and the College Board - what's the catch and is it a cash cow?

Big announcement the other day. will be partnering with the College Board.

They'll help school's adopt their CS courses and provide funding for's professional development.

You can read about it on's blog here and a USA Today article here.

Already it's made it's rounds with Alfred Thompson giving his take on his blog over here.

Sounds terrific.

I'm not sold.

I do believe that has the best of intentions and they've been front and center on the PR front for CS Education - that's great but they also seem to be taking that startup mentality - scale, scale, scale, fast, fast, fast. It's the drop in curriculum plus PD approach. I wrote about it about a month ago here. I hope I'm wrong, but we'll see.

What I really want to comment on here is the whole College Board piece. The kicker is the PSAT 8/9 - a new PSAT exam for eighth and ninth graders. The blog says that schools will be encouraged to use this exam. The USA Today piece says that schools that use the PSAT 8/9 will receive funding to subsidize the stuff.

Either way, it's a concern.

As it stands, kids have to take either the SAT or ACT for college acceptance (for the most part). I know that now the College Board says that the SAT measures college readiness but I recall a few years ago they proudly proclaimed that the SAT could only predict one thing: how a student would do on the next SAT.

So, if the SAT has little value, the PSAT has less, other than possible entry to scholarships. Taking the test down to eight or ninth grade seems to have little to no value for students and don't tell me that an SAT style test in the 8th grade can determine if you'll be a good computer scientist or not.

What is it about?

Call me cynical, but I think the College Board is looking for a new cash cow.

Districts push the PSAT 8/9 saying it's good for kids and force the kids to take an additional test. Since schools and districts typically pay for the PSAT, the taxpayers fork over money year after year and funnel it to the College Board and get no real value in return. To make it all seem kosher, the College Board kicks in a little for the training, for whatever that's worth.

Learning takes time, hype doesn't

or: what to watch out for in after school and summer programs


In writing this post I do not mean to say that there aren't some great programs out there - there are. I also know that most of the programs I'm aware are being developed by people who are really trying to do some good.

Since I wrote a post on my problem with drop in curricula on March 4 ( I've been meaning to follow up with some of my thoughts on after school and summer programs.

This itch was further spurred when I read this post on It talks about startups - you can have a good story and raise some funds but then when numbers, that is, results start to come in, that story might not look so good.

The world of CS Education summer and after school programs are full of "good stories." My favorite is "your kid will learn how to build an iPhone app in 4 weeks!!!" If it were that easy, we wouldn't have a tech talent shortage and my grads wouldn't be in such high demand.

The truth is, it's very easy to get by in CS Education on nothing more than a good story. You never actually have to show real results. Most of the programs out there follow this pattern. I don't think it's intentional. It's just that most people running K12 CS Ed programs aren't educators and frequently they aren't CS people. What they are concerned is scaling so that they can get to as many kids as possible. They aren't dealing with next steps. Besides, to them, it appears they're doing great work - they buy into their own hype.

What's the problem?

Simple - learning takes time.

How do you set up the story?


Start by promising an awesome program - an awesome project after two or four weeks. With today's tools it's easy to make a mock up. Either you use simplified tools or you can use a lot of boilerplate code with pre-built components. These aren't necessarily bad in and of themselves, just don't pretend you're teaching the real deal.

It's easy to pull this off since there's no real follow up. Kids are then sent back to their high schools or off to college and results aren't tracked.

Also, make sure you recruit some high performing kids. I know a number of programs that have taken in my Stuy kids even though they already know more than the program has to offer. This guarantees that your program will look good since these kids will produce great projects.

I recall about a year and a half ago reading an article. It highlighted a youngster who went through one of these summer programs. A bright kid in a well regarded, well hyped, well funded program. I've don't think the article said so, but I heard many of this programs top people repeatedly say "our program better prepares our kids for the AP Computer Science exam than the AP course itself does." Hmmm. Well, in the article, the kid learned all these wonderful things from the program and then went back to high school.

A short time after, according to the piece, the kid was struggling in AP Computer Science and the article quickly threw the teacher under the bus. Now, I have no idea if the teacher was any good but if your program better prepares a kid for the exam than the class, there's not way the kid should have been struggling - unless, of course, it was all a story.

The truth is, that the designers and implementers of many of these programs don't know education and often know little CS. I can't tell you the number of kids that have come into my classes and programs proclaiming to be master programmers as a result of these programs and it turns out all they know is how to build a limited drag and drop prototype or how to tweak a pre-built template.

