Posts tagged ‘BPC’

Engaging Women with Context in Hard Science: A Visit to SpaceX

After the NCWIT Summit, we had two days of meetings with ECEP State Partners and our Advisory Board, hosted by Debra Richardson at the University of California at Irvine. Then, Barbara and I got a chance to visit with Alan Kay for a few hours on Friday. As always, we came away with pages of notes and a long list of things to read and think about. All of these meetings were productive and interesting, but the next stage on our California adventure has had me thinking about how we teach hard science and hard computer science.

A former student at Georgia Tech and one of the first MediaComp Teaching Assistants, Jim Gruen, now works at SpaceX. He invited Barb and I to come up for a tour. We rented a car and drove to Hawthorne.

Barb-at-SpaceX

Barb at SpaceX

What an amazing place! The front third of the building are where the 40 programmers (“Everything is software,” Jim told us) sit with other engineers and developers. The back 2/3’s of the building is the factory floor where rockets are assembled. As you walk onto the floor, there is mission control to your right, and above your head is the actual Dragon capsule that first docked with the International Space Station. It is an inspiring sight as you walk onto the factory floor.

We saw rockets being built! Jim showed us where engines are being assembled into racks, where carbon composites are molded into parts, where detailed metal parts are made with 3-D (metal!) printers, and where the parts of the fuel tanks are welded together then painted. We saw the shop where they’re making prototype space suits. We saw via live video stream (on a giant TV on the wall of the developers’ floor) the amazing Dragon Taxi that was just recently unveiled. We saw lots of people (mostly men, unfortunately) working to build a future where humans are space-faring.

I was deeply impressed. SpaceX has a corporate goal to put human beings on Mars. What a noble goal! (Perhaps we could compare that to a corporate goal of, say, getting more people around the world to drink fizzy, flavored sugar-water?)

Jim does kernel-level hacking. He works on the boot sequence for the flight computer, networking, and device drivers. He showed us his current project. He is integrating in the module responsible for firing the rocket that will pull the astronauts off of the rocket in case there is an explosion during take-off.

I left the SpaceX feeling like I just had a glimpse of the future. The discussions when I tell people about our visit have had me thinking about how we prepare students for that future.

SpaceX is exciting and motivating to everyone I’ve talked to. Admittedly, I tend to hang out with people interested in science and engineering. Our daughters were jealous that we got to visit SpaceX. The other night, my 16 year old daughter had a girlfriend over for dinner, and the friend had questions for me about SpaceX.  I was shocked — my teenage daughter is telling her female friends stories about her parents’ adventures?!?  All the undergraduate and graduate students that I have told about SpaceX were impressed and had questions about our visit, both male and female students.

I do believe in the literature that suggests that women are socialized to be motivated to help people, and that efforts like service learning can motivate women to study CS. That’s part of the motivation for efforts like HFOSS. Many people are asking the question why women aren’t pursuing the “hard sciences.”

Maybe we’re using the wrong context in the hard sciences. Many people (not just women) don’t get too excited about physics, chemistry, and engineering. Everyone I’ve talked to is very excited about SpaceX. Working at SpaceX requires lots of “hard science.” The stuff that Jim is doing is low-level and geeky — rebuilding the Linux kernel stuff.  My kids are still fascinated about it. Maybe women and other students would be more excited about science if the connection was made to end goals like SpaceX and to helping get humans onto other planets.

Context matters for science education, as well as for computing education. As my colleagues Betsy DiSalvo and Amy Bruckman (2011) wrote:

Computer science is not that difficult but wanting to learn it is.

Maybe that goes for “hard science,” too.  SpaceX is a great reason to want to learn a lot of “hard science.”


 

Postscript: I told my daughters about this blog post.  One daughter said, “We’ve both been to Space Camp (in Huntsville).  Space Camp would be great except for that one annoying guy who always thinks he knows everything and wants to tell everyone all about it.” The other daughter agreed.  Context is important, but we have to get the social stuff right, too.

 

June 5, 2014 at 8:05 am 2 comments

NCWIT Summit 2014: Changing Computing Education in US States

The 2014 National Center for Women & IT (NCWIT) summit was fantastic. I was at the first NCWIT national meeting ten years ago, and I have been at several since. They are always thought-provoking and enlightening. I may have enjoyed this one more because I got a chance to present as well as be in the audience.

