Posts tagged ‘ComputingAtSchools’

Come visit with me at CAS 2017!

I’m excited to be a guest speaker at the Computing At School conference 2017 (linked below)!  Come visit with me in Birmingham June 17.

Barbara and I are going to be teaching on Georgia Tech’s study abroad program in Barcelona this summer.  We’ll be there from May 6 to July 30, with a few trips (like to Birmingham) in there.  I’ll be at the Turing-China conference in Shanghai May 10-14.

The conference attracts over 300 people each year. Most are teachers in either primary or secondary schools looking to update both their subject knowledge and approaches to teaching computing in their schools. There are talks and workshops for all key phases and for all levels of experience in Computing. Instructions given to ALL speakers and presenters is quite simple: “all attendees must return home with at least one new idea or resource they can use in their classrooms. Whatever your level of confidence with computing as a subject in your classroom this conference is the event for you!

Source: Computing At School

May 8, 2017 at 7:00 am 1 comment

Getting politicians to support CS, when they don’t understand CS

The article below describes a political furor over appointing someone to lead an effort to support computing education — who doesn’t herself understand much about computing.

But this is a general problem, and is probably a problem for engineering education, too.  Most US politicians in Washington DC don’t have STEM backgrounds.  Few know anything about engineering.  Fewer still know anything about computer science.  Even if they really want to support STEM, engineering, and computing education, not knowing what it is themselves makes it more challenging for them to make good choices.

The row over Tory cronies in taxpayer-backed positions look set to intensify after it emerges the boss of the government’s coding education initiative cannot code — or even give a decent explanation of what is involved. Figures behind the scheme include Michael Gove, who is at the centre of the furore over Conservative placemen in Whitehall and the ‘quangocracy’.

Conservative activist Lottie Dexter was ridiculed by IT experts and educationalists for her clueless performance on Newsnight — in which she claimed that teachers could be trained how to educate students in computer programming “in a day”

via Tories’ ‘Year of Code’ boss Lottie Dexter can’t code | Political Scrapbook.

March 6, 2014 at 1:54 am 1 comment

CS National Curriculum in England Released

The finalized form of the English national curriculum for CS was just released last week.  Worth comparing to CS:Principles, ExploringCS, and the new CS2013 Computer Science curriculum recommendations.

These are the statutory programmes of study and attainment targets for computing at key stages 1 to 4. They should be taught in England from September 2014.

via National curriculum in England: computing programmes of study – Publications – GOV.UK.

September 20, 2013 at 1:26 am Leave a comment

On Computing Education From a 14 year old’s Point of View: A role for livecoding

Articulate and interesting critique of the state of computing education.  This article is describing the UK, but the situations described are actually better than in most of the US (e.g., that everyone gets some computing education, and that everyone gets some Scratch, is light years ahead of the US where 80% have nothing at all).

The particular point quoted below is about the importance of teaching students enough that they can take pride in the result, and that they can see a path to do more.  I’m writing this while immersed in the Livecoding seminar at Dagstuhl, and I realize that this is a role for livecoding — showing students that they can make something realimmediately and quickly change it to make something new.

Again, we have the Windows Movie Maker problem. If a student cannot take pride in the work they produce, how can you expect them to take an interest in the subject?

From a student’s perspective, if it has taken four years to learn how to produce a program to add two numbers together, the gap to becoming a software developer creating useful applications looks enormous.

via On Computing Education – The Windows Movie Maker Problem – Ross Penman – Ross Penman.

September 19, 2013 at 1:44 pm 8 comments

Logic error: Assuming that early coding leads to top-coding skills

So, you do a survey of top coders, and find that many of them started coding between 8 and 11 years old.  Does that imply that starting coding between 8 and 11 leads to being a top-coder?  No, because you don’t know how many other kids started coding between 8 and 11 and got totally turned off to programming and are now gardeners.  Yes, the data are consistent with the belief that coding early leads to top-coder status, but there’s not enough there to avoid fallacy.

The argument suggested by the post below  is like the one that we’re trying to make about the role of early computing experience in influencing under-represented minorities.  We found the vast majority of under-represented minorities in CS had early computing experience.  But we also found that it was significantly more under-represented minorities had that experience than majority students in CS.  That strengthens our case that the early computing experience is particularly important for under-represented minorities.  What we haven’t shown yet is that there is a causal relationship.  Is it the case that many under-represented minority students who got early computing experience did NOT go into CS classes?  Until we know that, we can’t make any strong claims.  (I think that the quote below is from the same Neil Fraser who went to Vietnam and came back with a lot of incorrect assumptions about high school CS in the US.)

The article linked below is about teaching kids to program before they learn to read, using ScratchJr.  The article is interesting, and it raises a question well-worth exploring.

