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

March, 2006

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Boston FIRST Robotics Event


    Last Saturday I attended the Boston Regional event for the FIRST Robotics program. Being in Boston they were able to attract some big name judges. People like Steve Wozniak who helped start Apple Computer. Bob Metcalfe who invented Ethernet. And Helen Greiner the chairman and co-founder of iRobot.  There were some impressive people in the audience. Dan Bricklin, who invented the spreadsheet program, was there and did a podcast of interviews with people who were there.

    I’ve been involved in FIRST at various levels for a number of years. My son was on a team about 12 years ago when the program included fewer than 30 teams across the country. This year there are over 1100 teams in several countries. There will be 33 different regional events this year plus the Championship event in Atlanta next month.

    I helped start a team (Team 811 Bishop Guertin HS) when I was teaching. They just completed their fifth year as a team. Well actually if they make it off the wait list they will be competing in Atlanta. I hope they get the chance. I was amazed at how much interest in engineering and science FIRST generated. A lot of students were inspired to look at area of education that they had never ever thought about before.

    One of the things I noticed this year was that the number of girls involved in FIRST continues to climb. At the Boston event three of the 44 teams were all girls. All of the teams seemed to have significant numbers of girls. People at FIRST say that there are upwards of 30% girls in the program. That could be better of course but it is growing.

    The girls who are involved do not seem to give up anything about being a girl either. From girls on the repair team (think this is where your hands really get dirty) with cheerleader skirts on over the jeans, to interesting hair styles to clothing accessories that are “all girl” these girls are not giving up on their identity. Members of FIRST teams are valued for what they know and do regardless of other factors. It has a heavy emphasis on cooperation and people, even on competing teams, helping each other.  It’s really a great program that way.

    There are 8 more events taking place this coming week-end. If there is one in your area (check here for the list of events) I highly recommend you drop in on one. FIRST has to be seen to really be understood.


  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    How well do you understand phishing?


    A co-worker (thanks Diane)showed me the Internet safety web site run by MSN. One of the pages was all about phishing: what it is, why it is a problem and how to recognize it. There is even a test to see how good one is about picking out the valid email from a valid company and a scam email from a phisher trying to trick you. Send your students who think they are too smart to be tricked there and find out just how clever they really are.

    This is a very useful site for use in any class about Internet safety. It is valuable for anyone that uses the Internet though. I've sent email off to everyone in my family suggesting they visit the site.

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Computing should have same status as science


    A couple of related items to point teachers to today. One is an article from that discusses the need to bring computing into the area of general science that all (or at least more) students learn. I like this quote:

    Education will also play a key role in how computer science is integrated into the natural sciences, said Andrew Parker, a professor of high-energy physics and director of Cambridge University's eScience Center. Parker said his doctorate students lack training in data handling and analysis, inference and statistics.

    "They need computational science courses which are relevant to analysing large data collections," Parker said.

    The article references a report that was funded my Microsoft Research. The report is the focus of a special issue of Nature on Future Computing. Microsoft Research paid to allow free access to the issue but did not have any editorial control over it. There are a number of articles that tie computing into other fields and discuss how they might change over the next 15 years.

    I really beleive that computing skills and the ability to process large amounts of data in ways that have until now been limited to computer scientests is going to become more important for people in all areas of science. And in business as well. marketing people are going to have to understand datamining to get any real value from all the data now available to them and that is just one example.

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