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

January, 2006

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    IT Worker Shortage Feared in Canada


    The Toronto (ON, CA) Star had an interesting article last week on worries about a shortage of Information Technology workers in Canada. A sample quote is below:

    The Canadian high-tech sector may be in full recovery, but a serious skills crisis looms unless more students, parents and high-school guidance counsellors shed the perception that information-technology jobs are in short supply, two industry groups are warning.

    "There's a dichotomy at the moment in what kids are being told and what's needed, and that's creating a (skills) shortage and a problem that will emerge," says Bernard Courtois, president and chief executive officer of the Information Technology Association of Canada.

    This seems to be an international problem. There is a perception that they is a shortage of jobs in computer and information technology among the students (and their advisors) at a time when there is actually a looming shortage of people to fill jobs. One interesting thing that the article points out is that some 40% of IT professionals working for the government in Canada will be eligible for retirement in 2008. Think about that for a minute. There are a lot of people (my age and older) who have been working in IT since the early 1970s. They're all going to start retireing soon. Who is going to replace them?

    BTW come back tomorrow to read some job statistics from the US Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics.

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Computer Science as Basic Science


    Thanks to an ACM mailing list I found an interesting column by an Indian academic from IIT, Bangalore, that talks about Computer Science becoming a very basic and important science. One interesting quote is below:

    We do need good physicists, chemists, material scientists and mathematicians. Computer science, if properly approached, will nourish the growth of every other science, be it astronomy, space science, nuclear science, biological science, materials science, or health science.

    The column reports on a number of things including some presentations by researchers from Microsoft and academics, including Maria Klawe, dean of engineering at Princeton university and others, at "Tech Vista" a conference held in India not long ago. I really believe that computer science has to become more a part of a general, dare I say liberal arts, education. I think that column supports that belief. I recommend it. Also show it to your students and ask them what they think? Do they agree that we need more basic CS in out schools?

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Teaching Binary to Small Children


    One of my readers (thanks Blake) sent me a link to an interesting web page that uses the Socratic method (asking questions) to teach binary numbers to very small children. It is amazing how simple it all seems in the context of that example. I remember learning different number systems when I was fairly young. I remember it just being cool to me. I didn't see any use to it at the time. But even though I didn't like math much at that age I spent a lot of time for a while playing with converting from one number system to another.

    Certainly when I came across it again in college it was old hat to me and that was helpful to me. Number systems do not seem as though they are taught as often as they used to be. I think that is too bad. Number systems, not just binary, are pretty interesting. In computers we use different number systems regularly. Binary of course. Also hexadecimal and octal though mostly as a way to organize binary numbers.

    Recently I've heard discussions about devices that have three states rather than just two. Perhaps they are -1, 0 and 1 though unless you are into the hardware it probably doesn't matter much. What will matter is that this allows for a computer that uses a ternary number system. Think of the possibilities - more data in less space, more powerful instruction sets, and of course yet another number system to learn. If we teach binary correctly this should not be a problem. Though of course if we taught decimal in more general terms allowing for students to understand binary (and octal, ternary and hexadecimal) we probably would not have so much trouble with lots of concepts either.

    And that, really, is the heart of the value of teaching binary to young students - it helps them understand decimal better and at the same time opens their horizons to new ways of looking at numbers. That seems like a good goal to me. If we use the carrot of "computers use this" to get them interested that is not such a bad thing either.

    BTW I think that "how would a ternary computer change the way computers work?" might be an interesting discussion question in computer science classrooms.

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