Thursday, December 29, 2016

Looking Back on CS Education in 2016

I started 2016 with a post called Computer Science Education Things to Watch in 2016. It's time to look back and write about what I think I saw over the year. My next post will be about what I will be looking at over 2017.

Very Inexpensive Computers – I think I called this one right. I didn't expect to see a large uptake in these small, simple, and inexpensive computers. There is potential in them. I think maybe we'll see more of them in after school, weekend, and summer programs.

BBC:Micro:Bit – I blogged about a lot of resources for these devices over the last year. They are still not generally available in the US though. I'm a bit far away to really judge the impact they may have had in the UK. So I'm still watching.

MOOCs and other Online CS Teaching tools – Yep, still not a huge impact. I have seen some of the online AP Computer Science MOOCs have some impact though. These seem to work where students have some local support of some kind even is that is support though providing time, space, computers, and someone to track that they are working. As a completely independent learning tool they still seem to work best with heavily motivated students.

Advanced Placement Computer Science Principles – This really seems to have taken off. Lots of people attended summer workshops including me. According to what I hear this has been one of the best new AP course introductions ever. Lots and lots of interest around the country. There are still some open questions about which programming languages will be most popular or which of the highly promoted curricula will be a) most adopted and b) have the best results. This is something to look at over 2017.

Python vs Java vs drag vs drop programming – I haven't seen a determination on this. With the AP CS A exam still in Java I think that slows Python adoption at the high school level. At the middle school level, a fast growing level, I see a lot more Python than Java. But a lot of drag/drop programming as well. I don't think we'll see a single language being "the thing to use" in the near future. And that is ok.

Computer Science for Everyone - This went better than I expected. A lot happened. A comprehensive K–12 Computer Science Framework was developed and released. The Computer Science Teachers Association (CSTA) announced Revised Interim Standards. several states released state wide standards as well. Ruthe Farmer, Senior Policy Advisor for Tech Inclusion for the White House office of Science and Technology Policy, recently blogged about a lot of what the White House was involved in this year (A Year of Milestones for Computer Science for All). All in all a lot of progress. It remains to be seen what sort of support the new administration in the White House will bring but there is a lot of momentum in the states and that is a hopeful thing. In my home state of New Hampshire, CS4NHis a new public/private partnership that is starting to make some positive moves. Some work on a real certification for CS teachers is in the works for example. Many other states have similar things going on. I'm optimistic in a way I wasn't a few years ago.

So that is what I was watching over the last year. Some new and some old things to watch for 2017. More on that very soon. In the mean time, what were you watching last year? And how did it go?

Friday, December 16, 2016

Acting Out The Loop

One of my major goals this year has been to get more activity in class to help students understand concepts. Jumping right into code is awfully abstract for many students. So I have been adding activities to help students see the connection between concepts in programming and in real life. Looping is where I have been having some fun. Probably most of what I am doing is old news to experienced teachers. Maybe sharing some of them will spark people sharing other ideas I can steal adapt for my own use.

I’ve been having students walk for a while. Take 7 steps for example for a counting loop. Walk from place a to place b for a while loop. And the ever popular “walk that way” (choose a wise guy for this one so they keep pretending to walk when they get to the wall) for an infinite loop.

Lately I added some activities with a deck of cards. Count out 10 cards or count this batch of cards (always use a subset or include jokers so someone will be wrong if they shout out “52”) as a loop activity. Pull cards off of the deck until you get to a face card or some other specific card to demonstrate a while loop. It seems to go over well.

For the difference between a counter variable and an accumulator I have been using a small handful of coins. “What is the total value of the coins” and “how many coins are there” are very different activities. And I don’t know about your students but mine pay attention when money is involved even if they don’t get to keep it.

So far it seems like these examples help students grasp the concepts better and faster. It may help that students seem to pay more attention to what their peers are doing than what their teacher is doing.

Students don’t realize how much of what they do every day is really some form of looping. Walking for example or climbing stairs.  Or even writing essays (keep writing until you hit 500 words.) I hope that by making the reality of it all more solid it will help as we take on the coding involved. So far its going well. And it makes the class more interesting for me to teach as well. Win win! Smile

Wednesday, December 07, 2016

What’s Your Elf Name–A Programming Project

I love string manipulation projects. Maybe because I have always been more of a word person than a math person. Who knows why. I see them every where. For example this time of your one sees a lot of images like this one shared on social media.


It’s a simple enough game.Pick one part of the name based on the first letter of your first name and the second from the month you were born. As a programming project it lets students use arrays and do some parsing work converting words selected into indexes into those arrays.

And of course is it seasonal so there is that. There are many variations of that sort of meme to be found. Recently I found the “what is your Sith Lord name?” meme.



I’m tempted to use this one before I have students test for palindromes next semester. A lot of thought goes into reversing strings for people new to programming. This one makes for a simpler project which can be a good thing.

But maybe you want to avoid the Sci Fi thing and it is not the Christmas season. How about spirit animals?

spirit animalSpiritAnimal

It turns out that a simple image search for “what is your name” (I used Bing for that link) turns up a plethora of examples. I was amazed at home many I found. There seems to be one for just about every season or holiday and many popular social interests. Something for everyone I think.

I’m still using the Shakespeare Insult Generator project though. That’s fun.

Thursday, December 01, 2016

CS Education Week School/District Pledge

Does your school believe in Computer Science for All? Take the @CSforAll #CSEdWeekpledge to show your support and be included in announcement!

Our economy is rapidly shifting, and families, educators and business leaders are increasingly recognizing that computer science (CS) is a “new basic” skill necessary for economic opportunity and social mobility in a world driven by software.

The CSforAll Consortium is preparing for Computer Science Education Week that takes place December 5-11, and the White House would like to include the name of your school or school district in the announcement celebrating the CSforAll initiative.

The Consortium is calling on every school principal and district superintendent in America to join in its commitment to support the goals of expanding access to CS by signing the CSforAll Pledge. To be included in the White House CS Ed Week announcement with the CSforAll Consortium, please complete the CSforAll Pledge by Friday December 2nd.