking for more ideas as well. Grading is a concern especially for administrators and parents. Doug has some stuff on that in his book but I'm always open to more ideas. I know that giving students too much autonomy scares some people. Keeping them on task and making steady progress can be an issue. Students often think they can goof off now or change priorities for what they think will be temporary needs and still get everything done at the end. They often guess incorrectly so keeping track is important.

In the long run, I think that this sort of opportunity with motivated and interested students can result in a lot of learning. It can also help build interest in computer science, help students learn to learn, and result in benefits for all concerned.

BTW, earlier today I heard an interesting, and I think related, report on NPR. A Lost Secret: How To Get Kids To Pay Attention

One key quote.

“Many studies have shown that when teachers foster autonomy, it stimulates kids' motivation to learn, tackle challenges and pay attention, Deci says. “

That’s what I am talking about!

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Congressional App Challenge 2018

One of my students won for her district last year. She found it a very valuable experience. I highly support this challenge. Share it with high school students you know.

What is the Congressional App Challenge?

The Congressional App Challenge (CAC) is a congressional effort to encourage high school students to learn how to code. Last year, 200+ Members of U.S. Congress in 42 states conducted an App Challenge in their respective districts. Nationally, the contest inspired 4,956 students to code in 2017, and over 8,800 students cumulative in past 3 years.

Students (in teams of up to 4) code applications for the chance to:

  • get recognition from their Member of Congress,
  • win prizes,
  • display their app in the Capitol Building in Washington, DC.

How can your students get in on it?

Here's a 3-minute "explainer" video:

We would love to see a diverse range of students shine on the national stage!


In the first 3 years of the Congressional App Challenge, the program has yielded 605 App Challenges across 42 states. Over 2,400 apps have been created by nearly 9,000 students, and participant demographics surpass all industry diversity metrics, with young women representing 30% of all competitors. This year, the CAC initiative aims to reach even more constituents.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Reflections on Programming and Teaching

Mark Guzdial has an interesting post called Reflections of a CS Professor and an End-User Programmer in which he compares end-user programming and professional programming and how.if/what we teach for the two. I started a comment but decided it didn’t really fit there.

I'm pretty much in the same boat Mark is in. While I have been a professional programmer, these days I mostly write code to use as examples or to solve my own little problems.

I like to think that I bring some of what I learned and did as a professional into my little projects but it's hard sometimes. I was talking to another teacher today about a program that he wrote that we both use to track our course schedules. He gave me a new version and said to let him know if I  found anything weird because he was so used to it that he probably subconsciously ignores some things. That is why a lot of end user programs are only usable by the programmer. I know that some of my projects are the same -  not usable by anyone but me.

I'm starting to think that is a problem. But do I really want to spend the time to make them usable by others when the problems they solve are so personal and individual? Perhaps the best I can hope for is that they don't embarrass me too much if someone else sees the code.

I teach beginners. Real beginners who usually have no prior programming experience. I am not turning out professional developers. Oh sure some of them go on to internships with what they learn in my classes but I would not call them profession ready. I can’t teach them all that in a semester or even three semesters of high school. That doesn’t mean I can afford to teach them to be sloppy.

The basics I can deal with. Good naming, planning ahead, top down design, breaking down problems into small, manageable chunks, and some good error handling. I’m pretty careful about the code I show them. Some of my personal code I wouldn’t show them while others I would. I remember showing a game I was working on to some students once. One of the students remarked to the other “look at that! He’s already coding preparation for expansion.” That I can teach.

So where do I come down on this? Well, I think I can lead by example if I am careful. And maybe I should take my own code more seriously.

Monday, June 11, 2018

School Year is Over, Time to Get Ready for Next Year

It is teacher wrap up day at Bishop Guertin. The warning bell for homeroom just rang but of course the students were done on Friday so there are no students coming into my room. It feels a bit off.

I started planning for next year already. Over the weekend I got about half way through creating my day by day schedule for Advanced Placement computer science principles. Oh who am I kidding. I got a lot of it done but probably not half way. And I'll spend a lot more time reading through all the lesson plans and will probably make more adjustments. I learned so much teaching it this past year.

I've got to do the same for Mobile Application Programming and I have less to start with there. At least I have last year’s experience to build on. I didn’t really have that last summer.

Honors Programming is probably the easiest to plan for but I have work there. I have already organized a lot of that but want to write some new things. This is my favorite course to teach so I may leave working on it as my reward for finishing the others.

I feel like I have plans better laid for my summer organization than ever before. We'll see if I can follow the plan. I really want next year to be the best year of teaching ever.