(Thanks to Robert Walker for the picture and for allowing me to post it here.)

I offered a workshop on how to change state education public policy to improve and broaden access to computing education. The slides from the workshop are available here in PDF and here in PPTX. The workshop was offered twice: Tuesday afternoon (SRO packed room of about 40!) and Wednesday morning (maybe 25). I had a half-dozen hallway conversations from people who wanted to talk about their state in particular. Overall, there was a significant interest.

All the workshop presenters advertised their workshops as a Flash talk. A Flash talk is intense: exactly 20 slides, presented for exactly 15 seconds each. No control over either. Jeff Forbes hosted the Flash talks. They were all recorded by Turner Broadcasting, and you can see them all here. (I’m the first one.) My slides are available here in PPT format.

What can you possibly say in exactly five minutes? I worked harder on that five minute talk than on most of the keynotes I have ever presented. I’ve been thinking about this since last December when I wrote the initial blog post on this idea. In the end, the structure of what I was saying was good, and I ended up using it for the workshop, too.

To change a state, start here

I proposed a four step process to start changing a state:

  1. Find a leader(s): Computing education reform doesn’t just happen. Someone (or a small group of someones) has to take the initiative.
  2. Figure out where you are and where you’re going: The hardest part is seeing the big picture (of how schools, higher education, businesses, and state politics have to work together) and figuring out how to make change within a state. Two years into ECEP, and I am still surprised at the state differences. Here’s one I just learned. Hawaii makes all education decisions at the district level (like California and Massachusetts), but all of Hawaii is one school district. All those islands, one school board.
  3. Gather your allies: Find all the high school teachers, university faculty, business leaders, and state Department of Education leaders who want to work together. We find that efforts that speak with multiple voices from different sectors to promote computing education tend to get more influence in state government.
  4. Get initial funding: There are big ticket items for computing education, like professional learning opportunities for all your high school teachers. But there are smaller ticket items that need to happen early on in the process. One of these is a landscape report: Where are you now. There are several of these available at the CSTA website. Another is a summit, a face-to-face meeting of all your allies, along with the people that you’d like to influence (the ones who will come), to develop a set of shared goals and a shared strategy for getting there.

Plenaries: 80-hour work weeks are a human issue, not a women’s issue

NCWIT summits always have a mix of alliance meetings (Academic Alliance, K-12 Alliance, Workforce Development, Social Science Advisory Board) and plenaries, besides workshops. All the plenaries were recorded and are available here. A few of the plenaries were just so amazing that I want to highlight them.

Michael Kimmel is a social scientist working in masculine studies. His talk on engaging men to support women in technology was the my favorite talk of the summit. He was hilarious, yet grounded in real data. He explained what Larry Summers got wrong in his comments when he said that “many women with young children are unwilling or unable to put in the 80-hour work-weeks needed to succeed in those fields.” Kimmel pointed out that that framing implies men inviting women into a world where men’s values rule. If men and women had equal status in science, would we require 80-hour work weeks? Do we want anyone to work that hard at science and the consequent neglect of other priorities? Survey results show that men value time with their families more, but feel pressured by other men to be the “unencumbered worker” who will put in those hours and value work above all else. “Why do we call these concerns women’s issues when they’re really family issues or even human issues?”

Dr. Chelsea Clinton spoke and was amazing. She was articulate, confident, and well-prepared to speak to issues of gender diversity and technology. She just completed her doctorate at Oxford, so this was her first talk where she was introduced as Doctor Chelsea Clinton.

I didn’t really know who Donna Brazile was before she spoke. I didn’t know that she ran Al Gore’s presidential campaign, or that she’s a CNN commentator and columnist, or that she’s done cameos on shows like “House of Cards.” I’ve looked her up since she gave such a terrific speech at the NCWIT Summit. She was funny, irreverent, and compelling.

All in all, it was a great summit.  I learned a lot and made a lot of useful contacts.  We now are talking with people in several other states about ECEP working with them to improve and broaden participation in computing education.

June 3, 2014 at 8:01 am 2 comments

Google finally discloses its diversity record, and it’s not good: Everybody else?

Google is going to take a lot of heat for these low numbers, but let’s not forget how long the computing industry has hidden and actively protected its diversity numbers. Kudos to Google for coming forward! Now, Apple, Amazon, and Facebook? (Thanks to Rick Adrion for sending me this link.)  And then let’s get to work on making this better.

