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.