Friday, June 08, 2018

Thoughts on Textbooks in Progress

My first published book, Microsoft Visual Basic FUNdamentals, came out 18 years ago. It was for Visual Basic version 6 and what I did was to take what and how I taught and turn it into a textbook. It was a good book. It didn’t sell a ton of books but I was able to take my wife out to dinner a couple of times.

I wrote several others after that. Both of them were new editions of a book someone else first wrote. But they were good books and I am proud of that work. Honestly though I haven’t used textbooks in class for a number of years now. They just don’t fit my style of teaching. What I have done is supply students with  copies of my PowerPoints (with speaker notes) and some short one or two page documents on various language features. Plus the occasional video presentation.

I've been working on a couple of reference books to use in my programming classes since the first of the year. They're getting close to done. I decided to bring home a real C# textbook to look at as I work.

There are 17 chapters and over 700 pages. I cover things from about 9 of them in my one semester course. This might be a good book if I were teaching university students. Maybe. For high school and the limited time I have no way.

Obviously it has a lot of depth and that is great. The problem is that I really need to make projects interesting to hold student attention. So I teach things like simple file handling, timers, adding images dynamically, collision detection (essential for a lot of games), and a few other things that are in my books under "Fun Stuff." I find very little of that in the real textbook. What I do find is hard to find and it is not obvious how they lead to fun stuff.

And then there is that whole 700 pages thing. Your average high school student is going to put that in their locker and never look at it unless you assign questions from the book.

Well forget that! Homework sucks! Besides I can come up with my own quizzes, projects, tests, and other evaluative instruments and they will be far more tailored to the needs of my course.

My VB book is currently at 76 pages including table of contents and index. My C# book at 80 pages. They're not going to get much longer either. They've got everything I cover in class and more for the real go getters. Short and to the point and things are explained in context and directed at high school kids.

They're designed to be a reference, a study guide, and something like advanced notes. That is really all most students really need. They should not have to dig though 700 pages to get what they need in a very first programming course.

Students seemed to get real value from the drafts I gave them this year. I don't know if they'll work for anyone else. The work is worth it if it helps my students.

Computer Science Teacher as Unicorn

imageThe t-shirt image here showed up on my Facebook feed the other day.  My first thought was “Yes, computer teachers are the coolest.” Of course I know a lot of teachers who teach other subjects who are every bit as exciting as any computer science teacher but there is another thought here.

Unicorns are both magical and rare. I would argue that all good teachers have a bit of magic to them. Computer science teachers are more rare though. And frankly, computer science feels a lot like magic to a lot of people.

Today is the last day with students at my school and what I’m thinking about is “did I make magic this year?” and “how can I make more magic next year?” Maybe being the unicorn is the goal.

Wednesday, June 06, 2018

Looking Back At APCS Principles–My First Year

During a conversation with my dean, he said it takes about three years to really get teaching an Advanced Placement course down pat. I don't know if that is the right number but it is surely more than one. This past school year I taught APCS Principles using the curriculum from Code.Org. It was a life saver. I had four preps this year and two of them were first time for me. Well one of them wasn't completely first time but I was doing a complete starting from zero rewrite of it. So there was a lot of work to do.

The tools supplied online were really quite good. The simulators were amazing and let me do some things I could not have done without them. Code's videos, some of which I used in other courses as well, are just outstanding. High production values, outstanding and diverse presenters, and just the right length to not lose kids. In all honesty, a properly motivated students could probably use it as a self-passed course. They would not get as much out of it as being part of a class but they would do ok.

We had some great discussions in class which I think were very valuable. I had three students from China which made talking about issues like censorship and government control of the internet, among other things, extra interesting.

There are a few things I know I need to do differently next year though. The performance tasks are a big part of what I need to do differently. I gave the Explore task in the start of the second semester. That has to get moved to first semester. That will give me some more flexibility in the second part of the year.

Like a lot of people I made the Create task due at the official “drop dead” date set by the College Board. Huge mistake as panic set in and only an extension owing to system glitches on the College Board site made it possible for all the students to submit. Next year, we’re doing it earlier. No midnight deadlines on a system that will be overloaded.

I also need to work on making sure the students understand the requirements on the performance tasks better. Now I had to be teaching to the test and that is what I’d be doing. At the same time they REALLY need to learn to read and follow requirements. That is an important lesson. That makes me feel better about it.

My students all come in with previous programming experience but what I found this year was that was somewhat uneven. I have to be more aware of the students who are not as into coding as others. APCSP is about a lot more than programming but I don’t want students to miss out on that piece. I may reorder some things in the course around that as well. I need to get more programming in before I assign the Create Task I think.

