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

July, 2006

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Who are the high school developers?


    I spend a lot of my time thinking about high school (and younger) students who are doing software development of one sort or another. Being one of those people who tend to think in terms of groups I group those students several ways. One way is to differentiate between those students whose “development” experience is largely limited to what they learn in class. The other group is the real enthusiasts who are learning as much, and often more, outside the class as inside the class. In my role at Microsoft I look for ways to help both groups learn more about how to “do development” using Microsoft products. Microsoft does after all pay my salary. Honestly though I look to do that in ways that I think teach broader skills and hopefully give students a good base of knowledge that will serve them well thought their life time.

    The students who just learn what they learn in class are fairly easy to help in some respects. Those are the students who are helped most by helping their teachers. Those are the students and their teachers that we create curriculum for, create and manage some contests for, and for whom we provide or support teacher training opportunities. We’re always looking for ways to do that better as well. The trick here is really to find ways to make the classroom more interesting, more relevant and above all more educational.

    The student who is doing most of his learning (and it is unfortunately mostly boys) outside the class is a bit harder to reach. These are the self directed students who tend to go in all sorts of directions. These students fit into a class that we more generally refer to as hobbyists. The difference between the high school hobbyist and the older hobbyist is that they tend not to have the budget for books and hosting solutions to say nothing of the latest and greatest hardware. And yet they (students) often do some of the most interesting things. For them we have sites like Coding 4 Fun though. And I think that a lot of students are going to be interested in trying out the Microsoft Robotics Studio software – especially as more sample software becomes available with more hardware partners. But there is more we can do I think. I’m open to hearing (reading?) suggestions as to what we should be doing for these students. Is it more tutorials, special online forums, or is it perhaps contests to give students something specific to work towards? Or something else completely? I’m open to suggestions for parents, teachers, and of course from students. Please feel free to drop your ideas here as comments or use the connection form to email them to me. Thanks!

    Oh and I hope it goes without saying that I’m particularly interested in hearing what sort of help we can provide to young women who are interested in computers. They are all too often overlooked when boys get pushy and start grabbing all the attention.

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Review of the new Lego Mindstorms NXT Robotics Kit


    Deepak Kumar of the Institute for Personal Robots in Education has a nice review of the new Lego Mindstorms NXT robotics platform. If you are using Lego or thinking about using robots in your curriculum you will want to read this review. There is nothing like having a review done by someone who knows that they are doing with robotics in education. Deepak lists the contents:

    For $250.00 the kit includes the following:

    • the NXT brick,
    • a sonar sensor,
    • a sound sensor,
    • a touch sensor,
    • an IR sensor that can sense color as well as proximity,
    • three servo motors (yes servo, so they offer precise control)

    Each sensor is approx 0.75inch x 0.75inch x 1.75inch in dimensions, with the exception of sonar which is bigger and has a T-shape for 2 sonar mounts.

    The box also comes with an assortment of LEGO pieces that resemble a collection from one of custom LEGO kits as opposed to the generic LEGOs. There are the standard pieces...connectors of various kinds, and there are also oddly shaped ones (elbows, bent beams, etc.) mostly in gray, black, or white color schemes with some orange accents.

    I’m going to get one of these for myself. I’ll pretty excited about the sensors that are supported. Rumor has it that there will be add-ons to the Microsoft Robotics Studio for this kit.

    [By the way. I’m on vacation this week so this was written earlier for display later. Response to comments will be slow.]

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    More Engineering Resources


    I had an email today pointing me to this site ( which is a joint project between IBM (I think they are in the computer business somehow) and the IEEE (of which I am a member). The site is called Try Engineering and it has resources for teachers and students who are interested in engineering. It may be worth a look.

    One thing I found interesting was a number of “day in the life” articles about different engineers in different engineering fields. And of course there is a computer engineer story there.

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