Inclusion and Diversity in the Engaged Computer Science Classroom

I was honored to have been asked to present as part of Microsoft’s Hack the Classroom: Change Maker series.

It focuses on engagement being the key factor towards attracting a wide variety of students

Here is that video

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Should we be afraid of automation?

I ran across a really interesting article, https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2018/07/the-skills-needed-to-survive-the-robot-invasion-of-the-workplace/ , about the possible future of our civilization, especially due to the automation that technology is likely going to bring us.

So, there are several questions we can be asking about this as well as numerous decisions we, as as species, will need to address.

There is a term in technology called Moore’s Law, which in essence basically says that technology is going to double in power(for the same price, or even lower) every 18 months or so. And if you look at the last couple decades, we have probably even exceeded that rate. We have seen (are seeing) technology become not only a part of, but a fundamental backbone of pretty much every facet of society.

This is not necessarily a negative thing. We are able to detect, understand, fix, survive, interpret, solve, and build things in ways never thought possible. Certainly we have problems to address, but we are also bringing the standard of living, length of life, and quality of life to new levels.

But, as with anything, there are negatives as well. One of the issues that we have seen is that technology progresses at a much faster rate than humans and society. So, in some areas….what that translates to is: people(and some systems) are still years, if not decades, behind where technology is. We have good folks still doing what they have always done, in the ways they have always done it, even though technology has made tremendous advances. We have systems which used to be incredible efficient, now far outdated and to the point where they are almost irrelevant.

Am I being a bit dramatic?

Well, let’s look at a few areas as examples. How dependent upon technology are restaurants, fire departments, supermarkets, schools, and banks? If you walked into a bank and the cashier wrote your transaction on a piece of paper and took your deposit money, would you not look around questionably? If you walked into your child’s classroom and there was a chalkboard on the wall and the teacher communicated that technology is not something (s)he is interested in, would you not be asking how to transfer classes? If you walked into the New York Stock Exchange and you saw a bunch of people down on the floor waving pieces of paper over their heads, wouldn’t you look for a hidden practical joke camera? Even something as simple as eating in a restaurant, you know if your waiter brought you an old carbon copy of your credit card paperwork with handwritten prices, you would question the place.

So, we all accept, and in some cases even support, technology when it helps. When my father was in the hospital with all kinds of machines, wires, and god knows what else, there was a certain amount of comfort in knowing that his health was being monitored. In fact, the only thing he complained about was the food, which by the way was prepared by a human, and for what it’s worth, what was ordered(on a piece of paper with checkboxes) was not always the same as what was delivered.

Humans are not the best drivers

Turn on the local news in the evening and most likely you will hear a story of a terrible car accident where multiple people were injured or even killed. And that happens pretty much every night. In fact, over a million people every year die in car crashes, and a cool 20+ million suffer injuries. And yet when an autonomous car has a single accident, with a frequency thousands of times less than humans, we go crazy. Why? Interesting. Are we afraid to admit that there are some things that technology simply has a better solution than humans?

When things like artificial intelligence(A.I.) and machine learning(M.L.) enter the picture, we do have to rethink how we think about this.

The Davinci robot can perform surgery with accuracy beyond human capability

So, how do we balance this? What about all the jobs that are going to be lost to robots?(“they” say) What about all the outdated systems, technologies, and protocols that are becoming irrelevant? Do we like than an A.I. system can detect a faint hint of cancer, long before it becomes fatal? Do we value A.I. and M.L. that can detect trends in huge amounts of data that might lead to finding a cure, locating a source, understanding why, or simply improving a system? Would it be nice to be able to stop some crimes before they happen? Would it help society if we could reroute airlines in an instant when an airport has to close? If we could guide people to safer routes during evacuations and natural disasters better, is that a good thing?

So, this technology is really not so evil after all.

