The silver lining of corona in education

Schools are infamous for slow change. Yes, most schools have made more change in just weeks than they made in years. Of course there were mistakes, gaps, failures, and challenges….but there were also surprises, problems solved, advances, and tremendous successes.

What we experienced from March – June was(is) not necessarily what school is going to be long term. However, technology allowed us, in many areas, to continue some level of learning despite a deadly virus all around us. This would simply not have been possible 10 years ago. Yes, there were some areas where connection and technology was limited, but that was also the case before this all happened. In many cases, teachers were able to provide that vital and needed connection with school. I am not talking about teaching Shakespeare, Boolean variables, causes of the War of 1812, or Pythagorean theorem; I am referring to that idea that education—for many students— is part of the path to their future. It is one of the places where students learn the skills to become active contributors to society. Teachers providing that connection with school, without knowing it, were helping keep that dream alive. That is what we experienced from March – June.

Tough times like this do not necessary create new types of learning, but instead simply take what was already there and amplify it. What that means is teachers that were at least willing to try , think out of the box, and be thoughtful were able to make much more progress than they ever imagined. Schools that were proactive were able to provide learning when many thought not possible. Educators did not simply throw up their hands. Instead, quite the opposite– it was all hands on deck. Teachers in all grade levels found that regardless of their level of comfort with technology….online learning and project-based environments were in fact able to enable them to offer authentic learning experiences. And if you asked these teachers what they would do different or better next time, they already have new ideas in mind. Most of the teachers I talk with already have numerous nuggets to take back to their face-to-face classroom as well. Many are ready for(or at least expecting) what will come next.

That is why the fall semester need not be something we are afraid of, but instead excited about. Will it be different? Yes. Will it be like school in the past? No. Will there be failures? Absolutely. Will there be huge wins? Without question. Will we have to make adjustments on the fly? Yep. Will it be easy? No. But education has never been easy.

As I said before, times like these amplify what was already happening, but instead of spending a year transitioning into a new pedagogy or trying out a new project idea, we are doing it in weeks or even days.

Tools like Microsoft Teams help us connect remotely

Why is this working? Mainly because students are resilient, flexible and adaptable. Educators who are willing to be open minded have also been resilient, flexible and adaptable. Schools that charge tuition, including higher education and private education, have no choice in the matter; they must adjust their value propositions (read my thoughts on this vital realization) to justify the dollars coming in. Those schools that do not adjust will not survive. This is nothing new…these crazy times have simply sped up the process.

What am I excited about in the coming “future” (which has already arrived) of learning?

Higher education will have to change how they sell college life. Parents and students over the last decade who went on admission tours were given glimpses of rock climbing walls, new construction, football stadiums, dorm rooms, and Greek life housing. Little was discussed about the academics. Yet now with a limited campus, the academics are all that they have. And isn’t that what college is supposed to about anyway? The pursuit of learning?

Interactive learning is the new norm. Projects, problems, hands-on activities have taken the place of worksheets, multiple choice tests, and even exams. How we spend our time when we are physically or virtually with students has changed dramatically. What we want students doing with the limited time we are allotted out of class has also changed. Lecture simply does not work in virtual learning.

We are learning that testing is not the only way to evaluate learning.

The time table of learning is finally a discussion we can have. 7 periods a day for 5 days a week is incredibly not conducive to good learning.

The traditional schedule of school running from August – June is also a discussion we can have. Is our current model the best model to take advantage of the world, as it will be the next couple of years?

Doing the even problems at the end of the chapter style of homework is dead. Using homework as real tool outside of class…as opposed to busy work is what has replaced it.

What is considered a core class is now not clearly defined. This is a good thing. Students are demanding that classes like art, music, and physical education are a regular part of their virtual day. These are the classes that offer a complete different experience than traditional core subjects. They provide a needed change of pace, while being incredibly valuable in ways that traditional “academic” classes cannot be. Are we finally realizing that these classes are possibly even more valuable during times like these. Mental and physical health are far more important than solving for x.

High school graduation requirements in high schools are finally on the table for discussion

College admission requirements and the admissions process itself is finally changing.

Standardized testing is finally not a top priority in schools. This may be the best news of all. Standardized testing, in the way that we do it and use it, drains the life out of our schools.

We are finally transitioning from occasionally incorporating technology in the classroom…to technology just being a natural tool that allows us to interact with students and student to interact with subject material.

The place of traditional textbooks in education is finally a topic for discussion

Digital portfolios, presentations, and artifacts are being used as a legitimate tools to document learning. This is an indicator that we are looking to demonstration of learning as opposed to regurgitation of content.

