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

June, 2006

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    So they’ve asked you to teach Visual Basic?


    It’s surprising the number of times I get an email or see one posted to the Advanced Placement Teacher mailing list that starts something like this:

    “I’ve been asked to teach Visual Basic this fall. I’ve never taught VB before and I’m not all that familiar with it. Where do I start?”

    Scary isn’t it? It’s really scary if you are a teacher in that situation. Fortunately there are people to ask (start with me), websites to go to and resources to learn from and to teach with. None of that is comforting unless you know where they are though. So the purpose of this post is to start people off in the right direction.

    The first place to start is If you haven't signed up for a free account there I recommend that you do so as soon as you can. There you will find articles, projects, curriculum materials of all sorts, tutorials, and all sorts of useful things.

    One place for a teacher who is new to Visual Basic to start with is with some free tutorial videos. There are many more (many free and some for a fee) tutorial videos at which is a third party web site. I’ve heard great things about those tutorials. Plus you can learn a lot about how to teach by watching someone else teach.

    For curriculum materials I would again look to the curriculum page at MainFunction where there is a fairly full "Intro to Computer Science with VB .NET" curriculum that you could easily work through to get started and then use to teach your own students. Also at MainFunction is a book of projects for Visual Basic for the classroom. I wrote those projects so of course I think they are pretty good. But honestly people have been using several versions of that book (it was originally done for VB 6 and later updated for .NET) for years and I get a lot of compliments on it.

    There are also a lot of really good textbooks for Visual Basic. I have written about them in the past and probably will again. I’m always looking for comments and recommendations on VB books from teachers who are currently using them so feel free to leave a comment or send me an email about books you like (or hate).

    And if you are worried about software you have two options. One is to use the Visual Basic Express Edition (free download here) or the MSDN Academic Alliance program that allows you to get Visual Studio 2005 for all of your lab computers, your teacher prep computers and send copies home with your students to install on their own computers for a single amazingly low price. Full details here.

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Looking for a Classroom Poster to Promote Careers in IT


    The CSTA (Computer Science Teachers Association) has created a poster to promote Information Technology careers. The poster is available as a PDF file from the CSTA Careers web page. Coming up with posters like this is a non trivial task. Chris Stephenson talks about the process at the CSTA blog.

    It looks like you’ll be able to pick up printed copies at NECC next week and at other conferences in the near future.

    Tags: necc necc06

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Where do project ideas come from?


    I love coming up with new programming projects for students to do. I just think that coming up with something different is fun, makes things more interesting for the students and helps keep a teacher fresh. But where do new ideas come from. Sometimes from textbooks of course. I have a large collection of textbooks and I know that many others do the same thing. They borrow ideas from old textbooks and fit them into a new programming language or design paradigm.

    But I really like to come up with ideas from real life. I think I found one today. Adam Barr, who works for Microsoft, wrote a blog post today about how Microsoft comes up with email addresses (called aliases here) for employees. The basic plan is the first name and the first letter of the last name. It’s all simple enough until you add some constraints.

    • No alias can be more than eight letters
    • If two people have the same first name and last initial the second person uses the first two letters of the last name
    • If two people have the same first name and the same first two letters of the last name go to a third letter and so on (never forgetting the eight character limit)

    Oh and because there were starting to be too many duplicates sometimes (alternate perhaps?) use the first letter of the first name and as many letters of the last name as it takes to complete the name or reach 8 letters. I’ll leave the rest of the constraints to the student, ah, I mean classroom teacher.

    To me this screams “text manipulation project.” And of course I love text manipulation projects. But wait there is more. Since you have to watch out for duplicates that opens the possibility for database additions or even hashing algorithms for duplicate detection. The sky is the limit. One could get very creative here.

    One last thing. To do this really right you need names. The more names the better. Good news. The US Census Bureau has lists of names. They have lists of the most common male and female first names and most common last names from the 1990 US census at their web site.

    Each of the three files, (dist.all.last), (dist. male.first), and (dist female.first) contain four items of data. The four items are:

    1. A "Name"
    2. Frequency in percent
    3. Cumulative Frequency in percent
    4. Rank

    Now if that data doesn’t suggest some interesting data parsing and manipulation projects you really do need some summer vacation don’t you? Or am I just way too much the geek?

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