Posted by CSTA Conference Committee on May 22, 2020
View our 6-8 session recommendations for CSTA 2020.

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The CSTA 2020 Virtual Conference program is now live and with more than 100 sessions, we know it can be overwhelming to start planning your schedule! To help you navigate, we’re providing a few presentation recommendations — just for you as a 6-8 teacher —  to get you started. 

Rethinking Middle School Coding Curricula 

The past decade has witnessed a rush of new computer science and coding resources. Arguably, much of this energy has been focused at the elementary and high school levels, with less attention given to the needs of middle school classrooms. This session introduces PencilCoder (, a free coding curriculum designed to fill this gap. PencilCoder is a sequence of engaging and stimulating lessons designed to help students learn a broad range of coding concepts and skills and to bolster their ability to think computationally. The curriculum is supported by an extensive teacher’s guide to support teachers of all levels of coding experience. This session will explore pedagogical considerations embedded in all coding curricula, whether or not explicitly addressed by curriculum designers, and the impact design decisions have on student interest and learning, as well as issues of equity, access, and retention. The presentation will explore these issues through an examination of key features of the PencilCoder curriculum.

Integrating CS with Middle School Science 

Common complaints about recently adopted computer science standards emphasize that there is limited time in the school day, considerable pressure to focus on standardized test outcomes, and inadequate investment in teacher preparation for CS. This session will explore how integration of CS with Next Generation Science Standards through hands-on, project-based examples can engage student imagination and make both disciplines more compelling. The session will provide concrete examples of standards-aligned lesson modules, including open source/creative commons resource materials, such as: 
  • Learning middle school chemistry and biology topics, such as density or pH, 
  • Using laser-cut robots that students can program to pipette liquids in a block-based language
  • Using smartphone sensors to collect data about the physics of sound waves 
  • Using the BBC micro:bit's built-in magnetometer to explore the idea of an inverse-square (or inverse-cube) law for magnetic fields 
  • Using StarLogo Nova or NetLogo to understand how complex behaviors in nature can emerge from large numbers of agents following very simple rules  
We will argue that the time spent including CS in the science classroom is more than offset by increased engagement and deeper understanding of the core science, while helping students see how CS has come to impact every field.

Authentically Embedding Ethics into the Computer Science Classroom 

The 21st century sees technologists squarely facing moral concerns, no longer “shielded” by being simply a coder solving technical problems. Yet incorporating ethical thinking into a computer science classroom may seem infeasible. Faculty may not feel they have the expertise or the spare time in a CS course to incorporate ethical conversations; or they may not be sure how to integrate ethics in ways that feel authentic and not simply “tacked on” to the curriculum.  At Phillips Academy Andover, we launched the Ethics in CS Project—Ethi{CS}—to research ways to naturally incorporate ethical thinking and reasoning into CS classrooms. One such strategy is to develop authentic assessments that train students on the coding techniques they would otherwise learn, but in ways that draw out ethical dilemmas, thereby translating philosophical skills to the CS classroom. In this presentation, we will share a framework and resources for diving into this challenge.

The Unplugged Games You Didn’t Know Your CS Class was Missing 

Meaningful computer science learning happens when students feel comfortable taking risks in front of their peers. Over the last four years, Upperline Code has facilitated more than 100 immersive CS courses for high school and college students and has trained approximately 400 CS educators in CS pedagogical best practices. In the feedback from all of these student-facing courses and educator training sessions, participants comment most frequently on the positive, supportive culture of risk-taking that Upperline Code creates. The cornerstone from which we build this culture is an arsenal of unplugged games and activities that help students and educators begin taking risks around their peers in a low-stakes environment.   In this hour-long session, we’ll dig into the best practices for leading these games that we’ve learned over years of iteration. And, of course, we’ll play many of them together to build up our collective arsenal of activities. Participants will walk away having experienced the fun and comfort these games build, and with guidance on ways they can implement them in their own educational contexts.

Virginia CS and STEM Collaborative Efforts 

In this session, we will talk about the new Virginia STEM Plan and how it has been built around collaboration with computer science initiatives. These efforts were constructed with the support of numerous stakeholders in PK–12 education and higher education, community partners, and workforce development. Virginia adopted computer science standards before the state’s STEM plan was submitted, so a collaborative effort was required to forge CS and STEM into a more effective and efficient integrated approach to education. This helped prevent potential confusion for educators and highlighted pathways that helped build up teacher confidence and comfort with the topics. We will provide opportunities for attendees to participate through discussions about our experiences stitching together the goals of CS and STEM. The purpose of the session is to share our experiences so that other states can better learn how to approach this growing effort and hopefully identify a clearer path to collaboration.

We cannot wait to connect with you during these sessions and more during CSTA 2020! If you haven’t yet registered, head over to the CSTA 2020 website, and secure your spot!