One of the side dishes of silver that is also coming along with this craziness is that parents are now having an appreciation and understanding of school, learning, and teaching….in ways they never have before. The fact that ‘it takes a village’ is now more true than ever.

We are reevaluating what grading means…and where and how it fits into learning.

Innovation, exploration, and experimentation have become required skills in successful teaching.

So, while there are many unknowns in the coming months for all of us in education, this is not necessarily a negative. After all, isn’t learning itself just helping people learn about unknowns?

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The value proposition in education

What happens in before and after classes is where the real value is

No question that schools earn their tuition when students are on campus. There are great academics, clubs, service projects, sports, study groups, friends and peers, amazing learning experiences in the classroom, fun gathering places, assemblies, speakers, cool research projects, activities, groups, student government, career search assistance, art exhibits, school newspapers, intramurals, student demonstrations, practices, games, extra help, and of course amazing faculty, and staff who will drop whatever they are doing to help a student or parent. The energy on a school campus is electric.

In great schools, it is what happens outside of class that makes them great. Of course great academics are the foundation upon which all that happens, but these “extra” elements are where the real value comes from.

As we look to finish out the year virtually. As we look to fill our summer programs virtually. Even as we consider what the fall semester will look like, private schools, universities, and colleges must be asking a different question: What is our new value proposition?

Online learning, in some ways has leveled the playing field. Within the schools that are able to offer online education to its student population, most are getting by teaching math, science, history, art, computer science, language, and even physical education. And yes some creative teachers have found ways to be more effective than others in that teaching, but overall the new learning is relatively equal. What I mean is that there are not really any visible way to distinguish features, at least not enough to distinguish excellent learning vs good learning.

Private schools K-12, private and public universities and colleges, suddenly have to define what it is that they can offer that distinguishes them from their competition. In some cases depending on where you are located and who your audience is, just offering classes online might be enough, or at least minimally enough. Or is it?

What are you doing above and beyond to earn tuition dollars

Tuition, whether to a K-12 private school, public university, or private college can go from a few thousand to tens of thousands of dollars. Our traditions, extra-curriculars, intangibles, and activities that go on inside of the buildings on campus are what justify that amount.

How can you justify that amount when those elements are no longer part of the equation?

You have to define your value proposition. Why would people pay you money, especially when that money is hard to come by… especially if there is a similar product elsewhere for less, or even free. What are you doing for your constituencies that others are not? Are online classes alone worth the value of the tuition? Are you able to offer the exceptional quality of learning online? Better yet, do you even know how you will determine that? What else are you doing?

There are 2 things you have to do right now.

Make it clear to your constituencies that you are trying hard, pushing the envelope, reaching out, thinking out-of-the-box, experimenting, taking advantage of every tool you can. You are doing everything in your power to earn their tuition dollars. Your community must be aware of everything that you are doing. Communication, marketing and advertising are vital. Get the word out. Get in the paper. Get on TV. Get on the radio. Get on social media. Send regular correspondence via email. Make phone calls. Send out newsletters, surveys, and brochures. Let the name of your school be in their mind throughout this. The best complaint you can have now is that you are communicating too much. Let your school be a known in the middle of these unknown times.

Go back to your mission statement. Read and re-read it, and then get your best team members together and figure out how your school can accomplish your mission given the new circumstances. Think hard, study the words, what can you do right now, think in-the-box and think-out-of-the-box, what is at the core of the mission. And by the way, failure is an option here!! Meaning: it is OK to try things. Some of those ideas may not work out as planned, but your students and families will appreciate the attempt. Get back up and try again.

In times like these with more unknowns than knowns, schools have to re-define their value propositions.

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We have some choices to make right now.

We teachers have some choices that we have to make right now. Many of us have established some connection with students via technology, but what happens during those times of connection is tremendously varied. Social media has offered us numerous experts who can suggest ideas, strategies, and even best practices—and yes it is at least a start—but that advice is just as varied.

What are your top 3?

I don’t think it is really that difficult to provide excellence in learning, even when the element of “unknown” is overarching everything we do. First, let’s agree that we do not have a definition of what excellent in teaching looks like in this situation. What we are doing now is not true online learning, it is more of a stop gap measure—a temporary solution to get us through unprecedented times. So, we cannot expect these teachers to be providing the same caliber of education as they might in person. This is a CRUCIAL point to understand for teachers, parents, administrators, politicians, students, unions, and state leaders.

So, what then can we do?

