Posts tagged ‘K12’

Gidget is now released: A debugging puzzle game for novice programmers

I’ve seen Michael Lee present two papers on Gidget at ICER, and they were both fascinating.  Gidget is now moving out of the laboratory, and I’m eager to see what happens when lots of people get a chance to play with it.  Andy Ko has a blog post about Gidget that explains some of the goals.

Hello Gidget Supporter!

We are happy to announce that Gidget has launched today! You, your friends, and your family members can now help Gidget debug faulty code to solve puzzles at

Gidget is a game designed to teach computer programming concepts through debugging puzzles. Gidget the robot was damaged on its way to clean up a chemical spill and save the animals, so it is the players’ job to fix Gidget’s problematic code to complete all the missions. As the levels become more challenging, players can combine newly introduced concepts with previously used commands to solve the puzzles and progress through the game.

Gidget is the dissertation work of Michael J. Lee who is a PhD candidate at the University of Washington’s Information School. Prior to its public release, over 800 online participants played through various versions of the game, and over 60 teenagers played through the game and created their own levels during four summer camps in 2013 and 2014. Our research has shown that novice programmers of all ages become very engaged with the activity, and that they are able to create their own levels (i.e., create their own programs from scratch) successfully after playing through the game.

Please share widely and refer to the press release for more information. We hope you have fun playing the game, and appreciate your interest and support for Gidget.


Michael J. Lee and the rest of the Gidget Team

Michael J. Lee

PhD Candidate, Information School

University of Washington

Seattle, WA 98195-2840


September 16, 2014 at 8:48 am Leave a comment

Guest Post by Joanna Goode: On CS for Each

I wrote a blog post recently about Joanna Goode promoting the goal of “CS for Each.”  Several commenters asked for more details.  I asked Joanna, and she wrote me this lovely, detailed explanation.  I share it here with her permission — thanks, Joanna!

To answer, we as CS educators want to purposefully design learning activities that build off of students’ local knowledge to teach particular computer science concepts or practices. Allowing for students to integrate their own cultural knowledge and social interests into their academic computational artifacts deepens learning and allows for students to develop personal relationships  with computing. More specifically, computer science courses lend themselves well for project-based learning, a more open-ended performance assessment that encourages student discretion in the design and implementation of a specified culminating project. Allowing students to use a graphical programming environment to create a Public Service Announcement of a topic of their choice, for example, is more engaging for most youth than a one-size-fits-all generic programming assignment with one “correct” answer.

Along with my colleagues Jane Margolis and Jean Ryoo, we recently wrote a piece for Educational Leadership (to be published later this year) that uses ExploringCS (ECS) to show how learning activities can be designed to draw on students’ local knowledge, cultural identity, and social interests. Here is an excerpt:

The ECS curriculum is rooted in research on science learning that shows that for traditionally underrepresented students, engagement and learning is deepened when the practices of the field are recreated in locally meaningful ways that blend youth social worlds with the world of science[.1]   Consider these ECS activities that draw on students’ local and cultural knowledge:

  • In the first unit on Human-Computer Interaction, as students learn about internet searching, they conduct “scavenger hunts” for data about the demographics, income level, cultural assets, people, and educational opportunities in their communities.
  • In the Problem-Solving unit, students work with Culturally-Situated Design Tools [2], a software program that “help students learn [math and computing] principles as they simulate the original artifacts, and develop their own creations.” In one of the designs on cornrow braids students learn about the history of this braiding tradition from Africa through the Middle Passage, the Civil Rights movement to contemporary popular culture, and how the making of the cornrows is based on transformational geometry.
  • In the Web Design unit, students learn how to use html and css so they can create websites about any topic of their choosing, such as an ethical dilemma, their family tree, future career, or worldwide/community problems.
  • In the Introduction to Programming unit, students design a computer program to create a game or an animated story about an issue of concern.
  • In the Data Analysis and Computing unit, students collect and combine data about their own snacking behavior and learn how to analyze the data and compare it to large data sources.
  • In the Robotics unit, students creatively program their robots to work through mazes or dance to students’ favorite songs.

Each ECS unit concludes with a culminating project that connects students’ social worlds to computer science concepts. For example, in unit two they connect their knowledge of problem solving, data collection and minimal spanning trees to create the shortest and least expensive route for showing tourists their favorite places in their neighborhoods.

[1] Barton, A.C. and Tan, E. 2010.  We be burnin’!  Agency, identity, and science learning.   The Journal of the Learning Sciences, 19, 2, 187-229.

[2] Eglash, Ron.  Culturally Situated Design Tools.  See: See:

September 14, 2014 at 8:57 am 7 comments

CS Leadership Session on CS Education in K-12 at the National Scale

The Snowbird conference is the every-other-year meeting of deans and department chairs in computing, to talk about how to support computing research and education.  There was a panel this last summer on the state of CS education in K-12.

