Who can teach CS Principles?

June 9, 2012 at 8:15 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Yesterday, I gave another short talk on CS Principles and my experiences at North Gwinnett. It was again at the Staff Development Workshop at my district. The audience was different from last week. All of the teachers were non-programming teachers. Most of the teachers in the room teach one of the following courses: Web Design, Flash Development or Computing In the Modern World.

While preparing for the presentation, I tried to think what kind of information would be useful to them. History and the thought process behind CS Principles would be useful. I could explain what the course would teach, how was it different from other CS courses that were already being taught and about the significant shift in thinking from AP Computer Science A.  I decided they would be much less interested in details of the curriculum but more interested in what kinds of projects my students did. So, I took some samples with me.

I started as always getting them off their chairs with a group activity and brought them around to thinking problem solving and logic development. Then as I pulled up my student samples I sensed an interest!  I noticed that my audience, who had possibly taught that this was an “AP” course that would be too difficult to teach, now started thinking that they already teach most of this! And a small shift in thinking, a short learning curve and they could very easily be successful teaching this course.

My emphasis throughout the presentation was that CS Principles was not about teaching how to use Photoshop or CS5 but certainly both could be used as tools to create a software product. And if that is possible, then these teachers should be able to easily teach CS Principles. As I thought more about this, I realized that this message was very important, at least in my district and couple of neighboring ones.  In many of the schools the AP Computer Science is a Math teacher and most of the students are academically high achievers and most of the time good math students.  The non-AP technology courses that are taught in these Business & Computer Science departments (CTAE) are by the Business-Ed teachers who have trained themselves to teach Web design and similar such courses.  CS Principles can and should be taught by these teachers.  If we are to achieve the CS 10K goal, then I think it is important to send the message that AP CS Principles do not have to be taught only by the AP Computer Science teachers.

And that is what I like about talking / teaching AP CS Principles.  It is an interesting course to teach and an easy course to sell to teachers and students.


Summer is here… Professional development time

June 2, 2012 at 3:59 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

As the school year finally ended last week, I was grateful for the down time. It has been a very busy year and by end of May I was ready to be done. And after a week, I am now ready to reflect.  I will talk more on the reflections in my blogs over summer.

This summer is a very interesting one. I will be conducting several workshops over the next two months. Yesterday was a short one hour session that I presented CS Principles at Brookwood High School. One of the premiere schools in our district. My good friend Crystal Furman ran the Beginning Programming & AP Computer Science session.

Attached is the presentation that I used for the talk. I found the teachers very receptive. I started with the Rainbow Game that I mentioned in an earlier blog. It was an effective way to get everybody engaged and excited.

There were some excellent questions that were raised. One was, should there be a non-AP version of CS Principles? If not how do we address students who are not AP-inclined? I see their point. If we have a sophomore who is not ready to take the AP exam but is very interested in computer science, open-ended projects etc. we are not going to get the student just because their school might insist they have to take the AP exam. But we need a good assessment system in place. Why? Because of the openness of the projects, evaluating them without the support of collegeboard for high standards for learning, will  become a problem.

Another question that came up was how does this AP course / exam impact schools which are on block schedule. End of the presentation, almost all the teachers in the room said they would like to pilot the course and some may even unofficially pilot this  in the fall. Certainly, as I walked around, and presented the Big Ideas and its implications, the impression I got was most of them felt that this course was something they could teach. I mentioned again and again that the learning curve for this course is not very steep.

One hour was not a whole lot of time. As I planned for the lecture, I felt, I could not teach a concept in great detail and present an overview of this exciting course. So I focused more on the course overview and have hope to have a detailed training session for the Fall.

Following the Software Development Cycle

April 22, 2012 at 10:34 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

         As a cumulative end of the year project my students are going to design a software product that should be marketable.  I want the students to follow the entire software development cycle.  They will start with gathering the requirement specifications and understanding the need of the industry they are working in (could be cars – a popular choice-, medicine, entertainment, etc.). The next step is to create an abstraction.  Students will be turning in a flowchart or a pseudo code of the product they plan to create. The software created then will be tested using test cases created. Finally they will create a market brochure and flyers for advertisement. The final deliverable in this project is a 10 minute classroom presentation to one of their favorite teachers in the school.

            In all, students have 10 deliverables and have a timeline by when each deliverable is due.  This week, they brainstormed among themselves and came up with ideas to create a project. They had to decide what their industry was, and who their customer was. One that I loved was two students who want to build a model for a new kind of fishing boat. They want to prototype the model using Photoshop and create an advertisement video using iMovie.

            Another interesting happening this week, was conducting the AP pilot in the CS Principles class.  The test was online. There was a mixed reaction from the students about the tests. There were students who felt they were very well prepared and the others who felt intimidated. As usual the programming/ algorithmic questions are the ones that the students felt most uncertain about.

Big Data: Questions – key to Data Modeling and Data Analysis

April 12, 2012 at 2:33 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

An interesting experiment took place in class today.  The class was finishing up their presentations on Big Data. One team picked up music. Theirs was more of a report. Based on their research, they reported that music among teens is very popular. Teens listen to music for two reasons: one to fit in among their peers and another to help them deal with the challenges of being a teenager. Finding this to be very interesting I asked my students how many used music to help them deal with their day-to-day problems. At least four heads nodded silently.

Moving on, I asked the team to put up questions to find out why teens listened to music. The students came up with the following three questions:

  • Music & coping
  • Music to keep self – entertained
  • Music because of interest

Results: (Class size 22)
I – 0

II –  12

III- 10

Now, I can tell you honestly, very often when I am upset, I listen to music to calm myself. It should be quite safe to assume that this is true for most people. But it was very surprising to see that not one student chose music and coping!  One student turned towards me and said that he did not need music to ‘cope’ because he had a good home life. The students had interpreted the word “cope” to mean handle conflict!