I still have a bunch of processing to do and I hope to talk to other teachers at the CSTA Conference next month. I figure that knowing I have to do things differently is half the battle though. If you taught APCSP, with the curriculum or with something else, I hope you’ll share what you learned about teaching it in the comments. 

Tuesday, June 05, 2018

Programming Projects–The good, the bad, and the ugly

End of the semester project time for me. All of my programming students have been finishing up[ their self-selected projects and I have been grading. It’s always an interesting ex3ercise. None of the students have much experience designing and writing programs. One thing that is clear is that they don’t always spend enough time planning before they start.

Students often seem to think in small steps without thinking about what steps will follow. Sometimes this results in user interfaces that look great and are fairly sophisticated. Unfortunately, they often haven’t thought about how to implement more of the code behind the user interface. Other times they do think further but not far enough. In either case they run into road blocks because the initial design is just not complete. As ugly as these designs can get it is interesting and challenging to try to develop workaround for them. I’ve learned a few tricks over the years. I only wish we had time to restart from scratch and redesign the programs.

Some of the mort popular projects are easy enough to design and code but can be tedious with the limited background in programming the students have. These designs require a lot of code. That takes time to write and to debug but is usually manageable. What concerns me this year is the number of my advanced students who don’t use language or features that they have taught and should know to use that they don’t use.

No matter how many times I tell students that a list of variables that are differentiated only by a number should probably be an array some students take what they think is a short cut. They are almost always wrong about that. I’ve got  to work on that next year.

On the plus side, some of my students take it upon themselves to learn features, methods, and functions that we don’t have time to cover in class. this year students found a couple I didn’t know about. Modern programming libraries have far too many features for anyone to know all of them. Some of these features will get covered next year as they are more efficient than what I have been using. Others I have to think about how or if I cover them. Sometimes features make things easier for programming but harder for a teacher to instill an understanding of concepts.

Students seems to learn a lot from this end of semester projects. That is great. It’s a real plus when I can learn things from them as well.

Friday, June 01, 2018

Micro:Bits and Teaching Networking

This year i taught advanced Placement Computer Science Principles with a mix of high school juniors and seniors. Because of the schedule I had the juniors for several days after the seniors were done. The challenge was to come up with something useful and interesting to keep them busy and learning.  I looked at the classroom set of BBC Micro:bits and thought – networking! Obvious right? OK maybe not but I had been thinking about the ability of these little devices to communicate using radio signs and this seemed like a good opportunity for some experimentation.

I broke the students in to groups of two and three and asked them to create an app that used communication between two of the devices. Other than pointing them to the MakeCode for Micro:bit app for Windows (in beta - requires Windows 10 though there are also iOS and Android versions) and the MakeCode web site I didn’t give them more instructions. Hey, it’s an AP course!

A few students decided to use the Python editor from the Micro:bit web site but most used MakeCode. The MakeCode students used a mix of the block editing and the JavaScript editing. I think having options was a plus as students worked with what they were most comfortable using.

On one hand the students didn’t quite get to the level of application I had hoped for. I wasn’t any help there so I think I need to dig deeper into this myself over the summer. Time was an issue as well since the end of the year brings a lot of interruptions.

On the other hand, they did learn a lot. Several students told me they learned more sending between actual devices than using a software simulator. The APCS P resources I used have an outstanding simulator which the students did use. The devices made it more real, dare I say solid, to the students. One student suggested starting with the simulator and moving on to the devices for deeper learning.

As I listened to them talk about their projects under development they discussed things like throughput and bandwidth as well as how to encode information. These are all topics we had discussed during the year of course. Here though was a practical application and visuals that really brought things home. There is something about pressing buttons and seeing lights on another device light up that brings extra meaning.

My thinking now is that I will be bringing these little devices out earlier next year. We’ll do some networking with them for sure. Maybe some other projects as well. They seem motivating and interesting. Finding thinks that students want to use, want to learn more about, and which reinforce concepts is a wonderful thing.

Monday, May 28, 2018

Assumptions, Misunderstandings, and Programming Decisions

My beginning students have big problems with writing decision statements. Boolean expressions are a real problem. Most of the time it is because they expect the syntax of a programming language to be close to how they express things in English.

