SXSW EDU #CSforAll Preview

I get really excited about SXSW EDU for a few reasons:

1) #CSforAll is a growing topic area for the conference. Last year had tons of sessions with districts implementing computer science in different ways, so I always learn a lot of things that influence my work with Code/Interactive.

2) SXSW EDU is a “playground” (to steal their word) for new things and it really does push trends out to the folks in the education world who love to play test new ideas. I train educators, so I’m always looking for great new resources.

My methodology for research was simple — I did a preliminary search through this year’s SXSW EDU sessions for the term “computer science” and browsed through everything and everyone that came up. I checked out some other searches for “coding” and “csforall” but this search term garnered the most results so far. For people that came up, I followed their bios to the sessions at which they are presenting.

My search methodology.

I broadly categorized sessions below based on interesting patterns that I saw — 1) Cross-Curricular CS, 2) Emerging Technology, and 3) Equity in CS Education. Every session that I saw so far looks interesting and features wonderful panelists and speakers. Everything below is purely opinion and these should not be read as recommendations, just some cool sessions that I connected to personally and wanted to share. This is also a list, not a ranking, so sessions are presented in random order.

Section 1 — Cross-Curricular Computer Science:

  • Computation & Kids: High School Digital Humanities with Peter Nilsson from Deerfield Academy. At Code/Interactive, we are really passionate about getting CS into every subject, especially the humanities. Why should science and math have all the fun? Peter has some really interesting views on this — check out The Educators Notebook to get a taste. I’m excited to hear new ideas to fill entire schools with computational thinking.
  • The Music Experience Design Lab and #HipHopMusicEd with Alex Ruthman and Jarritt Sheel from from NYU and Jamie Ehrenfeld from the Music Experience Design Lab NYU. I’ve been captivated by computational thinking in music since falling in love with EarSketch years ago. Hiphop education is also huge thanks to folks like Chris Emdin. Now that the Hip Hop Museum is funded + being built in the Bronx, I’m excited to see this get into more schools across the country.
  • Make a Food Computer: Open-Sourced Tech in Classes with Melanie Shimano from the Food Computer Program. Building a computer controlled, hydroponic, personal garden sounds like a biology experiment that will engage your students for the entire year. Real-world challenges that teach standards in your biology class? That sounds like #CSforAll done right.
  • CS Professional Development Recipes with Alex Diracles from Vidcode, Tom O’Connell from Code/Interactive, and Sharon Thompson from Bullis Charter School. I’m in this one! It’s all about how to train and support your teachers with a special focus on integrating CS into all disciplines, which all of these orgs are really striving to do. Sharon supports teachers directly, Alex runs a platform, and Tom trains teachers across the country, so get ready to learn a lot about computer science support options.

Section 2 — Emerging Technology:

  • Teach Artificial Intelligence in Kindergarten with Ann Gadzikowski from Northwestern University’s Center for Talent Development. Robotics could be interesting for a hands-on early childhood education setting, although I’m curious about how much students are actually learning about AI. Is there an ROI level that makes robotics (which are expensive) worth it with younger students?
  • Students Can Build the VR/AR Worlds of the Future with Jessica Lindl from Unity, Jordan Budisantoso from Washington Leadership Academy, Rafranz Davis from Lufkin ISD, and Mark Suter from Elida HS. VR / AR are taking over our phones, they’re both becoming more accessible, and I just spent two weeks in Arkansas doing VR / AR brainstorms with kids — they have really great ideas! We are just seeing the tip of the VR / AR iceberg.
  • VR — beyond virtual field trips to building empathy with Eric Klopfer from MIT, Monica Ares from Facebook, Seth Andrew from Democracy Prep, and Tina Tran from Oculus. My nonprofit measures social emotional learning (SEL) and works in the VR space, so even though this one isn’t as obvious a #CSforAll session, I think it falls in my “VR and AR are eating the world” subcategory. When students design VR / AR experiences, they might influence SEL through empathy on a peer-to-peer level.
  • The Breakthrough of Drone Education with Dennis Baldwin from Unmanned Airlines / Price Blink / DronePan. Drones are also taking over the world — in just a few years, they will be flying everywhere, delivering our packages and (hopefully) solving community problems. Schools will probably need to modify their insurance policies… but drones are also super engaging for kids! I’m interested to hear more ways to “drone for good.”

Section 3 — Equity in CS Education

  • Teach Access — Teaching About Accessible Tech with Amy Chen from Adobe, David Chesney from U Michigan, Laura Palmaro from Google, and Mike Shebanek from Oath. They listed some of my favorite elements of university diversity recruiting programs in the description, especially “faculty bootcamps.” How can we expect students to go from engaging, culturally relevant high school CS classrooms (s/o to Exploring Computer Science and AP CS Principles) to intro CS courses in college, which often lack support and equitable pedagogy. I worry about each and every student that I convince to study CS in college.
  • Close the STEM Gender Gap? Start in Kindergarten with Andrea Bastiani Archibald from the Girl Scouts, Cynthia Cooksey from Perez Elementary, Kimberly Bryant from Black Girls CODE, and Vikas Gupta from Wonder Workshop. More K-2 curriculum and fun toys (like Wonder Workshop’s Dash & Dot) are making computational thinking accessible to pivotal ages before children develop gender stereotypes. I’m interested to hear how we can SUSTAIN these gains in gender-related self-efficacy and prevent society’s biases from steering girls away from STEM. It’s going to take all of K-12 to figure this out, but K is a great place to start!
  • Domo Arigato: Robotics in Public Education with Juan Orozco, Santi Castro, and Steven Muniz from Del Valle ISD. This one takes some context for the equity to become evident — Del Valle (just Southeast of Austin) serves 87.7% economically disadvantaged students, so I’m interested to see the equitable structures that they have created to make their robotics program work. I hear that FIRST Robotics programs sometimes have trouble in districts that serve high percentages of low-income students, yet it’s such a powerful program for kids! Let’s learn from Del Valle’s success.
  • The Spiderman Principle: Teaching Ethical Hacking with Jen Ellis from Rapid7 and Leonard Bailey from the US Department of Justice. With the proliferation of hackathons, more college students are learning how to build cool products and flex their skills… but it’s also a prime opportunity for their to hack for good and learn about social justice! I’m not sure if I’m reading into “ethical hacking” to be “hacking with a social justice lens,” but I hope they talk about it. I recently attended an education themed college hackathon at Cornell — more college hackathons need to focus on social justice to make sure we hack for good.
  • SHAPE OF AN ABSENCE with Terry Marshall & Aisha Shillingford from Intelligent Mischief, John Jennings from UC Riverside, and Stacey Robinson from Black Kirby. Racism shapes #CSforAll just as it shapes our education and corporate systems. What does a systemic redesign look like for education? How can #CSforAll’s transformation of public education help push educators to design equitable systems that provide access to all? I’m intrigued by the topic and by #CSforAll as a catalyst for change.
  • You Can’t Solve What You Don’t Understand with Eric Berlow from Vibrant Data Labs, Laverne Srinivasen from Carnegie Corporation of New York, and Talia Milgrom-Elicott from 100Kin10. I’ve played with 100Kin10’s new mapping platform — it is really thought provoking and asks a lot of important questions for STEM+C practitioners. This session comes at an important time for #CSforAll to consider how groups should spend new influxes of public / private funding to make sure we “enable lasting change.”

I can’t wait to see everyone at SXSW EDU in March and discover even more sessions! I’m energized by these topics and encourage everyone to share which sessions resonate with you the most and why.

Tom O’Connell is the Interim Executive Director at Code/Interactive, @mrtomocon on Twitter