I am willing to bet if (I) had been labeled Music to Motivate or Music to feel Good rather than Music & Coping, the number tally would be very different.

It is important to note that the design of the questions is probably the most important aspect of the data mining projects.

Greenfoot and Object Oriented programming

April 8, 2012 at 10:42 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

After a couple of frustrating sessions with Greenfoot, (a few weeks leading to spring break) I decided to take a step back and find out what was frustrating my students. Thinking about it, I understood that some concepts of object-oriented programming were bogging the students down.  So we (Rona, my student teacher & me) decided a different approach. Rona walked the students through the next tutorial. When a student got stuck, we asked students to raise their hand and we got them help (Rona, me or another student). When there was a concept that was new or a new terminology introduced, we stopped and I gave them a quick 5-10 minute lecture.  We did this for three days.

We might have had a break through. We will find out in the next few weeks as we come back from Spring break.  We did ask the students to design a simple class in Greenfoot from one of the programs available. We have not looked at all the projects but the few we did see were quite good.

Big Data : Revisited

April 7, 2012 at 10:24 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Easily the most popular unit in the entire course at this point I can confidently say that every single student enjoys Big Data. Here is an illustration. One of my girls did not enjoy programming.  In fact she had decided computer science was not her career choice but she was going to become a nurse. While the class was making the Big Data presentations I asked her what she thought of the unit. Her words were “interesting, fun and practical!” It had caught her interest and made her think a little more about computer science and its relevance!  This student has one more year before she goes to college and maybe she will change her mind?

Another one of my Seniors who had taken the class because it was an elective credit that he needed to graduate and had chosen to turn in mediocre work throughout all topics came to me after the Big Data unit and told me that this was the most interesting topic he had done all year in all his classes!

So… what did we do in these classes? The class split into groups of three. Each group picked an industry of choice: movies, music, video games, retail industry
(toothbrushes (!), shoes, retail stores). For each industry they were required to find a problem they had. The problem had to relate with improving business. The next step was to then create a set of questions which would help them understand the problem and analyze the problem better. And the final step was data modeling and charting out the results. Part of the grade was to present the results to the class, which of course for my set of students is the most exciting and fun part: they love to show-off their results.

I am taking these projects and making them into case studies. The idea is for it to be available for the next year’s students to read, analyze and then come with their own projects for data mining.

Playing Catch Up…

April 6, 2012 at 3:40 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Wow! Where did the month of March go? It has been crazy, crazy.

How does one catch up with past blogs? I am not going to play any catch up. I will write one blog each day this weekend, until I feel I have said everything I need to convey. Then I will go back to my bi-weekly postings.

CS Promotion

February 16, 2012 at 12:40 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

These two weeks are is quite important for making students at North aware of the computer science programs and specifically the new CS principles course. Of course I am teaching CS Principles under the hood of Game Programming has made it even more fun and attractive.

We have an elective fair at our school. All departments that offer elective courses give out flyers and brochures and encourage their current students to talk about the courses and have other students recruit them to their classes. At our elective fair this year we gave out blow pops! I attached tiny messages like, “Join Game Design”, “Do you like gaming? Take a computer class to understand it better” to the blow pop. Then I asked many of my volunteer students to give them out to other students who they thought would enjoy computer science. This was a lot of fun.

For AP classes, I used the PSAT scores to help determine a student’s potential. I looked at their performance in language arts (students need to be able to comprehend the free response questions that are given to them in the AP Exam) as well as how well they performed on the math section of the PSAT.  Based on the data I sent letters to about 50 students and their parents encouraging them to take AP Computer Science. At AP Night (an evening when all parents are encouraged to come to school and talk to the AP teachers) I spoke to several of the students and parents and gave them handouts specifically outlining what my expectations are for my AP course.

Enrollment is next week. I will find out if this promotion had any impact.

Disadvantages of following a tutorial

February 10, 2012 at 12:33 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Programming with Greenfoot has gone reasonably well. I let the students follow the tutorial for a chapter and then come together as a group to discuss their progress. Tutorials are no fun. Students like interaction. Students like programming with a purpose. Tutorials do not give them the why. That is what we facilitators do. We show them the big picture and get them excited.

Every Greenfoot day, I start the class discussing what was covered the day before. After they were able to create their own methods I had them design their own classes. And associate an image to their class. They were to add one new behavior to their objects and then give a demonstration. Essentially, after every small tutorial, have a small independent activity that is open-ended and creative. This seems to keep the interest going.

I do see students now forming a clear opinion about programming. There are definitely students who say, that they do not like cryptic syntax errors. They would rather design, explore and research than code.  And then there are others who like the challenge. Those who enjoy working with code, would rather program than do anything else.

CE 21

February 8, 2012 at 2:32 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Last week was CE21. This is the first time I have attended the conference. It was an interesting experience. I enjoyed meeting some really interesting people. I am excited to see the progress we are making towards making CS Principles an AP.

Here is the link to the CE21 presentation of CS Principles. It has been announced that the first AP exam is scheduled to be held in Spring of 2016. That means if all goes well the first AP CS Principles course will be conducted the academic year 2015-2016.  There was a college board presentation on the next steps that will be taken to get ready for the AP CS Principles course offering and testing.

Jan Cuny spoke about CS 10K goal. (Training 10K computer science high school teachers). Here is the link to her talk.

Another hat I wear is I am in the Advisory council for the Computer Science Collaboration Project (CSCP). I went to dinner with Karen Peterson and other members of the group. I really enjoyed myself and learnt a lot of new things.

More about specifics on what I learnt in future blogs…

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