In an industry that has been famously guarded about its workplace diversity, Google on Wednesday disclosed its record when it comes to hiring women, African-Americans and Hispanics. The data reveals statistics that the company itself admits are too low and strikingly below other industry averages. Women comprise just 17 percent of its global tech workforce, according to data Google published on its website and released exclusively to the PBS NewsHour. When it comes to leadership, women only account for 21 percent of the top positions in the company, which has a workforce of just under 50,000 people.

via Google finally discloses its diversity record, and it’s not good | PBS NewsHour.

May 29, 2014 at 10:20 am 7 comments

Boycotting a science conference because program is all-male

Salon.com wrote about the boycott that’s emerging because a major chemistry conference is all male.  The linked article, from the President of the University of Cincinnati, talks about what’s needed to retain and grow women in STEM.  I wouldn’t have guessed that we’d have this problem in Chemistry before Computer Science.

The recent threat to boycott an upcoming international chemistry conference because of its all-male speaking program reminds us how far we still have to go when it comes to women in the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields. The challenge remains that many STEM professions remain male-dominated, especially in academia.

via Campuses must create formal networks for female STEM professors (essay) | Inside Higher Ed.

May 21, 2014 at 8:29 am 14 comments

Technology’s Man Problem: An important issue for NCWIT

I’m speaking today at the NCWIT Summit, and this is a good article from NYTimes to re-read before the summit:

After the Titstare presentation, a commenter calling himself White_N_Nerdy wrote on Reddit, “I’m honestly trying to understand why anyone says that females are ‘needed’ in the tech industry.” He continued: “The tech community works fine without females, just like any other mostly male industry. Feminists probably just want women making more money.”

Online gathering spots for engineers, like Reddit, Hacker News and 4chan, where people often post anonymously, can feel like hostile territory for women.

via Technology’s Man Problem – NYTimes.com.

May 20, 2014 at 10:00 am 2 comments

Fake Geek Guys: A Message to Men About Sexual Harassment

An important message to post on the first day of the NCWIT Summit for 2014.  There is a significant role for guys in making the culture better for women.  Do read the whole article — it’s frightening.

How do we fight this war? We stop enabling. We check ourselves and, when necessary, wreck ourselves. Do you know a guy who’s hate-following women on Twitter just to troll them? You check him. Do you know a guy who’s writing disgusting screeds to women journalists because they don’t like the same things he likes? You check him. Do you know a professional whose discourse with women in his field is loaded with gender-specific language and condescension that could enable further abuse? You check him. Are your Twitter followers identifying you as a sympathetic ear for their sexist views? You check yourself. Is your website’s message board a cesspool of ignorance and hate? You check it like you actually give a damn. Do you know a guy who’s sending rape threats to women for any reason? Oh, you report that guy.

Let me make it plain:

A woman objecting to the content of a comic book — even if you think she’s dead wrong — does not rise to the occasion of vicious name calling and rape threats.

via Fake Geek Guys: A Message to Men About Sexual Harassment.

May 19, 2014 at 10:35 am 2 comments

Teaching Code in the Classroom – Room for Debate – NYTimes.com

Remarkable debate on the NYTimes website about “Should coding be part of the elementary school curriculum?”  All the debaters have very short statements, and they’re disappointing.

  • Hadi Partovi claims “By high school, it can be too late” and “Students learn fast at a young age, before stereotypes suggest coding is too difficult, just for nerds, or just for boys” — I don’t agree with either statement.  We have lots of examples of women and under-represented minority students discovering CS in high school. It’s not at all clear that students learn everything quickly when they’re young — quantum physics and CS might both be beyond most second graders.
  • But John C. Dvorak’s claim that “This is just another ploy to sell machines to cash-strapped school districts” is also clearly wrong.  The computer manufacturers are not playing a significant role in the effort to push computing  into schools.

Take a look and see what you think.  It’s exciting to have this kind of debate in the NYTimes!

Despite the rapid spread of coding instruction in grade schools, there is some concern that creative thinking and other important social and creative skills could be compromised by a growing focus on technology, particularly among younger students. Should coding be part of the elementary school curriculum?

via Teaching Code in the Classroom – Room for Debate – NYTimes.com.

May 14, 2014 at 8:37 am 12 comments

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