What's the harm? In my classes and programs, we can educate the kids but if this is in college with less support, self doubt will creep in and more often than not the kid will drop tech. I've seen it happen many a time.

That brings me to the next story – the glue programs. I also see a lot of this. Programs that teach the very rudiments of programming and then use pre-built libraries and packages to make really impressive looking results. They look great, but there's not a lot of substance under the hood. I remember seeing a number of these "finished products" and each time noting that the student contributed maybe 20 to 40 lines of code and they were mostly tweaks to the web site samples.

The final story is less of a story and more legit in terms of teaching but it still largely a story. That's when a program tries to teach too much to quickly. I've seen one and two week programs that promise the word. The kids put together some impressive stuff but since it's so much so fast, facilitated by lots of coaching, there's little retention and questionable understanding.

I was talking to a friend a few months ago. She worked with a number of high achieving kids teaching them to code. All seemed great. They got the kids back together months later for a follow up. I asked "how was the retention?" The reply "that's a real problem."

the truth is learning takes time. There's only so much you can do in an after-school or in a summer and it's not always flashy.

When I designed Google CAPE NYC for the summer of 2010 I knew we couldn't do everything in a month. What we did do is give the kids the fundamentals and a path to follow to learn more. They did neat projects but they weren't the over the top stuff you see other programs produce (as an aside, one of my grads noted - "If it looks too good to be true, it probably isn't true."). While we didn't formally track the kids, 3/4 of the kids we were still in touch with last year were still doing computer science at a second year college level so I know what we did worked but I haven't seen that type follow up from any other program.

We're in the midst of recruiting and fund-raising for my non-profit, CSTUY's summer program, SHIP. We're not as connected as the big CS programs and we don't have the hype. That makes our job harder.

What I do know is that we've got the best teachers and the best program and that our kids might not make something quite so flashy after three or four weeks as some of the other programs, our kids are set up for long term success.

So, if you're looking for a great program with great teachers and a solid plan, check out CSTUY. If you want to create a story, just follow these steps:

  • Recruit some high achieving kids so you'll have some stories
  • Teach a framework or simplified tool
  • Coaching, coaching, coaching.
  • Make sure they have fun so you get good reviews
  • Profit!!!!

"def hack(2015)


This past Saturday, 50 high school students, 10 high school mentors, and 10 more post high school mentors headed down to SumAll to participate in def hacks(2015): CSTUY's first hackathon.

The fifty participants, came from all over the city, Long Island, and New Jersey. They ranged from having never programmed to three or four years experience.

Projects ranged from web sites to full stack applications.

After workshops run by CSTUY teachers and mentors and also by the hackers spread out all over SumAll's offices, working in small groups with the support of our amazing mentors.

Four nourishment, we had sandwiches from Amish Market, pizza from Wanted Pizza, snacks and those amazing doughnuts from Dough Flatiron.

At the end of the day, the hackers demoed and the judges judged

In the end everyone made something terrific and walked away having built new skills, met new people, and gotten a little swag.


The judges singled out two groups for special recognition. One was a team of four experienced programmers who put together a full stack app to help schedule parent/teacher meetings.


The other was a solo project from a young man who had never programmed prior to the event.


That one really blew me away. We were able to give these groups Raspberry Pis thanks to a last minute donation from Fullstack Academy.

None of this would have been possible without the help of:

Our organizers - Caitlin and Lise

Our Mentors - both the Stuy students and the older mentors

Our judges:

  • Ben Fried (Google)
  • Noah Weiss (Foursqurae)
  • Benny Wong (TimeHop)
  • Gerry Seidman (Too many to list)
  • Davin Chew (SumAll)

and our Sponsors:

Shell games - who confirmed attendence

Quick post on why I love the Unix command line.

We're busy organizing CSTUY's first hackathon. It's going to be at SumAll, where we hold our weekly hacking sessions but while taking registration, we had a little program.

The kids signed up on a Google doc but we all know the story – when people sign up for a free event, even one with free food and t-shirts, many don't show. I asked all of the applicants to confirm by filling out a second Google doc.

Then it got to reminder time - I wanted to send an email out to all those kids who signed up on the first form, but hadn't confirmed on the second.

Two Google spreadsheets with an email field. I needed all the people on sheet 1 that weren't on sheet 2. I'm sure there's some spreadsheet-fu that accomplishes this, but nothing I know. I also could have written a little python script which isn't so bad, but this was a perfect time to turn to the shell.

So, here's how a command line guy would do this.

