Tuesday, July 14, 2020

CSTA Online Conference 2020–Day Two

The first thing I did this morning was to prepare for my presentation. I may have made some last minute changes to my presentation deck.

The first thing I attended was a Birds of a Feather session called White Teachers as Anti-Racist Allies. I listened closely. Living in New Hampshire were we don’t have a lot of people of color it is easy to fall into the idea that race is not an issue. But of course I have been teaching in a school with more than the average number of people of color for the area so I know better. This BoF gave me some things to think about.

I couldn’t focus on anything after the BoF. In all honesty I couldn’t get my mind off of getting myself set for you presentation. This tends to happen to be at in-person conferences as well. I probably missed something valuable but hopefully I can watch recordings later.

If you are interested, my presentation slides can be downloaded from Techniques for Teaching Programming. Someone else will have to review that session. Please be kind.

After lunch was a keynote by Dr. Ruha Benjamin called Keynote: 2020 Vision: Re-imagining the Default Settings of Technology and Society She focused on the intersection of technology and bias. Really thought provoking. She shared a really interesting video called "Racial Sensitivity" from Better Off Ted Recommended. How does data and algorithm incorporate bias?

After the keynote I started with Our Code From Miles Away: CS via Distance Learning, which according to to the slides was going to be about Pear Deck and FlipGrid. The main presenter had some issues with time zone coordination which is more a problem with online conferences than in-person ones. Anyway, I left early and moved to Machine Learning in the High School Classroom. It was well done but jumping in 20 minutes late means I missed some important context. I look forward to viewing the recording from the beginning And reading through the website I linked in the session title.. Not much else I can say about this one I am afraid.

Next up was Git and GitHub: How to Use It, How to Teach It, which was of course about Git and GitHub. This was a very fast paced session by a pair of experts. I learned a lot from this one.

I dropped into Nifty Assignments for my last session of the day.

The archive of CSTA Nifty Assignments is here. Check them out!

So the virtual conference is over. For me there were a lot of great sessions. If you were there, what sessions did you like? Let me know which ones I should look for when the recordings are ready.

Monday, July 13, 2020

CSTA 2020 Conference Online–Day One

Day one of the online CSTA 2020 conference has been today. I’m blogging this as the day goes on and posting it at the end of the day. We started with welcome remarks and some tutorial about using the Hopin conference platform. As a presenter, I’d had some time to try this out previously but I think this was probably very valuable for first time users. I hope not many missed it.

After welcomed remarks we had some networking time. This is actually fun as you are randomly placed in a window with someone for 5 minutes of casual chatting. I found this a nice way to warm up to the day. And to chat with CS teachers from other parts of the country.

During the first break out I attended a session called - Integrating Cybersecurity into the AP CSP Course.I really think we need to teach more of cybersecurity so I jumped into this one. The people have Whatcon Communiyt College have some very interesting and useful looking resources for teaching Cybersecurity. They have 13 units at their website which I link to below along with their sites description.

C5 Cybersecurity Concept Lessons

NCYTE Center supports the work of a related grant project also based at Whatcom Community College, Catalyzing Computing and Cybersecurity in Community Colleges (C5). One of the goals of the C5 project is to develop and disseminate instructional materials to enhance computer science and cybersecurity courses.

The following Cybersecurity Concept Lessons (CCL) illustrate how Cybersecurity can be integrated into the AP CSP course. Each lesson contains activities, a presentation and an overview document that can be downloaded and used in the classroom.

The first keynote started after a sort of ad from Apple. A lot of side chatter was about the usability of Swift without having a Mac to compile on. I may have to look into that. I will start here I guess https://www.makeuseof.com/tag/program-swift-in-windows/

The keynote was by Linda Liukas who writes children’s books about computing. I really need to look into her “Hello Ruby” books. Lots of us use the exercise of having students write instructions for making a peanut butter sandwich or a paper airplane (my favorite) but Linda suggested brushing ones teeth. That sounds fun. The talk had a lot of computer free examples and exercises. Most of these would work for a wide range of ages.