Just as we have throughout human history, we, the humans, have to evolve. We have to notice what is going on in the world around us, and respond. We know from history, that if it can happen, it will. If it is possible, it may very well be a reality in your lifetime. This is not Murphy’s Law, it is simply human nature…to be better, faster, stronger, more intelligent, more accurate, and more efficient.

….and that is where we have to focus.

As technology “takes away” those jobs which it can, other markets and industries open up. Other technologies come onto the scene. New protocols arise. New systems need to be designed. People have to be trained. People have to discover. People have to design. People have to research. People have to make. People have to sell. People have to buy. People have to market. People have to fix. People have to teach. Yes, it might involve us reaching out a bit from our comfort zone.

People have to evolve as we have always done…and always will

We get to be human!

So, we don’t have to be fearful of automation. It is coming…uhm….it is already here. We get to decide how to incorporate that into our lives. We get to decide how we react and respond to our world. You see, that is the key…we get to decide! We get to be creative; we get to have intuitions and gut-feelings; we get to take things into consideration that others might not notice; we get to use our emotions; we get to try crazy ideas; we get to interpret and imagine; we get to ask questions; we get to ignore something if we choose to; we get to take a chance on something; we get to ponder and wonder we get; we get to choose how and if we react.

Yep, we get to be human. Technology can never do that.

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Pockets of Awesomeness

If you only read the newspaper, watched the TV news, and listened to politicians, you’d think our schools are failing miserably and that we are not reaching our students in any of our subject areas, especially Computer Science.

I am here to say otherwise.

Now, I’m not an idiot(friends: do NOT respond to that), I get that there are some things we need to be doing differently in some areas and there are some schools that do need some new directions, but I am here to tell you that there is AWESOMENESS happening in our schools.

How do I know this?

Well, if you are an educator, then you likely take advantage of some much needed summer downtime to go to conferences and workshops to connect with colleagues and peers, hear some new ideas, share best practices, explore some new ways of thinking, learn something new and refreshing, and check out new technologies.

As a board member of CSTA (Computer Science Teachers Association), I get to help with our annual conference and so have been in Omaha, Nebraska (by the way, a very cool place….I would have never have known that) for a few days interacting with fellow teachers from across the world. As with many conferences….there are a few days of great sessions, panels, and workshops to choose from. I have heard success stories, seen demonstrations, experimented with new technologies, shared email addresses, tried new products, and interacted with leaders in education.
There are several things in common with pretty much everyone I have interacted with here:
They are so excited to be here
They are so eager to connect with fellow CS educators
They are eager to give send you any materials, curriculum, or research that they have created
They are so interested in engaging with students in new and different ways
They are full of ideas and love to talk about them
They want to hear your ideas and help you brainstorm
They are eager to share successes (and yes, failures as well)
They are excited to show you how something works
They are more than happy to explain something to you
They are doing amazing things in their classrooms and schools
They are proud to be part of a huge movement called Computer Science…yes it is actually a movement as much as it is a discipline

So, there are over 700 educators at this conference, which means that there are hundreds of schools across the country and overseas that have awesome teachers, doing awesome things, with no other agenda than to educate the students in our schools.
So, instead of listening to news anchor tell you a story of some terrible situation at a school, find a real teacher that you know and ask him/her to tell you about some of the cool things they are doing in their classroom. But, make yourself comfortable…we teachers love to talk about our students.

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Anti-Exams: A different approach to final exams

I am not big on standardized tests and traditional paper exams, but instead of dreading the upcoming exam “season”, I am so excited because it’s one of my favorite times of the year.

WHAT??!! Better let me explain

I actually do have exams in my classes, but they are different than you are imagining.

Students present and demonstrate their expertise in robotics, game design, app design and hardware.