To start, I put the emails in two files: e1 and e2. The first has all the original applicants, the second those that confirmed.


Just another day at StuyCS

Last post was a little heavy so just a short fun one for today.

"Just another day at StuyCS." That was the subject of the email Brian sent with the photo above. What's going on?

We're working on advanced JavaScript while also looking at Backbone.js.

Now, as sometimes happens, Batya, while in her CS class up at college, decided to open up a Google chat with me. This happens now and then. We try to have some fun with it. We actually have a plan to mess with the kids later this term, but I'll keep that to myself.

Now, Batya, of course, was sitting in her CS class in college. I told her what we were doing and continued with the lesson. She responded that Zach, her boyfriend and my former student said not to forget to emphasize certain things. I also asked Batya if her professor was having a chat with his kid while he was teaching. Everyone was having a laugh.

Then things got sillier. Another chat popped up. It was Natan, my son, who happens to be in that class. So, the insanity continued on when I get a video call - it was from Aida sitting in row 1 - that's what you see on the screen.

Now it was getting a little ridiculous and it all started with Batya and Natan. So, what's a a teacher to do? I had to contact their parent, my wife, to tell her to discipline her children. That's the third chat.

So, just another day at StuyCS.

What's Expedient vs what's good - curriculum vs teachers

If we don't do anything then only schools like Stuy will have CS.

I heard that the other day. It was a comment relating to a number of efforts, both in and out of NY to get CS into the classroom.

These programs abound and up front let me say that they're all well meaning and have the best of intentions.

In NYC, programs receiving money, publicity, and support, include:

  • The Software Engineering Pilot (SEP)
  • Google CS First afterschool
  • The NSF grant bring the Beauty and Joy of Computing class to NYC (BGP)

Terrific – we'll scale up CS ed in NY from nothing to everyone in no time. It's fast, it scales. But is it good.

I'd argue that maybe it's not. These programs all share a few things in common.

First, they're all expedient. You can implement them in an election cycle. Roll out a pre-fab curriculum with scripted lessons, give the teachers a summer and some weekend workshops and we're good to go. No CS knowledge needed.

Next, as far as I can tell, none were developed by experienced high school teachers with a deep knowledge of CS.

The SEP was originally developed by someone, who, according to his linked in profile never coded and never taught.

I could be wrong about BGP. It was developed by Dan Garcia - an educator whom I like and respect, but as far as I know, his experience is at the college level.

And Google's CS First? I've been very impressed by Google's engineers, in fact, many are my former students. It's high school education team? Not so much.

Finally, these efforts buy into the myth that anyone can teach and that anyone can teach computer science. Even worse, the Google CS First claims people running their program don't need to know a thing about computer science.

Anyone who knows teaching knows that you can't learn a subject well enough to reall teach it in such a short period of time. Of course, it does align itself with education "reform" where the true master teacher is no longer desirable and we should all be drones that teach lessons from scripts and all testing shall be standardized.

I rememer the first time I saw a progarm like this - it was the CISCO Networking Academy. Teachers trained for a few weeks in the summer and the course was basically run via computer based tutorials. I can't speak for it nationally but in my experience, what the students learned was superficial - very test oriented and there was no value added by the teacher - even after years of "teaching" the classes. There's a reason why the few networking lessons in our System Programming class are called "CISCO in an hour." The kids learn more in those couple of lessons than in a year of the CISCO curriculum.

Who was to blame? Cisco? They were trying to do something good. The teacher? Partially, after time they should have learned something of networking but they were very much out of their element having started the process from zero tech experience.

The fact is, that got a "Computer Networking" class into the schools. It might have been meant as a stop-gap until we could get real Computer Networking teachers hired or trained but it ended up being good enough. The end result – bad classes and students not learning what they could.

So here we are back again at the "let's take non CS teachers, give them some PD and we'll be good." Rather than take the time to solve the CS Education problem, we're going to throw down a curriculum, do some PD and say that it will buy us time. The truth is, however, that we're going to say "look, we have CS in the schools" and it will be good enough.

I'd argue, though that for CS, good enough is particularly dangerous. It's very easy to work through a scripted and coached program and end up with kids thinking they know some real CS and have a real product yet having not really learned the subject. This won't be exposed until later, when they're gone and in college. I predict that unless something changes, these efforts and similar ones will drive up the number of people who after this exposure will say they love CS but once they get hit over the head with "funcitonal programming in HASKELL" or whatever real CS they see in college, they'll drop like flies.

What's the answer? We've got to stop doing what's expedient and do what's good and what's right.