For example, in English one can say “give me a number between one and 10” and it is pretty clear. When they try to say the same thing in programming language they write something like:

if index >= 1 and <= 10 then
if index = 1 - 10 then

Of course neither of the work as students expect. The first gives a syntax error and the second compares index to -9 with is probably never going to happen. Try as I might, there are always some students who get this wrong. It just isn't logical in their minds. They are used to making certain assumptions and filling in some blanks or ambiguities and they expect the computer to do the same. I'm running out of ideas on how to get this across.

The opposite end of the spectrum is when students think something is necessary when it is not. For example, if there are only two options than a simple if/else will work. You do not need and if/else if. I see all sorts of unnecessary comparisons from beginners. Many students get this right away. A few, more than I would like, struggle with this. Generally this sort of code does actually work so it is hard to get students to realize that here is a better way. "But it works!" is all that matters. For someone like me who worked in a time when programmers counted comparisons and had a ready handle on instruction speeds for optimization of memory and performance this is a painful observation.

In some of my classes I have enough time to get into the nitty gritty of this. With my freshmen for whom programming is only part of a quarter it is harder. One of my goals for this summer as I review all of my curriculum is to try to find some more/better/different ways to work on these misconceptions. Parsons Problems may be part of the answer. I have experimented a little with them this year and they seem to help. Maybe some animations will work if I can figure out have to make them. I've already written more specifically about these issues in the book I have been writing for my classes.

I could still use ideas. Surely someone out there has solutions to this issue. Any suggestions?

Friday, May 25, 2018

Can We Get there (#CSforAll) From Here?

When I was in high school (I graduated in 1971 so this was a while ago) there was a computer in the building. If you got an A in Calculous as a junior you could take the computer class as a senior. With 5,000 students in the school and only one computer teaching computer science to everyone was not an option. We’ve come a long way since then and lack of computers is seldom the problem. And yet, not every high school student takes or even has the option to take computer science. The obstacles today are different.

Some of the problems are the old chicken and egg problem. Not enough teachers so we can’t offer the courses. Not enough courses so there is no incentive to prepare teachers to teach it.

Some of the problems are perceptual. Administrators don’t see the need or the demand. Other people see a need for other things first. Or don’t see the need at all. There are assumptions that may or may not be correct about “room in the schedule” or “it costs too much.” We see all of those things debated over and over again. Sometimes the path to getting computer science education for everyone feels like this:


We as a computer science education community are taking several paths. Cities like New York City are moving to put CS education as an option in all schools. Not quite the same as everyone taking it but access is an important first step. It is coming with in-service professional development as well. It’s all great.

Several states are moving in the same direction at the state level. Kudos to Arkansas which is doing outstanding work for example.

The questions then include two important ones: What is the step from CS for many to CS for all? What is the sustainability path?

There are a lot of ideas out there. One is that if we get more universities to require CS for there students CS will move down to more high schools the way things like calculous have in the past. That could help a lot.

The teachers who are being trained now as in-service will be retiring. Some soon, some not so soon. Those teachers will have to be replaced and there is no guarantee that the funding we as seeing today will be around in the future. Perhaps legislatures will declare victory and move on to other things. Clearly we need pre-service education for teachers to be the CS educators of tomorrow.

We’re starting to see some interest in actually doing pre-service CS education but we’ve got a long way to go. And don’t forget the shortage of schools who want/need to hire CS educators. Is there enough pull from schools or push from requirements that schools offer CS to make this preparation worth the interest of schools of education? I hope so but you never know.

Let’s not forget the looming teacher shortage in general either. While teachers in many states are actively pushing for better compensation and other changes to make teaching a better (for various definitions of better) experience the field has a bad rap in many quarters. There is a lot to be said for taking ones CS knowledge and going into industry.

I’m still optimistic. Some days VERY optimistic. My own state of New Hampshire is slowly but surely moving in the right direction. We’ll get to CS for many in the next few years. CS for all is still going to be a big step.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Why Don’t Universities Require Computer Science?

We talk a lot about requiring computer science as a high school graduation requirement. It is an issue that is not without controversy. (Should Palo Alto students be required to study computer science?) While discussing that article in a Facebook group Mark Guzdial asked an interesting question.

Why are we talking about making CS a high school grad requirement when it’s not yet an undergrad requirement at most schools. Why is it so important at the high school level but not at all at the undergrad level?

It’s a fair question. Shouldn’t colleges and universities require some computer science as part of their general education requirements? If it is important for all high school students, and I think it is, isn’t it even more important for university students? At the university level, students should be able to learn even more and go deeper as well.