Simple. I want you to do 2 things for me:

  1. think about what you do, why you do it, and what you love about your discipline, and what you love about education. Now, if I know teachers, you have a list a mile (sorry world outside of USA…I mean a kilometer) long. Now, prioritize that list with your most vital elements at the top….and you cannot list all of them for a tie at the top. YES, I know you well. Now, choose your top 3.
  2. Think about your discipline, area of study, skill area or subject area. You have 2 months left this year and you know how far along you were before Corona hit. What were you originally hoping to get through by the end of the “normal” semester? Now, prioritize that list with your most vital content/topics/skills at the top….and you cannot list all of them for a tie at the top. YES, again I know you well. Now, choose your top 3, but make sure these are specifics, not general topics like “history of the world” (Yes I know you well). And if any of you put the word “test” or “quiz” on any list, remove it immediately. If you put the word “grades” in either list, then also give yourself permission to remove it immediately. Now, choose your top 3.

Ok, now you have your marching orders. Take your top 3 from each list and merge them together. This is all you focus on for the rest of the semester. I am not suggesting the other items are not important, but they are not going to be part of what you do. So, yes, grade level teachers should collaborate on one (or both?) of these lists. Yes, department chairs should help department members with these lists. But, I will also challenge you that it is 100% ok if your lists are different. In fact, I will suggest that is a good thing.

Work your way UP the pyramid

How to do that? My “expert” advice (you knew it was coming, right) is this: Make sure the time students spend focused on your class is a combination of multi-media and multi-stimuli experiences. Let them do some research, let them do some “problems”, let them discuss, let them debate, let them think out loud, let them present something, let them play a game, let them respond to a video, let them record their own video, let them analyze real world events related to your subject area, let them collaborate with other students to make something, let them read, let them draw, let them express their ideas, let them read an article, let them do some writing, let them peer review other student work, let them demonstrate their learning, let them use a camera to take a picture, let them interview someone, let them interview each other, let them teach another student, let them reach out to students in other parts of the world(PLEASE include this one). And if you can relate the current state of the world (aka corona) to your topic area, DO IT. If you are struggling for what to do, then you can always use (nerd alert) Blooms Taxonomy to give you some ideas–but try to work your way UP the list

You can make online learning engaging, interactive, and valuable.

For 2 decades, I have had a motto that I still believe holds true regardless of where and how learning happens:

Immerse your students. Let them see it, feel it, engage with it, create something with it, struggle with it, and learn to love it. Find hands-on experiences that bring together their imagination, your passion, their passion, and their learning. Students don’t mind hard work if they connect with it.

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The case against global catastrophe due to exponential technology

Robots attacking humankind

How is that for a title, huh!?

I ran across an interesting article on LinkedIn this morning. It was about the possibility of a global catastrophic disaster because of exponential technology

A.I. is going to find a way to do away with humankind. Genetically modified organisms will overrun our ecosystems . Nanotech will run rampant and destroy earth. Not sure if those are my top concerns right this minute—those things might happen someday, but I do feel like we have some time before then. However I do hear and see more immediate concerns, fears, and opinions about our current technologies that I wanted to address. Many of the thoughts from the public come from a misunderstanding, or lack of understanding, of technology. Often times simplified overreactions based on inaccurate assumptions and incorrect information.

Robots can do repetitive work that humans don’t enjoy

For example

I am about as techno-techy as the come, but I consider myself lucky to have had the incredible opportunity of knowing a world before cell phones, without internet, without hard disks, without GPS, without Alexa and Siri, and without online shopping. We used actual bulletin boards as our social media “walls”. Mix tapes were our Spotify.

Facebook and Instagram feed before Facebook and Instagram existed

Then we started to see some cool, but still hard-to-use technologies. I remember my dad and I would drive 30 minutes to go to the Commodore Vic-20 users group every month. The movie War Games came out and shocked the world about a computer that could “think” and control military decisions, and yet it was a human that actually saved the world…by helping the technology understand how humans think. One of my friends had a part time job at Clemson numbering punch cards in a big stack. Dad and I spent hours typing in page after page of assembly language code(Adam will love this) from Compute magazine just to play a game. I was excited when the technology advanced so I could actually load a saved game—it took over an hour, so I used to start the load before school so when I got home, it was ready.

Fast forward to 2020 to a dramatically different world. I have more power in my old cell phone than NASA had when they sent rockets to the moon. GPS can guide my navigation within just a few feet anywhere on the planet. Almost all knowledge is available online and searchable at my finger tips. The newest smart phones have cameras with better vision than my eye. I can see who’s at my front door while I am sitting on the beach in Hawaii. I can get an online masters college degree from one of the top schools on the planet without leaving the living room. You can take a class at M.I.T or Harvard for free or spend a few months earning a nano-degree at Udacity. I can communicate with my wife in real time while flying in an airplane. Cars can autonomously navigate and drive with accident rates thousands of times better than humans. Students in high school are learning how to write software programs in a Computer Science class that at one time would have only been possible to write by engineers. Survival rates for terrible diseases are improving. A.I. can detect and interpret data that would take humans decades to do.