This panel discusses the role that U.S. research departments must play in sustaining CS in K-12. The panelists will address issues of educational reform, while highlighting the role that academia has played in other disciplines; illustrate the breadth of existing efforts from the perspective of a university-led project; and consider how departments could contribute to building the needed research base for CS education.Chair: Jan Cuny NSF. Speaker: Jeanne Century CEMSE, University of Chicago, Dan Garcia University of California at Berkeley, Susanne Hambrusch Purdue University

via Snowbird Conference 2014 – Computing Research Association.

The slides are available here. I particularly liked Susanne Hambrusch’s slides on the role of computing education research in the University.  The slide below (copied from her deck) addresses a particularly critical point — computing education research has to be seen as a real research area, not just what some education-focused faculty do.


This tension between computing education research being research versus supporting the education mission of the University comes up often for me.  I was recently asked, “How does your work with high school teachers improve the education of CS undergraduates at our school?”  I replied, “It probably doesn’t.  This is my research.  I’ll bet that researchers in your medical school study cancers that your undergraduates don’t have.” Susanne is pointing out that we have to get past this confusion.  Yes, Universities teach.  But Universities also study and explore questions of interest.  If those questions of interest involve education, it should not be immediately confounded with the teaching that Universities do.


September 8, 2014 at 8:19 am Leave a comment

Georgia Governor shows Support for CS in Schools


It’s not too often that a policy announcement about education happens on the Georgia Tech campus.  In the picture above, tech entrepreneur Chris Klaus is introducing Georgia Governor Nathan Deal (who is second from the right — the guy on the far right is our Provost Rafael Bras), in the Klaus Advanced Computing Building (same Klaus — he funded the building).  Chris has been spearheading an effort to get more “coding” into Georgia schools.

The Governor said that he’s asking the State Board of Education for computer science to count as core science, mathematics, and foreign languages.

The gossip before the talk was that he was going to announce that CS would count for (i.e., replace) foreign languages (which is not a good idea).  This announcement was a bit better than that, but it’s still not clear what it means.  AP CS already counts as a science towards high school graduation.  Does it mean that more CS courses will count?  That AP CS will count as any of math, science, or foreign languages?  And will the State Board of Education go along with this?  Who knows?

The guy on the far left of that picture is Representative Mike Dudgeon.  He’s taken on the task of changing the “highly-qualified” list in Georgia so that business teachers OR math teachers OR science teachers can teach CS in Georgia.  Currently, CS is a “Career, Technical, and Agricultural Education” subject, meaning that only teachers with a business certificate can teach CS.  Barbara Ericson has fought hard so that mathematics teachers can also teach AP CS — but this all leaves us in the weird position that AP CS counts as a science, but science teachers can’t teach it.  Only math and business teachers can teach AP CS in Georgia. That would be great if Dudgeon is successful.  It’s easier to teach CS to math and science teachers than business teachers.

I was a meeting recently with Chris Klaus where he said that he wants to make Georgia the first state in the USA to require CS for high school graduation.  When I balked at that (citing the issues in my Blog@CACM post), he had an interesting counter-proposal.  We give schools and districts who aren’t ready to teach CS a waiver, but to get a waiver, you have to have a plan in place to be able to teach CS within three years.  Might work.

My proposal in the group that Chris has founded to have more “coding education in Georgia” isn’t getting much traction.  I proposed we do what Calculus did. How did Calculus get taught in every high school? First, schools in the 1800’s started teaching calculus to undergrads. By the 1900’s, every STEM undergrad had to take Calculus, and the top high schools were preparing their kids for Calculus. By the late 1900’s, all high schools were offering calculus.  My proposal is that that the Board of Regents make CS part of the general education requirement of all undergraduates in the University System of Georgia. Every student in every college in Georgia would be required to take a course in CS. Unlike elementary and high schools, USG institutions have CS teachers — they might have to hire more faculty to handle the load, but they know how to do it. It’s much less expensive to teach CS at the undergraduate level than at the high or elementary school level. But this creates the curriculum (you have to teach a different CS to everyone from what you teach to CS majors) that the high-end schools will immediately start to emulate, and that will get copied into other high schools.  Biggest advantage is that every new teacher (business, math, or science) will take a CS class! That should accelerate the rate of getting teachers who know CS into schools, and give them a new tool for teaching STEM classes.

Anyway, it’s probably a good thing that there is all of this interest in computing education from Georgia political leaders.


August 26, 2014 at 8:14 am 6 comments

Computing Education Bills go to Governor in California

Julie Flapan gave me permission to share this email to the members of ACCESS (Alliance for California Computing Education for Students and Schools) in California — thanks, Julie!

