Monday, August 14, 2017

First Day of School Plans

Here's my contribution to the #iTeachCS movement for the time being!  Following #MTBoS, I decided to write about what I will do my first day of school.

My goals for the first day are to:

  1. Talk as little as possible and have students talk as much as possible
  2. Learn names
  3. Build norms
With those goals in mind, here is the plan!

Everyone will make name plates - I did this last year and enjoyed reading what students wrote and it helped me practice names for the first week.  On the back, students write something they want me to know.  Read the blog post linked above for all the details, but here is my link to the document I used with students last year.

I am going to start students with a puzzle activity.  I did this last year as well and it went well.  Essentially students get a 100 piece puzzle for a group of 4 and they have to put it together in a short amount of time.  Afterwards we talk about what skills and strategies they had to use individually and when working with other people.  This gets folded into developing norms.  Last year, it looked like this:

Lots of movement, talking, thinking, etc.

This year, I think I am going transition from this, to logic puzzles.  From a facebook post someone posted a few logic problems.  My goal here is for students to reflect further on the norms they have set for themselves and also introduce the idea that we are going to encounter a lot of problems in class and after a while, we are going to start to develop strategies that are common across problems.  I am going to start this burning rope brain teaser and then have students do this hour glass problem - both of these are related so students should be able to see how the strategy could be re-used for #2.  If there is time we will do a problem about soldiers crossing a river brain teaser and then the animals crossing the river  which again are related.  I plan to continue to reinforce the norms during this time too.

For AP CSP and Concepts of Advanced Algebra:
I am borrowing from's CSD curriculum and going to have students build boats to hold coins. You fan find the complete lesson plan here, but essentially it is a hands-on and collaborative activity for students that will force them to problem solve.  From here we will generate norms using post-its and then share out these norms as a class.  From there, we will reduce the norms down to 3-4 ways we will interact with one another in class.

Then on day 2...
Everyone will make a Flip Grid saying their name, 3 hobbies they have, 2 words their friends would use to describe them, and 1 reason they took this course... From there, we will dive into our content!  I want to use Flip Grid to get to know students and practice name/face recognition at home.

I'd love to hear everyone else's plans!

Sunday, August 13, 2017

What's next for the CS community?

Over the last few years there has been a huge push to train teachers to teach CS in preparation for AP CSP.  I am a product of that movement.  I am hugely appreciative for the work people at the College Board, NSF, and has done to support that movement.

But now I am wondering, what is next for our community?  How do we build on this success?  What does success look like 5 years from now?  How do we get there?

What are the strengths of the CSed community?

  • It seems to be filled with growth-mindset individuals.  Maybe it is because many of us were eager/willing to take on teaching a subject that was outside of our area of expertise.  Or, maybe it is because we are somewhat islands in our buildings, there isn't the same "crab bucket" effect that can take place in other departments.
  • There is a lot of freedom.  Since CS is not held to the same types of frameworks as core content areas, teachers have a lot more freedom.  Even in courses where there are accountability measures like the AP exam, we don't have a PLC that we need to convince of our techniques.  We can try things, fail, refine, and re-try. 

What does success look like 5 years from now?