So I have seen the world before, during, and “after” (sorta) the emergence of easily accessible technology. Tremendous good has come from advancements in technology.

Technology has allowed us to know things, detect things, understand things, respond to things, fix things, make things, learn things, ask things, relate things, predict things… ways simply not possible before.

And yet the nay-sayers, haters, and trollers of our cancel culture seem to only identify what is wrong, or could go wrong, with technology. Many of these observations stem from fear of the unknown, lack of understanding, misunderstanding, or just an inability to see the world with different eyes. There is some truth to what they are saying though. While there is much that can go right with well managed and planned technology, there are also things that can go wrong with lack of planning and thoughtfulness.

Model T

Did people think the car was gonna ruin society?

When Ford mass produced their car, I am sure there were those who said these automobiles would ruin society as they knew it. So, yes as that technology developed, society had to figure out new problems (which never existed before) such as accidents, traffic, pollution, road infrastructure, and fuel. Entire new industries cropped up as a result. Society had to adapt. Thousands of years ago, when we learned to write things down on paper or stone, were there those who thought we would stop talking to each other…that we would lose our connections with each other because the elders were no longer telling the stories to the younger generation?

I have been in technology for 25+ years, the one thing I am sure of is that technology is less about hardware and software and gadgets and more about people that use it. Ultimately, the technologies we develop allow us to make a better world for people…so we can be healthier, be safer, have more fun, be more connected, be more effective, be more efficient, understand more about each other, and learn more about our planets resources. But as Spiderman says, “…with great power comes great responsibility…” I am not suggesting that technology is all glory and doesn’t come with great responsibility. In fact, quite the opposite—We have a huge obligation.

Dr. Malcolm asks great questionsBut, we don’t have to be afraid of the amazing technologies that are changing the world around us.

We do need to think deeply about it, be purposeful, ask lots of questions, be thoughtful, be ethical and moral, in other words manage the progression and incorporation of technology. Otherwise it manages itself—or worse—it just happens. Dr. Malcolm identifies this in Jurassic Park; he questions whether the scientists were ever asking whether or not they should, as opposed to whether or not they could. He suggests life will find a way. Hmmmm…will technology, too, find a way? It’s good question.

lawlessness and thoughtlessness in technology

We must ask questions like why , why not, how else, what if? When we turn a blind eye, when we have entire generations who don’t understand the world around them, when our schools are decades behind the world around them, when we don’t even know the questions to ask, this is when technology finds its own way. This is when things just progress with no foresight or intention. It becomes the wild west where laws and culture clash, and people are unsure of the world around them. Or you have entire technologies that exist, like A.I. in today’s world, when the majority of the human population has no idea what it is or how it can be used.

Senate Hearings

Zuckerburg was amazed at the lack of understanding of modern technology in business

In the Senate hearings with Facebook, we saw a sad disconnect between the business world and politicians. How we handle privacy, business transactions, communication, information, transportation, and entertainment is completely different than 25 years ago.

But we are the people. We get to decide what happens in our world. We get to make decisions about what we want and don’t want. We get to decide what and how we teach our younger generations(although be careful, they are also able to learn on their own). We get to decide what we buy. We get to decide who we support. We get to decide what questions to ask, and also how we respond. In short, we get to decide what technology we invest in, use, improve, buy, and promote. Businesses decide how they will incorporate technology into their products and consumers decide what they are willing to “allow” by voting with their wallets and votes and picket signs. I am not suggesting that technology is going to advance anyway, so we just accept it. Far from it. Technology will advance as much as we want it to…in the ways we decide, based on where we spend our research dollars, time, and effort. Our laws can help keep us moving forward but in ways that are fair, ethical, and legal. Our policies can help us decide which moral compasses we use to guide us. Our gut will help us do what’s right.

We are truly in the infancy stages of the “Age of Digital Technology”, and we do not need to be afraid of it if we think about technology intentionally, and take advantage of the best that it has to offer us. But, we as a people, have to be better at understanding technology, so that we can manage it, as opposed to the other way around. If possible, I would prefer to avoid a global catastrophic disaster. That would ruin the weekend.

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A.I. in K-12

I just spent two days at a grassroots conference in Arlington, VA with people from around the country and overseas. It was called “Teaching A.I. in K-12”, a subgroup of AAAI 2019 Fall Symposium series. The 75 members at the conference were researchers, college professors, K-12 educators, industry experts, software developers, A.I. programmers, business owners, change agents in diversity, and non-profit leaders. Anyone who could bring added value to the conversation was there. Kudos to the AI4K12 Initiative team

  • David Touretzky, Carnegie Mellon University (chair)
  • Christina Gardner-McCune, University of Florida (co-chair)
  • Fred Martin, University of Masachusetts Lowell, past CSTA board chair
  • Deborah Seehorn, CSTA

that put this conference together. It was one of the most well run, well planned, and well received conferences I have attended.

