Thursday, July 25, 2013

My CSTA Convention Experience

This has been such a busy summer with lots of wonderful PD opportunities. One of them was the Computer Science Teacher's Convention (CSTA, #CSTA13) in Boston.

I work for a small high school, under 500 students. At the convention I discovered that for the size school that we have, we are unique in our Computer Science offerings. In fact, most schools our size do not have a teacher dedicated to Computer Sciences, and computer classes are often taught by business or math teachers. If I didn't already feel isolated enough as the only CS teacher in my school, that only made the isolation feel even larger. I often do not have others to bounce my ideas off of in my building related to my subject matter. That leaves me to read a lot of other people's blogs, articles, follow others on Twitter, etc.

So going to the convention allowed me to connect to others of my ilk and gather so many wonderful ideas to take back with me.

Back in March of 2012, I blogged about the new APCS course being offered. I only knew what I was reading about it, I didn't know anyone involved in it. At the convention I was able to get a great deal of information about it and I want to look into more PD so I can become certified to teach it. One of the things I like more about this course than the current APCS A offering is that it is not a multiple choice heavy exam. It is portfolio based.

I also like that the AP Principles course promotes critical and analytical thinking, much like the Exploring Computer Science (ECS) course, another area I'd like to get more PD in. I also think the ECS course is a wonderful feed in to the AP Principles course. The thinking skills in these course really serve the 21st century "just in time" skill set, versus the 20th century "just in case" skill set.

Another thing that I have always believed and was only confirmed at the convention is that there is a difference between COMPUTER LITERACY (CL) and COMPUTER SCIENCE (CS), but literacy is often what is taught under the name of science. CL is to CS as spelling & grammar skills are to writing a novel. Yes, one must be literate in the one to accomplish the other, but knowing how to spell and form grammatically correct sentences does not make me a novelist. Writing a novel is a craft that some are born to to naturally, and others have to train to do correctly. CS is like that too, and we see that in the classroom with the skill sets students come in with.

So what is CL? CL is the ability to use a computer, the tool, with confidence. Most of us are literate. Our phones function as small computers, anyone reading this can use a browser and find a blog, we check and answer emails, and can use most office software.

So what is CS? CS is the ability to make the computer do the things that a CL audience will use. The CL person may use Microsoft Word to create a brochure, whereas, the CS person will design the embedded spell check for Microsoft Word. So to be able to stand by your program of studies and say that you are teaching Computer Science, then you have to be careful that you are not really teaching Computer Literacy.

So where does the shift begin? Hadi Partovi was a keynote speaker at the convention. He has heard the call for action and started the movement. This December during Computer Science Education Week (CSEd), Hadi has challenged us to introduce new people to programming for one hour that week. This can be done individually or as group instruction. The site says students, but he stressed that it can be anyone, not just the kids. This will help bring awareness to Computer Sciences as a platform for the creating of new products through critical and analytical thinking. If we reach 100,000 people, and 10% of those people get turned on to programming, that would be 10,000 people who would have never considered programming as a reality for them before the challenge. With 1.4 million jobs in Computer Science predicted for 2020, and only 400,000 students graduating with Computer Science degrees, those 10,000 newly prospective CS students just seems a whole lot smaller than we need to fill that gap. ( Reaching 100,000 is the goal, but what if we could reach 500,000, or even 1 million! Our 10%+ pool of possible CS students grows expediently as well.

Attending this convention made me realize that it is important for me to do more outreach and advocate for CS as a consideration for our students. I want to promote it during CSEd week. I want to go spend a day with our middle school students and program with them so they'll be excited to take it here at the high school. I want to start a computer club so students can get hooked on programming through game design. I want to make CS seem like a no-brainer when they select what courses to take each year, because I want them to see an importance and a relevance in their lives and society. I want them to see CS as a possible career, not just a graduation requirement.

Most of all, I don't want them to be passive users of their devices, I want them to be passionate about all the possibilities their devices can provide. I want them to see the flaws or failings in these devices, and I want them to fix those. I want them to create the things that only exist currently in Science Fiction novels. I want them to take technology to the next step so our global society can thrive.