Here We Go Again

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Once again it is time to saddle up and prepare to ride herd on another group of technology students. With the hustle and bustle of preparing for a new year I often forget how important it is to document what works and what does not. This year my goal is to journal, at least some of my classes, with an eye towards technique. We spent the morning in a professional development seminar presented by Dave Burgess of Teach Like a Pirate fame.  Needless to say, while I did not agree wholeheartedly with everything that was said, I do believe that Mr. Burgess was correct in one very important area.  We absolutely DO need to carefully consider our presentation and we need to devise ways to make it more engaging.  We are packaging and marketing a product for sale and we are competing with some of the best marketers in the world for the attention of our students.  In order to engage our students and give them the best opportunity to retain the material we present, we must make it palatable.

Before anyone grabs the tar and feathers, I have not bought into the theory that each lesson needs to be an epic presentation of Hollywood-like special effects.  I survived the “Working on the Work” phase of 2007 and 2008.  We all built carefully crafted set-pieces to be trotted out for special occasions like evaluations.  I have seen teachers with fire station poles, amusement park rides, and all sorts of props in the classroom.  I don’t think that this is a legitimate expectation for every teacher.  I do, however, think that each of us can, and should, put more care into the format and presentation of our lessons.  Any good craftsman will be interested in improving their craft because each of us, in the end, wants to do the best we can for our kids, or at least, they should be our highest motivation.

At any rate, my goal this year is as follows:

1.) Document what I am doing in class with video, audio, and careful notes.

2.) Use that documentation to improve what I am currently doing and use legitimate data collection and analysis methods to determine what is good and what is not so effective.

3.) Brain-storm ideas for more ways to present information more accurately and more interestingly.

4.) Archive and share what works and what does not in the classroom on these pages.

Having said that…Wish me luck…Here We Go Again.

WeTeach_CS – Everyone Needs to be Digitally Literate

weteachcs-stacked-orange-largeAnother conference has come and gone.  I attend  a great many of these over the course of a year and one thing I have noticed is that most of them are too big.  TCEA is a wonderful place to share and learn but it is very easy to get lost. Bringing thousands of people together to share ideas, oddly enough, makes sharing those ideas much more difficult.  This is not the case with the WeTeach_CS Computer Science Summit, held each year in Austin at the J. J. Pickle Research Campus.  (That name appeals to me for some reason).

WeTeach_CS is a program sponsored through the Center for STEM Education by  the University of Texas in Austin with the express purpose of promoting Computer Science Education in Texas High Schools.  They are deeply involved in promoting Professional Development for Texas Computer Science Teachers and probably are best known for providing $1000 stipends for teachers who are willing to become certified in Computer Science and to teach it in the State of Texas.  WeTeach_CS provides training and resources in all aspects of Computer Science with a focus on helping teachers successfully pass the TEA 141 exam to become a certified Computer Science Teacher in Texas.  They provide support and resources for currently employed CS teachers to insure that students in Texas High Schools have the best access to Computer Technology and Education available.  They also act as advocates for Computer Science Teachers and educators in general.

To those ends, the staff of WeTeach_CS, led by Dr. Victor Sampson, Director of the Center for STEM Education, and Dr. Carol Fletcher, the Deputy Director of the Center for STEM Education, sponsor a summit meeting of interested Computer Science Teachers, Administrators, Technology Support Staff, and Vendors from across the State and around the Nation.  This event, ably organized behind the scenes by Amy Werst, Manager of Programmatic Operations for the Center, is a great opportunity for educators to share techniques and ideas with their peers from across the state as well as a place be become informed on the condition of Computer Science Education in Texas.

I have been privileged to attend this summit for the last two years (2015/16 and 2016/17) and I can say that, unlike many conference type events, this one is worth the time and effort to attend.  In the past I have attended trainings where the primary function seemed to be getting as many potential customers in front of as many vendors as possible.  Many of the “educator sessions” turned into sales pitches for whatever product the vendor was selling.  While I recognize the need for sponsors and that sponsors should receive benefits for the investment they make, it is very easy to take this to a level so extreme that it ceases to have any educational value at all.  (Advice to all event organizers of this type: Limit vendor/sponsors to the absolute minimum necessary to fund the event and make sure that the content they are providing in their sessions is actually useful to people who aren’t going to buy their products.)