A few interesting takeaways from the conference…..

A group of young women from Moldova, in Eastern Europe, built a crowd-sourcing app to help residents of their country access safe drinking water sources. In a country with a high rate of water-borne Hepatitis A, this app has the potential to make an enormous difference in the countrys public health.

Safe Drinking Water

Hal Abelson, creator of App Inventor talked about a new vocabulary word that has been missing from the conversation in Computer Science. Many of us in project-based learning Computer Science classes also believe in this: the idea of Computational Action….as an extension to Computational Thinking. The idea that producing an actual artifact using learned tools is as vital as the learning itself. Not that either is better than the other, but that they complement each other. He talked about some girls in school who developed an app for their community which helped local residents identify places where fresh water could be found.

That was cool because it addresses the pedagogical side of CS and A.I. education.

Inherent ethical issues with facial recognition. It assumes good training and model creation.

Now, let me describe the coolest lunch ever. Remember the kinds of people who I said was attending the conference? What that leads to is real conversations and discussions happening from sun up to sundown, all day long for 2 days. I sat there with 8 people from around the world (Brazil, France, US, Canada, and U.K. ) all from different backgrounds, jobs, cultures, educational philosophies, interpretations and understandings of A.I….and we talked about the ethics behind A.I., the practical applications, the strengths and weaknesses, what we were afraid of and what we were excited about. It was exactly the type of discussions we should behaving in all disciplines. For education in any discipline to have relevance, it has to be connected to the real world. The goal of this conference was to do just that: to figure out what A.I. looks like in K-12 education.

NSF Program Director, Chia Shen, jokingly put up an empty slide and said she wanted to share with us some details about the current research in A.I. K-12 education. Then she said, “Thank you”. There is no research. We need it. We need people to explore, experiment, create, build, define, understand…not only A.I. , but how we get A.I. into the hands and minds of the current generation. Microsoft presented about an amazing STEM collaboration with NASA they are letting students use live data and big data along with data science. Data Science is yet another discussion we need to be having but with our math teachers; it needs to be part of the core math curriculum.

In A.I. and M.L., we have a chance to help define what is taught, when it is taught, and why it is taught. But equally important, if not more important, is that we are also having the discussion of how it is taught. We are talking about pedagogy as a forethought, not as an afterthought.

What we have found out in K-12 with Computer Science is that it is received best when students are interacting with it through hands-on projects in student-centric learning environments. The various technologies that we use to are so engaging and interactive that students respond best when their learning reflects that same energy. The entire CS AP Principles, one of the most successful curricular rollouts ever, embraces this philosophy. We can extend that into A.I.

So where are we with A.I. in K12? It is clear that challenges we face involve the lack of tools, the high level of math needed to understand the algorithms, access by underrepresented student populations, a general understanding of what A.I. and M.L. (machine learning) are, the ethical dilemmas that are inherent in M.L., and the programming skills needed to implement A.I.

I am studying A.I. and M.L. every free moment I have. I am exploring it with my students in my CS classes at school. I am reading books, articles, taking classes, partnering with A.I. professionals, going to A.I. conferences, presenting about A.I. , and trying to understand something that was not really even accessible or even practical to know until a few years ago.

The AI4K12 Initiative has proposed a set of 5 big ideas in Artificial Intelligence modeled after the 7 Big ideas in Computer Science. A.I. and C.S. must be core subjects in our schools in the same ways as language, math, and science. And not just a senior elective, but as a regular part of school K-12. There has to be common knowledge and understanding that the average person understands; we cannot let A.I. be A.I. for the academic elite, it has to be A.I. for all(or at least many).

Some of the ideas I talk about here I also address in my book, if the topic of project-based CS interests you.

The conversation has started. Go get a book, take a class, read an article, watch a Youtube video, type in a few lines of code, or simply ask a question. Get started….


A few cool things you can check out

What ethical dilemmas are in A.I? and

What is A.I. and can I explore and experiment with it?

Wanna really dive deep in Neural networks? Yep, check this out.


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Black Friday in Computer Science: 50% off!

This CS post is for non-Computer Science folks who are stuck on the couch ‘cause they ate too much and are tired from shopping.

So, in addition to the new smart TV you bought at Walmart for 50% off, did you know 50% off also applies to COMPUTER SCIENCE?

Get your CS nerd hat on, sit back, and enjoy a few moments.

