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

October, 2005

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Visual Basic 2005 Frequently Asked Questions

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    I regularly get questions from teachers about Visual Studio and Visual Basic. This is my frequently asked questions list. Feel free to send me more questions about using Visual Basic in the classroom either by leaving a comment or by sending email to me at Alfred.Thompson at Microsoft.com

    Why should I upgrade from Visual Basic 6.0 to Visual Basic .NET?

    Why should I choose to teach using Visual Basic .NET?

    Why should I upgrade from Visual Basic .NET 2002/2003 to Visual Basic .NET 2005?

    When will support for Visual Basic 6.0 end?

    How much does it cost for a high school to upgrade to Visual Basic .NET 2005?

    What are the configuration requirements for Visual Basic .NET 2005?

    Why should I upgrade from Visual Basic 6.0 to Visual Basic .NET?

    • The ability to teach true Object Oriented Programming with a beginner friendly syntax (i.e. think better preparation for students later learning AP CS)
    • Use of the .NET Framework libraries – lots of things that used to be hard to do are now much easier. For example, sorting and searching arrays, playing sounds and getting system information can all be done without complicated system calls or writing a lot of code.
    • A more helpful and productive IDE – IntelliSense, the error messages, especially in VS 2005, are much better than in VB 6.0
    • Opportunities to use the same IDE for other languages (C++, C#, J#)
    • Lots of new teaching and learning resources (http://msdn.microsoft.com/coding4fun  , www.mainfunction.com)  

    Why should I choose to teach using Visual Basic .NET?

    • The syntax for Visual basic is very friendly to beginners. While Visual Basic is a full strength professional grade programming language its roots are embedded in BASIC which was invented to teach programming to everyone.
    • Windows Forms allow students to create real Windows programs quickly and easily. By achieving early success students are encouraged to continue.
    • Visual Studio supports Pocket PC programming in Visual Basic though the use of a built-in emulator. Students can also install programs on their own Pocket PCs and share them with friends.
    • Unlike tools designed just to be simple introductory environments,, Visual Basic scales up to very sophisticated programs and projects.
    • Visual basic is today one of the most widely used programming languages in the world with millions of programmers using it.

    Why should I upgrade from Visual Basic .NET 2002/2003 to Visual Basic .NET 2005?

    • Edit and Continue. This feature that was popular with VB 6 and earlier is back and more powerful than ever. It allows more flexibility in debugging and in correcting errors.
    • Better debugging. The newest Visual Studio gives more and better warnings and error messages before the code is compiled. Autocorrect provides suggestions for many common errors.
    • The Immediate window in Design mode. This feature allows students to execute and evaluate code without running the whole program. This is another great feature from VB 6 which has been brought back to meet customer needs.
    • The My Namespace. Students can easily access system information and resources. For example: My.Computer.Audio lets students play sound files without complicated system calls.
    • Snap lines help students line up objects on a Windows form far more easily and accurately than ever before.
    • Generic data types. Similar to Java generics or C++ template classes.
    • Read more about these and other new features here.

    When will support for Visual Basic 6.0 end?

    The answer depends on “what do you mean by support?” The complete support explanation for Visual Basic 6.0 is available at http://support.microsoft.com/lifecycle/?p1=2971

    • Mainstream support ended in March of 2005.
    • Extended support will continue until March 2008.
    • The Visual Basic 6.0 runtime system will be included in Windows Vista (the next generation operating system from Microsoft) so teachers who have Visual Studio 6.0 and want to use it into the future will be able to do so with Windows Vista.
    • There will be some support for VB 6.0 applications in Vista. Read about that here.

    How much does it cost for a high school to upgrade to Visual Basic .NET 2005?

    • The software is available via the MSDN AA program for $299 for the school. This allows a school to install the software on all of the CS lab computers, the CS teacher computers, and lets students install the software on their own computers at home.
    • An alternative is the free download of Visual Studio Express Editions. The Express Versions do not offer the complete set of features available  in the full IDE of Visual Studio 2005
    • A number of states have a state-wide MSDN AA agreement that provides the MSDN Academic Alliance (MSDN AA) program to all high schools in the state. There is a map of these states at MainFunction.com
  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Five unsolved problems in computer science

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    I've been hearing (reading in blogs and comments actually) that a lot of people think that all the big, important or interesting problems in computer science have been solved. Well the Bill Gates college tour visited Columbia yesterday and the computer science faculty there presented Bill wit h a list of the top five remaining computer science problems. You can read about the whole visit at Kevin Schofield's blog. I think that it is important for students to know that there are important and difficult problems left to solve.

    BTW Bill added a sixth problem - concurrency - to the list the faculty gave him. How do you break up problems so that multiple processors can work on them at the same time. This is a huge problem because we are running into limits on how fast one computer can run. That means that the way to get answers faster is going to mean getting computers to work together. This is something that students may find to be an interesting puzzle to work on.

    - Alfred Thompson

     

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    More Resources for Computer Science Teachers

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    As a follow up to an earlier post, I’d like to present some more resources for computer science teachers. Some are directly involving programming and some are more generally related to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) programs. STEM programs are designed to get more students excited and interested in careers in those areas. The programs I list here are heavy in the TE – Technology and Engineering – piece. But there is enough science and math for everyone here.

    Kids Programming Language – Kid’s Programming language or KPL is and easy and fun programming language for beginners. KPL is a free educational program developed by Morrison Schwartz, a software development and consulting company. There is also a growing community of users. It’s quite the cool thing. In fact, the Coding 4 Fun web site has a start up programming project for KPL that shows how to create and old-fashioned Pong game. Oh, and if you want to go on to other programming languages KPL will generate Visual Basic .NET or C# code from a KPL project! It’s a great way to demonstrate how concepts translate across programming languages.

    FIRST Robotics – FIRST Robotics is a major, international robotics competition for high school students. For the past several competitions the robot has had to operate autonomously which means someone has to program it. It’s just the thing for someone who is thinking about computer engineering or embedded systems programming.

    FIRST Lego League – FLL is a smaller robotics competition for middle school students. This one really involves a lot of programming but the robots are much simpler than the FIRST Robotics robots for high schools. I’ve seen a lot of participation by girls on these teams locally. A great way to get boys and girls an early start programming and thinking about engineering.

    InvenTeams – The Lemelson-MIT InvenTeams program provides grants to high schools with projects in mind around inventions. Funded by the Lemelson Foundation, InventTeams Mission (from their web site):

    • EXCITE high school students about science, math, engineering, entrepreneurship and invention
    • EMPOWER students through problem-solving
    • ENCOURAGE a sustainable culture of invention in schools and communities
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