I believe WeTeach_CS Summit organizers hit the balance perfectly.  Aside from main corporate sponsors (IBM and Oracle this year – Thank You Both Very Much!), there were only about 6 vendor sponsors in attendance.  This for a conference of a couple of hundred attendees.  The tables were located in the common break area and the vendors were not intrusive at all.  The sessions they presented were informative and useful, even to people with no intention of purchasing anything.  In short, they were an asset to the meeting and not a distraction.  It would have been very easy to fill the common area up with vendor tables and the organizers could possibly have made more money but I believe that the conference would have suffered.  Hats of the Amy, Carol, and everyone involved for doing a great job organizing.

The facilities provided by UT were, as usual for the university, top notch.  I am anUT Associate Faculty with the OnRamps program as well as a budding Bootstrap presenter and so I frequently attend meetings and presentations at various locations within the University of Texas.  I have never had a bad experience with any UT sponsored event.  The WeTeach_CS Summit for 2016/17 was an excellent reflection upon the University of Texas and the value it places on education in the State of Texas.  (I’m saying this even though I graduated out of the A&M system so you know it has to be true).

If Carol, Amy, and the other attendees of this conference are any indication, the future of Computer Science, and education in general, in Texas, is bright. Given the projected growth of the Computer Industry and all things digital, I would say that the future of the economy and the welfare of the people of Texas is also bright.  At least it will be if Carol Fletcher has anything to say about it.

Favorite Computer Science Teacher Tools – Day 2

dell745On day 2 of our investigation into useful tools for teaching Computer Science I would like to point out a web site that makes teaching several different aspects of Computer Science a breeze…CodeAcademy.com

codeacademyCodeAcademy.com is one of the most useful and user friendly coding sites on the Internet. It also contains a huge amount of free content. I realize that the purpose of most sites is to generate income and I applaud that. Generating income is the motive force that keeps quality content in production. However, it is nice to share the wealth and give away quality material to draw people to your site. CodeAcademy has this down pat. One can learn Java, HTML, CSS, JavaScript in various flavors, and SQL just to name a few. I use CodeAcademy.com in most of my classes, even some that might not otherwise involve code. It is possible to set up classes and monitor the progress your students are making as well as to view the material they are learning. As a supplemental source of material it just can’t be beat. Thank you to CodeAcademy.com for providing such a useful amount of free material for my students.

imagineThe next item on my all-time list of favorite tools is a program (not software) created by Microsoft and labeled Imagine. This program, recently known as Dreamspark, provides professional grade coding tools and software to students for, basically, no charge. Where else can a high school student, learning to code, find a copy of Visual Studio Professional with a legal license, at no charge. The school or academy that uses the program pays a token fee of $99 per year and can make items like Visual Studio, SQL Server, and many other professional Microsoft tools available to their students at no cost to the student.

Well, that is day 2 of our top 10 list.  Only 3 more days to go until completion.  If you have questions about any of the programs or tools listed, OR if you would like to add your favorite application to the mix, please use the comment section below, and don’t forget to “like” and subscribe if this sort of topic seems worthwhile to you.

Computer Science Tools Review

9ipArbkiEReviewing the live adaptation of Ghost in the Shell has put me in the mood to present some other reviews and so without further adieu I will be presenting my Top Ten for Computer Science Teaching Tools. These are presented in no particular order or ranking and I would be very happy to have someone add to the list in the comments section below if I miss one of your favorite tools or programs.

greenfootOne of my personal favorite programming tools will always be the Educational Java IDE Greenfoot.  I believe that this is one of the most comprehensive and useful combinations of curriculum and tools available for teaching Java and the basic concepts of Object Oriented Programming.  Notice I added both of those qualifiers.  There are certainly more effective programming interfaces and some tools that make learning the basics of programming simpler but to combine both of those things into a single application, Greenfoot can not be beaten.  The program creator, Michael Kölling, is first and foremost, an educator rather than simply a programmer, and this is apparent in the way that he designed the Greenfoot application to bring out the basic tenets of programming, and specifically Object Oriented design while hiding much of the complicated boiler-plate code that students will get to soon enough in Eclipse or Net Beans.  Rather than begin in a procedural mode teaching loops and variables and other constructs and then bringing class into it  (There I go…bringing class into it) Michael starts off with proper class design principles from the beginning and teaches constructs along with OOP design.  The best time to build a mind-set, in this case, for Object Oriented Programming, is in the beginning and that is exactly what Greenfoot does.