In my 9th grade classes, students pair up and put on a demonstration/presentation table for two of the topics that we studied this semester in class. They prepare an entire table display area as well as an engaging hands-on presentations to demonstrate-show-describe-present about what they’ve learned. They dress business professional and for an hour one evening, we invite all the parents in as our guests. We usually get 100% parental attendance! So, we’ll have 50+ parents and 30+ students in our library with sounds of robots, sound effects from programmed games, apps using audio and voice recognition, and various clankings of computer components being put together and taken apart as parents build computers. Lots of proud moms and dads who are charged to ask lots of questions and find out “why” in addition to the “what”, but also to enjoy their own hands-on experience with their children as teachers. Parents wander around and interact with other students, parents, board members, community leaders, and other teachers. Truly a wonderful night! What a great chance to finally find out the real answer to the dinner-time question, “What did you do in school today?,” “nothin”. Uhm, I beg to differ. And, you know what the hidden secret here is: They spend many more time and energy preparing for this evening than they ever would studying for an exam. And I’ll argue that most students forget within hours what they crammed in their head for exams….yet my students will remember their presentation for years(and for some a lifetime). Ask any student in our CS program about their 9th grade presentation.

Finally, students really do know more than their parents

In my 10th grade class, students will again have their parents involved in their final exam, but this time the students will actually be leading their parents through an learning workshop. Each student will choose to lead their parent(s) through the entire process of either 1) building a small XBox game in C#, or 2) building a small website with HTML and CSS. Students are not allowed to touch the mouse or keyboard, so the pressure is on them to explain and teach well, so that parents can not only design it, but understand how they did it. In fact, they have to submit a sample of their teaching for part of their exam. As any teacher will vouch, it’s one thing to do something; it’s an entirely different thing to teach someone else to do it. In preparation for the event, students spend the week before designing the entire project and practice “teaching” the entire project to a fellow student–that way when mom and dad get there, it’s not their first time. They have to lead their parents without any notes or cheat sheets! And because they are all “in this together”, the collaboration that occurs during that week before is amazing. As in the previous year, students spend so much more time preparing for this than they ever would for a paper exam. The look on the faces of mom and dad when they actually complete the project is worth all the time and energy that goes into this. Now, when dad asks, “What did you do in Computer Science today”, he gets a dramatically different answer. That’s what I’m talking ‘about.

A student demonstrates her Kinect interactive simulation: a CSI crime scene investigation where you collect evidence, extract DNA, process the DNA and use that data to determine the culprit.

In the 11th grade classes, students present yet again, but this time it is to a panel of expert Venture Capitalist judges who will hear their presentations, test the projects themselves, and evaluate each student’s performance, code, and project. Students spend an entire semester working on one project (a game, activity, or simulation for the Xbox game system using Kinect, Dancepad, and/or hand controller) In a science fair-like scenario, judges tour the room spending time with each student, where students can present however they see fit depending on who the judge is. But the presentation they give to a successful entrepreneur business executive is very different than the one they give to the Marketing Director of a company and even more different than the one they would give to a professional game designer or engineer. At the end of the evening, our “Venture Capitalist” judges panel will invest $5000 as they like. (The panel consists of community leaders, academic institution leaders, alumni, professional game designers, marketing directors, Computer Science and math teachers, business executives, and other professionals from industry. Throughout the semester, we also discuss the business side of Computer Science as well, so students think about marketing, promotion, target audience, demo and psycho-graphics, and elevator pitches as it relates to their own project and industry. Because each judge is looking for something different, students have to determine the best way to present and demonstrate. The Computer Science teacher wants to hear about the challenges faced in order to figure out how to overcome programming problems, the game designer wants to hear about the sound effects, and graphics and user interface of the game, the marketing director wants to hear about the back story, the gamer wants to experience the “flow” of the experience, At the end of the evening, just for fun, we announce how much venture capital investment money each project received. What we see is that an average project with a great presentation can be effective…and in the same sense a really great project with a mediocre presentation can be ineffective. We try to help students have well-done, unique projects and that they determine the best way to present to each judge. For the judges, this may be the first time they have experienced a true 3D interactive motion controlled simulation, so students have to be excellent teachers as well.

