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

July, 2006

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Computer Science and the Well-rounded Life

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    I found this essay by Marie Klawe on her being an artist and a computer scientist thanks to the Wicked Teacher of the West (who is not very wicked in real life.) Maria Klawe is transitioning from being the Dean of Engineering and Applied Science at Princeton University to being the President of Harvey Mudd College in Claremont, California. Harvey Mudd is a very serious computer science school and if you don’t know of it you may want to look into it.

    The essay is a good one and it points out how someone can be a computer person and still have other interests. Too many kids seem to think that computer science people are only interested in computers. They think that either they will have to give up other interests or that they will not be working with other people with diverse interests. That doesn’t’ go over very well with most people. They want to have multiple interests.

    The good news is that of course computer scientists have multiple interests. I know computer scientists who are into boating (including doing most of the wood work on a large sailboat), some who are interested in sports (I’m talking things like playing hockey BTW which seems to be very popular among some computer people), and others who are into food. I know CS people who not only like to eat but like to cook and even who write about cooking and food. I could of course go on.

    I think that one thing teachers can do is to let students know that they have outside interests besides whatever it is that they teach. This goes beyond computer science of course. I think that students benefit from knowing that their teachers have lives outside of school and other interests.

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Sometimes It Is All About the Conversation

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    I was reading about Steve Dembo’s visit to the Microsoft booth at NECC this afternoon and I have to say it made me feel good. Yes, even though he was not very satisfied with the Samsung Q1 Oragami devices that he tried out. I think the feedback is helpful and I hope the Samsung people are looking into them. I still haven’t had a chance to look at them. They came in late (stuck in customs I think) and I was not able to get by the booth much after they did come in. And of course it is a lot more important that potential customers get a look than that I do.

    The goal for the Microsoft booth and the participation of most of the Microsoft people there was to engage people in conversation. Oh sure we have some great products coming out and we want to share them with people. But it’s pretty important that we talk to people about what they need, what works for them and what doesn’t work for them. That was my motivation for the birds of a feature session we had Wednesday night. I took away a number of things to share with the product group. And we’ll look into doing a couple of things more to help teachers who teach with Visual Basic. Microsoft doesn’t have the reputation for listening to customers that it should. Some of that is justified from past history but the people I work with are really interested in the conversation and it keeping one’s mind open. That is why you see so many Microsoft bloggers these days. And that is why we had the Vista Lounge at NECC.

    I personally had a lot of great conversations at Saturday’s CS & IT Symposium. This year, perhaps because it was on the west coast, there were a lot of people there I had never met before. That was a highlight. But there were a lot of people I didn’t get to talk to. I think we need to find a venue for most CS teachers to get together for informal conversations next year. The SIGCS meeting had a good number of people but I know there were a lot more CS people at NECC that were not there. Perhaps we can get a social event together next year. Maybe the CSTA will organize it jointly with SIGCS. If someone wants to put a committee together I’ll help.

    I’m also committed to finding so local meeting venues this year. My good friend Norm Messa from the Seacoast School of Technology tried very hard this last school year to get CS teachers together in New Hampshire. That had some mild success but it is very hard to find times that teachers can get together. But I know that Norm will keep trying and I will help out there when I can. We’re also going to try to get some Massachusetts get togethers going in the fall as well. I know that several people are getting small groups together under the auspices of the CSTA and that is great as well. We need to conversations to help build a community of practice of computer science education. Maybe this is the year the momentum really gets rolling.

    BTW Steve I'm sorry we didn't connect. Maybe next time.

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    What a week – some closing thoughts from NECC

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    NECC has been an amazing event this year. While this is not my first year at NECC it has been one of the more productive visits. One thing that NECC offers that people may not realize is a chance to network with other like-minded people. For example on Thursday night there was a gathering of educational bloggers. (Will Richardson has a nice summary of the event at Weblogg-ed) There were about 40 bloggers there and a good time was had by all. Plus I got to finally meet Kathy Schrock who is one of the great Internet pioneers in education. I’ve been linking to various versions of her web site for years. Besides events like that I was able to talk to a lot of teachers at the Microsoft booth, at various sessions and over lunch with s few people I have met at previous events. If you make an effort you can meet a lot of people at NECC.

    Today I am at the CS & IT symposium which is a post NECC event. This seems to be the biggest and best of these events yet. I believe that this is the seventh such event in the last six years. Each year the quality of the event both logistically and in terms of the quality of presentations gets better and better. I was privileged to give a talk about Windows Vista this morning. But I must confess there were several other presentations at the same times as mine that I would have liked to attend. I guess you can’t have it all. The sessions I have attended have been very high quality and I’m really glad I have been able to attend them.

    But you know, lunch break may have been the highlight of the day so far (I’m between sessions right now) so far. I made it a point to sit down at a table of people I didn’t know previously. There are a lot of people who make it to a lot of these types event and there are always some people I know. I love seeing them again (and was happy when several joined my table at lunch) but I really welcome the chance to meet new people many of whom are doing very interesting things. I always learn a lot from these casual lunch time conversations.

    Still to come is the closing reception and I expect the have a lot more great conversations. I think that training occasions like this one provide a lot of opportunity for informal as well as formal learning. And yet I think that many people miss out of this. They walk through the exhibit hall picking up swag, brochures, product samples and work hard to avoid conversations and the related sales pitches. They go to events where they can see and hear interesting things but where they also do not have to participate in conversation. Sometimes people attend in groups and that is good and bad. Clearly it is wonderful to be able to split up and later come back to share ideas and learnings. It is great to be with people you know when you are far from home. But the down side can be missing out of meeting new people and having new interactions. There is a balance that works but you have to work at it a bit.

    So I highly recommend educational conferences. I hope to make it to TCEA, FETC and SIGCSE at least in the next 12 months. There may be others as well. I hope I will get to meet a lot of new people at each one of them. If you go to one of these or the many other local, regional and national conferences I hope that you will also make it a point to find and meet new people. It will enrich your life.

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