arduinoMy next favorite tool is the combination programming environment and hardware that make up the Arduino system. In order to get students interested in programming and code creation we need to get them engaged. Nothing creates interest and focuses attention better than creating something that works. Lights flash. servos turn. robots move. All of these things tie the attention of the young programmer onto the task in a manner that does not seem at all tedious or difficult. With the Arduino programming environment concepts like functions, methods, variables, loops, and program logic can be taught in bite-sized portions that don’t overwhelm the young programmer. Also Arduino provides an avenue to teach fundamentals of engineering, circuit design, and making in general. Considering the price of the hardware, this is an excellent investment for a part of your classroom budget each year.

With that, the first edition of my Top Ten Computer Science Teaching Tools comes to a close.  I will continue the list tomorrow and try to finish by the end of the week.  If you have suggestions or comments, please list them below.  Also, “likes” are appreciated.

Thanks.

Live From TCEA…Sorta

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I am currently at the premier technology education event certainly in Texas, and possibly in the world.  This is my 5th such event in as many years and so I am not exactly a newbie to this environment.  I have seen a great many changes, some good and some bad, but the one constant ingredient I find is the caring demonstrated by the educators here.  While we may not all agree on what is best for our students, we can all agree that we want the very best for our students.  I am proud to be surrounded by such professional and caring individuals

Having said that, the other draw to this incredible meeting is the amazing amount of technological innovation being displayed here.  The leading technology players in the world gather here because they know that teachers are an excellent source of sales and we seem to be drawn to toys.  Perhaps we like toys because we like kids.  Who knows?  All I know is that I am exhausted and off to bed.  Hope to see you tomorrow in Austin.

TCEA 2017

arduinoOnce again I am off to Austin, TX (not my favorite place to travel to but I seem to go there a lot) to present my way of teaching technology to the attendees of the Texas Computer Educator’s Association.  I have done this for the past 5 years and it just keeps getting better each year.  I am presenting on the topic of using incorporating the Arduino microprocessor and the Internet of Things into the curriculum of a technology classroom at the secondary level.  I have been using Arduino for also about five years and find it to be an incredible tool for creating engagement with the students.  Everyone likes to be in control and make things happen.  Something about typing code into a screen and seeing a motor turn or watching an LED blink on and off in response to a sensor is satisfying beyond what it should be.  Compared to Raspberry Pi (which I also use) or other small computers/processors, the Arduino is inexpensive and easy to incorporate into all sorts of projects.  The basic theories of electronics (Ohm’s Law, Kirchhoff’s Law, etc) are easy to teach and building circuits that actually do something really helps focus the student’s attention on the task at hand.  In short, it is an excellent way to spend some grant money if you happen to have it available.

So off I go.  Wish me luck.  I will do my best to blog while I am away but no promises.  It is, after all, a very busy time.  I hope to see you there and I REALLY hope that you can drop by at 8:00 am on Monday and sit in for my demonstration.  I think you will find it interesting and useful – at least, that is my goal.  Safe journey if you are traveling this week.

TCEA 2017 is a GO!!

I just got my acceptance letter to present a premiere session at TCEA 2017 in Austin, TX tbusyhis year.  I will be presenting Arduino and the Internet of Things on Monday, Feb. 6 at 8:00 am.  You will need a premiere admission to attend as this is a half-day “hands-on” session.  I would LOVE to see someone there who is also a blog reader.  Speaking of which, I know I have been remiss in posting but this year has been incredibly busy.  I have nine (NINE!!) preps this year.  Seven classes, two of which run two classes concurrently.  Needless to say I am very overloaded.  Also, my fledgling music career is moving forward.  Fifth Sparrow completed their summer tour of West Texas and also played the Whitesboro Peanut Festival.  So before you chide me for inattentiveness, please be aware that I am not just being lazy.