The keynote was high energy and inspiring for me. Videos will be available later for CSTA+ members I believe. I plan to watch it again.

Lunch break and time to visit the booths and poster sessions. I visited a couple of booths. It’s interesting as the booths I visited had 50-60 people listening to the person “working the booth.” I spend some time in the Microsoft booth while they were talking about the Hacking STEM program and projects. I keep telling myself I need to get into this stuff but year after year I find myself pulled into other things. Maybe I’ll get to it now that I am retired. Then maybe I can do quest visits to my old school. We’ll see. I really do want to get involved in hands one matter hacking.

After lunch, Mini-Session 3: Tools to Teach 9th-12th Grade There are over 150 people attending this session! Can you picture having rooms that large for as many sessions (12 by my count)  as are going on now?

This session started with Truffle Hunt: Teaching an AI Agent to Play a Minesweeper-Based Game (that link is to the PowerPoint which itself has resource/reference links) I like the idea of teaching rules based AI. Jeffrey L. Popyack from Drexel University presented that one.

Next up was Teaching AI to High Schoolers Inclusively with  Sarah Judd, AI4ALL. Her slides are at  https://bit.ly/AI4ALL-CSTA2020 Sarah talked about an Open Learning curriculum for teaching Artificial Intelligence. You can Access the curriculum at  http://olp.ai-4-all.org

The last mini session was by Leon LaSpina on MATLAB.  His slides on MATLAB are here. Leon is a great guy and I can see some reasons for people to teach MATLAB. But I left early and just dropped in on a couple of other sessions for a few minutes at a time. It is less disruptive to enter and leave sessions online.

Next up, Formative Assessment and Feedback for CS Learning with over 270 attendees! I guess a lot of us are interested in doing better assessment and giving feedback. Slides are available at  Formative Assessment This is another session I want to watch a second time.

I attended Incorporating Culturally Authentic Practices in a Problem Based Computer Science Classroom. I’ve always been a proponent of project based learning but I haven’t thought a whole lot about cultural reliance before. It seemed more about PBL in general than specifically how to make them culturally relevant. It may be just me though.

So I jumped into Teaching Girls to Code and Change the World which was about Girls Who Code. Girls Who Code is an outstanding program.  I love the concepts of their program. It’s so much more than coding as it includes community building, long term connections and networking, and showing of role models.

The afternoon keynote was by Hadi Partovi of code.org and titled K-12 CS: How Far We've Come and Where We're Headed Hadi started with a review of where we were 7 years ago and how far we have come. Hadi listed a bunch of individuals and organizations who have helped make the progress we have seen in that time. It was awesome to hear him call out so many. It’s been a global village.

Hadi ta;led about how important it is to teach students ethical thinking and taking into account the impact of computing and technology. This is so important. I’ve heard Hadi speak several times and this was far and away his best talk.

The last session I attended was AP CSP 2020: Updated Course and Exam because there is a chance I may teach AP CS P online in the fall. Maybe. In any case, this was VERY useful if you are teaching AP CS Principles. I have to say that I like the changes. They have really made the create task more clear and added some specific requirements that I think make the task more rigorous. . I’m happy about dropping the explore task as a digital portfolio part of the exam. The link on the session name at the start of the paragraph is to their presentation deck. I saved a copy for potential mixing and definitely for my own review.

That’s the session wrap up from me. I’ll have more thoughts specifically about how the online conference experience was for me in a day or so. And of course I will be blogging about tomorrow’s sessions tomorrow.

Wednesday, July 01, 2020

Book Review: Computer Science in K-12

Full disclosure: I haven’t read all of “Computer Science for K-12” edited and compiled by Shuchi Grover yet but a couple of chapters was enough to convince me I should recommend it to other computer science teachers. The books has chapters written by a veritable who’s who of computer science educators. (See the table of contents listed below) I’ve heard many of them speak, read much of their published works, and met more than a few of them. I knew from the author list that it would be worth having.

