CSTA 2019 gave me a lot to think about. Today I was thinking about what was impressive and I thought about the Tuesday lunch panel. Microsoft brought a panel of high school students to talk about how computer science education was changing their lives.
None of these students talked much about the programming languages they learned or really any of the technology. No talk of robots, or other gimmicks. What they talked most about was their teachers.
They talked about teachers who got to know them as people. Teachers who encouraged them to try new things. Teachers who supported them when they ran into obstacles. Teachers who valued them as people.
New programming languages are cool. Gadgets can help us make things more interesting. When you get right down to it though the key factor is student success is largely dependent in the teacher. I don’t know who said it but it is true – they may not remember what you said but they will remember how you made them feel.
After the announcement of a millions dollar grant by Google to CSTA and the new “Code with Google” program I was asked “what does a company get out of this sort of thing?” The answer can be complex.
In many cases, including this one from Google, there is no obvious monetary benefit to the company. In fact the closest thing to a balance sheet benefit is probably goodwill. Now goodwill can be very important to a company. Given the current political scrutiny on companies like Google (and Facebook, Twitter, and Amazon) one would be excused if they saw that as a motivation.
I’m not so naïve as to thing that goodwill doesn’t play into decisions like this one but I doubt it is the whole story.
Companies like Google. Amazon, Microsoft, and others live in an environment that includes many other companies. These huge companies will always attract top technical people but for many companies there is a real shortage of technology people for them to hire. These foundational companies need the companies who build on top of their foundations to also be able to hire technical people. Supporting CS education helps support that environment.
And it is not just tech companies who need these people. All companies need people who at least understand technology. So in many re3al ways one could call support for CS education enlightened self-interest.
Do companies want students to use their products? Of course and so you will see things like Swift Playgrounds which runs on Apple products and develops apps for Apple products. Or AWS Educate which uses AWS and will probably result in future paying customers for AWS. Again, there is some relationship building that companies hope will lead to future business but the concepts are far from limited to those specific products. There are no guaranties here but they are clearly more about building the companies environment that the specific companies.
Other products though don’t have as clear an path to profit though. Take MakeCode and Makecode arcade developed by Microsoft. These products don’t lead directly into revenue generating hardware or software. What they do is develop more people with a knowledge of programming and computer science. That helps the environment.
As I see it, companies are interested in building the CS environment, building goodwill, and possibly getting some business in the future. The degree and priority of those motivations vary by company and even time.
For me as an educator, my concern is about the concepts tools teach, how they motivate or not my students, and generally how they prepare my students for the future. Concerns about privacy and security are of course also concerns. If a company helps me do my job and prepare my students better I see that as a win. IF they get a benefit as well I hope that will encourage them to help more.
I’m pretty sure I have been to every CSTA conference going back to when it was the CS & IT conference and there was no CSTA organization. This year’s was by far the biggest and maybe even the best. But it does feel big. Not ISTE big or even SIGCSE big but big for a conference of CS teachers.
That’s great is many ways. I think there were up to 9 concurrent sessions in each time slot on Tuesday and Wednesday. I remember when there were two. On the plus side you are pretty certain to find a session you are interested in. On the down side you are also likely to find two or three you are interested in at the same time. It’s a fact of life.
It’s not so big that I can’t find most of my friends there but it is something I have to be more deliberate about. And of course on the plus there are many new friends to make. ISTE is too large and there are many people who I know were there but we just didn’t connect. How big does a conference have to be before it loses the closeness that I value so much about CSTA? I don’t know. I do hope the conference committee thinks about that though.
Volunteering was a good thing. I worked the registration desk. It was nice to see and meet people I know and didn’t know. The registration system seemed to work very well. The CSTA staff handled glitches and issues quickly and professionally. That seems to be developing fast enough to handle the size of the conference.
Sessions were all very good. Not everyone was everything I was hoping for but that is to be expected. The quality of the presenters was really high though. I think that the speaker quality is higher at CSTA than ISTE on average.
Comparing ISTE and CSTA is interesting if not exactly fair. CSTA has a specific focus – CS education and CS is one of many topics for ISTE. A number of companies were exhibiting at both and I would love to know how the two conferences compare for them. A couple of companies that were at ISTE were not at CSTA. I was surprised that Unity was at ISTE. I really was. A big booth as well. I suspect they could have reached more CS educators at CSTA for a lot less money. But maybe I don’t understand their goals.
