Day 2 at #CSTA13

Whew!  Got the title right this time.  My apologies to those of you who read my post about #CSTA11 yesterday.  I actually do my best to proofread before sending these things but somehow the actual date slipped through the cracks yesterday.  If you are interested in #CSTA11, I’m sure that I posted something about that a couple of years ago….

I’m a real supporter of the Computer Science Teachers’ Association.  Yes, it’s masterfully guided by my friend Dr. Chris Stephenson but the research, support, and advocacy for Computer Science is second to none.  Once a year, though, a subset of the entire group convenes for its annual conference.  The conversations and friendships, old and new, are amazing.  I’ve often talked about how the Computer Science teacher can often be the loneliest job in a school—you’re not lonely here.  There were 300 educators all with the passion of teaching Computer Science to students K-20 and beyond.  Here’s how I spent my day yesterday.  Being on the conference committee, there are times when you’re arranging, putting out fires, looking for elastic bands for a keynote speaker, but I still think I had a magnificent day!

Keynote Speaker – Selena Deckelmann
I was impressed with her from the get go.  Not only did she deliver an inspirational keynote address, but she took the time to get to know us.  How many times can you say that about your keynote speaker?  She attended two of the Monday workshops and then joined us in the Lounge in the evening.  Her laugh gets you right from the start.  When it came to her keynote, there was no questioning her passion and commitment to what she stands for.  “Here’s What We Can Do For You” was her title.  That launched her to talk about her work with the open source, and database community.  You’ve got to love her person descriptor “I am Selena Deckelmann and this is my blog. I contribute to PostgreSQL, run Postgres Open and keep chickens. I also give a lot of technical talks. I also tumble and tweet.”


Thanks, Peter Beens.

Her real passion for people though came through with her involvement working with first time adult programmers.  We were treated to some great stories of her work with PyLadies.  Speaking for the community, she extended an invitation to Computer Science teachers – if you’re interested in having an open source person speak to your students, contact her at selena at  I did manage to talk to her afterwards to see if her invitation extended to Canadians and, she noted it would be more of a challenge, but thought she could pull it off to Toronto or Vancouver classes.  I’d love to see that happen.

She left us with a call to action…

  • Speak about FOSS in your classroom;
  • Apply for scholarships to attend open source conferences;
  • Attend Linux / FOSS conferences;
  • Share your own lessons with a Creative Commons license;
  • Use Mozilla’s Webmaker and Badges.

Best quote from her session “We’re drawing doors, just not opening them!”

By the way, maybe only our table saw it before her presentation, but she carefully covered one of the stickers on her laptop before going in front of the audience.  Never shy, I asked and got a peek!

Using Magic to Teach CS
Dan Garcia had us deeply engaged for an hour and we’re a tough crowd.  But what Computer Science teacher doesn’t like a good mathematics puzzle that can be developed into a lesson of discovery and ultimately a computer program.  He promised to share seven amazing math magic tricks with us…I think he got through three…but they’re all there in his handout. 

Don’t read it all at once!  His work reminded me of Prof. Honsberger from my undergraduate days.  Both have the flair and obvious love of mathematics and it came through loudly and clearly.

Hands-on Labs for AP Computer Science
One of my scheduled tasks for the day was to introduce and thank Renee Ciezki.  It was so interesting for me since we don’t typically offer AP Computer Science in Ontario.  I was really interested in the activities that she shared and realized that I had done similar activities with my own students years ago.

She shared the resource at and I may just go back home and work through them myself.

Using Robots to Teach 6-12 Grade Students to Program
Steve Goodgame was our presenter and share with us his own personal interest and growth with robotics.  I totally agree with his assertion that “Kids are intrinsically motivated to use robots”.  Through his presentation, he shared with us the growth of BotBall and its competitions.

The over the top moment, we all received out own little robot kit as a takeaway.  I’m looking forward to playing around with it.

Mobile Programming Throwdown:  David Reed (Moderator), Alfred Thompson (Windows), Ralph Morelli(Android), and Adam Howitt (iOS)
This session was popular last year and so a reprise was in order.  The premise was simple.  Three developers on Windows, Android, and iOS developed an application from scratch in front of the audience.

They had 15 minutes to do so.  If you’re a Computer Science teacher, you’ll appreciate what a huge task that is.  And, of course, they’re talking and explaining as you type.

They all had to create the same application.  Start it up, access a random phone number from your portable device’s address book and then dial it.

Adam Howitt was up first.  He was actually stumped from the get go.  Not from his own abilities but from the rules from Apple about how applications access data from your address book.  He developed a similar program, showing us how to work the GUI environment.  And then, I had to leave…  I was sad to miss the rest but my final task for the day was to greet the closing keynote speaker and make sure that he was set to deliver his speech.

Hadi Partovi – An Update from
I thought that I’d solved just about every computer problem known to human kind.  Wrong!  I’d never had this happen before.  His MacBook Air was so light that it kept sliding down off the podium stand.  Where’s Red Green with his duct tape when you need him?  Our solution was to wrap a large elastic around the base of the unit.  That, and draping the power and video cable over the top of the podium did it for us!

Everyone’s seen this video, right?  With over ten million hits, you need to if you haven’t.

The guiding principle is “Every student in every school should have the opportunity to learn to code”.  Of course, there wasn’t a soul in the room that needed to be convinced of that.  But…

Why?  So that you can get a job programming at Facebook?  No, as Hadi notes, 67 percent of available jobs are outside the tech industry.  It still confuses me that we don’t make at least one course in programming compulsory.  Are we that myopic?

Our call to action from here…

  • Get involved and honour CS Education Week December 8-14, 2013
  • Get Computer Science into your school – change the rules – inspire your students and their parents to learn
  • Commit your school to an hour of code during CS Education Week

I just can imagine why this is even a question but it remains so.  Are we that close minded that we, as a society, don’t appreciate this literacy?


It was a long, inspiring day.  The presentations for all the workshops are online at  Peter Beens served as a photographer and has put together a collection of images from around the event on his Google Plus page here.

If you couldn’t make this year’s event, plan for next year.  The conference moves to just outside Chicago.