Early exposure to programming seems to have helped some of the world’s top coders. Earlier this year, Google engineer Neil Fraser in Mountain View, California, polled over 100 of his co-workers about when they first picked up coding, and then compared that with their performance on a simple test of skills. He found that those who wrote their first code between the ages of roughly 8 and 11 were most likely to develop advanced coding skills.

“We didn’t see an effect before 3rd grade, but certainly earlier is good,” Fraser says.

via Kindergarten coders can program before they can read – 26 July 2013 – New Scientist.

September 2, 2013 at 1:34 am 9 comments

Trip Report on ICER 2013: Big Data, compare-and-contrast, and middle school girls

The papers for ICER 2013 are available in the ACM Digital Library now at I think that they remain free for a month (so, until September 12), so grab them quick.

ICER 2013 was a fabulous conference. I learned alot, and am already using some of the ideas I gained there in my research and in my teaching. I can’t possibly summarize all the papers, so here’s my unofficial list of what struck me.

I was invited to be a discussant in the Doctoral Consortium, and that was an absolute thrill. The students were so bright and had so many interesting ideas. I’m eager to hear about many of the results. We also noted that we had participants from several major research universities this year (Stanford, MIT, Virginia Tech, University of Washington). For some, it was the first time that they’d ever sent someone to the ICER DC. Why? Amy Ko (U. Washington) said that it was because it’s been three years since CE21 funding started, and that’s enough time to have something for a doctoral student to want to show. Really shows the importance of having funding in an area.

One of the big ideas for me at ICER this year was the value of big data — what can you do with lots of data? Neil Brown showed that the Computing At Schools website is growing enormously fast, and he told us that the BlueJ Blackbox data are now available to researchers. Elena Glassman talked about how to use and visualize student activity to support finding different paths to a solution.  Colleen Lewis presented with two of her undergraduate collaborators from Berkeley on data mining the AP CS exam answers.

My favorite example of the value of big data for CS Ed came from my favorite paper of the conference. Michael Lee and Amy Ko presented on their research on how adding assessments into a programming video game increased persistence in the game. The below graph appears in their paper, but in the talk, Michael annotated it with what was being taught in the levels that led to drop-offs in participation. (Thanks to Michael for providing it to me.) The control and assessment groups split on lists. Variables were another big drop-off, as were objects and functions. Here is empirical measurement of “how hard is that topic.” I’ve submitted my request to gain access to the Blackbox, because I’m starting to understand what questions we can ask with a bunch of anonymized data.


There were several papers that looked at student artifacts as a proxy for their understanding. I was concerned about that practice. As Scott Klemmer told us in his opening keynote, people program mostly today by grabbing stuff off the Web and copying it — sometimes, without understanding it. Can you really trust that students using some code means that they understand the idea behind that code?

Raymond Lister led a really great one hour special session around the idea of “Geek genes,”  whether CS really does generate a bi-modal distribution of grades, and whether the learning edge momentum theory describes our results.  It was a great session because it played to ICER’s strengths, e.g., really intense discussion, and yet generated moments of enormous laughter.  I came away thinking that there are no geek genes, we don’t have bimodal distributions, and the jury is still out on the learning edge momentum.

Elizabeth Patitsas presented a nice paper comparing introducing algorithms serially (“Here’s algorithm A that solves that problem…and now here’s algorithm B…”) vs as compare-and-contrast (“Here are two algorithms that solve that problem…”). Compare-and-contrast is better, and better when learning algorithms than even the existing education literature suggests. I mentioned this result in class just yesterday. I’m teaching our TA preparation class, and a student who teaches algorithms asked me, “Am I responsible for my students’ learning?” I showed the students Elizabeth’s result then asked, “If you know that teaching one way leads to more learning than another, aren’t you morally or ethically required to teach using the better method?”

Michelle Friend and Rob Cutler described a group of middle school girls figuring out a complicated algorithm problem (involving finding the maximum height that an egg drop protection mechanism will work). They showed that, without scaffolding, the girls were able to come up with some fairly sophisticated algorithms and good analyses of the speed of their algorithms. We’re getting somewhere with our understanding of CS learning at the schools age.

And I totally admit that my impression of this ICER is influenced by my paper on Media Computation winning the Chair’s Paper Award. Michael Lee won the popular vote “John Henry Award.” (I voted for him, too.)

I’m skipping a lot: Mike Hewner presenting on his thesis, an interesting replication of the McCracken study, new ideas about PCK and threshold concepts.  It was a great event, and I could write a half dozen posts about the ideas from the conference. Next year’s ICER is in Glasgow, 11-12 August. I am very much looking forward to it, and am working on my papers to submit already.