This might also have a side benefit of driving more K-12 computer science as school work to prepare students for something they know they have to study in post secondary education.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Teaching Through Stories

This time of year I think a lot about how I teach. There is something about the end of the year and evaluating how much my students have (or have not) learned that causes me to think about how much of what they learn (or don’t) is my responsibility. I look at the projects I assigned, the quizzes I gave, the lectures I presented, and every other aspect of teaching. The last few days have been about the stories I tell.

Brett Becker wrote Computing history in the classroom: The cereal box toy that was an early hacking device, and nuclear weapons systems that depend on floppy disks In part, this made me think of my own post on teaching computer history but it also make me think deeper about the how we teach history. History is not taught well as a mere recitation of facts and dates and names. It is better taught as stories. The authors of “Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die” write convincingly about the importance of stores for getting information that "sticks" in people's minds.

Teaching computer science is a lot more than just history though. If we want to teach concepts and have them stick shouldn’t we also be finding stories to explore the concepts? I think so. This can be harder than it seems though. The best and most convincing stories involve projects that are harder and more complex than the ones we can assign in a first programming course.

When we talk about avoiding hard coded “magic numbers” and replacing them with concepts I have a good story. Picture a team of four people working for a year on a software package that will spread across 16 computers. They use the number 15 in hundreds of places among thousands of lines of code. One day their boss tells them they need to account for 32 systems not 16. Hilarity ensues. OK hilarity is not the right word. A month or two of editing and testing ensues. This time the team gets smart and uses a defined constant rather than a magic number. Six months later when they are told that 32 is no longer the number but 128 is they change a single line of code and everything works fine.

I think that is a story that works. Well, as much as anything does with high school students.

I use smaller stories all the time but lately I have been wondering if there are longer more meaningful stories I can use for other concepts. They don’t always just come to me spontaneously though. One of the things I’d like to do is collect other stores. After all the smart people learn from other people’s mistakes and not only their own. Wouldn't a collection of teaching stores be a wonderful aid to teachers?

What stories do you tell to make concepts real to students?

Monday, May 21, 2018

Teaching the History of Computing

History is important. We’ve all heard, if not quoted, the adage that “those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” Mark Guzdial has a blog post (Computer science education is far bigger than maker education) that is almost as much a history lesson as it is an argument for the maker movement as covering only a subset of computer science. In his post, he talks about the big ideas developed by Alan Turing , Ada Byron, Lady Lovelace, and Grace Hopper.
“What Lovelace and Hopper did mattered, and we demonstrate that it mattered by teaching it and explaining why it’s important.”
One of the things we talk about in the course we teach freshmen at my school is the history of computing. Names like Turing , Lovelace, and Hopper come up along with many others. That is good as far as it goes but lately I have been thinking we need to talk history in more courses. How did we get to where we are and how and why?

Erik Meijer, the Dutch computer scientist, told me once that if I wanted to know what the next big thing in computing is going to be I should look at what  was the big thing in computing 20 years in the past. It’s true. Things in computing do move in cycles. I look at the way we do screen/form design now and see ideas I first saw in the Trax operating system in 1978. Cloud based computing is similar to the days when we had remote terminals connected to large mainframes. The whole idea of client/server applications keeps getting reinvented and redeveloped.

The past is a good place to look for new ideas and we forget that are our peril. My students once asked me how I “learned all this stuff” after a history lesson. I replied that I didn’t learn it – I lived it. A lot has happened in the 45 years since my first computer science class as a university student. I’ve gotten to meet and talk to some important people in the development of CS over those years.

But what about new teachers? How will they learn the history of computing? Is it taught in university? I suspect not much of it is being taught. What ideas will be missed because of a lack of historical knowledge and perspective? Am I the only one worried about this?

[Now get off my grass.]

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Can I Plan For Next Year Yet?

My school has a couple of weeks left but it’s getting close. My Advanced Placement Computer Science Principles students have taken their AP exam. My own exam for them is next week. My underclassmen have a bit more to do and I still have some topics to teach them. Soon the underclassmen will be starting their semester summative projects. So other than grading my workload is lessening. Not gone but at least I have some time to think. Thank about what?

While things are still fresh in my mind I am starting to plan for next year. This was my first time teaching APCS Principles so I learned a lot about pacing and scheduling. I need to modify my plan for next year. I want to move the explore task into the first semester I think. The Create Task should be earlier in the second semester because it was much too stressful to have it due right at the “drop dead” deadline with the College Board. I’ve got some work to figure out how to make that happen. I’d like to incorporate some small device programming as well. I want to explore the possibility of teaching networking using Micro:bit which can communicate with each other. I need some time to work on that.