Some of the most amazing projects we’ve had over the years are:

  • 3D Flight Simulator using the human body as the wing control device, and the DancePAd for the flap controls.
  • DNA Crime Science CSI investigation where you collect samples, extract and analyze DNA with your hands.
  • A interactive music maker where you use your hands to play and actually hear different instruments
  • A program which monitors subtle body gestures as a person practices a speech
  • A system that leads a person through a series of physical tests to be used in concussion analysis
  • A physical therapy & self-rehabilitation system that leads a person through a series of specific stretches and injury recovery movements.

But, were these really exams, you might ask?

Well, if we define exam as a culminating experience that requires students to bring in what they’ve learned and apply that to use it in new ways; if we define exams as a rigorous experience which really “tests” to see if students have learned the material and requires them to demonstrate that understanding; if we define exams as a chance to synthesize a large quantity of information….if the allow ourselves to let the exam itself be a learning experience which is actually something students look forward to and enjoy and take great pride in….

Then I’ll argue our exam not only meets all those criterion, but exceeds them. Students will spend 2-3 times longer preparing for this kind of effort than they would “studying” for a traditional exam. And because they cannot cram for this; because they can’t fake it; because we are not asking them to regurgitate a bunch of words but use them as a vocabulary to demonstrate , teach, and explain; because they are forced to create an entire presentation , it allows us to bring creativity, expression, visual, presentation, written, motion, language arts, fine arts, and Computer Science together in true cross curricular nature.

The exam itself is a learning experience on its own.

Imagine if every exam they took was like that? I imagine the impression people have of exams would be very different than what most people have.

Interestingly enough, pretty much every vocabulary word, concept, and skill that we learned and used during the semester is a part of these interactive experiences. In order to present to their truly authentic audiences, they HAVE to KNOW it! Isn’t that what we say we want in our exams?

The un-engaging multiple choice, fill-in-the blank, true-false exam is a long since outdated, shredded, broken, and ineffective tool. It doe not serve our students well. And saying it prepares them for college is simply passing the buck. But that can’t be why we give exams. So, why then do we actually give exams?

As an educator of 20+ years in public and private education, I am certain of 1 thing :

What we say we do in our exams is far different than what we actually do.

Here is what we say we do: Our exams allow students to consolidate the knowledge and learning from the whole class, synthesize and interpret it. They are able to look at the content as a whole instead of individual chapters. They will use the higher levels of Blooms Taxonomy to apply their learning.

Here is what we do: Study the old tests and quizzes. Here is the study guide.

Why would we even need to give an exam study guide? Anything ever discussed, read, or done as a part of class is what students need to understand. Everything is therefore important. Hopefully all along the journey it has been cumulative, in both our evaluation and application; an exam should not be their first experience with lots of content.

Why are we so stuck on traditional paper exams? What are we afraid of?

I believe there are teachers, administrators, political leaders, community members,……even students out there who think there is a different way to look at education.

If something you read here makes sense, we should connect.

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Computer Science K-12: Imagining the Possibilties

Whew! It has been a long year. While I have enjoyed the journey, it has been a great deal of work. If you know me, I have a lot of ideas, so trying to get them all into a single book was a HUUUUUUGGGGGGGEEEE challenge! But, alas, it came together and Amazon posted the book live! Who might value reading it?

Here is a video version of this post

I see 3 main target audiences

1) Teachers new to CS or who have found themselves being asked to teach a CS class. In the book are lots of resources and ideas for you to think about as you make those first steps. Lots of examples and even some case studies from other teachers

2) Schools and decision makers who are still trying to figure out if/when/how Computer Science even fits into their offerings. I spend time in the book describing exactly what Computer Science is, citing numerous examples of what it looks like in the real world, as well as what it might look like in education. Part of the reason why we are struggling to figure this out is simply lack of understanding, or misunderstanding. I think once people see what it really is, they will “get” why it is crucial.