August 29, 2013 at 1:49 am 3 comments

New UK curriculum: Five-year-olds to learn programming and algorithms

I haven’t read the new framework myself yet, but the press coverage suggests that this is really something noteworthy.  I do hope that there is some serious assessment going on with this new curriculum.  I’m curious about what happens when five year olds start programming.  How far can they get?  In Yasmin Kafai’s studies of Scratch and in Amy Bruckman’s studies of MOOSE Crossing, almost none of the younger students ever used conditionals or loops.  But those were small studies compared to a national curriculum.  How much transfers forward?  If you do an abstract activity (programming) so early, does it lead to concrete operational reasoning earlier?  Or does it get re-interpreted by the student when she reaches concrete operational?  And, of course, the biggest question right now is: how can they get enough teachers quickly enough?

The new curriculum will be mandatory from September 2014, and spans the breadth of all four ‘key stages’, from when a child first enters school at age five to when they end their GCSEs at 16. The initial draft of the curriculum was written by the British Computer Society (BCS) and the Royal Academy of Engineering in October 2012, before being handed back to the DfE for further tweaks.

By the end of key stage one, students will be expected to ‘create and debug simple programs’ as well as ‘use technology safely and respectfully’. They will also be taught to, ‘understand what algorithms are; how they are implemented as programs on digital devices; and that programs execute by following precise and unambiguous instructions’.

via Five-year-olds to learn programming and algorithms in major computing curriculum shake-up – IT News from

Not everyone is happy about the new curriculum.  Neil Brown has a nice post talking about some of the issues.  He kindly sent me a set of links to the debate there, and I found this discussion from a transcript of Parliament proceedings fascinating — these are all really good issues.

First, on professional development, the Minister made the point that some money was being made available for some of the professional development work. Does he feel that it will be sufficient? There is a serious issue about ongoing professional development throughout the system, starting at primary level, where updating computer skills will be part of a range of updated skills which all primary teachers will need to deliver the new curriculum. It is also an issue at secondary level, where it may not be easy but is possible to recruit specialist staff with up-to-date computing skills. However, if you are not careful, that knowledge and those skills can fall out of date very quickly.

Secondly, what more are the Government planning to do to attract new specialist computing staff to teach in schools? It is fairly obvious that there would be alternative, better paid jobs for high-class performers in computing. They may not necessarily rush into the teaching profession.

Thirdly, can the Minister confirm that the change in name does not represent a narrowing of the curriculum, and that pupils will be taught some of those broader skills such as internet use and safety, word processing and data processing, so that the subject will actually give people a range of knowledge and skills which the word “computing” does not necessarily encompass?

Fourthly, the teaching will be successful only if it is supported by sufficient funds to modernise IT facilities and to keep modernising them as technology changes. The noble Lord made reference to some low-cost initiatives in terms of facilities in schools. However, I have seen reference to 3D printers. That is fine, it is just one example, but 3D printers are very expensive. The fact is that, for children to have an up-to-date and relevant experience, you would need to keep providing not just low-cost but some quite expensive technological equipment in schools on an ongoing basis. Will sufficient funds be available to do that?

Finally, given that computing skills and the supporting equipment that would be needed are increasingly integral to the teaching of all subjects, not just computing, have the Government given sufficient thought to what computing skills should be taught within the confines of the computing curriculum and what computing skills need to be provided with all the other arts and science subjects that people will be studying, in all of which pupils will increasingly require computing skills to participate fully? Has that division of responsibilities been thought through? I look forward to the Minister’s response.

via Lords Hansard text for 8 Jul 201308 July 2013 (pt 0001).

We just had the ECEP Day at the Computer Science Teachers Assocation (CSTA) Conference on July 14, where I heard representatives from 16 states talk about their efforts to improve computing education.  Special interests, where do state legislators have to be involved, what does “Computing” mean anyway — all of the states reported pretty much the same issues, but each in a completely different context. The issues seem to be pretty much the same in the UK, too.

July 22, 2013 at 1:21 am 7 comments

Making computation concrete and easier to learn

I’ve mentioned before how much I enjoy the Computing At Schools online forum.  I got involved in a discussion about how to teach teachers programming, and the question was raised: Why do we have to teach programming?  Shouldn’t we just teach concepts? Neil Brown (in a blog post that I highly recommend reading) suggested, “We teach programming to make it concrete.”  One of the commenters suggested that memory is very concrete.  I disagreed, and am sharing here my response (for those who don’t yet belong to CAS), with editing and expansion:

Concreteness and abstraction in computing are difficult to define because, really, nothing in computing is concrete, in the Piagetian sense. Piaget talked about concreteness in terms of sensory input. I’ve heard before that “memory is concrete — it’s really there.” Can you see it? Can you touch it? Sure, you can “see” it in a debugger — but that’s seeing through a program. Maybe that memory is “made up” like any video game or movie special effect. It’s no more “real” than Yoda or Mario. We can sense the output of computation, which can then be Piagetian-concrete, but not the computation itself.