Speaking of the exhibit hall, there was close to 60 exhibits this year. I think we had 6 the first year we had exhibits which wasn’t that long ago. I do feel they add to the value of the conference. Much of the materials being offered were free as well. Obviously not hardware but much of the curriculum and other teaching resources. Lots of it looks like it has been used successfully in a lot of classrooms. By contrast, much of what I saw at ISTE was both more expensive and with less of a track record.
Microsoft and Google both had significant presences at CSTA. They’ve both, though their charitable arms, donated a lot of money to CSTA in the last year plus as well. Money indicates support but I feel like a physical presence speaks a lot of commitment and seriousness of interest as well. Amazon was there showing a couple of programs including there AWS Educate program and some of their other STEM efforts. Facebook had a small presence as well. It was low key and not at all about selling Facebook to people. The heavy hitters in technology seem to realize the importance of CS education and CS educators. No sign of Apple though. Sigh.
Next year is a day longer than this year. CSTA and CS & IT used to be one day. Then two. Five next year? I have no doubt at all that they can fill it with enough quality content. I do wonder about the expense of attending though. Airfare and conference fees don’t jump that fast for an extra day but hotel rooms can be a big expense. I’ll wait to see what the schedule looks like and what the hotel costs are before I make my plans for next year. I do plan to go. The question is for how long. I suspect a lot of people will be doing those calculations.
Google and other companies have been helping with scholarships and I hope that continues. It’s especially important for first time attendees. I hope school districts see the value and step up for teachers as well. Arkansas had over 30 people at CSTA and I believe the state kicked in a lot of the money for that. With more and more states mandating more CS education will they also step up with professional development money? I hope so.
My big take away though is that CSTA is the conference K-12 CS teachers should attend if they can only attend one conference. Hope to see many of my readers at CSTA 2020 next July.
So I missed the opening keynote which I am sure was amazing but I spent the time catching up with a good friend who I see too rarely. Time well spend. Leigh Ann Delyser from CS for All sometimes talks about the CS community as her grown up summer camp friends. I have to agree. The face to face time with friends at a conference makes the communication between in real life meetings much better.
My first session of the day was a panel about advancing equity and diversity. It really focused a lot on curriculum and how to teach to ALL students. Not a limited focus on girls or under represented minorities but a realization that diversity requires welcoming environments for ALL students. There was also some good discussion about creating projects that are open and inclusive for students of different abilities and backgrounds. This is just one time when curriculum in general and finding the right projects for the classroom. I need to think about writing up more on that topic.
My last session before lunch was a series of three mini sessions. The first was on Engage CS Edu. This is a curated site with projects of various types and concepts for CS educators. It is “Foster diversity in your introductory computer science courses with quality content and engaging pedagogy” This looks very helpful as I am always looking for engaging projects that work with diverse students. The second mini-session was on How to effectively Manage a CS class and was mostly about how CodeHS helps this teacher manage his courses. If I were looking for a new curriculum I would take a serious look at CodeHS. CodeHS has both free and paid levels.
I’m always skeptical about celebrity keynotes at education conferences so my expectations for Natasha Singer from the New York Times.were not high. I was pleasantly surprised though. She gave me a lot to think about when teaching things like ethics, accountability, and privacy. Things like what the saved wi-fi networks our computers save and share to how companies track individuals and more. A good keynote should give attendees things to think about and things to act on and this one did that for me. SO great start to the day.
There were any number of sessions I would have liked to have attended and I think information about them (videos maybe and hopefully others blogging) will show up. For now I am writing something about the sessions I am attending.
My first session of the day was “Soaring through the Cloud” by AWS Educate. If nothing else people are getting a good look at the vocabulary of the cloud. Vocabulary is something I see as key.Impressed that AWS wants schools they partner with share their curriculum and programs with other schools. Diversity is important to them. The AWS Educate program includes free cloud accounts, online training, and badging for successes. There is a ton of content there. I could see a special course around this.
Also AWS has been very responsive to teacher and school worries about student privacy and security. Very important!
I didn’t have to move for my second session of the day – Using GitHub as a Content Management System. Another packed house. This was a good walk through of GitHub for me. As a total beginner it was pretty helpful..I still have a lot of playing around to do but it does seem really usable.
Lunch had a set of trivial games that we surprisingly fun followed by a panel run by Microsoft. The panel was of high school students who were talking about the influence of taking computer science courses on their lives. The students were from schools supported by volunteer TEALS instructors. These students were from schools in low economic areas that would probably not have CS without the work of TEALS volunteers – industry professionals giving their time to teach students. It was an inspiring session. Oh and the food was pretty good too.