3) The experienced CS teacher who is just not getting the response from students and not seeing the engagement that he/she knows he/she should be getting. Our CS classrooms should reflect the same dynamic, interactive, and involved spirit as the technologies we are using. This is where my program has had tremendous success and we have seen our program grow 6X in size!

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OK, who is this guy, Doug Bergman? Is he even qualified to write a book? (video) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YaxjWSotoZo

What exactly is the book about(podcast): https://www.teachercast.net/mie-podcast-s2e3-doug-bergman/

Where can I buy the book?
https://www.amazon.com/Computer-Science-K-12-possibilities-innovative/dp/1986171817

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The Elephant in the room.

Like many of you, I watched the CEO of Facebook, Marl Zuckerberg, respond to questions from a series of politicians on Capitol Hill. I was embarrassed for my country on several levels. First, the grandstanding “big words” by the politicians towards Facebook and Zuckerberg was disgusting and laughable. The lack of technological intelligence and understanding displayed by our leaders was shocking and at times, even sad. These are the men and women elected that we are supposed to look up to, to look to for guidance, policy and leadership in politics, business, and economics. Most did not even know what questions to ask.

It is 2018. Technology is no longer this “new thing” that the older generation can’t figure out. It is no longer a trend that is going to “destroy society.” It is no longer something that is going to warp the minds of our youth. It Is no longer OK for us to talk about whether or not to incorporate it into our classrooms. It is as fundamental to our culture and society as electricity, transportation, and water.

What we saw on TV during the last couple days on Capitol Hill was a wakeup call.

Yes, there were some members of Congress who were informed and knowledgeable but most were not. There were times Mark had to water down his answers so the audience behind the microphones could understand his points. He had to explain what his answers meant several times. There was an elephant sitting right there. I am pretty sure Mark saw it, but most people wandered through the discussion with blinders on.

People. Stop. Just Stop it. Right Now! Stop!

Yes, Facebook was guilty of serious ethical and possible legal (?) violations. And while it was not Mark who signed off on the privacy right infringements, ultimately, it is his company and his fault (as he said). And I am glad that there is accountability and action and investigation so that this type of event might not happen again. Yes, FB screwed up. As others have and others will.

That is not my point.

My point is that we, as a country, must understand more about the devices that we have in our hands, on our desks, and in our offices. Technology in all of its various forms, and the Computer Science that drives that technology MUST start to become “common” vocabulary. Most of the people in that room, especially the ones with ‘tough” questions and ultimatums, had no idea what most of the terms meant were that were being used.
How about all of you? How technological “intelligent” are you? Did you understand the business and technological verbiage being used? Are you a user of technology who barely understands it? Do you just use whatever is popular and what icons come up first? When that technology breaks, do you look helplessly around the room hoping something there is someone there who “gets this new technology?” When the sound does not play on your laptop, do you just suffer without audio until a tech savvy friend comes to your rescue? When the projector in your room says “no input”, do you toss your hands up and tell students that you hate technology? When Wi-Fi goes out at your house, do you have to wait a week for Comcast or AT&T to come out to fix it? When you get that new printer, do you have to pay Uncle Joe or Aunt Cindy to install it? Is the only time when you read books when the TV screen is broken? Do you know what Cloud computing really is?

As a people—as a community—as a country— we have to do better. We have to take ownership of our technology. We need to better know what it is, what it is capable of, what is amazing about it and also of course why we should be careful. We need to understand how it works, what we can do with it, how we can maximize its benefit, but also know it’s limitations. We need to be able to modify, upgrade, program, downgrade, enhance, fix, reset, and yes—even turn on and off our technology. We need to be able to talk about our technology with others in the same ways we talk about verbs, nouns, adjectives, adverbs; in the same way we talk about the cell, an amoeba, and photosynthesis; in the same ways we talk about the Great Wall of China, Civil War, and Great Depression. In the same ways we talk about x = 3, Pythagorean theorem, and area of a circle; in the same ways we talk about deficit and surplus.