One of the cool things we do in programming is something called sorting and searching. It is used behind the scenes in many of the activities YOU use daily. For example, when you search something on Amazon and then you can sort the results by price, quality, or ratings. When you go to the library and look up the new Jack Ryan book in the online search tool. Old timers will remember we used to use a card catalog in the library to look those up! Those same old timers also remember when we sent holiday cards, we had an address deck where we could scroll through our list of addresses. CD music lovers might sort their music collections by band name or album total. Teenagers scroll (i.e. search) through the music tracks on their phone looking for their favorite tune while studying. My brother has every Disney DVD movie EVER made in a huge bookcase in the playroom. I am sure he sorts it alphabetically.

For faster searching, the fact that the things we are searching are in order makes a difference, otherwise we are just going through randomly 1 by 1 asking repeatedly “is this it?” “No”, “is this it?” “No”, “is this it?” “No”, “is this it?” “No”, “is this it?” “No”. If they are in no particular order, we might find it on the first try, or it might take us until the last one. Right?

Let’s go one step further….if my brother is looking for the Frozen DVD, he can scan the movies and quickly zero in on that DVD. If he sees Cinderella, he knows Frozen is to the RIGHT. If he sees Maleficent, he knows it is to the LEFT.

Does that make sense?

Lets get even more efficient

Searching for your Frozen DVD should not take too long

Say my brother has 1000 DVD movies. And I challenged him to only look at 10 titles TOTAL, while searching(in other words, he can’t just scan across all 1000-–that would take forever), could he find the movie he is looking for quickly?

Well, yes he can. In fact, mathematically speaking, it should NEVER take more than 10 “looks”.

This is the idea behind binary searching. Each time we ask “is this it?”, we can eliminate a bunch of ones that we know are not it.

In fact, each time we can reduce by 50% ! OH YEAH!! It’s Black Friday in Nerdtown

Here is how it works (aka: the algorithm):

Within the collection of (pre-sorted) DVD movies, always find and look at the title in the exact middle. If the title is “less than” that middle title, then we know that all the titles to the RIGHT are not it, so we can “discard” them. If the title is “greater than” that middle title, then we know that all the titles to the LEFT are not it, so we can “discard” them. So each time we “look”, we can discard 50% of the titles. Repeat that process with the remaining DVDs, discarding 50% each time. You will find it quickly.

If you think about it…

1000(titles to start with) -> 500 -> 250 -> 125 -> 64 -> 32 -> 16 -> 8 -> 4 -> 2 -> 1(found it)

This algorithm will work for any quantity of DVDs, each time you “look”, just keep reducing by 50% until you are down to 1. Yes, it is possible you find it before the 1.

And this is not just true at Thanksgiving, it also works at Easter time.

And old timers will recognize the phone book in this example

Anyway, just a little CS to brighten you weekend, and to save you 50%!

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NCWIT Aspirations in Computing


We are in one of the most exciting times of year in K-12 education 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 and why am I so excited?

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 academic career in high school, possibly even at the college level, and better yet in the business world.

Schools and districts across the country are looking at Computer Science as a vital subject as valuable as math, language, and science. Funding promotion, and investment from the government is really starting to happen. Private and public organizations like Google, Code, and Microsoft are putting their networks and resources behind the movement. 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. For decades, those voices were not part of the landscape.

Job Outlook

What we need is not necessarily more Computer Scientists, but more people who understand and can think like Computer Scientists—and are able to create with technology, not just use it. 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 buy and program their own sensors to read data. And our students in school right now are those leaders in the very near future. That is why this is so important RIGHT NOW!

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.

Encourage the females in your high schools to consider applying today.

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A.I. in the CS classroom

Over the last year, I have researched, studied, pondered, and explored what Artificial Intelligence is and what it looks like…but from the perspective in a high school Computer Science classroom. It was exciting to see several A.I. related sessions at both ISTE and CSTA, two of the leading ED Tech and CS conferences focused on K-12. In my Birds of a Feather session for AI, there were 20+ teachers interested in bringing this into their CS classes. Very promising and exciting. I’ll be anxious to see if some of the other major conferences, such as FETC,CUE, TCEA, and BETT accept A.I. in CS proposals.

So, let me first just state for the record, I am certainly not an authority in this area, so my observations are limited and my interpretations perhaps incorrect. However, I am an experienced educator comfortable and confident in exploring new technologies and developing project-based “curriculum”. Expanding that understanding is my main motivation for this post.

Detecting actual text within an image

When I looked out over the various sites, resources, books, and programs related to teaching AI in the CS classroom….what I noticed was that there is an extreme polarization. On one side, you have easy-accessible A.I. demonstrations and sampling; these are the sites that have sample AI “Demos” for you to explore such as uploading an image and it describing the contents for you, or uploading an image of a street scene, and it returning the text of all the street signs, or just picking up your iPhone and talking into it.