My mobile app development course went well using AppInventor but it was also the first year teaching that course with that tool. I’ve got to clean up the pacing for that as well as thinking about more or better projects for students.  If they release a version that supports iPhones I have to borrow my wife’s iPhone and test it out.

My Honors Programming course has gone very well and I am really pleased with pacing and projects. My collection of resources is a mess though so I need to organize that. I’ve already been filtering through duplicated PowerPoint presentations and trying to build the perfect ones. No doubt I will continue to modify each one after every time I use them but at least I will not have to search through to find the current ones. I want to organize all of my resources by topic unit. If I have time, I want to record short videos on most topics as well.

I wrote a reference guide to C# in the middle of the year and gave it to my students. Now I need to fix all the problems that they found and modify explanations based on what confused students this time around.

Our freshmen course is taught by two other teachers so the pacing and much of the rest is determined as a team. It’s in good shape but I still want to look at organizing the materials a little. And we teach Visual Basic there so I am created a reference book for that using as well. That draft needs review and corrections.

It’s going to be a busy summer. And that is not even including attending the CSTA Conference in July. (Hope to see some of you there.)

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Does It Matter What Programming Languages We Teach in High School

I’m tempted to just leave this post blank and see what sort of comments it gets. But I am incapable of that. Sorry.

Assuming we are preparing high school students for university and other advanced education and not for jobs right out of high school, what difference does it make what languages we teach? After all, concepts are what really matters. It is hard to pick what languages our students will be expected to learn when they get to higher education.

Universities are using C++, Java, Python, Scheme, and who knows what else as their first programming language.Can we teach them all? Not hardly. Often we only have students for a semester or two. If we’re lucky three or four semesters. A few students in a few schools will have more. But still there is an awful lot we could and probably should be teaching them. Overloading the languages is not likely to be helpful.

There is some indication that the second programming language is the hardest to learn so maybe we try to teach two and not worry too much about which two. At least they will be well situated to learn what ever their university professors throw at them.

On the other hand some would argue that with limited time we should go all in on just one. One or two the question becomes which one or two? Does it matter as long as the basic concepts are taught?

Friday, May 11, 2018

Academically rigorous is incomplete without computer science

Mark Guzdial linked to this post on his blog - Feeling disadvantaged in CS courses at University of XXX – Original post at Minimal exposure

Interesting line from the original post: "Although my high school was academically rigorous, we didn’t have any computer science courses."

Maybe we need to decide that calling a high school “academically rigorous” is incompatible with saying there are no computer science courses?

Wednesday, May 09, 2018

Programming is easy. Debugging is hard.

I may be in a minority in this but in some ways the most fun part of my job is debugging student code. Students are very clever at wring code that doesn’t work in obscure ways. Some how they manage to create errors that look like they are in one place but are really in a completely different place.

The end of the year involves a lot of debugging. Students know more ways to do things wrong than every before. It’s a lot of fun. No, really it is.

Now I know that letting students struggle with logic errors is sometimes (often? mostly?) a good thing. On the other hand they usually lack the experience to see the possibilities. In general I find that struggling students are focused on the wrong part of their code. At some point a teacher has to step in and help out a little.

Today I had a student working on a Pong program and it was not recognizing when the ball hit a paddle. He was looking at the speed of the ball, the arrangement of the code, the working of the if statements and generally focused on a lot of different code. The problem could not be with the IntersectsWith method of the rectangle class. That is part of the system library so it must work. Right?

Maybe we are not updating the location of the rectangle in the right place and time? Maybe we’re checking in the wrong place in the code? Maybe it is a timing problem?

In the end it turns out that all of the code was correct EXCEPT that he was updating the height and width when he should have been updating the width and height. Yes, the order of the parameters matters. I’m kicking myself that I didn’t check that first but at least I did think of it eventually. Next time I will check that first.

And to think I posted a somewhat related post last week (My Code is the Same as Yours But Mine Doesn’t work ) Sigh! I should have known better.

Tuesday, May 08, 2018

Visual Studio Live Share–Something CS Teachers Can Use?

Microsoft is having their big MS Build event this week. I don’t have time to watch it live but I have been seeing hints of things via social media. Most of what they are talking about it for professional developers and is far more advanced than what I have time to get to with my students. But sometimes there are things I can really use. Visual Studio Live Share looks to be one of those things.

With Visual Studio Live Share two people can actually look at and work on the same code at the same time. Merge that with a Skype call and it is like being there. Think Google Docs for Visual Studio. (Someone will object to that characterization for sure.)