Afternoon took me to a session on Machine Learning. Teachers talked about teaching machine learning both as a concept and at a technical level. There are a couple of neural network “playgrounds” including the tensor flow website from Google that I want to use to introduce the ideas to students. There is a link to resources (http://bit.ly/ML-HS-Resources ) that I plan to explore.
Last session of the day for me was Nifty Assignments. We could have used a bigger room. This session was worth getting there early for.The new CSTA Nifty Assignments page has all of the references to the sessions. Five interesting projects with something for everyone. from K-5, to 6 – 8 to 9-12. I’m inspired to have my students do more graphics by the digital coloring book projects and have some great ideas about using letter frequency counts. Oh and last year’s nifty assignments (which I missed) are also linked there. This is only going to be a better and better resource as time goes on.
For me the day finished with dinner with David Renton who taught college is Scotland for years and who now teaches high school in the US. Great conversation about teaching and differences and similarities in education in two different countries. You really can meet the best people at CSTA.
As planned I spent most of the morning helping at registration. And talking to a lot of people as they came in. After lunch the exhibit hall opened and I was in there early. A few highlights:
A virtual reality version of Alice is coming in the fall. I had a demo wearing an Oculus headset riding through an Alice world. Very awesome. Virtual Reality and Alice – Wow!
I signed up for GitHub for educators. GitHub classroom looks like a good way to send starter projects to students. I have a lot of exploring to do but there is online training for teachers so I’ll start there.
I had a demo of CodeSpace from FiriaLabs for teaching Python. They have a robot that looks pretty cool as well. Still not sure robots are my think but their connection to Micro:bit looks pretty nice as well.
Code Jumper is a program developed by Microsoft for blind and visually impaired students. It involves physical devices that are a coding language. Think block languages where the blocks are actual physical blocks The teacher who showed it to me tells me that she has used these devices (not available yet but she is in a pilot) with ADHD students They get very engaged. I can really see this useful in a lot of situations. Availability is some time in the fall. I have no idea of pricing.
The welcome reception was top notch. I ate my fill and have no need to a later dinner. Better still was the opportunity to talk to even more people.
Sunday was the start of CSTA 2019 with workshops and the Chapter Leadership Summit. I wasn’t part of the summit and I didn’t get to any workshops but I still had a good day. I did crash the reception Google hosted for the chapter leadership summit though. Jake Baskin announced a million dollar grant to CSTA from Google and Google’s new “Code with Google” program. I expect to learn more about both as the conference goes on.
The highlight of the day was spending time with friends. I’ve been to every previous conference (going back before there was a CSTA) and in the early days it was much smaller so I made a lot of friends back then. I’ve made still more friends by being involved – volunteering in different ways. I had dinner with 10-11 friends almost all of whom had been on the conference committee with me, the CSTA board with me, or both. Besides helping the CS community, volunteering with CSTA is a great way to make friends.
I wonder how it is for people new to CSTA. It’s so much bigger today and while that is wonderful in many ways I can see it being overwhelming for some as well. My hope is that people expand their connections beyond people they may have come with or know from elsewhere. Diversity is really important. Part of what made last night’s dinner so interesting for me was people from a number of different states and two countries other than the US.
Diversity came up in a number of contexts yesterday both in conversation and in he Google announcements of yesterday. Companies in the industry are starting to really appreciate the importance of it but I really believe that as educators we have an important role in fostering diversity from the start.
Today, Monday, I will be working the registration desk for a while this morning, visiting the exhibit hall in the afternoon, and trying to connect with as many people as I can. Learn from the best I often say. If you’re around come find me. I am wearing my hat and I have “I Follow @AlfredTwo” ribbons if you’re interested.
I’m on my way to Phoenix AZ for the CSTA conference. For years I would get there early and leave late. This was especially true when I was on the CSTA Board and there were Board meetings to attend. Traveling on my own dime and my own schedule this trip. This afternoon I will be helping at the registration desk. I’ll also be helping there tomorrow. Volunteering at CSTA is a small thing in some ways but I think it is really important to make some contributions. Plus it means I get a jumpstart on the “Hallway Track” that is part of what makes CSTA so wonderful.
