Sunday, October 29, 2023

Spelling Bee Solver Project

My wife loves word puzzles. She is amazing at them. Me? Not so much. On the other hand I love programs and programming projects that involved string manipulation. So when my wife started playing a new (to her) word puzzle – the New York Times Spelling Bee – my thoughts went to solving it programmatically.

If you are not familiar with the game, it involves seven letters for the player to make words from. Anny of the letters may be used but only letters from the list can be used. Oh, and there is one letter, shown in the center of the letters, that must be used in every word. Words much be four letters long or longer BTW.

NY Times Spelling Bee image

I thought this would be a fun project to code up so I took a pass at it. I think it would be a fun project for use with students as well. It involves a number of interesting and important concepts.

For one thing, you’ll want to open and read through a text file. There are many word lists available on the interne BTW. So that part is easy. You want want to check through a list for any words that are not school appropriate (that suggests other interesting projects now that I think about it).

Looping is obvious of course. As is parsing strings to find if a given letter is or is not included in a word. One method I wrote for my solution was to build a string of letters that were not included in the list of allowed letters. I searched any possible word to make sure that no unallowed letters were part of it.

Have you tried this or a similar project? Would you use this one? If you do, let me know.

Edit: Should of known it had been done before. Useful information at Nifty Assignments.

Tuesday, October 24, 2023

Last Call for CSTA Conference Proposals

The CSTA Call for Proposals is coming to an end October 30, 2023 11:59 PM PT.

Presentations are what makes the CSTA Conference is what makes CSTA the best conference for K-12 Computer Science educators.  It’s also a wonderful; audience for CS educators to present their good ideas. If you have a good idea that you have been using successfully in your classes you should think seriously about presenting to CSTA.

So think about what you have had success with and think about submitting a proposal. But act fast!

Tuesday, October 17, 2023

The More You Know The More You Expect

One thing that happens when you know who to write computer code is that you know how hard or easy some things are. If you’re even the least OCD some things that are minor, and even unnoticed to many, may bother you a little. Take this image for example.

I expect that money amounts will have two digits to the right of the decimal point. You'll notice that the second and third limes have two digits to the right of the decimal point. It turns out that those values will have two digits even if there is only a value for the tenth of a dollar and not the hundredths. So 5.10 for example. The first line will have no digits to the right if there is no value. So 0 without even the decimal point.

Now this is not really a big deal. One would think (if they were me) that since the second and third lines have the formatting I (most people?)  they would do the same for the first.

Getting the formatting "right" is easy. I know that (or at least assume that) because I have coded that sort of thing often. If I didn't know how to code it might not bother me at all. One might even assume it was hard to do.

I wonder if a lot of people assume that things are difficult and that they put up with bad user interfaces for that reason. Maybe they think things are harder than they are.  Maybe if more people understood coding they would be less likely to put up with hard to use programs.

Monday, September 11, 2023

Reimagining CS Pathways: High School and Beyond

This looks like a great opportunity to make a difference in CS education.

We are seeking community involvement in a new project called Reimagining CS Pathways: High School and Beyond, led by CSTA,, ACM,, College Board, CSforAll, and the ECEP Alliance. Please consider applying to join us. We particularly need diverse voices from post-secondary as well as industry representation.

This project will convene representatives from K-12 ed, higher ed, and industry three times across this school year to develop community definitions of (1) what CS content is essential for all high school graduates and (2) pathways for continued CS learning. We aim to:

  • Make recommendations for revisions to CSTA K-12 Standards and AP CS courses

  • Clarify alignment of and develop model pathways for CS courses, including content that fulfills a high school graduation requirement, introductory post-secondary CS courses, and AP CS courses

We have a limited number of spaces for participants in a series of in-person convenings (Nov. 13-14, 2023, Jan. 25-26, 2024, and Mar. 19-20, 2024) and a series of virtual focus groups (offered at multiple days/times). Additionally, we welcome reviewers to asynchronously provide feedback on reports.

Please apply to join us. We expect the application will take 5-10 minutes. Our priority deadline is Sept. 15. The steering committee will select participants to create a balanced group, and CSTA will follow up with more details for those selected near the end of September.

Please note that there is no compensation for participation, though CSTA will cover travel expenses to the three convenings. This project is supported by the National Science Foundation under Award No. 2311746. For questions or more information, contact Bryan Twarek at

Thank you!