I have been jumping around a bit but for me the chapter on Naïve Conceptions of Novice Programmers alone was worth the price of the book.  I have no doubt that I am going to learn a bunch reading the rest of it. The chapter or chapters you read that makes the book worth the price may vary but I suspect you’ll find several such. If you are looking to improve HOW you teach CS you should get this book.

It is available with black and white illustrations and diagrams and color versions. I bought the black and white version but wish I had spent a few extra dollars for the color. It's available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble

The table of contents is below from the Amazon page.

  1. Foreword (Inventing Computing Education in Schools) by Mark Guzdial
  2. Algorithms (Shuchi Grover)
  3. Before You Program, Plan! (Phil Bagge, Shuchi Grover)
  4. Creative Coding (Miles Berry)
  5. Data Structures (Baker Franke, Richard Kick)
  6. Events (Jennifer Rosato, David Wolber)
  7. Feedback Through Formative Check-Ins (Shuchi Grover, Vicky Sedgwick, Kelly Powers)
  8. Guided Exploration Through Unplugged Activities (Paul Curzon, Shuchi Grover)
  9. Hard Fun With Hands-on Constructionist Project-Based Learning (Deborah Fields, Yasmin Kafai)
  10. Integrating Programming Into Other Subjects (Shuchi Grover, Aman Yadav)
  11. JavaScript, Python, Scratch, or Something Else? Navigating the Bustling World of Introductory Programming Languages (David Weintrop, Shuchi Grover)
  12. Knowledge, Skills, Attitudes, and Beliefs | Learning Goals for IntroductoryProgramming (Rebecca Vivian, Shuchi Grover, Katrina Falkner)
  13. Learner-Centered and Culturally Responsive Pedagogy (Tia C. Madkins, Jakita O. Thomas,Jessica Solyom, Joanna Goode, Frieda McAlear)
  14. Modularity With Methods and Functions (Mike Zamansky, Jens Monig, Jonalf Dyrland-Weaver)
  15. Naïve Conceptions of Novice Programmers (Juha Sorva)
  16. Operators and Expressions (Matthias Hauswirth, Shuchi Grover)
  17. Pair Collaboration and Pair Programming (Shannon Campe, Jill Denner)
  18. Questioning and Inquiry (Shuchi Grover, Steven Floyd)
  19. Repetition and Recursion (Dan Garcia, Joshua Paley)
  20. Selecting Pathways With Conditionals (Shuchi Grover)
  21. Testing and Debugging (Kathryn Rich, Carla Strickland)
  22. Universal Design for Learning: Reaching All Students (Maya Israel, Todd Lash)
  23. Variables (Shuchi Grover)
  24. Worked Examples and Other Scaffolding Strategies (Jane Waite, Shuchi Grover)
  25. X-ing boundaries With Physical Computing (Sue Sentance, Katharine Childs)
  26. Yay, My Program Works! Beyond Working Code ... Good Habits of Programming (Shuchi Grover)
  27. Zestful Learning (Bryan Twarek)

Friday, June 19, 2020

How Do We Know Who Is Struggling In Learning CS

One of the interesting points Amy Ko makes in her presentation to Microsoft (CS education in higher education) is that “Most faculty have little insight into who is struggling most into their class, because the ones that struggle are most silent.” She goes on to suggest that took could help make struggle visible at scale.

In the high school classroom most teaches try to be aware of what students are doing and notice who is struggling but it’s hard. Students are very good at hiding the fact that they are struggling. Many just don’t want to admit, especially in front of their peers, that they are having trouble in a class. Teaching online makes noticing struggle even harder!

So what sort of tools would be helpful? That’s what I have been thinking about for a bit.

What are the indications of struggle? Idleness in the IDE? Maybe but sometimes students are very active but not making progress. They add stuff, try it, delete it, and try something else. The “lest throw stuff against the wall and see what sticks method.” So to much activity or to little activity? These are both things an educational IDE could track.

