Thursday, July 18, 2024

CSTA Day Three

Before I start on my day three report, I want to suggest people look at Mike Zamansky’s Day Two report on his blog. We attended mostly different sessions and he takes really good notes.

My first session of the day - Keep Calm and AI On. I’m proctoring this session. There are a bunch of other good sessions at the same time. Heavy FOMO sigh. This one is by classroom teachers.Another packed session on AI. This one started with a discussion of ethical concerns. Privacy being high among them.Next up was about how teachers were using AI. Image generation being one. Canva has some AI functionality now. Evaluation writing was used with mixed results. A lot depends on how people think about evaluation writing. Advice from participants included the need to teach about AI to prepare people for the good and the bad that AI can do. So much of what I am hearing at the conference is the need to ethical training as important when talking about AI.

Change of pace with my next session being Get Hands-on with CS and Content: Support Integration with a Physical Computing Toolkit Integration and physical computing are two of my favorite topics. The Physical Computing toolkit is available here. There is a lot there too!The session slide deck is available here There were a number of references to The Big Book of Computing Pedagogy.which I highly recommend BTW. A particularly good took for integrating ideas is their Instructional Resource Library This can help you find resources to meet your goal and potential physical objects.

After lunch, Teaching (With) GIT  Surprise! Most of the related resources for this talk at on GitHub - bit.ly/twg-2024 As the idea of Markdown was being presented I was thinking I need a Markdown tutorial. And one was chard at Markdown Tutorial At this point I feel like I have some good resources to dig deeper into Git and GitHub.

I confess that I skipped a session. Maybe my brain was full. I was tired. I did spend some of that time working on my snapshot post about the exhibit hall which I will probably post later tonight.

I did not skip CS Education in the Age of AI though. with people like Mehran Sahami from Stanford and Maggie Johnson from Google I would not miss it. It lived up to my expectations. I hope it was recorded. I would love to listen to it again.

There was a lot to take in. A couple of takeaways for me. One is that AI has the potential to allow our students to do more. More complicated projects. More innovative projects. Also, there was a reminder that these AIs, including the ones that generate code,are not perfect. In fact, one study at Stanford showed that students using AI generated code with more security holes than students who didn't use AI. Worse still, the students who did  use AI were more confident that their code was good.

We’re going to need people who can read, test, and debug code so some time to come. It's much to soon to stop teaching coding.

I’ll sign off on this post with something I said a couple of years ago:

Teaching computer science is no more about creating more software developers than teaching English is about creating more novelists.

CSTA 2024 Exhibit Hall

The exhibit hall was impressive this year. I believe three are something like 80 exhibitors. Below is a snapshot of s few of them that caught my eye. The usual suspects are here of course. Google, Amazon, and Microsoft. You'd think Apple would be here if you'd never been to an educational technology conference. They are not here. I am surprised that Code.Org doesn't have a booth. Though of course you will see their team showing up in many sessions.

Items for physical computing are everywhere. I highlight a few here. One textbook company has a small booth. I wonder that that means. Thoughts?

I think I counted four universities promoting graduate programs for CS teachers. That gets a post of its own soon.

I'm not so impressed with the Microsoft booth. One expects more from one of the most valuable companies in the world. They have some good programs like MakeCode, Makecode Arcade (see the cool arcade machine they have to demo it?).

New is VS Code for Education which is a web based IDE and learning platform for Python and also web development. The TEALS program is sharing the booth as well.

  • BirdBrain is here again. I think they have been at the conference for ever. Their Finch and other robots show up everywhere.
  • Carnegie Mellon University is here taking about CMU CS Academy. One of the few university exhibits not promoting graduate courses for CS teachers.
  • The Hidden Genius Project is trying to get young Black men into computing. This booth doesn’t seem to be getting enough attention but I feel like it should not be ignored. We can’t ignore young Black men.
  • Koi’s Clan is one of two projects for very young students that I found interesting. I liked the little Kai Bot that is programmed with little graphic cards. Looks like fun and educational.
  • Robotical has Marty the Robot who can be programmed with a graphical (without words) language for very young programmers. Why wait for kids to learn to read? My grandson loved robots long before he was reading.
  • Lego Education had a large booth. A long time exhibitor they have some interesting stuff.

Wednesday, July 17, 2024

CSTA Day Two

Day two starts with sessions for ALL attendees. I started proctoring a session called Classroom To Career – CS Curriculum With a Purpose. This was a session presented by Oracle Academy.  Oracle presents these teaching resources and training for free. Always a popular price point for teachers. The curriculum is built for teachers and teachers can pick and choose which parts of it they want to use. It can lead to professional certifications. I can see this as a help for career/technical schools.

A word about proctoring. Proctors have two main jobs. Job one is to make sure that people scan their badge’s QR code on an iPad. This is to make sure CSTA can give them professional development credit for attending the session. Job two is to give speakers a five minute warning so the session doesn’t run late.

Getting people to check in is harder than you may think. Some rooms have more than one door and people come in through all of them. And the iPad is at only one of them.