Part 2

A couple of other blog itches I want to scratch are the many after school, summer, and drop in programs to go with the there I mentioned above. Hopefully I'll get to rant about them soon.

Believing in what you're doing

The other day, Fred Wilson sent out a short tweet storm turned post on determining if an entrepreneur's startup idea is a good one. It's short. Take a minute to read it over.

At its core, the post and the comments talk about belief in an idea and it got me thinking about some things as an educator.

Tweet 7:

and you have to believe in yourself and your idea or nobody else ever will

resonated with me, not just in terms of a startup idea, but with respect to one's passion.

As a CS teacher we get to shepherd kids through projects big and small. The best work invariably comes from when the kids take an idea they're passionate about and run with it. Sometimes I can guide the kids to an idea and it works out well but when the kids end up working on the stock project the results are less spectacular.

Once the kids buy into a great idea, the educator has to create a framework for success - give the kids the tools and set up the safety nets when things don't go as planned.

I've never liked all those student entrepreneurs programs – make a business for the sake of making a business - much better to help guide the kids towards something they're passionate about and help them run with it. That's when great things happen.

The neat thing is that it's not limited to classes. CSTUY is having its first hackathon in a few weeks; def hacks():. One of my juniors came to me with the idea - she got a couple more kids on board and we're off to the races. I've done some things behind the scenes to make sure we don't have any real problems but the awesome thing is that the event is all on the kids.

In a way, I'd imagine that Fred, as a VC, once he invests, his role is to help create the framework for success. I'd also imagine that the best way to do that is similar to what a great teacher does - bring out the best in the student, make them aware of pitfalls and be a supportive mentor.

On a deeper level, as teachers, we get to work with young people as they're developing their own passions. This was something else that I started thinking about after reading Fred's tweet storm, in particular tweet 9:

because I never want someone telling me they wasted five years of their life on something because I told them it was a good idea

Teachers are role models and the best teachers are passionate about their subject and their craft. One of the things I'm most proud of is the number of friends, former students, who have told me that I gave them a career, I introduced them to their passion. Sometimes, though, we miss. I've seen some kids come through my program and leave loving CS but it was, at least in part, an illusion. I work with a great team and sometimes loving classes can stand in for loving a subject.

I was talking to my daughter when she was a senior at Stuy and she commented that she was missing all the subjects she loved one day when she had to leave early. She included math. I said "since when do you love math?" She respond "I meant I love math class." That makes sense she had an amazing teacher.

So, at times, kids leave us for college and then they might discover that they don't love CS as much as they thought they did.

Now, I'm not overly concerned with our misses here since I think we do better than most in showing CS and Tech for what it is and we always leave the kids with a great set of mental and practical tools but every now and then I see a kid who is doing well in the tech industry and in my gut I feel that the world missed out on a great author, chemist, or doctor.

So, I've rambled on this long enough - just some food for thought from a teacher.

A chocolate treasure in a city losing its soul


I'm a born and bred New Yorker and more and more I'm lamenting what the city's becoming.

New York used to be a collection of neighborhoods. Yes, we were the city that never slept, but there were scores of mom and pop stores, sole proprieterships. You could become a "regular." I'm reminded of Tom Shachman's book Around the Block which looks at the businesses around a single NYC block, mostly all gone now. If you can get your hands on the book. It's worth a read.

In any event, here's a story:

Yesterday. JonAlf and I were at the Apple store on Fifth avenue talking about CSTUY. We had four of our talented students presenting their work.

After the event, JonAlf had gone and one of our student presenters had left with his parents. I was left with our other three presenters.

I told them that I'd love to take them by this amazing chocolate shop a few blocks away and I had to explain why:


A number of years ago, after a morning in Central Park, Batya, Natan, and I were winding our way home. We ended up passing Myzel's Chocolates on the south side of 55th street between fifth and sixth avenue. That's when we met Kamila, the shop owner. We chatted for a while got some chocolate and went on our way. Kamila was amazingly warm and sincere and the chocolates really really good. I noted that we would have to return.


That didn't happen until months later but when it did, I was shocked that Kamila remembered us, what we were doing that day and we just picked up the conversation where we left off.

This pattern repeated over the years. We didn't get to that neighborhood and thus Myzel's often, but whenever we did, we had to stop by. Great candies from a truly special person.

Alas, my schedule has been such that I hadn't been back to Myzel's in years. I think three or four.

Now, I was with Nadia, Miranda, and Leslie - three of my incredibly talented students. They just did an awesome job presenting their work and I figured I could give them some thank you chocolate as well as visit one of my favorite places in the city.