Bryan Twarek, CSTA, PI

Monica McGill, Co-PI

Friday, August 11, 2023

Do You Remember Struggling to Learn?

Dave Largent, a CS professor at Ball State University, had an important reminder on his blog -Dave's not here, or is he?: Teachers need to struggle to learn ( Our students often (usually?) struggle to learn new things. I think this is especially true in computer science. We as teachers with lots of content knowledge sometimes struggle to be empathetic. We forget our own struggles.

One if the things Dave struggled with on his trip through Europe was different languages and customs. It’s a reminder to me that many of our students come from different cultures, customs, and languages. It’s a good reminder that examples in American culture and English can add to the struggle. Being aware of where our students come from is important.

I often shared my own story of my first computer class. Greatly did I struggle in that first class. The first couple of projects were only completed with a lot of help from peers and TAs. Things came easier eventually and with a solid and broad base (I have been programming for 51 years now) most new topics are easier. But not always. Having those struggles is character building. And helps develop empathy.

I think that having new experiences that involve struggle to learn is a valuable experience for teachers (anyone really). It also helps us model life long learning for extra value. I encourage everyone to seek out learning experiences that do not come easy.

And above all, remember that our students struggle and we need to be patient with them and support them. Have a great school year!

Wednesday, July 12, 2023

Thoughts on CSTA Conferences Past and Present

I am attending the 2023 CSTA Conference online. I’m not writing blog posts about it the way I normally do. Lots of reasons for that but I will post some learnings from it later. I am downloading lots of presentation slides as notetaking.

But I wanted to take a few minutes to ramble about what has been going through my mind as I watch. One question I get a lot is: Why are your as a retired person still attending CSTA conferences and events. It’s a fair question. It's not as if I have a classroom in the fall to apply what I learn.

The truth is that the computer science education community has been a big part of my life for a long time It started online in listservs even before I was blogging and a while before there was a CSTA. It’s a part of my life that has spanned jobs – teaching and otherwise. I’d like to think I still have things to contribute. And personal value to gain. The conference bag on the right, from the CS & IT symposium in 2005, was not my first conference BTW. But I found it today and thought I’d add it.

The community started small. By the second or third conference it seemed like everyone knew everyone. That was good in some ways but for CS to grow the teacher community had to grow. Now I go to conferences and there are many people I don’t know. And others from the  past have retired and chosen not to be active anymore. I don’t blame them BTW. We all make the choices for how to spend our time and energy.

The growth has been good. Many on the current CSTA board have been members for only a few short years. They bring energy and ideas and innovation that is necessary for the future of the organization. They still listen to us old timers though. I am on the conference committee for next summer’s CSTA conference. I am excited about that work. So many new things in our field. So many new and diverse voices that we need to hear from.

Speaking of next year, the call for proposals for the 2024 CSTA conference is now open. I encourage anyone with interesting ideas to submit a proposal. The CSTA audience is the best and most responsive audience ever. It’s going to be in-person next year. Start hitting your school/district up for funding to attend. It can be life and career changing.

Tuesday, June 06, 2023

Conversations on AI in Education

Pat Yongpradit from Code.Org tweeted an image of what they are seeing in conversations about AI and Education. (The link on the image below goes to that tweet)

Now I am not having the detailed conversations with policy makers that Pat is but these boxes pretty much match what I am seeing in my social media these days. That bottom right hand box is where I’d like to see myself and others but it feels like people in power are more on the left hand column.

The usual tech bros are touting the AI can replace teachers line. We’re a long way from that and I am not sure we’ll ever be at a point where that is a good thing.

Lots of teachers are afraid of cheating. That’s not an unreasonable fear. There are pundits, some of whom are teachers, saying “just change the way you teach and all will be well,” I see a shortage of detailed information about just how to teach differently to avoid AI cheating. I think some of those people are fooling themselves if they think they have all the answers. Students are very good at finding new ways to cheat no matter what the assignments are.

The right hand column is where I think we need to be but there are more questions than answers there. Frankly, I think the technology is still to new and experience with it is to little to answer these questions with any strong level of confidence. We really need teachers to experiment with these tools in actual classrooms. That takes some freedom that doesn’t exist in as many places as we would like. Government and administrators in too much of the US are more interested in constraining what teachers do in the classroom than giving teachers freedom to develop new ways to teach.

The question is, are schools going to still look the way they did 100 years ago, as they do today, or are we going to see real change that uses technology to the fullest?