Hallway track between sessions. One of the wonderful things about in-person conferences is the opportunity to have face to face conversations with people you interact with online all year. I can’t count the number of friends I have made through CSTA.

After the break, Guidance on Education in An Age of AI. Everyone is talking about it. No one really knows what it means but some people have looked into it and thought more about it than I have. So learn from the best available. Slides available at bit.ly/cstafuturecs

“When it comes to AI education, we do not have the luxury of burying our heads in the sand. CS teachers have the opportunity and responsibility to lead students in understanding the societal and ethical implications of AI:

the good and the bad,  the benefits and harms, the possibilities and realities.” Charity Freeman CSTA Board Chair

This could have been a workshop. I recommend getting the slide deck. There area lot of good links in it. Overall, I have a lot to think about.

After lunch, another session on AI for me, Empowering Students with AI Literacy: Integration Artificial Intelligence into Computing Education. This session is PACKED. This session was presented by the Raspberry Pi Foundation. One take away - It is important to teach about AI so that they can critically evaluate the tools they use. We also need to have diversity to protect us from bias based results. The website for Experience AI is at Experience AI (experience-ai.org). There is also a course for teachers to learn about teaching AI at  Raspberry Pi Foundation: Teach Teens Computing: Understanding AI for Educators 

OK, I am AIed out for now. So much to look at and think about later.

I decided to take a break  from sessions and take a serious trip through the exhibit hall. Lots of booth pictures to come but not until I can organize them. Among the booths were I spent some real time was with Robolink. Inside the cage to the left are a couple of small quadcopter drones. The drones can be programmed in either Blockly or Python.

I’ve looked at their booth several times over the years but never sat down to program a drone myself until today. It went far better than I expected. It really felt like an educational experience as I tried my program and iterated my code. Honestly, I’d like one myself. I can see classroom use though. They have classroom sets, curriculum, and professional development.

Next up, today’s keynote with Dr. Gholdy Muhammad “Cultivating Genius and Joy in Education through Culturally and Historically Responsive Pedagogies” A good talk. Very high energy which I appreciate at the end of the day. My big takeaway was the need for joy in school. There seems to be so little joy most of the time in schools. I may have to pick up her latest book Unearthing Joy: A Guide to Culturally and Historically Responsive Curriculum and Instruction

Tuesday, July 16, 2024

CSTA Day One

Day one for me was the chapter leadership summit. I got talked into the New Hampshire chapter treasurer role. The first thing I did was to connect with the other NH chapter leaders and catch up a bit. I also got to talk to some leaders from other chapters. A great opportunity to met new people and see what other chapters are doing. The Maine chapter has some nice polo shirts that I hope we can do in NH. I am not a t-shirt person.

One of the interesting talks during the leadership general session was about the Computer Science for English Learners (CSforEL) program. English learners face some obvious challenges. It’s greet that there is a program to help teachers deal with those obstacles. There are a number of sessions on the topic at the conference.  This is a federally funded project that is working with several states but is hoping to expand to more state..

Next up for me was a session on chapter financials. Boring but important.

After lunch, thank you Project Lead the Way (PLTW), a change of plans for me. I was asked to proctor a workshop because someone was not available who was signed up. Free workshop for Alfred!

The workshop was called “CS Teaching That “Makes Sense”: Instructional Routines for the Classroom” Better yet, a pedagogy session. I wish I could do justice to it in a blog post. I hope I can find resources to share. Sorry. For now, there is a website being developed at Sensemaking CS Nothing really there yet but it is coming. Update: Slides posted at https://bit.ly/MakesSenseCS

The opening keynote was by Conor Peterson from Meow Wolf. Now I am always skeptical of keynotes by industry people but this one was inspiring. Meow Wolf is a company that mixes art and technology to create immersive experiences. One of the key messages he left us with is that computing is a creative endeavor . We need to teach it that way. I totally agree. Computing can be about “Personal Agency, Joy, and Fulfillment.” I feel like an opening  keynote should inspire and energize – this one did. At least it did for me.

Welcome reception now. I guess I’ll see if I can get some food.

Oh, I started taking pictures in the exhibit hall today. I’ll have a post just about that in the near future. Something like 80 exhibitors. A far cry for the 10 we were expecting 11 years ago.

Sunday, July 14, 2024

CSTA At 20 Looking Back #CSTA2024

CTSA turns twenty and as I write this I am about ready to fly out to Las Vegas for the annual CSTA conference. I’m in the mood to look back a bit. After the conference I think I’ll try looking forward.

The creation of CSTA was a pretty exciting event. The community of CS teachers was pretty small but we knew there were a lot more of us around. And that we’d need still more. CSTA was a means of building a community of CS educators who would support each other and who would work to expand our numbers.

It seemed like we knew everyone in those early  days. That is to say that those of us active on social medio, largely the AP CS email list but a few blogs, knew each other.  CSTA started growing pretty quickly thought. Conferences went from under 100 people to over 300. And it kept on growing.