Uri Wilensky (who was a student of Seymour Papert) has a wonderful paper on concreteness. He redefines concreteness as being a quality of relationship. “The richer the set of representations of the object, the more ways we have of interacting with it, the more concrete it is for us.” Uri gives us a new way of measuring abstract-concrete in terms of a continuum.

  • Memory is really pretty abstract for the novice. How many ways can a newcomer to computing view it, manipulate it? It might be really concrete if you know C, because you can manipulate memory in many ways in C. You can construct a relationship with it (to use Uri’s term). From Scratch or Python or Java, memory is totally abstract for the novice. There’s no way to directly manipulate it
  • We did Media Computation because images and sounds are concrete. We get sensory input from them. So, computation to manipulate images and sounds gives us concrete ways to explore computation. We can’t see the computation, but as we change the computation and get a different sensory output, we can develop a relationship with computing.
  • Threads are hopeless abstract. You have to be pretty expert, and know how to think about and manipulate processes-as-a-thing before threads can become concrete.

July 2, 2013 at 1:53 am 5 comments

What I Learned from Computing in Schools Efforts

I just did a Blog@CACM post on my experiences at three meetings over the last two weeks, learning about efforts to get computing into primary and secondary schools in two countries (Denmark and England) and in two US states (South Carolina and Maryland).

Here are those four big lessons (with more detail in the post):

  • It’s easier to have something in place and then improve it, than to convince others that computing should be squeezed in.  
  • Industry voices matter.
  • Public policy support goes a long way.
  • Economics isn’t the only argument.


May 22, 2013 at 1:12 am 4 comments

Heading to Denmark May 10-16

I’ll be traveling to Denmark with Barbara Ericson on May 10 to attend a conference at Aarhus University on their new computer science curriculum.  Michael Caspersen invited us out.  Simon Peyton-Jones of the Computing At Schools effort in the United Kingdom will be speaking as well.  I’m copy-pasting the program (translated from Danish) to give you a sense of what it’s all about. It’s an exciting opportunity, and I’m looking forward to learning more about the efforts to move computing into primary and secondary education in Denmark and the UK.

The purpose of the conference is to establish support for our efforts by raising political awareness at all levels of decision making in our society related to teaching computing in school (parliament, regional and city councils, high school principals, high school teachers, deans, chairs and professors in computing departments, IT organizations, journalists, etc.).

09.30 Registration and coffee

– exhibition of student projects opens

10.00 Welcome

– Peter Hesseldahl (moderator)

10.15 Digital literacy: creative and critical innovation — three perspectives

– Michael: Insight and vision through computing

– Jacob (high school teacher): Computing — a creative, critical and constructive subject

– Susanne: Why does society need digital literacy?

11.15 Break

11.45 Digital literacy in an international perspective

– Mark: Why everyone will need digital literacy in their life

– Simon: Digital literady: Why every child should learn computing from primary school onwards

12.15 Lunch

13.15 Panel: On the importance of digital literacy for high school students

– Christine Antorini, Minister of Children and Education

– Morten Østergaard, Minister of Science, Innovation and Higher Education

– Morten Bangsgaard, CEO, The Danish IT Industry Association (ITB)

– Anne Frausing, Principal and representative for the High School Principal’s Association

– Gitte Møldrup, Managing Director, IT-VEST — Networking Universities

14.30 Break

15.00 Simon: Computing at School: How the UK is radically reshaping its curriculum for the 21st century

15.25 Mark: CS10K: Providing access to computing education across the US

15.50 Wrap-up

16.00 End of plenary session

16.30 Exhibition of student projects ends

May 6, 2013 at 1:22 am Leave a comment

BBC News – Computer science teachers offered cash incentive

Great news that the UK is putting up cash incentives to draw in CS teachers! This move addresses the biggest concern that I have for the CS10K project — where are we going to get the teachers? What will motivate them to study CS? A cash reward would certainly help.

Isn’t it a little surprising that Facebook, Microsoft, and IBM are being asked to design the training for the new teachers? Why them? Because they have so much experience training teachers? Or teaching people about CS? They may do a wonderful job. It’s just not an obvious set of choices.

High-flying graduates are to be given a £20,000 golden handshake to train as computer science teachers.

Ministers have asked Facebook, Microsoft and IBM to help design the training for the new teachers.

Education Secretary Michael Gove said current information and communications technology (ICT) teacher training courses would be axed from next year.

The move “could not be more welcome or more necessary”, said Prof Steve Furber of the Royal Society.

via BBC News – Computer science teachers offered cash incentive.

October 26, 2012 at 5:56 am 2 comments

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