  • When I think about MTBoS, I think one of its strengths is it doesn't get so caught up in the political nature of teaching.  It focuses on teaching and learning.  It focuses on doing what is right for students.  Obviously being political advocates for students is one way to "do what is right" from a "trickle down" perspective, but MTBoS does cool things in their classrooms and then shares it out.  We need people to advocate for CS education in districts, but I don't think that is really the community's focus.  Doing cool things in classrooms and then sharing those successes to the larger community will get CS in more schools.  I think about how MTBoS has teachers who have written books or been featured on TED talks or NPR... it is all good for the profession AND for students.
  • Powerful, teacher created and tested resources.  MTBoS is really how I survived my first year teaching.  Specifically, Sam J Shah's precalc resources were huge!  His virtual filing cabinet opened doors to other teachers blogs.  It was awesome.  You got to see how so many teachers approached teaching the ambiguous case of SSA and then pick your favorite or adapt it to your context.  I would love to see CS teachers share out their lessons and approach with the same generosity and support as MTBoS.  MTBoS has a "My favorite..." feature at TMC, where teachers talk about their favorite thing they do in their classroom all year or their favorite lesson.  It is a good way to get the "best-of" resources.  I can contribute to this too... this year I can share out the modifications I make to CSP and maybe share out a 180 blog from AP CSA.  
  • A Twitter-Math-Camp for Computer Science.  I would love to get people together who love CS and do an unconference EdCamp Style or model a conference after the MTBoS's Twitter Math Camp which started small and now has grown!  It is still really cheap (unlike CSTA's conference) and has some great teachers presenting on what they do in their classrooms.  We could totally do this too.
  • More "teacher experts" in more branches of CS.  I would love to see teachers who work in pathways of CS - teachers who teach data science, teachers who teach cyber security, teachers who partner with industry to put students in internships, teachers who do purely project based seminar classes... we have AP CSP and AP CSA.  I would love to see what creative teachers do after these courses.  CSTBoS could be the place where we test out these new courses and share out learnings. 

How do we get there?

  • I know it is cheap to answer a question with a question but... What role does CSTA play?  To me CSTA is to build local networks, and while there are state wide NCTM chapters, there role is much different than that of MTBoS.  I think CSTA can help strengthen our CSed community, especially around advocacy, but I don't see them necessarily supporting what teachers are already doing in their classrooms. 
  • Get people on board.  Admittedly, we need a core group of people who are excited about this and are willing (and have time) to participate.  If it is a blog, a #teach180 commitment, or a place for teachers to share out their "My Favorite..." lesson/activity.  I am sure that every teacher has something to share out there - something that they do that we could learn from.
  • Continue to build powerful PD.  So many people have been trained through various avenues, but let's consider what's next.  Can we do a Project Based Learning workshop with all other CS teachers? Can we think about what Complex instruction looks like in a CS classroom?  Let's leverage our expertise in a teacher-led weekend of workshops.
  • Make it loud!  Amplify others' voices when it comes to CS.  When someone reads an idea on twitter or on a blog, and then tries it in their classroom, share how it went.  If you like an idea, build on it - throw out questions for the CSTBoS to ponder.  Contribute to movements #ethicalCS on Twitter to connect to other CS teachers and start a dialogue there.

Not sure how to get started?

Check out advice from MTBoS about starting a blog.   Then consider blogging about anything you are interested in!  Consider some of the following questions to get started:
  • What are your first day plans?
  • Take pictures of your classroom - what does it look like?
  • What are your goals for this year?
  • How are you going to recruit students?
  • What do you wish families/students/admin/politicians knew about teaching CS?
  • What is your favorite lesson that you teach all year?
  • What projects take off in your class?
  • What PD has been most useful to you?
  • How do you address inequities in your classroom?
  • Consider doing a #teach180 blog where you write 2-3 sentences about how your day went.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

What makes for good CS PD?

I have had the opportunity to experience a lot of PD over the last few years with KSTF and the huge surge in support for CS.  After attending Upperline Code's teacher workshop, I have been wondering what makes for good CS PD?

Good CS PD should put the teacher in the role of a learner.  I saw this in my EDC workshop in Mathematical Practices, in Upperline's Workshop, and at  By having teachers fully engage in a structure or routine for a CS classroom, they can better implement it in their own classes. ....

Good CS PD should have participants planning and teaching lessons.  This seems like a no-brainer to me now, but I will admit it wasn't always that way.  Just like a "good math class" should have students "doing math", good teaching PD should have participating teaching.  In Upperline, we co-planned and taught our lessons which was necessary from a time-saving perspective, but also helpful as we got to collaborate with other teachers and bounce ideas off one another as we planned.

Good CS PD should have a common language.  Whether it is talking about engagement, access, problem solving, abstraction, computational thinking, once we are able to have a shared vocabulary around what we are talking about, we can go deeper into these conversations.  Sometimes this shared vocabulary can become meaningless buzzwords, but I still think bringing some kind of awareness to our goals through establishing a common vocabulary gives all participants more opportunities to contribute.

