Colorado Computer Science Education (ColCSE) Conference: 2015
The morning of the conference was spent listening to each school present their demographics,
challenges, and best practices. I only received the slide sets posted below. If your presentation
is missing and you would like it posted, please send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Here are my notes from the group discussions:
Female and Minority Participation
Every institution reported low female participation rates, from zero to the low
teens seemed to be the status quo. There were more questions than answers during
this session, here are a couple interesting questions, comments, and proposals
- Question: Why are we losing females between the later part of elementary school
and the early part of high school? Has anyone studied this?
- Question: Do female students have different thought or learning processes that
we must understand? Have educators studied this?
- Comment: The first exposure to computer science should not be the semicolon,
we need to get beyond syntax and explain how coding is useful and relevant.
- Comment: We need to influence early exposure, first by making it happen, and
second by making it a positive experience.
- Comment: Games and boys are a deterrent. Peer pressure and the perception
of programmers as socially inept nerds is driving away females.
- Comment: We need to avoid a backlash against special treatment and perceived
quotas for female students.
- Comment: The environment for females in industry and academia is all too often
hostile, and we need to change it.
- Idea: Sponsor programming camps for female students at the middle
school and high school level (or earlier).
- Idea: Create more community, encouragement, and positive recognition for females,
content should be cross-disciplinary and relevant, not just coding.
- Papers: Somebody mentioned a Swarthmore paper, I'm not sure which one, but I
did find the following link.
Collaboration with High Schools
This topic was also supposed to include how we could work with junior or community colleges,
but we only talked about high schools. The Fort Collins high school teachers talked about the
CS curriculum in high school. All high schools in Fort Collins are working towards AP/CS courses,
which is sometimes split into a one semester introduction and a more advanced second semester.
The AP/CS curriculum teaches Java programming and is very similar to post-secondary CS1 courses.
It includes variables, conditionals, control loops, object-oriented concepts such as class design,
object instantiation, and polymorphism. The main data structures are simple arrays, array lists,
and algorithms are mostly limited to searching and sorting.
In addition to the normal AP/CS course, there has recently been introduced a "Principles
of Computer Science" course defined by the same AP/CS people. This course goes beyond simple
literacy and talks about data mining from web sites and other interesting applications of
Computer Science, but has limited programming. This sounds somewhat like the "Beauty and Joy
of Computing" courses now offered at Berkeley and many other campuses.
Teaching Introductory Undergraduate Computer Science
There was lots of discussion but not much of anything documented during this last hour of the
conference. We saw a nice presentation from Stewart Crawford on integrating computer science with math
and other science courses. This included an interesting demo of simple Python programs that
draw interesting pictures of mathematical objects. Automated grading and academic integrity
were discussed. The benefits of traditional languages (C, C++) versus Java versus scripting
languages such as Python were debated but nothing was resolved!
Here are a few questions that were posted on the board during the day, and a
report on the scheduling of the next conference:
Liz Boese also had extensive notes from the conference, which are
- The statement was made that there exists a pool of middle school students
itching to code. I think we all know the answer is outreach, outreach, outreach.
- Question: Why did we schedule ColCSE during the final exam week for high schools?
Answer: Originally we did not intend to include high schools, next time we'll ask around first!
- Question: Can some explain the high school curriculum, including the new principles course?
Answer: This was answered very well by the high school teachers, see the notes above.
- Question: Students are not learning problem solving, decomposition, software design or
testing skills, possibly because IDEs and automated grading are making the process too easy.
How can we make students think before coding? Answer: This question was from Sudipto
Ghosh, and I think we can all agree it gets to the heart of the problem.
- Question: Should we repeat the conference next year? Answer: There seemed to be
general agreement that we should, so expect an invitation.