I told them that Kamila probably wouldn't remember me but I recounted my story of Myzel's and how amazing Kamila and the store were. I got the feeling that they didn't believe me when I told them about Kamila and the store.

We got to Myzel's went in and started to place our order. When Kamila came out, her first word to me was "professor…" and we picked up where we left off. As usual, she was charming and sincere. We reminisced and chatted and then we were off.

In a city that's fast becoming cookie cutter we need more places like Myzel's and more people like Kamila.

Unfortunately rents are rapidly dispatching shops like Myzel's and people like Kamila are few and far between.

So, when you're around City Center or midtown in general, please treat yourself. You won't be disappointed.

Taking stock and tracking progress

When starting the spring semester, students are frequently a little rusty. They just had a high intensity month of study, tests, and projects. That was followed by a week of nothing.

I like to start with something lightweight that gets them coding again and ramps them up to speed.

In SoftDev I started with a brief overview of the HTML5 canvas and then gave them a small homework assignment to do something fun.

I also remind the kids to self assess where they are and how they've developed as a programmer.

I get a little tired of education "experts" espousing nonsense like you have to have each talk each day or that you need to assess each kid multiple times a period. That's nonsense. With 34 kids in a 40 minute class and 150 kids a day, that doesn't fly. Besides, so many concepts take time to develop, learn, and absorb.

Yes, you can get some instant and short term feedback but a lot more is revealed over time.

I'm attaching a small sampling of their homework assignments. It was basically a one day assignment to do something fun with the HTML5 canvas and indeed, it looks like they had fun.

I asked the kids to reflect on what they did now and what they could do a semester, two, and three semesters ago.

In the beginning they would have had no idea how to approach any of these. A year ago, they would be a major project. Now, they can knock these out as a homework assignment.

Once you take a step back to look at how much a student can grow in a year or so you have to marvel at the results.

At a place like Stuy, the kids frequently and unfairly judge themselves against super prodigies.

I'm hoping by looking back at what they could do then vs now they'll appreciate how awesome they are.

All sources at


Chain reaction

click to start the reaction

by Nadia and Sophie

MakeOver Party

Take a picture and apply virtual makeup

by Veronika and Miranda

3D Depth Perception Pong

Follow the ball and keep it in the well

by Natan

Can't really describe this but I love it

Use WASD to move DW around

by Fish

Kids these days -- they don't know nuttin

Yesterday, I took part in a round table discussion on Ed Tech and Tech Ed, the latter being more, as they say, my wheelhouse. Afterwards a few of us were chatting and a friend observed that when she first started to talk to high school kids she was shocked that they really didn't know the local tech players - neither names nor companies.

A couple of years ago, another friend was helping me organize an event for high schoolers. He started to go down a list of well known tech names and was surprised when I told him that the kids wouldn't know them.

The first time I experienced this, it was just as big a surprised to me. I was setting up a big high school event at Foursquare (post here) and was shocked to learn that practically non of the attendees had heard of the company.

This would never have been the case in the 90s or even the early 2000s. What happened?

I have a theory.

I don't think it's just due to the fact that CS is a hot subject now. It was hot during the 90's bubble. I'm sure the fact that a wider range of kids are being exposed to CS is part of this phenomenon but I don't think it's the biggest reason.

I think CS kids back then knew more – more of the players, more of the tools, more about the systems because they had to. In some ways, and I know I'm vastly overstating things, it's "too easy" now.

Back in the day, if you wanted to put your thoughts on line you had to:

  • learn html
  • maybe some PHP, Perl, or Python
  • You probably had to learn a bit about hosting a server
  • you had to deal with registering a domain name
  • and more

Now, you just go to blogger or tumblr.

Back then, if you wanted to communicate, you had to learn how to learn the dark art of irc, now you have Google chat.

Back then, you want to share photos, you had to learn how to make a gallery. Now, Facebook.

And of course the list goes on.

Even programming required that you know something about the filesystem and the basics of working in an operating system. Now between IDEs both local and cloud based, you can learn all about programming and never actually create a stand alone program that operates outside of the IDE sandbox.

Back in the day, if a kid was into CS they had to learn more than just the in class toolset and this in turn forced them to be in touch with the tech community both products and players.

I'm not saying the "good old days" were in fact that good and I love most of the progress we've made. Just noting the cultural difference.

It means we should pay more attention to educating our classes on tech culture, the good, the bad, and the ugly.

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