Saturday, October 27, 2018

CSTA New England Regional Conference 2018

cstaNEThis is the second of these conferences. How I missed the first year I don’t remember but I’m glad I made it to this one. The conference was held at Rhode Island College. I got some good things from it.

We started with some welcoming remarks from the president of the college, the Rhode Island Commissioner of Education and a few others. It is clear that there is some strong support for improving CS education in Rhode Island from the state and from the universities. Rhode Island has made some great strides with hundreds of teachers trained in the last 2 and a half years. The have also expanded APCS into 78% of the state's high school.

We than heard from a panel of representatives from the state Departments of Education from all of the New England states. IT was interesting to hear how the different states are progressing towards expanding CS education. Several people said that their state was "working to catch up." Given how little CS education had a few years ago and how much a lot of states are working I don't see these states as behind other states that much. Behind where they want to be is a whole different question. It is probably good that the various states don't want to fall behind other states.

Next came concurrent sessions. Lots of concurrent sessions. Some were an hour long and some sessions were a set of three flash talks. I went to flash talks. Now the flash talks were good and I got value from them but I wish some of them had been longer. The committee might want to think about making some tough decisions and have fewer presenters but for longer sessions. Anyway.

Elizabeth Patterson @EPPHS presented two flash sessions. One was on teaching binary, an interest of mine from way back, and shared the resources she uses at:  Her second session (after lunch) was on sorting (another fun topic) and she again shared resources at I’ll be spending some time looking through  them for my own practice. This is exactly the sort of sharing we as CS educators should be doing more of.

I also attended two sessions by representatives from the Lesley University STEAM Learning Lab. One was on visualizing computation with 3D modeling and printing. Very interesting and I got a few ideas but this one would really have benefited from being a lot longer that n15 minutes. Now that I know about them and their programs I’ll be spending some time at their web site looking for resources that I can use. Their other session was on physical computing. .I didn’t hear much new here but again I think the time limit was more responsible than the presenters. They clearly had a lot more to share than they could in 15 minutes.

Fred Martin, UMass Lowell and the CSTA Board, talked about rethinking computational thinking. There  is a lot of talk about that lately and I liked Fred’s take on it. Fred’s slides are at cstane2018-fredm He concludes with “CT is the “connecting tissue” between the world of computer science / programming expertise and the world of disciplinary knowledge”  I think I like that as much as any definition of CT I have read lately.

Karen Lang, MIT Appinventor, gave a talk on new and coming features for AppInventor. Tutorials seem interesting as does the new CloudDB which seems like a big improvement for data storage. There is a new emulator available for MacOS and a new one for Windows is coming. That’s good news. Also the companion app for iPhones has been submitted to Apple for the Apple store. At some point Apple will (we all hope) approve it and students will be able to put AppInventor apps on iPhones.

Chad Williams, Central Connecticut State University, shared some of his ideas about teaching cryptography. I hope to get his slides because he has some good stuff that I hope to write more about at some point. Since this subject is coming up soon in my AP CS Principles course I can put some of this to work.

Overall, this was a great little conference. I did some networking between sessions. Connecting with old friends, meeting some new people, and getting ideas from informal conversation as well and sessions. The food was good. We had a real breakfast – eggs, potatoes, sausage plus healthy stuff. Box lunches with good sandwiches and vegetarian options. Let’s pretend I didn’t eat the brownies that were available for snacks.

Hopefully there will be a third conference next year.

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