Some of you might say, “I don’t understand how my car works, and yet I get around just fine. Why is technology any different?” Yes, but if your car breaks down in the driveway, it just means to have to get a ride to work while Precision Tune fixes your car by lunchtime. Life will go on uneventfully. If our technology fails, or the technology company fails us, or our access to the technology is severed…our business come to a complete standstill. Airplanes don’t fly. Presentations do not happen. Votes are not counted. Transactions are not processed. Products are not made. Vital communication is not sent. Boxes are not delivered. Information is lost. Identities are stolen. It matters.

So where does it start?

In addition to students of today being users of technology, we need them to be creators who build things with technology, who use that technology to create new tools to identify problems that we were not even aware of and solve those problems in ways we could never imagine.

In our schools. Computer Science needs to be a core and integral part of education from the moment students walk into the school house. They are learning to operate and command their technology in the same ways they command a pencil to help them write sentences. They need to be writing as many software programs and apps as they are essays. As often as they are experimenting with test tubes in the chemistry lab and dissecting various critters in the biology lab, they need to be experimenting with robotic sensors and figuring out how to increase the storage capacity of their laptop. In addition to charting the data they collected in their physics lab, they need to figuring how to store and process the billions of bytes of data collected from their project.

We don’t need them to become Computer Scientists, in the same ways we don’t expect them to be become museum curators or poets, but yet we study poetry and history. But we can help them think like Computer Scientists. This wave of Computer Science is not some distant ripple out in the lagoon that may or may not make landfall. It is here. It is all around us. And we need not be afraid of this. We can embrace it. We can surf this wave for decades. But, first we need to understand what Computer Science it, so we can then figure out where and how it fits into education.

In the coming weeks, I have a book coming out called “Defining and Imagining Computer Science K-12” that might just be what we need to take those first steps to be a more intelligent audience, so that Mark Zuckerberg does not have to dumb down his answers so the general public can understand them.

In the meantime, enjoy Mark’s testimony on Capitol Hill.

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Why is CSTA important RIGHT NOW

Over the last several years, the “Computer Science in education ” wave has been building up strength and the last year has been one of the most productive and exciting as we have seen in CS Education. Our annual CSTA conference has increased attendance significantly every year. Schools are adding Computer Science in all grade levels. CS vocabulary ,which has been largely unknown, is starting to become mainstream. Knowing that your iPhone has 64GB of storage memory. The fact that you know how much bandwith you are paying for with your home ISP. The fact that you know what an ISP even is. The fact that robotics are cleaning your living room carpet and we can buy them at Costco. The fact that 3 of your friends have a drone. The fact that your 2nd grader did an Hour of Code and knew more than her teacher. The fact that technology-based summer camps over overflowing. The fact that colleges are recognizing Computer Science as a required course for entrance. The fact that most majors in college have some requirements for CS.

Computer Science is here. Schools are scrambling for teachers. Professional development opportunities for teachers wanting to know how to bring CS into their classroom is huge. Students and parents are demanding that their school offer CS.

And as Spiderman(or maybe his uncle?) said, “…with great power comes great responsibility.”

The political and academic leaders in the US may (or may not) know exactly to go about bringing CS into their education systems. They are needing guidance, resources, and leadership on how best to offer CS in the schools in their cities. CSTA is the only organization on the planet especially for educators who teach Computer Science. For those teachers charged with doing great things in their classroom, there is a place they can look to for help.

CSTA has become the organization that teachers look to for the face of Computer Science. What an awesome time to be part of CSTA! As a member, you can truly be on the ground floor of the CS “movement”. As a board member, you can have direct impact on the type of leadership that CSTA can offer, how and where it offers this leadership, and what this leadership even looks like. CS is one of the most dynamic “disciplines” in our schools. CSTA has the ability to be as dynamic as the field we represent.

If you are at a point in your career where you feel you can make a significant contributor in this space, we would love to have you! Consider applying?

Dave Reed (past board chair) answers some common questions about being a board member here.

Or apply here.