Sunday and Monday are workshops and I didn’t sign up for any. That’s new for me but Monday afternoon the exhibit hall will be open and I really want to get to that. Almost 60 exhibitors this year. I think we had 6 the first year we had exhibitors. This shows how important CSTA is to so many companies, universities, and other groups supporting CS educators. Plus it is a great opportunity for educators to learn and have one on one personal conversations with exhibitors. I’m a big fan of exhibit halls at conferences though I know not everyone is.
Unlike ISTE, where I was recently, the focus on CSTA is all computer science and the exhibit hall reflects that. One doesn’t have to search for relevant booths and it is still small enough that you are unlikely to miss something.
Tuesday and Wednesday I have lots of sessions in my app. I’m looking forward t o Mike Zamansky’s session on using GitHub as a CMS. There is also a session from Amazon Web Services on introducing the Cloud to students. Another key technology there! And a Nifty Assignments session to cap of the day.
I’m still deciding on Tuesday. There are several sessions I’m interested in that are at the same time. A common problem, but a good one to have at a conference.
I have no idea what the “hallway track” will bring. I have so many friends at CSTA and they are doing so many interesting things. Learning from other teachers is really awesome. CSTA almost feels like a family reunion sometimes.
There was a time when I would have written a blog post every night of ISTE. Apparently I’m getting older or something and that is not a priority for me any more. Be that as it may I got some good stuff at ISTE this year. ISTE is not all about computer science the way CSTA (next week) or SIGCSE are but there is more CS than their used to be. You have to hunt for it a bit though.
Robots were big again this year. It seems like everyone is pushing robots as the silver bullet for teaching CS. I’m not so convinced and most of the robot stuff was aimed at younger students. K-6 or K-8 were big. Lots of people promoting their drag and drop Blockly-like programming tools. If you push you hear about Python and other text based languages. I didn’t spend much time with robots. I don’t want to build my course around them. If others do that is fine. It’s just not me.
On the other hand I am interested in internet of things and integrating that into some of my courses. Plezmo has some interesting products in that space. I missed them in my walk through the exhibit hall but Alark Joshi, Associate Professor of Computer Science at the University of San Francisco, sent me an email suggesting I check them out. I’ve got a core kit ordered. I plan to use it for some experimentation on my own but also as a way to introduce IoT to my students in several courses. Should make for some good demos. Later I may add it to my curriculum. A lot depends on my experimentation.
Doug Bergman gave a presentation on using Artificial Intelligence in projects using some tools from Amazon Web Services (AWS). Doug demonstrated using these services from Thunkable This may be the piece that really makes my mobile application development course take off. You can learn more about AWS Educate at this link.
Unity also had a surprisingly big booth at ISTE. They have some free online courses which would be usable in the classroom. If I were to have a game development course I would go there first. As it is I plan to take some coursework myself and see how it might fit in to an existing course or perhaps into a new project course I want to propose at my school.
This relates to something else I found interesting at ISTE. Steve Demo presented on Virtual Reality in education. The Oculus Quest (which I got to try out) is pretty awesome and it is programable using Unity and C#. This combination might be awesome in a course after my Programming Honors or our AP CS A course. First I’ll learn some Unity and then I will look at AR/VR/MR devices to see what is practical in the classroom.
I did talk to someone from the Azure (Microsoft’s cloud offering) at the Microsoft booth. I will follow up to learn more about their options as well. GitHub is something I really want to bring into my Programming Honors course next year and Microsoft owns GitHub now. GitHub for education will be at CSTA and Mike Zamansky is presenting a session on using GitHub so I’ll be in better shape there after CSTA.
So I enjoyed ISTE and I got some good value out of it. But because ISTE is so large a lot of the CS stuff (and people) get lost. CSTA will be a whole other story. Can’t wait to get there.
The early personal computers all came with some version of BASIC.There were books one could buy that has listings of BASIC programs that we used to enter and play with. A lot of people got their start in computer science by teaching themselves BASIC.
The first language I learned was FORTRAN but the next year my university got a Digital Equipment PDP-11 running the RSTS/E operating system. It cam with a great version of BASIC called Basic-Plus. I taught myself that on my spare time. As an interpreted language on a time sharing system, unlike the compiled FORTRAN on a batch system, this allowed a lot more and more frequent experimentation. That really opened things up for me.
After university, knowing Basic-Plus got me my first professional software development job.
Later I learned Visual Basic and then Visual Basic .Net. Today’s Visual Basic is a far cry from the original BASIC of course but a lot of the basics are the same. There isn’t much you can do in C-family languages that you can’t also do with Visual Basic. And it is still more friendly for beginners than Java or C++ or C#.