This past week I was fortunate enough to attend the Computer Science Teachers Association’s national conference. An organization of computer science teachers that is celebrating its ten year anniversary, the CSTA is responsible for the go-to standards document that almost every computer science curriculum writer in the country bases their curriculum off of. It’s also responsible for sprouting the new AP CS Principles course coming this fall. I have a lot of respect for this type of work because it’s complex, requires consideration for scalability, and must be generational across a large number of people. It’s no wonder they did a great job, since writing code is very similar.
Here are some of my favorite takeaways from the trip.
The Emerging Filmmakers
When I arrived in Chicago free of hiccups from my travel curse, except maybe waiting for 20 minutes for my car at the wrong terminal (that doesn’t really count), I started to worry. I worried all the way from the airport to the resort where we were staying. We got there and I was certainly impressed: Pheasant Run in St. Charles, IL is a pretty sweet place. It’s got a beautiful golf course too – I wish I had known this as I would have probably tried to play while I was there. Anyway, I kicked off my conference with a dinner including the guys making our new product video, which I can’t wait to share. Nick Carroll and Billy Baraw are part of a group of filmmakers looking to tell stories through an incredibly innovative medium on a mobile device. I don’t want to give away too much detail about their project, since that will be their job, but this was a lot of fun.
Miss Blomeyer’s Awesome Website
Elaine Blomeyer is a prominent computer science educator, but her website was by far the most impressive part of a conference presentation I’ve seen. One of the nice things about computer science education is that a website can demonstrate all the skills you want your students to learn, since they can just inspect your source code. Miss Blomeyer’s website goes above any beyond, with beginner and advanced projects including animation on the html5 canvas, complex math functions, physics, and other applicable programming skills. I have to say that I was a little unimpressed by the number of presentations that did NOT include these things that programmers actually do every day, but Elaine’s presentation was not one of them. This was outstanding. Her website also includes information about her other classes, which look no less interesting. Great job Elaine!
The New Frontier
Despite the varied quality of presentations, one thing stood out to me above all else amongst everyone I spoke to here: this truly is the new frontier of education. There is no best way to teach computer science today, hardly any publications about doing it, and the course material as well as the way to teach it is constantly evolving faster than any other course students could take. This makes it truly an exciting thing to teach, and that excitement is shared by almost everyone in this subject, which I love seeing. Chemistry can get menial after a few years, since the subject doesn’t change too much and it’s been around forever. Computer science, on the other hand, will never experience that due to the nature of its evolution.
The Travel Curse Strikes Again
I hope you didn’t forget about my curse, did you? I sure didn’t, and I was just waiting for the curveball my curse would throw at me. Usually these are particularly creative but this time, it wasn’t: my flight to JFK just got cancelled due to bad weather. The catch was that Delta was going to put me on a flight at 7AM the next morning. Not only did that mean I’d have to wake up at 4:30 (nope), but because the school was paying for the trip out of its budget, I’d have to pay for the extra hotel night (another nope). To most New Yorker’s this wouldn’t be too big of a problem since you could fly into Newark, LGA, or Westchester, but my car was parked at JFK. I managed to find a flight out of Chicago to La Guardia at 3:30, which meant I had to leave almost immediately after receiving notice that my 6:45 had been cancelled. It also meant I would have to take a cab from La Guardia to JFK to pick up my car. Sure enough, all those pieces worked out, except I arrived at the terminal, made it all the way through security, and found myself in the American Airlines building, not the Delta Airlines building. Scary. After doing it all again in another building and praying that my bag would show up, I arrived just in time to hear that the flight had been delayed three hours. Three hours elapsed, we boarded the plane, and after a hiccup free flight we arrived in La Guardia’s marine terminal, which is apparently eschewed by taxi drivers because the line was about an hour long. I took the bus to terminal 2, got in the line of zero people for a taxi there, and made my way to my car without any further intervention from my travel curse.
Seriously. Don’t travel with me.