Dear Alliance for California Computing Education for Students and Schools:

We are thrilled to share the good news about two important computer science-related bills: AB 1764 (Buchanan/Olsen) and SB 1200 (Padilla) passed out of the legislature yesterday with unanimous approval and are awaiting the Governor’s signature.  These bills are a step in the right direction, having the potential to expand opportunities and increase participation in computer science education.  But our work is just beginning!

 These bills have the potential to make computer science count for California’s high school students: with AB 1764, an advanced computer science course may count as a math credit toward graduation, and with SB 1200, computer science may count as a credit toward UC/CSU college admissions.  Research has shown that making computer science count incentivizes students – especially those underrepresented in computing including girls and students of color – to enroll in computer science courses in high school.  ACCESS has been working with, the College Board and UCOP to try to get math credit approval for AP CS-A.  We hope this legislation will help support these efforts.

While these two bills represent a significant victory for computer science education, much work needs to be done to help establish robust guidelines for computer science coursework, promote high quality and engaging computer science curriculum, help prepare teachers to teach it, provide ongoing professional development, and most importantly, ensure that we are recruiting and retaining underrepresented students in meaningful computer science coursework that will help prepare students for college and careers.

If you have any further ideas or suggestions on how to fully realize the potential of these two bills, please don’t hesitate to contact either of us.

Julie Flapan and Debra Richardson


Julie Flapan

Executive Director, ACCESS and ECEP-CA
Alliance for California Computing Education for Students and Schools (ACCESS)
Expanding Computing Education Pathways - California (ECEP-CA)

Debra Richardson

Professor and Chair, ACCESS

August 23, 2014 at 9:32 am 2 comments

ScratchJr is now available for iPad (Android and Web coming)

Pretty exciting new direction for Scratch!  I’m really curious about the research that’s going to come out using ScratchJr. What can students learn to do with ScratchJr, and what’s the distribution (e.g., all kids learn X, but only 10% reach Y)? What do students transfer forward from learning ScratchJr?

ScratchJr is an introductory programming language that enables young children ages 5-7 to create their own interactive stories and games. Children snap together graphical programming blocks to make characters move, jump, dance, and sing. Children can modify characters in the paint editor, add their own voices and sounds, even insert photos of themselves — then use the programming blocks to make their characters come to life.ScratchJr was inspired by the popular Scratch programming language, used by millions of young people ages 8 and up around the world. In creating ScratchJr, we redesigned the interface and programming language to make them developmentally appropriate for younger children, carefully designing features to match young children’s cognitive, personal, social, and emotional development.ScratchJr is now available as a free iPad app. We expect to release an Android version later in 2014 and a web-based version in 2015.

via ScratchJr – About.

August 13, 2014 at 8:58 am 5 comments

New ExploringCS Working Paper: How do we avoid CS10K going to CS5K only five years later?

An important new working paper from the ExploringCS group asks the question: If we achieve CS10K, how do we avoid only having CS5K left after only five years?  This is exactly the question that Lijun Ni was exploring in her dissertation on CS teacher identity.

Of the 81 teachers who have participated in the ECS program over the last
five years, 40 are currently teaching ECS in LAUSD. These numbers reveal that we
have “lost” more teachers than we have “retained.” Of the 40 teachers who are
currently teaching the ECS course, 5 of them had a 1-2 year interval in which they
did not teach the course. This means that fully 45 of the 81 teachers who have
participated in the ECS program have experienced a teaching “disruption” which has
ended their participation in the ECS teacher community for a year or longer.

In particular, they ask us to consider the dangers of short-term fixes to long-term problems, which is a point I was trying to make when arguing that we may be 100 years behind other STEM subjects in terms of making our discipline-based education available to all.

In response to scaling up challenges, we can expect a rise of “quick-fix”
solutions that have a potential to undercut progress. One quick-fix “solution” to
address CS teacher shortage or the need for deepened teacher content knowledge
are programs that bring industry professionals to assist teachers in CS classrooms.
While we are interested in learning more about the outcomes of these programs,
because there can be value in students hearing from experts in the field, there are
also risks to having industry professionals take on a teaching role in the classroom
without professional development in effective and relevant pedagogy and belief
systems and equitable practices. Will industry professionals deliver content
knowledge the way they were taught, not having had experience working with the
novice learner? Will they focus on working with the students who think more like
they do, to the neglect of the other students? In short quick fixes like these may
inadvertently perpetuate the persistent divides in the field.

I add to their list of questions: Does bringing in IT professionals reduce the administrative pressure that pushes teachers out of CS?  Does it help to create the context and environment that supports CS teachers?

I used this working paper in my post this month for Blog@CACM.  Vint Cerf recently gave testimony in the Senate recommending a requirement for CS in all primary and secondary schools.  The ECS experience (and Lijun Ni’s work) point toward the need to create a supportive environment for CS teaching if we want to achieve Vint’s recommendation.

Highly recommended read.

July 27, 2014 at 9:35 am 1 comment

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