Good CS PD should have a time to be reflective.  With Upperline, after we taught a lesson, we had a time to reflect on the lesson we just delivered and got feedback from the participants.  I think the feedback part was hugely helpful for me but I wonder how other teachers would respond, especially if there are teachers who aren't psyched to be there.  I think I assume that every teacher is as excited to be at PD as myself, so I forget that there are people who were "volun-told" to be there.  I know there are other ways to reflect on the lesson after it is delivered - by shifting the focus to reflecting on the lesson from the learner perspective or considering how students would react in the lesson.  Regardless, having time to reflect on the lessons helps me think about how I would apply what I saw in my own classroom.

I realize that many of these ideas aren't ONLY for CS PD, but really good practices for good PD in general.  

However, while these guidelines are all well and good, one of the biggest questions is what does the content for CS PD look like?  I have attended many CSP PD workshops (for, CS50, or Mobile CSP) but they all center around the same content.  They focus on one curriculum's interpretation of the AP CSP standards.  When I have attended the EDC's workshop on Mathematical Practices (MPs), we learned how to incorporate MPs into any math course we were teaching from 6th grade math to 12th grade math.  I am wondering if we can do that for Computational Thinking standards.  Is that valuable for CS teachers?  Can we do a 2-4-1 and learn CS content (like, data science) AND computational thinking?  Is that, as the kids say, "doing too much"?  I acknowledge it is difficult to tell a teacher to develop a lesson plan on cyber-security without the teacher really knowing cyber-security, but maybe just giving teachers a direction is enough.   

In the Upperline Workshop, the CS content was all around web development.  We covered HTML, CSS, Ruby, loops, conditionals, etc.  At one point I was supposed to teach p5 - I realize that this is a broad thing to teach, but my partner and I narrowed down our specific goals for the class and then developed a task we wanted students to work towards in the class.  This practice was actually really useful.  I think you could do that with other CS topics as well - cyber-security, data science, etc.

Even while I hope to be able to teach some of the content I learned at Upperline in my CS classes, I expanded my own content knowledge in CS by participating in other teacher's lessons and experienced multiple ways of approaching CS instruction - some ways I liked and others that wouldn't fit my teaching style.  For me, as a teacher who is ready to further develop my own approach to teaching CS, having this experience was really valuable.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Day 4 of PD reflection

This one is going to be a bit more a "stream of consciousness" reflection... hold on to your pants.