Determining the scene based on content objects. Is it a library, classroom, or restaurant?

We experience this type of AI interaction every day: type in any phrase into Google search and it will figure out what you meant to say and what you most likely want. Login to NetFLix and it accurately recommends other movies you might enjoy. My point being that we can USE AI now as easily as we can buy chewing gum at the gas station.

A.I. is one of those “technologies” (or use of technology) that has the potential to disrupt civilization as we know it, in the same way that air travel , the internet, and penicillin changed life and culture and possibilities. And yet here we are using it as easily as we make a phone call. But few people “get it”. Few people get the decades of math and Computer Science that have culminated in arguably the most powerful tool known to mankind in our time. We use the word “A.I.” as a punchline to a joke or a catchall phrase in a sitcom or best seller book. And yet ask 99% of the population anything about A.I. and they have no idea.

This cannot be. We cannot have a tool which we all use, yet none of us know its power, the ethical issues that are inherent, the moral issues that arise, its limitations, and its incorrectness. We don’t really know how to build things using it. We just know how to use it. And that is dangerous on so many levels.

A bit of vital background: This was exactly where we were 5 years ago with Computer Science. Since then we have made tremendous strides in getting CS to the forefront of educational discussions and policy. Schools, districts, states, and even countries are embracing the awesomeness of (and value of knowing) CS and incorporating it into their schools, in the same ways that history, math, language, and science are part. What this means is that there is finally starting to be a common vocabulary and understanding among ordinary non-cs people as well. And that is important because it is vital that the leaders and change-makers in the various industries and governments on the planet have a grasp of how CS can impact, enhance, and extend their industries and countries. We need the experts of those industries to also have an understanding of the tools and the tool-making skills needed to use technology to address and solve the problems specific to their world.

In the same way that Computer Science and technology have becomes the backbone of most industries and economies on the planet, A.I. is quickly becoming an integral part of all aspects of business and everyday life across the globe. It is crucial that leaders and contributors also have an intelligent understanding of the tools. For this to happen, that knowledge and understanding must be part of our educational system. The reason that Computer Science was inaccessible to most people for decades was because it was really built and used by the “elite.” If you were not an engineer or mathematician, then there was little chance you would have access or even the ability to use the technology. Over the decades, what truly brought computing to the desktop was the accessibility—the fact that the tools were able to be accessed by the non-elite. Educated people in a wide variety of industries and cultures started to use CS in their daily life.

Which brings us back to A.I.

We love our IPhones with Siri, but can we truly appreciate it?

This is exactly where we need A.I. to be, but not over 2 decades. We need it NOW. Yesterday, in fact. While A.I. has been around for a long time, it has really only recently become the front and center powerful tool that it is in companies. Organizations that are thriving and innovating are taking advantage of the incredible (and even amazing) capabilities of A.I. It is not a wave that is coming– it is a wave that is already around us. It’s like we’re floating around on rafts wondering why were are moving this way and that way and sometimes even flipping over, and none of us have an understanding of how currents or waves work. We are just bouncing around randomly.

But, those who succeed using technology learn to control the place of that technology by intentionally thinking about, planning, testing, researching, and implementing systems that incorporate it. That is exact opposite of just letting the technology “happen” to them. I fear we are in a place where most small businesses, and many large business, have no idea how to bring A.I. into their business models. So, with the power and speed at which A.I. is powering its way into society, we don’t really have a choice. Whether we understand it or not, it is coming. It is happening to us , and to them. It is not a matter of if, and not even a matter of when, but just a matter of fact. In some cases, it is even yesterday’s news.

The math behind A.I. can be complicated

Now, back to the current landscape of AI in CS education. The other extreme of what I see with A.I. is the highly technical “mathy” side of it. It is far beyond the typical high school student, and perhaps even beyond many college students. The point being that it is too far in the other direction to be accessible to the general population. I tried several of the tutorials and sample code sessions that let you dabble with A.I. (for example this and this) Frequently, I found myself blindly typing in code, or changing the values of some important variables, but really not knowing what I was doing, even though I had the descriptions and explanation. That experience does not translate into a high school classroom well. Students blindly typing in code with such heavy math will be of little value. One of our top math students at the school spent several months in an independent study scenario learning to program true A.I. He was our top math student and even he said he was at the edge of his understanding. I asked him to present a lesson to his CS-4 Honors class, and even lead them through a sample project. While a couple were able to keep up, for most it was a fly by.