So far I have just tried it locally (two computers next to each other with me operating both) but I can see some educational uses. For one thing I can see sharing code with students and having them work on code I have on the screen from their own desks. I can also see easier pair/team working in rooms that don’t lend themselves to a lot of student movement. My tables don’t move and things can get crowded if people mover around too much.

I can also see using it to help students with their own work. Now in the classroom it may still make more sense to walk over to where the student is working. On the other hand if a student is working from home we now have a great way to work together.

I’ve been thinking about using it to watch students as they code (with their permission and their controlling the share) from time to time. That may give me some insights without being quite as intimidating as literally looking over their shoulder. For those students who pretend to be working this may be just the thing.

There are likely to be more ideas that others come up with. Time will tell. At least for now I have a few ideas worth trying out. What do you think? Do you see some educational potential?

Thursday, May 03, 2018

My Code is the Same as Yours But Mine Doesn’t work

Image for Twins the movie

We're all heard it from students "My code is the same as yours but mine doesn't work." The implication is clear – it is the computer's fault that the program doesn't work. Of course something is always different.

Often times it is a small difference. A student confused and lowercase l for a 1 perhaps. Or the is an extra or a missing semi colon. Sometimes the problem is in related code that the student hasn’t though to check. One thing I see a lot of is students referencing form objects (a button or a textbox) that they didn’t name the same way I did. Trying to reference txtName.Next as my code does will not work correctly if their textbox is still named textBox1.

Computers are picky that way. Names matter, semi colons matter, and many other little details that our minds easily fill in for us are not obvious at all to the compiler. Nor are they obvious to students. Students rush. They take shortcuts. They are used to things working out. Computers don’t work that way. Sometimes I think the hardest thing about learning to program is to understand that details matter and that sometimes you have to look in less obvious places.

Students are used to quick fixes though. The TV  murder is solved in 60 minutes (45 minutes plus commercials). The family crises is solved in 30 minutes on TV. Real life is not like that and programming is real life. I hear over and over again that research doesn’t support the idea that teaching programming automatically teaches problem solving. I have to wonder though if at some point debugging doesn’t click into the idea that details matter and that you need to look beyond the obvious answers.

Monday, April 30, 2018

Are You In On the Social Media Conversation around CS Education?

Today is the absolute deadline for my students in Advanced Placement Computer Science Principles to upload their Create Performance Task to the Digital Portfolio. One of my top students was having trouble getting a file to upload. When he told me that I remembered that some teachers had talked about similar problems in the Facebook AP CS Principles group. A quick look (fortunately my school does not block Facebook) and I had the solution. Apparently short filenames work best. Problem solved. Student work submitted. I’ve seen a lot of problems solved for teachers via conversations in various Facebook groups.

Besides the group for AP CS Principles teachers there is a group for AP CS A teachers, one for Computer Science Education: Researchers & Practitioners, a general Computer Science Educators group, and don’t forget the CSTA group. I’m sure there are other groups that are useful. I know that several CSTA Chapters have their own groups. Are you a member of one?

There is more than Facebook though. There are frequently interesting conversations going on with CS education blogs. Sometimes these conversations take place in the comments. Sometimes through posts in one blog that reference posts in a second. Or more. Some of  the best take place in blogs by:
I’ve seen posts in several of these that refer to posts by others either directly or indirectly. For example, a recent post by Mark Guzdial wrote Lack of funding leads to lack of teachers leads to lack of CS classes: We may need to change our strategy. Mike Zamansky made a case that time and money are not as big a problem as prioritization and will in a post called Is there room for CS for All. Garth Flint addressed some of the cost factor in a post called CS on the Cheap. Garth also referred to a book and a video that Doug Bergman blogged about. You’ll find comments on most of these posts as well.

Are you following these blogs? Maybe you want to add to the conversations either in the comments or by firing up your own blog?

csk8Don’t forget Twitter either. If you are a K-8 CS teacher you will want to follow the #csk8 chat. This week it is about Scratch.

No matter how you do it there is a lot to learn by sharing with your peers via social media. Jump on in the water is fine.

Edit: Note that my full Computer Science Education blog roll is at

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Computer Science K-12: Imagining the possibilities!

My friend Doug Bergman has a new book out called Computer Science K-12: Imagining the possibilities!

I reviewed drafts of the book while it was being written and I can tell you there is a lot of good stuff in it.

Doug BookFor teachers new to Computer Science who have been charged with starting a new class at your school, and just don't know where to start. I'll walk you through what you need to be considering such as which technologies, what type of curriculum, student recruitment, professional development, connecting with other CS teachers, and pedagogy.