  • I need students to move at least once an hour.  I really liked the mind meld icebreaker idea where students find a partner elsewhere in the room (standing) and choose a word (separately) and then say it out loud.  They need to try to match the same word over time.  For example, if one person says "hamburger" and the other person says "wonder woman" you need to try to think what is half way in between those two.  It's fun, simple, etc.
  • I have seen two different approaches to teaching objects.  One with Dan Shiftmann's processing materials (which were good) and then the one today where Jolson used video games to frame the topic.  I am always reluctant to use video games in CS because of the stereotype issue but... this is how it went.
    • Say we have a video game where we have a character
      • What Attributes might they have (which ones are getable and which ones are setable)
      • What Actions might they do (methods)
      • What "other" things might be important
  • Helping students brainstorm their projects:  Danny warned us against letting students get too attached to a single idea early on.  For this reason, the idea-ation portion was broken up into rapid-fire brainstorming where there were "no bad ideas" - everything got written down.  The general flow went like this with each question taking just 30-45 sections to brainstorm:
    • Who is your audience? (brain storm many, focus down into 1)
    • What problems do these audiences face? (brainstorm many, focus on 2)
    • What how can you help solve these problems? (brain storm many, focus on 1)
  • Scoping: Introduce the idea of MVP early on in the course.  These projects can go on forever.  This goes along with iterative and incremental development.  Have students think what the Minimum Viable Project looks like and work towards this first.  I like how this can be introduced early in the year.  I hope that this helps mitigate some of the perfectionism that arises, especially with female students.  If they see that small successes matter, that is important too. 
  • Hooks - do it. My professor at the U also required us to have decent hooks in our lesson and it makes so much sense.  It is also important to remember that hooks don't (and shouldn't) take up a lot of time. Hooks are there to just get every student into the lesson - they are there so the first 30 seconds of class brings everyone in.  
    • A story
    • A pain-point (aspirin)
    • What the end project might look like
    • A google search/funny video/topic
    • Quick brainstorm of student-relevant topics (what is your favorite movie - and then use that to talk about databases).
  • Spend time on "ta-da" moments.  It takes a while to get to these ta-das, I need to pause for the reveal and really make sure EVERY student sees it.  Sometimes I run through it a bit too fast and if students blink, they miss the "why" behind the lesson.  I need to pause in these moments, replay the "before and after", and make sure students see why they the "aspirin" is helpful.
  • Take time to look at errors and documentation. That's right, I think we want to over-teach a bit in CS.  Giving students the tools to answer their own questions is hugely important.  From what I gather, that's what the real-world does in CS - you google a TON.  I need to get students to look at and read the documentation.  I wonder if some of Nancy Johnson's reading skills could be helpful here.  Technical reading is different from what they are used to.  I am just thinking there are probably different skills involved - you don't read everything, you skim, you look for the code, you look for examples... I need to do more thinking about this.  Similarly, when it comes to reading errors, I need to have students develop skills needed to tackle these.  Some ideas mentioned were
    • read the errors out loud
    • ask students to summarize what they say
    • identify key parts
  • Answer questions by exploring the question.  Try it out (what if we use a different word, what kind of error do we get...).  OR try googling it.  SHOW. Don't TELL.  Model lead learner.
  • VOCABULARY.  In Upperline they use a lot of "anchor charts" to go over key blocks of of code.  They post these on the walls so all students can go back and see them later on if they cannot remember what is going on.  I am also wondering how I can support students in building vocabulary in my classes.  I wonder what my culturally responsive teaching book would say about this too...  Here is an example of what an anchor chart might look like. 
  • Show syntax - you shouldn't do "inquiry" on syntax.  It becomes too much of "guess what is in my head" types of questioning.  You SHOULD probe logic and "what-if" type situations - that is the part to push students and engage in higher level thinking. 

Finally, I realized I need to go back to my web development course to understand where JavaScript plays into all of this.  I think now that I have seen

Friday, July 7, 2017

Day 3 PD reflections: What story am I telling?

A few things have me thinking about the idea of story - a colleague and I had a little conversation about this during the school year, KSTF has us talking about the power of teacher stories, and what I am learning at Upperline PD has me thinking about the story each lesson tells while teachers are teaching their sample lessons.

Now I am wondering, how does each unit I have tell a story?  How do my lessons weave together a content story for students?  Is there a story arch throughout the year I can hang units and lessons on?

More recently, I have been thinking of the role of stories and learning targets in different types of lessons.

Traditional Instruction

When talking about traditional instruction, I think the story still needs to be there and learning targets provide key pointers at the beginning of the lesson to tell people where we are going.  For example, the move "The Breakup" is about, and results in, a break up.  You can still tell a good story if you know the ending.

In my upperline PD, I realized that if a teacher was teaching in a traditional way, I wanted to know exactly where we were going in their story.  I saw it needing to know the key checkpoints along the way.  It was somewhat like peeking ahead to the titles of future chapters in a book so I could see the story come together.

In traditional instruction, the teacher is the story teller.  Every student gets the exact same story from the same deliverer. Some teachers tell stories better than others here and I think there are some tricks to make the story still compelling for students.
  • I have noticed when ever I am super excited about the content (even if in reality I am not super jazzed about it), students engage more.  Seeing story tellers excited about the story is one way to get buy-in from students.  
  • Making the story feature key characters that are interesting to students gets a giggle from kids.  Including references to fidget spinners, Shakira, whatever is trendy or and inside joke at the moment includes students in on the story.
I get that some days even the most constructivst teacher needs to go to traditional methods of teaching.  That's OK.  That's not an excuse to forget about the story you want to tell or to skip a good hook. 

I wonder how else strong traditional instruction teachers are able to engage students in their classrooms.