What about syntax errors? This is a tough one because sometimes a single character off will generate a great many errors. I have managed to see error lists move from over 100 to 2 or three after changing one line of code. So maybe look at specific errors? We probably need some research on this.

Number of builds? Some people write a lot of code before doing a build while others run a build after every little change. Seems like an unreliable metric.

Total time spent in the IDE? Maybe although how does the automated system know if the amount of time is due to struggle or to an advanced student adding far more than what is required?

As a teacher, one thing I would like to know is that errors are the most common in a class. That would help me adjust how I teach certain things.

If only students would talk to us!

All in all I love the idea of tools to help teachers see who is struggling and what they are struggling with. I just don’t feel like I have a good handle on what metrics would be really helpful.  Commercial IDEs are never going to care about these things though. Might make a good PhD project for some CS education researcher though.

Dr. Ko suggests that one way industry could help is by “should be supporting the hiring of CS education faculty and the creation of CS education classes to prepare effective CS teachers for K-12 and higher education classrooms.” We still have a lot more questions than answers in terms of teaching computer science.

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Thoughts on an IDE for Teaching CS

Amy Ko posted a slide deck about CS education in higher education from a presentation she made to a group at Microsoft. There is a ton of stuff in there. I need to read it a couple more times actually. I’ll probably blog some more based on other things she brings up. Issues of equity for example. That one I need to think over a bit more as I process the reality of the world today. But for this post I want to focus on some of the ideas she shared for teaching beginners.

Under the heading “Classes move too fast” she writes “Many introductory programming courses now include a 1) professional-grade programming language, 2) a professional-grade IDE, 3) a professional-grade version control system, and 4) a professional-grade test framework.”

This is too much for many students. In my end of year survey most of my students felt that Visual Studio (a professional-grade IDE using a professional-grade programming language) was fine for them. Not to hard. And a lot of teachers are using GitHub – a professional grade version control system. That is still a lot to learn just to get going though. My students may think they are doing just fine but honestly I spend a lot of time fixing projects because it is far to easy to mess them up. I’m finally beginning to face that truth.

Later in the presentation Dr. Ko talks about making tools that make collaboration and working together easier. How do students work together? How do they do it when they are separated by time and space? That is something we have to think about even more these days.

What is the answer? Well, I’d like to see an IDE and language that creates projects that are harder to screw up for one thing. Don’t ever let beginners use Save As in a Visual Studio project. Doing so is almost a guarantee that a beginner will mess up their project in serious ways. Save As as an option for experts? Yep. We don’t want that for beginners. That’s just the start. Students are always closing windows they think they don’t need but later realize that they need them after all.

And collaboration? GitHub works for some. As I said I know a number of teachers use it with their students. I have had students who used it on their own as well. Awfully smart girls those two. But its got some rough edges. It’s really a powerful professional tool that offers more than most students or teachers really need.  And there are so many options and steps! We need something more simple! It needs to be tied in to the IDE fairly transparently as well.

Pair programming remotely? I’ve tried Visual Studio Live Share a bit.and it has some real potential. Not many seem to know about it yet. It does require  that people have a reliable want to share links for sessions. I’m not sure how it would work if a teacher wanted to look at a lot of student sessions are once. And we are still dealing with Visual Studio or VS Code and their projects.

This last semester I used Microsoft Server Manager to work with students online/remotely. Worked great as long as we were on the same virtual machine. It’s not something I want to give students access to though. I would like that functionality in a different tool. Especially if making the connection was as easy as this one was. It was easier than Live Share. So the tool I would want would probably involve some sort of “server” that was attached to a class that let students find their partners and connect with permission from the other student. Wouldn’t that be cool?

So what I want is an IDE that doesn’t let students mess up their projects easily, does easy version control with minimal set up or steps to make happen, and easy sharing of coding sessions. All built in with an easy set up.

A test framework? That’s a topic for another post.

