The Good, the Great, and the Mind-Blowing - CSTA 2018


If you've never been to the CSTA 2018 (Computer Science Teachers Association) conference before, you need to go to Phoenix, Arizona for their 20th anniversary conference next summer. This year's conference was held in Omaha, Nebraska, and was a huge success. With a record number of attendees (700), fabulous workshops, sessions, a vendor hall, and a field trip to the University of Nebraska, there were tons of opportunities to learn about CS, not only from presenters but from fellow attendees as well. The sessions were informative, the food was great, drinks were free (a couple), and the atmosphere of camaraderie made learners at all levels feel welcome and accepted. 
My head is still swimming with all the great things I learned, but below is a summary of my three favorite sessions.



Beyond “Just Programming:” Using Agile Methods for Authentic Learning presented by Jennifer Manly: This session was one of my favorites not only because of the content, but also because of the enthusiasm with which it was presented and the opportunity for hands-on learning. Jennifer shared the benefits of using a version of the Agile Method with students working on group projects and gave us an opportunity to try it ourselves. I learned that:
  • the Agile Method (used in the real world by tech companies), is not complicated to implement.
  • it builds communication and collaboration skills while helping students take responsibility for their work.
  • it can be applied to any content area.
  • it provides students with a daily opportunity to reflect and adjust as they work together to accomplish a task.
To learn more, check out Jennifer's presentation and resources!

Unplug It, Block It, & Build It: Computational Thinking in Action presented by Cherry Lucarelli and her team from the College of St. Scholastica: This 3 hour workshop demonstrated the hands-on curriculum created to provide CS content knowledge and pedagogical methods for pre-service teachers. What I loved about this workshop is that it was presented using the pedagogical methods that it is designed to teach while delivering a ton of useful resources that can be implemented in the classroom. So often, conference workshops and presentations are run in a "sit and get" lecture format. Not so with this session! I left with a ton of new ideas and strategies to use with the teachers I support as well as links to resources I can pass along to our CS/tech teachers. Some of my favorite ideas and resources include:
  • The Orange Game  - a collaborative unplugged activity that can be used to demonstrate Internet routing.
  • An article titled The Flexibility of Computational Thinking that shows ways to integrate computational thinking into curriculum.
  • Activity kits that include unplugged, physical computing, and block programming challenges. Click here for a list of materials (the presenters will be adding additional links/information to this document soon.)
To learn more, check out TeachCS@CSS.EDU website to view the presentation and a ton of additional resources.

My third favorite workshop is actually a tie between two. I really loved the content presented at the Maps, Movies, and Multiplayer Games Workshop presented by Akos Ledeczi, but I loved the presentation style of Brendan Chan at the Using Google’s CS First to Introduce Coding in the Classroom session. 

Akos taught us about NetsBlox, "an open-source, web- and cloud-based visual programming environment" built on Snap that allows users to pull in a variety of data sources (Google Maps, weather, earthquake data, etc.), program collaboratively, and create interactive applications. Although this 3 hour workshop was too fast-paced for me to keep-up enough to get a good grasp of how to use the platform's features, I think the application has enormous potential for students.

Brendan's CS First presentation was meant to give participants an overview of the "latest resources and focus for the CS First team". I did leave with some idea of the direction they're heading in, but I would have loved to spend more time learning about their latest resources. That said, Brendan's presentation style was highly enthusiastic, and he incorporated a variety of great teaching strategies that got us up and moving, interacting with one another, and energized. I left the session with some great ideas to try in my future PD sessions or to pass along to our teachers:
  • Best of One - a Rock, Paper, Scissors tournament that could be a great way to kick off a lesson for programming the game. To play, everyone in the class finds a partner and plays a single round of Rock, Paper, Scissors. The winner goes on to play another student, and the loser’s job is to cheer for the winner in all subsequent games. Within about 3 minutes you will have a class champ. (Directing the losing student to cheer for the winning student ensures that all participate and builds classroom community.)
  • Snowball - A fun way for students/teachers to share ideas with one another. Students jot down two ideas on separate pieces of paper. (In our case, we wrote down 2 ways we might use CS First). Crumple up each paper into a separate"snowball", then when everyone is ready, have a silent snowball fight. After a minute or so, everyone gets 2 snowballs back and reads the ideas others had.
Visit g.co/csfirst and g.co/csfirst/curriculum to learn more about CS First.

Other great resources I picked up from sessions I attended or learned about by stalking #CSTA2018 on Twitter include:
My last big take-away is that session/workshop presenters should be passionate about their topic, energetic when presenting, and utilize best teaching practices in their sessions. Sit & get/lecture style presentations are common at conferences, and often hard to sit through, regardless of how good the content may be. Presenters who find ways to infuse energy, movement, and good pedagogy have popular session, almost regardless of the content! As a bonus, attendees walk away with both great new content skills/ideas, but also new strategies to employ in their own classrooms when teaching any subject. 

I can't wait to use or pass along all the amazing things I learned, and I'm even more excited and inspired by the idea of organizing our own state CS conference in Colorado - a joint effort between my district, Adams 12 Five Star Schools, and our neighbors, St. Vrain Valley Schools. If you live near Colorado and/or wish to be kept up to date about our conference (June 6, 2019), click here.

Thank you CSTA for an amazing conference! 




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