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NCWIT Aspirations in Computing

NCWIT

It is exciting this time of year because hundreds or even thousands of girls across the country will spend hours working on their applications for state and national level recognition by the National Center for Women and Information Technology. Why is this important?

NCWIT is a national organization which is empowered to support, encourage, and recognize females at the high school level who are making Computer Science and technology a part of their academics both now in high school and possibly even at the college level. Hopefully those pursuits will lead to those same females finding their way into the wonderful world of technology as a career choice.

We are seeing Computer Science taking it’s place at the big kids table for the first time in it’s life. Schools and districts across the country are starting(finally!) to look at Computer Science as a core subject as valuable as math, language, and science. Funding and investment from the government, private and public organizations is in the millions of dollars. This is great in so many ways, but especially because more people with different backgrounds,different genders, different cultures, different interests will start to be part of this awesome world of technology.

Job Outlook

What we need is not necessarily more Computer Scientists, but more people who understand and can think like Computer Scientists. We need more people who love biology to also know how to write software. We need people who want to start their own company to also know how to design a website to promote their business. We need more people in research labs to also know how to write their own mobile apps to analyze their data. We need more people in politics to understand big data. We need more people in philanthropy to know how to troubleshoot their organization network. We need more environmentalists to know how to program their own sensors to read data.

In order to do this, the world of technology has to do a better job of being attractive to a wider variety of people. One way we do that is have classes which are not dominated by one single type of person. We need classrooms with students of all races, all religions, all interests, all talents, all ethnicities, and yes….. all genders.

As a teacher trying to hard to help bridge that gender gap in my own classes, I value organizations such as NCWIT who are taking that challenge HEAD ON and making huge strides forward.

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Reflections after the CSTA 2017 conference

I just spent 6 days in Baltimore at the annual #CSTA2017 conference(CSTA = Computer Science Teachers Association). We had 700+ attendees and a record number of ehbitors. All of which is an incredible increase since even last year. Why? What’s going on? (He’s going to tell…He’s going to tell…(name the movie?)) I have many thoughts on that and the current changing nature of Computer Science and Computer Science education. But if I communicate these ideas in text, I would HAVE TO USE ALL CAPS THE WHOLE TIME, and I did not want to. Sooooooooooooo, go grab some coffee, get cumfy in your favorite chair, and sit back and enjoy my video-blog. WARNING: I get pretty into this stuff, so I think it’s like 20 minutes long……WELL WORTH IT I promise.

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Capturing the Imagination

It it so exciting to be part of an educational transformation that I have been waiting on for a decade! “Computer Science” is finally making it’s way into mainstream education. Parents, students, administrators, teachers, politicians, and the world are finally starting to understand what it is, and what it is not. Some schools call keyboarding class “Computer Science”, while others misinterpret Desktop Publishing and word processing and video edit-ing as “Computer Science”. All valuable tool sets in life, but not Computer Science. So what then is “Computer Science?”

Great question.

First, why do I keep putting Computer Science in between “” ? I guess I could have put it in ALL CAPS? Ha!

Because the phrase itself is not accurate.

The definition of Computer Science is changing

Ask 100 teachers from K- 12 and also from the college level and you might get 101 different answers (one might answere twice). Over the last 3 decades, the world of technology and the tools that power and give life to that technology have changed more rapidly and dynamically than any industry in recent history. For starters, the phrase “Computer Science” itself we have been using to represent all computing and technology-related areas of study. And at one time it was a narrowly defined area specifically targeting a very select type of person as well as very specific skillset; it was targeting(and hit dead center) the hard core engineer-minded person. That is where the traditional stereotypes came from. But over the last 3 decades, we’ve seen “Computer Science” become the backbone for most industries, much like reading and writing. Think about it: experts in any industry who also know how to create new digital tools to solve their problems quickly become the leaders in those industries. So we have seen Computer Science expand into, contort with, morph through, and merge alongside areas that can take advantage of what it offers: artificial intelligence, biocomputation, engineering, graphics and animation, ,human-computer interaction, business information systems, networking, cybersecurity, media, social media, people, aerodynamics, modeling, and economics. Just to name a few

Why this sudden recent attention and fuss about Computer Science?