So, what I am looking for is something in between. I am excited because at ISTE and CSTA, I found several people on that same journey. I learned of some tools which might be part of this “middle ware” that is needed. I explored some tools which let you visualize what these variables mean(Tensorflow playground). AI4K12 is leading some excellent conversations. AI-4-all is also advancing the path. Companies like Microsoft, Amazon, Google, and IBM are making connections in the K-12 space to let these ideas be part of our academic discussions about BEFORE students are off to college. Sites such as are the first of their kind to let students explore this world in ways that are accessible to ordinary people.(i.e. not only super techies). Companies like DeepAI and DeepStack are bridging this gap at the corporate level as well.

And this brings us back to me and my classroom for the ’19-20 academic year. What am I going to do? I am definitely going to introduce A.I. through some of those cool demos. Google Experiments has some amazing and wide-varied A.I. projects that are sure to inspire minds from any background and interest. That helps build the diversity and inclusion we seek in CS as well. Then I will let the students move along that line between the front end and back end. We will explore some of ideas and principles behind A.I. , looking at what training means, what models are and how to configure programs to create and use them. We’ll look at different types of models and the differences between them, the advantages and strengths of different types of model creation… as well as how students can manipulate the parameters that impact how those models are created. We will move from just giving students access to some of the tools that can do that….to actually writing their own code that incorporates the modeling and models they built, then use those models to make predictions/results that enable to them to create an actual product. I believe that if a student goes through an experience like that, at least they have a grasp of what this technology is, its strengths and weakness, it’ power and limitations, and its potential. I’ll tweak and modify and add and remove as I figure out what works, and as I find new and better resources.

If you see yourself anywhere along this path, let’s connect. It may be that those venturing in A.I. right now can help build what eventually others in K-12 might use in their own schools.

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We need as many Computer Science minors as we need Computer Science majors.

First, let’s recognize that there are variety of majors that fall under what I am referring to as Computer Science. Decades ago, when CS first came onto the college scene, there were few choices…maybe Computer Information Systems, Computer Science, and a few select others.

In my book, I actually listed 20+ majors that fit into what I am talking about here.

Not only has the definition of Computer Science changed, but what it is, what it is used for, how it is approached, who approaches it, how it is taught, what content is taught, and how it fits into pretty much every discipline, industry, and culture on the planet. If you ask 10 CS teachers across the world, you’ll get 10 different definitions of Computer Science. If you ask them what should be taught in Computer Science courses, you’ll also get 10 different answers. If you ask elementary school teachers what CS looks like at that level, it is dramatically different than it looks like in middle school, which s dramatically different than it look at the high school level, and then again at the college level. That is not a bad thing…in fact…I am suggesting that is a great thing! Lots of potential to reach a wide variety of people.

We need a wide variety of people studying Computer Science, especailly experts in other areas

We need diversity and inclusion in Computer Science(in fact, go watch my last BLOG post video). But more so than the obvious, we need people who think differently, think about different things, ask different questions, have different preferences, like different things, have different priorities, approach things in different ways, problem solve differently, and break down problems in different ways. We need people from different walks of life, different views points, different backgrounds, and different perspectives.

How do we do that?

We design Computer Science programs that are also attractive to people who are not Computer Scientists. We find out what motivates them and we try to incorporate that into our CS classes. Creative CS teachers know they can teach CS skills through any context using projects and examples from any topic area. Students are free to bring whatever passions they have to the CS classroom. For-loops, boolean variables, arrays, gui events, and conditional statements do not discriminate. They will help any person, from any background, address and perhaps solve any problem in any industry.

Hence my statement that we need more Computer Science minors. Hear me on this: Not in place of Computer Science majors…IN ADDITION TO. With technology and technology tools literally at the backbone core of most industries now, it becomes even more crucial that the leaders, experts, and change makers in those industries also “get” how technology works under hood. I am not talking about knowing how to install a program and click a mouse, I am talking about developing your own programs, developing your own apps, programming your own devices…..ultimately creating your own tools. I am talking about commanding the technology to do what you need it to. Folks who are drawn to those industries are the people who know the inner workings, the priorities, the hidden meanings, the rough spots, the highlights, the bumps along the road, the mountains to climb, and the hills to speed down.

We need more nurses, accountants, fitness experts, small business owners, retail managers, lawyers, judges, doctors, teachers, artists, musicians, mechanics, and real estate agents…to THINK LIKE Computer Scientists. These are the people who are the experts in their fields. Highly unlikely that a Computer Scientists can come into their space and understand it at the depth needed to really solve the problems that need breakthrough digital solutions. But, what if these people had the skills and tool sets themselves?! Hmmmmmmmmmm.

And so we are right back where we started… We need as many Computer Science minors as we need Computer Science majors.

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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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