Alabama Teachers Attend the National CSTA Conference in Omaha, Nebraska

Carol Yarbrough ([email protected])

Approximately 700 computer science educators descended on the Silicon Prairie in early July.  A strong contingent of Alabama teachers was among the educators in Omaha, Nebraska, for the 2018 CSTA Annual Conference.  As a sign of the growing interest in computer science education, this year’s conference was the largest ever!  The conference was sold out weeks before it started.  The CSTA Annual Conference is the premiere event for K-12 computer science educators.

On Saturday and Sunday educators attended 3 hour pre-conference workshops. The full conference ran  Monday and Tuesday.  Many of our Alabama teachers took part as both helpers and participants in a Cooperative Learning workshop presented by Dr. Jeff Gray, Dr. Owen Astrachan and Ms. Fran Trees.  It was a fun and informative workshop where presenters modeled teaching and learning using the Kagan Cooperative Learning structures.  As a sign of times, this year’s conference featured a wide array of sessions targeted at not only high school teachers, but elementary and middle school teachers.

Erin Cornelison, Hewitt-Trussville High School, was our Alabama state representative for the ECEP (Expanding Computing Education Pathways) cohort at this year’s conference. The 17 states that make up the ECEP alliance have achieved significant improvements in computing education through educational policy reform.   As the winner of the random state-wide drawing, Erin was able to participate in the ECEP sessions and learn about resources and services to expand computer science education.

In addition to the many great workshops, there were some inspiring plenary talks.  Andrea Gonzales, a 20-year-old college student, gave an inspiring talk about computing for social change.  She was also signing copies of her book, Girl Code: Gaming, Going Viral and Getting it Done.  In association with CSTA’s introduction of a new level of membership, CSTA+, attendees who joined were gifted a copy of Girl Code.  National CSTA basic membership has always been available to teachers at no cost.  They have now introduced a new level, CSTA+, for $50/year.  CSTA+ members receive exclusive classroom experiences and guest speakers. free or deeply discounted teaching aids, like robots, circuits, and maker tools, as well as discounts for future conference registrations, online courses and support for CS teaching certifications.  But, best of all, half of the dues paid go directly to the local chapter, enabling CSTA-Alabama to offer more for our teachers.

The Exhibit Hall was full of vendors offering plenty of swag to attendees.  We were all happy to see Firia Labs, Alabama’s own educational computing content provider with their larger than life micro:bit, the “macro:bit”. It was great to learn about Code Space, Firia Labs’ product that teaches text-based coding on the micro:bit platform.  Certiport was also offering Microsoft certification testing at no cost for educators.  Several Alabama teachers took advantage of this great offer to get more certifications.  Outside of the Exhibit Hall and conference were many great steak restaurants and karaoke bars in Omaha.  A great time was had by all.  I’m looking forward to seeing the lesson plans that were completed in Dr. Gray’s Cooperative Learning post-conference workshop.   They are working on some great resources for CS teachers to use for cooperative learning lessons.  I’m also looking forward to next year’s CSTA conference.  It will be great to see even more Alabama teachers at next year’s CSTA conference in Arizona.