Yesterday was the annual Computer Science and Information Technology Symposium. Held annually, it’s an opportunity for teachers of CS and IT to get together for a day of learning focussed on these subjects. Like most conferences, it is an opportunity for learning and sharing and the conversations among attendees are at least as valuable as the information shared during the sessions.
I must confess upfront a personal bias towards the event as I am one of the organizers. I think that it’s fair to say that the events and topics are carefully selected for relevancy and currency to ensure the best experience for all in attendance.
My notes for the sessions that I attended are nicely tucked away in Evernote so that I can make reference to them later on. There were many opportunities to think and reflect about current trends and also to wax philosophically about where Computer Science has been as a discipline. Some of the highlights appear below.
Morning Keynote – Douglas Rushkoff – Program or Be Programmed
I had been waiting for this presentation ever since we put the agenda together. I wasn’t disappointed. It was almost a shame that I was taking notes since the presentation was high energy with many key things to ponder. Each of the attendees received a copy of Rushkoff’s book and it will be nice summer reading for me. As the title suggests, he talks about the amount of technology and how we use it daily. There is a significant difference between those who are passively using the technology and letting the developers determine just what and how it’s used as opposed to those who truly understand how to program and leverage that skill to make the technology truly work for them. Rushkoff talks about the current state of computer programming and asks the audience if it’s going to take a “Sputnik moment” to realize the advances made by so many outside of the United States to change the attitudes here. Best quote of the day was “
BTW, my teacher-librarian friends, this book needs to be on your shelves. If you’re looking for a great resource for a book talk with staff and/or kids, this would be a really engaging start.
Bootstrap: Algebraic Programming for the Middle School Classroom – Emmanuel Schanzer
I was forced to attend this session as proctor and I’m so glad that I did. I had never heard of Bootstrap before but I sure have now and I’m motivated to dig deeper into it. It’s free; web based with all kinds of resources and this session did force us to look at some of the things about algebra, mathematics, and programming that make it a challenge for students to learn. We started with asking why x is a “variable” in this equation. 6 = x + 2 Bootstrap essential takes the ambiguity and jargon away from mathematics and just gets down to using it as a tool to solve and also to develop ones own code. I learned a new concept – that of Circles of Evaluation. I was fortunate enough to sit next to a gentleman who used Bootstrap and he helped me as I tried to fumble through some of the examples. We had a great conversation about prefix and postfix notation. This will definitely occupy my attention for a while.
Quick Start to Small Basic – Quick Start to Small Basic – Damian DeMarco
I had used Small Basic with my university class as an tool for the introduction to programming and was curious to see how others were using it. As I might have guessed, the presenter was a real fan of the resources that Microsoft provides with the product. We had a walk through of the language and resources. It confirmed many of the things that I had already been using with the program. In addition to the official Microsoft resource, we were shown an alternative resource at
Lunch was great and a wonderful opportunity to just sit and talk to folks for the hour that we were there. I had a delightful talk with a teacher from Massachusetts, Brooklyn, and a couple from the Bronx. Joining us was a recent graduate who was looking forward to his own classroom in September. I hope that we didn’t scare him too much! Over lunch, Mark Hindsbo, VP of US Developer and Platform Evangelism for Microsoft shared a few moments with the group and recognized some of the students in the audience and congratulated those teachers in the audience for their continued support of Computer Science. Where can I get a job with a title like that?
Tips from a CS Principles Pilot: Activities, Techniques & Strategies to Help Make Computing Ideas Accessible to All Students Jody Paul
This was another session that I had to work. We were late getting started because of the great lunchtime conversation and then I had to duck out to get more handouts duplicated and so I missed the opening where Jody set the stage for this Pilot. Fortunately, my friend Chris was in the audience and explained to me that the pilot was all about developing ways to creating an engaging introductory course for students into the world of Computer Science. What I did understand what the approach to the course. It would be a great challenge for many – the students set the curriculum by expressing their interests and the teaching flowed from that. There were some great examples shared about how to get into programming without that scary introductory mathematics moments.
Part of my duties involved setup for the closing keynote so I didn’t get to attend a final break out session but then it was on to…
SPIRAL: Combining Learning, Play and Exploration Ken Perlin
If you ever needed permission to just program for the enjoyment of programming, you were given it through Perlin’s keynote. In fact, everyone needs to enjoy the results of his programming at his website. His session was the perfect one to set the stage for Day Three where we will get to experience Microsoft’s Imagine Cup. Perlin took us through many of the little applets that he had written and you couldn’t help but be inspired to try to write a few of your own. It should be great with a summer ahead for folks. Our setup involved a computer connected to three simultaneous displays that didn’t like switching from Powerpoint to Safari and we didn’t resolve that in time to go live but a quick workaround and I’m sure that the audience didn’t recognize it at all! The academic part of the talk got serious about games in education and Perlin talked about the research into understanding what leads to learning and what doesn’t – how intrinsic rewards play against extrinsic rewards. Quoteworthy here was “Computer science doesn’t just need a grammar. It needs a literature.” Marvin Minsky”
It was a long day of learning but it wasn’t over until the grand reception and door prizes. On the top floor of the Faculty House, we got a chance to say our goodbyes from the balcony overlooking Morningside Park.
Alfred Thompson was also at the CSIT Symposium. His reflections are located here.
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