CSTA went through some growing pains along the way.Our founding executive director who had done so much for the organization left. Well, left CSTA but not advocating for CS education and supporting teachers. Our first attempt at a new executive director had some mixed results. ACM jumped in and helped get the organization in better financial shape. Our current executive director has taken fund raising and organization to a level that supports a huge conference and a lot of year round activities. We’re lucky to have him.

The growth of chapters has been, in my opinion, one of the truly important factors in the growth and effectiveness of the organization. In the beginning, CSTA was, in effect, a single national chapter. This was great for staging a national conference but we as an organization needed more. Local chapters provide local professional development through meetings and through local/regional conferences. The CSTA New England conference is larger than the national conferences were in the early day. That’s just one example.

Chapters have also been active in advocating for more CS education at the state and local level. National leaders can’t be everywhere and in many cases having a local person lobby or speak at hearings can be even more effective. Chapter leadership training has given many people the tools to be effective spokespeople.

As I look back, the growth of CSTA has exceeded my early expectations. But not my hopes. Today, CSTA is a major organization with great leadership, a professional staff, and a world wide membership. It’s an organization all of its members can be proud to belong to.

Friday, June 21, 2024

Advice To First Timers at #ISTE24 or #CSTA2024

Summer conference season is coming up. ISTE starts this weekend (without me) and CSTA (with me) is in July. Over the years I have been to scores of conferences and I have learned a few things. I thought I might share some of them.

Comfortable shoes. If you are a teacher this should be a no brainer. You'll be on your feet a lot.

Plan your day in advance but leave sessions early if they don't match your needs or expectations. I like to select a prime session for each time slot and have one or more backups.

Do the exhibit hall in stages. I like to make a fast pass and make note of exhibits I want to spend more time at. I then go back to them. At ISTE making it all the way through the exhibit hall at one go is usually too much. Don’t stress it. You have a couple of days.

Don't carry more than you actually need. (I'm bad at this.) Bags can get very heavy with swag and literature.

Take pictures! Take pictures of web addresses for future reference. Take pictures of cool gadgets as well. It may save you space and weight in your bag if you photograph enough information to look a company up on the web later.

Meet new people! It is tempting to hang with people you know and that’s great. But sit at tables with people you don’t know and talk to them. Talk to to people attending sessions you are attending. Sharing ideas and questions is learning.

If you get into a great conversation between sessions it may be worth skipping the next session if you are learning and making a new friend.

Make notes every day. I tend to take notes in rough form in my blogging app and neaten it up every night. Use a note taking method that works for you but take notes every day. Conferences like these (ISTE, SIGCSE, TCEA, FETC, CSTA) are like taking learning in from a fire hose. Notes will help you later.

What am I missing?

Oh, and I hope to see some of you at CSTA!

Wednesday, March 27, 2024

Pangrams Anyone?

Regular readers of this blog know that I have been doing the New York Times Spelling bee (Computer Science Teacher: Spelling Bee Solver Project). Actually, I do it with my wife who gets most of the words. Anyway, one of the special types of words in the puzzle is called a pangram. Now officially, a pangram is a sentence that includes all of the letters in the alphabet. Anyone who has taken a typing class is probably familiar with this famous pangram.

The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog

In the Spelling bee, a pangram is a single word that includes all of the letters in the puzzle for that day. This all suggested a couple of possible programming assignments.

The most obvious (to me) is a program that determines if a sentence is a pangram. The program would have to ignore things like spaces, punctuation, and other special characters.  A step up would be to determine if a sentence is a perfect pangram. A perfect pangram uses each letter only once. Also called a Heterogram

Another idea, which I actually coded myself, is to determine if a word is a pangram of a certain number of letters.That is to say, find words  that have a specific number of unique letters. I haven’t tried to find perfect word pangrams but I might do that next.

I had a program search a large data set of words looking for pangrams. Mostly I looked for seven letter ones as that is what the NY Times Spelling bee uses.There are a lot of them!

One could also determine if all the letters are in alphabetical order. There is probably a name for that as well. Anyone know?

Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Alphabet? What alphabet?

I used to start a talk on internationalization of code with the question “How many letters are in the alphabet?”  Once I had several people say “26” I would ask “Shouldn’t you ask ‘what alphabet’ first?” I would then discuss some different alphabets and how many more or fewer letters they had. Then briefly mention that not all alphabets look the same. That’s is why ASCII is not good enough.

Today I ran across the following graphic. I wish I’d had it back in the classroom.

Who knew there were so many diffe3rent scripts? I suspect that are many more not on this list of course. Let’s not forget that some them are read left to right and not right to left.

Are you discussing multiple scripts and alphabets with students? It can bring up some interesting questions. And widen ones experience. If you are lucky enough to have students who are familiar with these non-Roman script languages ask them to explain how sorting of words happens. I had Chinese exchange students who were happy to explain how Chinese words are sorted. Short answer is by the strokes that make up the words.