Computer Science Teacher
Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

September, 2005

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Blogging for Teachers

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    This is kind of cool. My friend Pat Phillips is interviewing Robert Scoble. I'm sort of a fly on the wall listening quietly. The result is going to be a podcast at the MainFunction community web site for high school (secondary school) computer teachers. (I'll post a link once it’s up.) Right now Robert is talking about ways that schools could be using blogs and RSS feeds to enhance communication. I think he's right on the money there. The education process could benefit from some of the openness and transparency that blogging allows.

    Personally I think that computer science teachers, in particular, could benefit from blogging on several levels. On one hand it is obviously a great way to communicate with students and parents. But on a whole different level I think blogs are a great way for computer science teachers to build a community and connect with others. There is a reality of isolation for high school computer science teachers that really gets in the way of them doing as good a job as would be possible if they were part of a community. One of the things I want to do is add a blog roll section of high school (or perhaps K-12) computer science teachers. If you want to be on the list please leave a comment. Let’s see what sort of community we can build.

    - Alfred Thompson

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Where do your students want to work today?

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    I found this very interesting:

    Most popular employers among US computer science students: Microsoft, IBM, Intel, Apple by ZDNet's ZDNet Research -- Microsoft captured the top spot in Universum Communications survey of US computer science students, with 41% of college students willing to work for the company. IBM was #2 with 39%, Intel was #3 with 20%, Apple was #4 with 19%, Amazon was #5 with 16%, Cisco was #6 with 15%.

    Frankly I didn't know that IBM was that much of the radar these days. I also expected Google to be higher on the list. Looking into this some more it appears that Google was at 5% but was there as a write in and not on the default list students were given. But what is clear is that students are looking at their options. They are also still looking at Microsoft. Personally I think that is all good. Microsoft is a great place to work and we can always use sharp new people.

    One thing that I encourage teachers to do, especially high school teachers, is to encourage students to look beyond the jobs at big companies. While it is great to work for big companies a lot of smaller companies also offer lots of interesting projects. But when students do look at large companies they should look beyond the hype in the media. I think that is one of the wonderful things about blogs - you can read them to find out what a company is really like. And doing your homework about a company not only makes it easier to decide where you want to work but it makes it easier to actually get a job there.

    - Alfred Thompson

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Command Line Compile or IDE Compile?

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    There are times when I have wondered if we would not be better off going back to punch cards. Really I am somewhat serious. Back in the day I remember people really paying a lot of attention to their programs before they passed them to the computer. After all if you only get one chance a day to compile and lots of time between compiles it makes sense to desk check. And of course we had come amount of JCL we had to set up to make sure things compiled correctly. This leads right into the ongoing debate about using an IDE versus using a command line compiler that is going on at the MainFunction forums. There is a good “back to basics” argument about command line compilers.

    The debate about command line v. IDE is, in some ways, a false comparison though. Compiling a program is only one of the things an IDE does. An IDE also does editing and debugging. I've read arguments against using a debugger when teaching programming. I completely disagree with those arguments. I think that a good debugger lets a student see a lot more about what is going on behind the scenes than any other method of debugging. And I really like the idea behind IntelliSense and strongly believe that it encourages experimentation. I've used all kinds of editors in my time from punching cards to line mode editors on paper printing ASR 33s to full blown, color coded, IntelliSense using Visual Studio. I think the IDE adds a lot to the process.

    Getting back to compiling, is there value in students knowing about the switches and other options? Absolutely. The question in my mind is when they should learn about them. I tend to think that the first course in not the time. Perhaps not even the second one. We don’t start students with assembly language after all. I have heard the argument that we should BTW.

    Back in the day when you had a large program (i.e. more than 16k of memory) you had to create overlay files for the linker. You actually had to tell the linker which modules needed to be in memory at the same time and which ones could be switched out of memory to make room for them. What an education in memory management and program organization that was. It forced programmers to organize their code and to be very cognizant about dependencies between modules.

    But you know I am not so sure we want to go back to that. We are content to let compilers, linkers and the operating system worry about all of that today. I would assume that at some point students learn a lot of that stuff, perhaps in an operating system class, but it is less important for the average programmer today. Likewise compiler options are less important until you are ready to produce code with real performance requirements.

    I can see a need to teach students about compiler options and what they mean. Is that easier to do with a command line compiler? I don’t know. I haven’t really tried to do that. It is an interesting question but first we have to get past the “when” to teach them.

    - Alfred Thompson

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