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.

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#TCEA16 Reflections

tcea2016I just got in from unpacking the car after an exhausting and thrilling week at TCEA’s state-wide convention in Austin, TX and now I have a moment to pause and sort out my thoughts before I go take a nap.  (As you might suspect, this will be a short post.  I really need the nap.)

First let me say that there is a great deal of talent, passion, and enthusiasm for technology in education in Texas.  I have spent the week with several thousand people who genuinely care about educating YOUR children.  Public school teachers in Texas are not lazy by any stretch of the imagination.  They are not uncaring.  They want nothing more out of life than to see your child succeed.  They work in the face of impossible odds and with very little in the way of appreciation, either financial or social.  They don’t need a lot.  Texas teachers will teach your kids using old fashioned text books, pen and ink, or the newest SMART board and laptop.  They don’t need a lot but they make use of anything and everything.  This week I saw people using computers and robotics and I saw people using rubber bands and paper clips.  Each was just a excited and committed as the other.  Both groups are now home and reinvigorated and ready to teach on Monday, or at least they will be ready after a good night’s sleep.

To all the teachers who have spent the last week at TCEA I have some suggestions that will make the experience a bit more meaningful…

  1.  Sit down ASAP and write down your impressions and thoughts about the past week.  Don’t let all that experience go to waste.  If you met someone interesting or who offered worthwhile information, write down their contact information and enter it into your phone or email address book.  Make a committment to contact them and continue the relationship.
  2. Recopy any notes that you may have taken.  Use OneNote or some other organizational aid to put what you learned in order.  Don’t let all those brochures and handouts get wadded up into the bottom of a suitcase and tossed out with the trash.  Organize what you brought back.
  3. Commit now to work next year.  We need volunteers.  Every member should spend at least one session as a facilitator or a worker at the TCEA booth or something.  Much of the work for this convention is done by a very few people.  Be one of them.  Besides you get a really cool T-shirt that is different from everyone else’s and it is not one that can be bought or given as a door prize.  The only way to get an “I can help you get connected” T-shirt is to earn it (or you could mug someone else who earned one but that would not be very nice).
  4. REST this weekend.  Sleep late tomorrow.  This convention stuff takes it out of you.  Be ready to get busy on Monday.  Get some sleep.  Take a break tomorrow.
  5. Pick three things that really impressed you and implement or involve them in your classroom.  Don’t try to cram everything in your notes into your daily routine but do incorporate three things.  If one doesn’t work, choose another but you should be able to add three tools to your belt that will make your job easier, better, more effective, or more fun.  Write the other things down and keep them for later but make sure you add three things when you go back to work.
  6. And finally, the most important thing you can do is go back to school and share what you learned.  This is the purpose of the convention in a nutshell.  “Learn and then Teach”.  You have been given a great many opportunities, tools, and tips; share them.  Give a class on something that impressed you.  Build a document that all the teachers from your school can access.  Just don’t waste what you’ve been given.

Well that is my take on it anyhow.  I am going to start organizing my notes while I can still keep my eyes open and I will see you in the classroom on Monday.