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

November, 2005

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Options for getting Visual Studio for the classroom

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    By now most people reading blogs or news about Microsoft know that Visual Studio .NET 2005 has been released. What not everyone knows much about are the options for schools, teachers, and students to get copies. For most schools the best way to get Visual Studio .NET is to sign up for the MSDN Academic Alliance programs. For colleges and universities (institutes of higher education) there is the regular MSDN Academic Alliance program (http://www.msdnaa.net) which has more software in it than the average secondary (high school) school could ever need. There is also a special program for high schools (secondary schools) that provides Visual Studio .NET for US $299.00. This program provides a license to install VS .NET on all computers in the teaching lab, all teacher preparation systems (at school and at home) for teachers teaching programming. It also allows students to install the software at home at no additional charge. It's quite a deal. The Visual Studio the school gets is the full featured professional edition. No short cuts here.

    Now if you are a student on your own or perhaps you are a teacher running an independent study course or perhaps you have to wait until next year for any funds (we've all been there!) there is an other great option. The Express Editions are available for free (as in download and install and pay nothing) for a limited time. The Express Editions are available in versions that support Visual Basic .NET, C#, C++, J# or Web Development. The idea is that you install only the languages you need which makes the installation faster and easier. You can of course install several or even all of them. You can get the Express Editions here. The Express Editions use a less complicated interface that was designed with student and hobby programmers in mind.

    BTW if you are installing the Express Editions on a number of systems or want to help students with low speed Internet connections the Manual Installation instructions may be useful for you.

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Project ideas - just where do they come from?

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    One of the things that computer science teachers all seem to struggle with is coming up with projects to assign their students. I was thinking about this after reading Robb Cutler's latest at the Computer Science Teachers Association blog. OK try and follow my twisted logic. Perhaps it's as interesting (or boring or wierd depending on your point of view) as Scott Adams (of Dilbert fame) writers block post.

    Robb was using Sudoku puzzles as an example of problem solving. He was pointing out that the sort of talents and skills that people use to solve those puzzles was exactly the sort of talent and skills that are useful in computer science. He's right of course. The whole pattern matching thing is highly useful in computer science. I was of course somewhat distracted by the thought "how would I write a computer program to solve a Suduko puzzle. That lead directly to how would I assign it to a class and what sort of things would I be using it to reinforce.

    For the most part programming projects just sort of came to me. I'm not saying that all the projects I assigned were original. Nothing could be further from the truth. A lot of them came from textbooks. Many came from talks with other teachers. The Nifty Assignments panel is one that I never miss at SIGCSE. The supporting web page for the Nifty Assignments discussion has an archive of projects from past sessions here. I highly recommend that page and the SIGCSE conference itself.

    But still some of the best projects I assigned came from (almost) thin air. Discussions with students inspired a number of them. A class discussion about a topic lead to talk about how you would use something which lead to brainstorming about potential projects. More than once we came up with a project on the spur of the moment and it became a assignment. There is good and bad here. The bad is that I, of course, had to go out and write the program myself. There is no sense in assigning a program if a student can not practically finish it in a reasonable time. On occasion this exercise (writing the program myself) showed that there was a concept they needed that they had not been taught or some other thing that made it necessary to modify the project. But the good, and very good it was, that came from these projects is that the students felt some ownership of the project. It was for them and from them. It meant something to them. And that always meant a higher class of work.

    So keep an open mind during classroom discussions for potential assignments. Also think about the sorts of puzzles that intrigue you – they may very well intrigue your students as well. One more thing – keep an eye out for students in your school who like puzzles. Maybe you can get them to think about the great puzzle solving business that is computer science.

    - Alfred Thompson

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Choppers and computers?

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    You hear a lot of people, especially students, claim that they don't need computers. Or they don't see computers being involved in things they are interested it. Computers are not cool and fun to everyone. On Daryll's blog I found a link to a video for the motorcycle fans in your class room. Orange County Choppers is one of the hot companies in the custom motorcycle business these days. They have a wildly popular TV show on the Discovery Channel. You can see their licensed products in stores everywhere. What you don't see on the TV show is the computerized back office that helps them run the operation. With a huge and expensive inventory there is a lot of money invested in parts and equipment. The days when Paul Sr. could keep track of everything in a little black book are gone.

    This video which includes comments from Paul Sr., Paul Jr. and my favorite Mikey describes some of the ways that Microsoft products help OCC run their business. It's a fun video. [Thanks to Daryll McDade for the link]

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