Monday, June 08, 2020

Setting Up To Teach From Home

This past spring semester was my first time teaching remotely but not my first time working remotely. I worked from home while working in industry for jsut over 9 years. The latter probably helped me set up to teach remotely. Still, I learned a few things about being a remote teacher. I thought I should write it up and see what other ideas people might have to share.

First, you need to work somewhere outside the main events of the household. An office is ideal of course but not many of us have that option.  Still you want to find a place that is not busy when others are home, where they are a minimum of distractions, and where you don’t have to set up and break down your work equipment every day.

If you are presenting with video you want to be aware of your background. To much light behind or from the side can be a problem for the video. You want to know what is behind you. Will it distract others? Will it show things that are to personal to share with the whole world? I know teachers who have hung sheets behind them. That is probably not necessary but you want to be deliberate about what other see in the video.

Speaking of video, you want a good camera. I’ve seen some debate over webcam or built-in camera and I don’t have a firm opinion. If you have a good camera in your laptop or desktop you will probably be fine. In either case, make sure you are centered in the image it takes.

I find that a headset works better than the microphone and speaker built into at computer. A headset keeps out extraneous noise from both your ears and the conversation. It helps avoid distracting noises in the house as well. I know that a few teachers I know have purchased “gamer headsets” and found they work very well. They’re not that expensive either.

Speaking of gamer equipment, a comfortable chair is a must as you will be in it longer than you would be if teaching in person. Several teachers I know have been buying chairs made for computer gamers. What ever chair you get should be comfortable and sturdy.

Screens? You really want, I almost say need, two or more windows. Professional developers argue over which is better – two (or three) monitors or one very large monitor with multiple windows. I suspect that for most teachers a second monitor is less expensive than a very large monitor. Cost aside, personal preference rules in the hardware decision. I used two laptops side by side this spring but I would use one with a second screen if I were doing it again. I might have a second laptop as well since I have several anyway but that would be more of a backup than a principle workstation. Being able to copy things from one window to another is invaluable.

I used to keep one window showing that online meeting with student faces and the second with what ever I was demonstrating or presenting. I also liked to have my student information system, for attendance, in one window and the Zoom or Meet window in another to make taking attendance easier. That was much easier than switching windows on one screen. I did the same thing when grading. Work I was grading in one window and gradebook software in the other window. Since work was all being submitted online this was the easiest way to work for me. Your mileage may vary of course.

I can’t forget the network. Wi-fi works when it works. Wired connections are almost always faster and more reliable (I sometimes lose WIFI when the microwave runs),  It’s not always easy to set up but if you can use a wired connection I do recommend that you do..

Will teachers be teaching remotely in the fall? I don’t know that anyone knows for sure. It doesn’t hurt to prepare for multiple eventualities though.

Monday, May 25, 2020

ACM Digital Library is Open for Free

Like most K-12 teachers, a membership in a professional society like ACM or IEEE is not funded by my school. So I pay out of pocket for an ACM membership and have for years. The extra money for access to the ACM Digital Library is a bridge to far. Normally, during a conference members can download papers from that conference and I take advantage of that. Right now, the ACM Digital Library is open to everyone for free. I am downloading papers like crazy. OK, maybe not like crazy, but I have been downloading a lot of papers that I find interesting.

I start by browsing conference proceedings and moving from there. Today I have been looking for papers at the Koli Calling conference.  I’m not sure where to go next but with just over a month to go of free access I hope to download papers referenced by the ones I have already.

Teachers of computer science now is the time to download your summer reading!

From the ACM Digital Library website:

We believe that ACM can help support research, discovery and learning during this time of crisis by opening the ACM Digital Library to all. For the next three months, there will be no fees assessed for accessing or downloading work published by ACM. We hope this will help researchers, practitioners and students maintain access to our publications as well as increasing visibility and awareness of ACM’s journals, proceedings and magazines. Please be sure to inform your colleagues that the ACM DL is now open, and will continue that way through June 30, 2020