For school leaders, board members, and decision makers who need to know what Computer Science really is, what it looks like in the real world, and what it can look like in education-- this book will guide you through many of those early questions as you consider if, how, and where Computer Science fits in your schools: What are the attributes of successful CS teachers? Where can I hire teachers? Do I need "experts" in CS? How do I evaluate a project-based class? Standards? Training for new teachers? What successful programs can I look at for ideas?

For those experienced CS teachers who are just not seeing the energy and engagement in your classes, this book will be a wealth of innovative ideas and strategies to help you engage differently with your students.
Technology today is interactive, engaging, and dynamic; Computer Science classes should have that same feel. You'll see how to create a student-centered classroom where students lead their own learning.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Arrays, Loops, and Racing Horses

One of the things I like about using Visual Studio and C# (and Visual Basic for that matter) is the ability to easily create some fun graphical projects. I’ve been using variations of the horse race program for years now. I though it might be fun to share my latest use.


Students sometimes have trouble seeing the benefits of arrays because they are used to small projects that can get by without them. I want them to see how the combination of loops and arrays make expanding programs easier.

My students were given a mostly empty project with the objects you see in the image above already part of the project. I don’t want them to get lost in setting up the GUI. There is a “Race” button, a “Reset” button, four picture boxes, and the finish line (a nicely formatted label.) No code though. We’ll create that as a class.

The first thing we do is allocate an array of three picture boxes. Next we assign the value of the existing picture boxes to the array. We talk about how the picture boxes now have two names or two ways of addressing them. This is related to people’s names – formal name, nickname, etc.

public Form1()
     Horses[0] = picHorse0;
     Horses[1] = picHorse1;
     Horses[2] = picHorse2


The naming I use (I hope) drives home how identifiers that differ only by a number at the end leads one naturally to thinking about arrays.

We write code to move the “horses” random distances each time a timer fires. Using timers is not absolutely necessary and I have used while loops but timers open some ideas for interesting projects. The “Race” button enables the timer and the horses start moving by changing the Left properties by random numbers of pixels..

for (int index = 0; index < Horses.Length; index++)
     Horses[index].Left += r.Next(3, 8);

Next we add the code to check to see if the Left property plus the width of the box crosses past the left property of the finish line.

Students are asked to figure out the Reset button on their own and most do so easily. At this point we’ve had a lot of discussion about the code we’ve written so far. Next I ask them to add more horses to the problem. They soon discover that this is a fairly trivial task because of the way we have designed the program.

Since we get to work with interesting arrays and see how setting up loops we cover some important topics. Best of all, students seem to like this project.

There is room for student creativity as well. Some add only a few horses, some add many. Some get fancy with reporting winners. Some explore other images from what I provide. Others decided they wanted that last place horse to disappear before the next race. That involved a lot more work then they expected but they were motivated to try things. But no one, including me, get bored.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Training The Next Generation of Computer Science Teachers

The biggest problem in computer science education is training the teachers we need. That seems to be the big thing on my social media in the last few days.

This past week was a major document release in New York of "Priming the Computer Science Teacher Pump: Integrating CS Education into Schools of Ed”. Mark Guzdial wrote about it here. You can also download the actual report here.  Mark also shared the slide deck from the event on Slideshare here. If you don’t have time for the whole report the slides make interesting reading as a sort of summary.

It has been clear to many of us in CS education for a while that we really need schools of education to step up and prepare CS teachers. This report addresses what is needed with some solid recommendations. This being computer science education, others are tossing in their opinions.

Mike Zamansky, who was at the release event, gave some of his thoughts on his blog at - Math For Math Teachers - watering down CS Ed before we even start. Mike comes from a heavy CS background and many years teaching at a highly rated, entrance exam, public high school in New York City. That gives him a particular perspective.

Garth Flint, who teaches as a smaller private Catholic K-12 school in Montana, wrote a blog post on the subject - CS Ed – to water or not to water, that is the question which really covered the situation for a lot of teachers especially those in rural areas and other smaller schools. 

It’s a different perspective from Mike’s. One is not better than another – they’re just different. In a sense those two posts show some of the diversity of educational environments we’re seeing in computer science education.

Preparing teachers for this wide range of needs is definitely going to be part of the challenge. I can’t see a one size fits all CS teacher preparation scheme working. There is really going to have to be some local variation as well as consideration as to different age level preparation. I’m not sure one can easily prepare for the full range of Kindergarten though Advanced Placement Computer Science. Content is one thing but the how to teach is another.

OK, now there is something of a roadmap. Will schools of education move into this space the way we need them to do? We’ll see I guess but I hope so.