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CS/IT 2009

2009 July 4
by Hélène Martin

What a week.  My flight out of DC was delayed so I didn’t get into Seattle until late Sunday night.  Monday was the start of my summer class on technology for incoming 9th graders.  I gave the students a survey to see what they were interested in learning and the results convinced me to change my song and dance quite a bit.  Turns out a number of students wanted to better understand how computers work and what they’re made out of.  I’m not sure whether this was a wise decision or not, but I figured we could try exploring some old computers.  The kids are going crazy with it but I’ll save the details until I see how the project as a whole pans out.

Saturday 6/28 was the Computer Science and Information Technology Symposium — pretty much the one big professional development event for high school CS instructors.  I’m so glad I was able to go and hope to make it annually!  The sessions gave me some great ideas and I had the opportunity to make very useful connections.

The keynote was given by Stuck in the Shallow End authors Jane Margolis (who also authored the excellent Unlocking the Clubhouse: Women in Computing) and Joanna Goode.  I was not a huge fan of the book: the problem seemed too obvious to me and the offered solutions too weak.  That being said, the keynote was excellent and brought in some more data and a little information about the Exploring Computer Science course they have been working to develop in LA area schools.  Of course, everyone wanted to see the curriculum outline and materials but it looks like they’re not sharing the details yet.  Joanna made it sound like they were going to release things in the fall — too late for those of us starting a new course then but still, I’m excited to see what they’ve come up with.

Dave Burkhart’s session on differentiated instruction provided a number of good ideas.  He managed to balance educational theory and computer science well and although he’s a middle school teacher, his insights were quite relevant to high school.  I’d also never seen the hilarious clip he showed on herding cats.  Indeed, when we’re given classes with students of wildly different levels and interests, chaos ensues.  According to Dave, differentiated instruction is having a vision of success for each of your students.  I love that way to think about it.  He provided some good tools for making sure that all students had a path to success available to them.  I found it interesting that he uses a multiple intelligence test to better cater to his students’ learning styles.  Not a bad idea.

The “Computational Thinking – A Problem Solving Tool for Every Classroom” session wasn’t quite as relevant to me.  I liked breaking down thinking computationally when approaching a problem as asking a series of questions including:

  • “how difficult is this problem?”
  • “how can it be solved?”
  • “how can technology be applied to the problem?”

Computational thinking was also not-defined as “not thinking like a computer, it’s not programming, it’s not computer science, it doesn’t require a computer.”  Less sure about these.  Computational thinking may be broader than these, but they’re all great examples of applications, I feel.  This session was very similar to the previous day’s TeraGrid workshop where a lot of emphasis was placed on using simulations.  Interesting.

I really enjoyed the “Building Effective Leadership at the Grass Roots” panel.  Lots of very interesting people doing interesting things across the country.  I asked about making the CSTA curriculum resources into an easier to use tool and more of an online community.  Sounds like that is in the works.

I met a bunch of really inspiring people I hope to stay in contact with.  Highly recommended for anyone involved in K-12 computer science.

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