Discovery/Inquiry Based Instruction

Inquiry based learning puts the student at the center of the story.  It also means that you might have 36 different stories being constructed in the classroom during a lesson.  Thus, it is the teacher's role to weave these stories together to make the picture clearer for all learners.

I truly believe that to give students the learning target at the beginning of an inquiry based learning lesson, you give away the punch line.  It's less fun to explore if you know how the story ends.  In fact, why explore, why take risks if you know the ending.

In discovery based learning, the storyline of a class is revealed by students and through students work.   However, I think we have all read something where the story wonders for too long (perhaps this blog post is one of them).  That's why the teacher is the ultimate architect of the story in these classrooms.  Being able to predict student questions and responses and guiding them to the "a-ha" moments takes a different set of skills.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

What I would do differently next time - Using Arduinos Part 3

Knowing what I know, now, here is what I would do differently next time:
  1. Display the projects when they are done.  Again, I need to show the school what we are working on.  I think this would also force students to clean up their work and take more ownership of what they did.
  2. Get more supplies, specifically more battery packs, sensors, and box cutters.  The battery packs can be used so that the boards don't need to be plugged in.  Students who wanted to make cars needed to be untethered.  Also, I ended up also purchasing a re-sealable mat but I need more box cutters for students to be able to cut cardboard and plastic.  The sensors would also allow students to make more interactive projects.  I like the idea of the projects being interactive rather than just movable.
  3. Assign one group a kit.  I didn't do this the first time around and it got messy.  The boxes got messy and there was no one to take responsibility.  The second time around I had students put a piece of tape on their box and write there name on the tape.  It made organization SO MUCH BETTER!
  4. End with a "scavenger hunt" - really just to trick students into cleaning up.  I would make a mat with each of the items the box SHOULD have in it and then have students show that everything was in there to "check in" their materials so it would be ready to go for the next group!
Overall - it was a success!  I am definitely going to do this next year.  I am hoping I might be able to collaborate more with our engineering teacher to better understand the circuitry component - I think I am making a dent in it, but expanding my knowledge would be a good thing. 

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

What does CSed Community 2.0 look like?

One of the main goals in our PD is to build a CS community.  I think that happens at TeacherCons and at week-long PD.

But, the big question is, what next?!

  1. How do we sustain this community?
  2. Where do we continue to build these connections?  Twitter?  A forum?
  3. What does the community need to be successful?
  4. What are the goals of our community?

... alright, this is reminding me of KSTF's systems frame work...

(after a bit of Google Drive Digging)

I love the quote I got from a KSTF meeting a year back that "each system is uniquely designed to get the exact result it is getting".  I certainly need to unpack the system here for our CSed community on a national and local scale.  I'm writing that on my "blog-to-dos" now...

I still think the model of an inclusive ed community comes from MTBoS.  I really think the success of MTBoS has come from a few rock stars just rocking.  They blog and share their experiences really freely.  They take risks in their classrooms and share the results.

In talking with one of the participants at the Upperline Training, he mentioned that CSTA feels really inaccessible to many teachers.  It is expensive.  Even presenting at CSTA is cost-prohibitive for a lot of teachers which MAY result in having less strong sessions.

I look at MTBoS's solution to not having a space to celebrate their community in Twitter Math Camp.  It is wildly successful.  CS needs to get the right "whos" in place, but I think we could get there.

Right now, we are just trying to build capacity and get more CS teachers, but once we have CS teachers, how do we continue to support them?  It takes a bit of time, but how can we amplify voices of CS teachers and draw them into the community?

I would love to see CS have their own "CS" Twitter Camp as a place to build their national community.  I suppose the first place to start is local.  Right now, one other teacher and myself meet up monthly to talk about our classrooms. It is an awesome collaborative time.  I have learned a lot from him (and hopefully he has learned something from me).

My goal next year: To open this up wider.  Invite more teachers to grab a drink and talk about CS ed.  If I can do one in the fall and one in the spring, that would be awesome.  I think I want to focus on HS CS teachers at the moment, but I certainly want to grow it from there.