Computer Science Teacher
Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

April, 2010

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Does Your Computer Lab Scare Away the Girls?


    The Internet is as the same time one of the great distractions and great spontaneously learning environments in history. As I looked at my twitter stream I saw a link to the live stream from TEDxSeattle and decided to take a look. The session I stumbled on was by Sapna Cheryan who studies stereotypes. Of interest to me is that she has been studying how stereotypes may be keeping women away from computer science.  She asks the question “Might this be because the powerful image of the male “computer geek” makes women feel like they do not belong in the field?” Now she is not the first one to ask this question of course. Jane Margolis and Allan Fisher asked this question in their research which led to the book Unlocking the Clubhouse: Women in Computing.  But I found the research experiments that Sapna Cheryan related to be particularly interesting and relevant.

    Two questions that I hear regularly are “how should I set up my computer lab” and “can you get me some computer posters for my classroom?” This tells me that people give a lot of thought to there computer labs. And well they should. The question of physical arrangement is usually focused on how best to have things to teach and for good classroom management. The second question though is about making the room an attractive learning space. That is where the relevance of Sapna’s research comes to my mind.

    They have created room that were decorated in stereotypical “geek” spaces with science fiction posters and books, soda can statues, etc. and then the same rooms with les stereotypical decorations. Art or general science posters, no soda can piles, etc. Then they asked people which room they thought they would do better in as a student. Also they asked people how interested they were in computer science. Women were more interested in computer science and more optimistic about how well they would do in the non-geek room. Man, generally but not always, favored the geek room. Other research shows that students who expect to do better in an environment actually tend to do better in that environment by the way. So this is interesting on several levels.

    We want our learning spaces to be attractive and to promote learning. This research suggests that if we want to attract more people who are not currently being attracted to computer science that we want to avoid too much “geeking out” of our computer rooms and lab spaces. We need to make them welcoming rather than intimidating. For some of us, geeks like me in particular, that may mean getting some decorating help. Maybe that will open some doors of communication as well.

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  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Teachers Don’t Talk Enough


    I was invited to be on a panel at Northeastern University (I was a last minute fill-in but happy to attend) talking about Teaching With Technology. Now the difference between teaching technology and teaching with technology is a big one. And important one. I’m big on both but honestly think that teaching with technology is a better way to teach technology than teaching technology for its own sake. The panel was taking and discussion questions based in large part on the keynote presentation by Don Marinelli from Carnegie Mellon’s Entertainment Technology Center which Don co-founded with the late Randy Pausch.

    We had an hour scheduled for the discussion but we could have gone for hours. Really hours without repeating or running out of questions and discussion topics. The discussion was lively and, for me at least, very engaging. I see this with just about any panel I attend either in the audience or as a panelist. I also see “more time to network and talk with colleagues” as a major bit of feedback for most of the educational conferences I am aware of. If you’ve been to some of the major edtech conferences (TCEA and ISTE for example) you will see long conversations in the halls, outside the meeting rooms, at blogger cafe’s and just about any free space. People blog and twitter about these conversations being the best part about some conferences.

    Why? Because teachers just don’t have enough time to talk with their peers in their daily work lives. Yet talking with ones peers is a wonderful way to learn new things, share ideas, ask weird but useful questions, and generally develop oneself as a person and as a professional. But teachers are locked up isolated in their classrooms most of the day. faculty lounges while occasionally helpful have limitations. Too little time in them for one thing. Too many other things going on it them. And all too often a slightly toxic atmosphere in the schools that could most benefit for helpful learning.

    So what to do? I recommend blogging and twitter. Yes you have heard this from me before (well unless you are new to my blog. :-)) If you are looking for a more scholarly set of reasoning check out Rationalizing Academic Blogging by Mark Guzdial who is a tenured professor at Georgia Tech. Start with reading them and adding your input to the discussions. Really the comments are often the very best part of a blog post – especially with this blog. Then think about writing your own blog. You know stuff or you wouldn’t be a teacher – share it with others. Come on and join the conversations. You know you want to!

    Michelle Hutton of the CSTA posted a good blog roll at the CSTA blog. You are following the CSTA blog right? For teachers in all areas there is a great list of blogs at the Moving Forward wiki. Start with Education blogs by Discipline and when you create your blog make sure you add it to the list.

    BTW I have just updated my personal blog roll on the side of my blog. The CS Teacher list includes:

  • Mark Guzdial – Computing Education Blog
  • Wicked Teacher of the West
  • Leigh Ann Sudol - In Need of a Base Case
  • Kathleen Weaver - Teaching CS in Dallas
  • Eugene Wallingford – Knowing and Doing
  • Ben Chun – And yet it moves
  • Stacey Armstrong - A+ Computer Science
  • Brian Scarbeau - A high school CS teacher in Florida
  • Mr. Higgins Blog (who I need to bug to update more often :-) )

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    K-12 Computing Teachers Workshop


    The Computer Science Teachers Association sent out an announcement about an upcoming workshop hosted in Partnership with the  Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology (ABI) at the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Technology conference.

    This workshop will convene K-12 computer science teachers who work with under-represented populations of students to:

    1. Instigate a discussion of equity and computer science curriculum;
    2. Create knowledge sharing opportunities on concrete solutions grounded in teachers’ articulated, specific needs;
    3. Disseminate these solutions to a broad audience of teachers, STEM practitioners, and interested stakeholders via workshop, Town Hall meeting and discussion of a newly released white paper; and
    4. Evaluate the effectiveness of these solutions in classrooms that serve under-represented student populations.

    View the full workshop agenda.


    Attendance for this workshop is through application process only. To apply for the workshop please submit your application online. Application deadline is Friday, May 14, 2010. Applicants will be notified by email on Monday, June 7, 2010.

    In addition to attending the workshop, each participant will receive a scholarship that includes funding for travel (to be reimbursed to workshop participant), hotel accommodation for 1 night, and one-day admission to the Grace Hopper Celebration.

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