People are starting to understand what it is, and hence, its value. What parent doesn’t want their child to have leading edge skills of creation as they enter the world?!

It’s quite simple. “Computer Science” (representing the various areas I talked about above) is quite simply a way of thinking and set of tools that allow a person to “capture their imagination.”

“……capture their imagination….”

Powerful.

What the heck does that even mean?

I’m not talking about simply jotting down your ideas on a piece of paper (although that is part of the process). I am not talking about getting a paint brush and drawing that image in your mind (although that is part of the process). I am not talking about making notes in the margins of the book you are reading. I am talking about taking your interactive & dynamic imagination and ideas(crazy ones accepted!) and bringing that to life on the screen or device in front of you.

In English class, a teacher asks you to think about something and perhaps write an essay or a poem. After you write that down, it can be read by others. In an art workshop, your teacher asks you to draw a picture of something beautiful and so you add color and lines to a canvas. And those are certainly beautiful, but they are also permanent; they are not interactive.(well, except for those cool 3D illusions things where the picture comes into focus, or those New York sidewalk paintings where you look from a certain angle to see the scene.)

Digital tools are interactive. They allow the tools themselves to become fully customizable by whoever is using them. They allow tools to even create other tools. Software can be designed to allow the user to have as many choices, selections, and options as wanted. And it can be used differently every time it is used. And it can be modified to expand it’s functionality. A smartphone app can incorporate the environment through sensors such location, temperature, angle, proximity, radio waves, and force…… and then also user-controlled elements such as touch screen, voice, selections, eye direction, even thoughts. A device can be an autonomous car, robotic arm, a Hololens, scientific instrument, a drone, or a camera. When times change, or demand changes, or ideas change, or needs change….so can the software. But maybe the software is fine, but the hardware changes? Maybe someone imagines a better, slicker, cheaper, nicer, different, or newer widget. Awesome. Now, we have have captured imaginations, even as they change in real time.

It never ends.

That is one reason why Computer Science is becoming mainstream. It never ends. Your project can always be updated, enhanced, and redesigned. New devices can always be incorporated. Fresh and even off-the-wall ideas can always be incorporated. Computer Science is the environment and set of tools that allows for that. In my own classes, we design apps, games, and simulations. I tell students, “…you will never be done with it, but you can get to a point where it is your best work at the time and it does what you wanted it to do at that time. There is always something you can add or a feature you can implement or improve. So go ahead and turn it in now, but continue to work on it on your own time long after it is submitted….” Many do just that.

In the project-based Computer Science class, there is no chapter that we have to finish. There is no lesson that signifies the “end of the learning.” There is no specific skillset or language that is all you need. It’s just time that is the bounds. The end of the quarter, semester, or school year are what determine the “end.” But because of the technology itself, they can continue to work on their project on their own phone, laptop, tablet, or smartTV at home, from anywhere on the planet (oh yeah, and also in a plane with wi-fi). Oter subject areas might stop for the summer or spring break, but Computer Science tends to keep on keepin’ on.

Different tools…..same goal

Apparently the saying and book, “Everything I Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten” really holds true even in, especially in, this world of technology. When we are 5 years old, the teacher asks us to draw pictures in our sketchbook, build things during craft time, use the colored markers to draw on the whiteboard. They are developing the skills that “capture imaginations.” Those tools were colored pencils, pipe cleaners, glue, glitter(ugh!) ,markers, stencils, and easels. Now in Computer Science we are doing the same thing, “capturing their imagination”, but doing so with a different set of tools, where the tools are constantly changing to handle the real world problems that are also constantly changing. The tools themselves are created through Computer Science.

Awesome.

That’s why Computer Science is at the forefront of educational conversations today.

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