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

September, 2006

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Some interesting XNA Links


    I saw that Brian Scarbeau is looking at using XNA for his high school computer science class this year. Brian is an innovative teacher who is always looking for new ways to teach, new ideas to share and new tools to make computer science interesting. He pointed me to one interesting tutorial that creates an XNA version of Pong. This tutorial uses keyboard keys so you can use it with a regular PC. Now if you have an Xbox 360 controller you may be interested in this link which is a controller test program. The graphics show the controller and respond to events on the controller. Students will love having the code to make the controller vibrate. Well,  I did anyway.

    I haven't had time to create any of my own code from scratch yet. It's very frustrating because it has mostly been a matter of having too many things on my plate. I'm sure a lot of you can relate to that. But each time I come a cross a sample piece of code or an interesting new tutorial I get more and more motivated. I'm just going to have to make the time. In the mean time, if you do something interesting that you would like to share with other teachers, other people who are learning XNA or just want to show off please let me know. I'm interesting in how others are using XNA Studio Express.

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Bring It On!


    The women at the computer science department at Indiana University have a wonderful outreach program designed to help attract women and under represented minorities into computer science. I was fortunate enough to see a presentation by this terrific group at a conference some time ago.

    Their program is called Just Be  and if you are reasonably close to IU you may want to look into bringing them to you school. Carnegie Mellon's Women@SCS Roadshow is a similar program in western Pennsylvania that is also doing impressive outreach activities.

    I read today at the NCWIT web site that the Wonin in Computers at IU have gotten some funding to take this program to the next step with under represented minorities in a program called Bring It On!. They will be training about 20 people to bring outreach programs to other areas.

    These are the kind of outreach programs that have to spread around if we are going to get the numbers and diversity of people that we need to keep computer science going strong into the future.

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Grace Hopper and Women in Computing


    My friend and co-worker Diane Curtis is really looking forward to heading west for the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing in San Diego this October. Diane and Hilary Pike, a new member of our group recently hired from IBM, are going to be speaking on a panel called “Succeeding In Industry Jobs: Straight Talk about the First Five Years.” Diane is even helping organize a Microsoft sponsored party. Microsoft is even better at organizing parties than developing software so if you are going to the Grace Hopper Celebration you want to make it to that party.

    On a more serious note, it is very interesting how the perception of women in computer science has changed over the years. Women like Grace Hopper and  Ada Lovelace long before her were pioneers in computer science. And yet today we think of computer science as a man's field. I think that has held the field back. I think that in some ways men look for the hard ways to do things while women tend to be more practical. For example, you may notice that most suitcases come with wheels these days. Why? Well according to what I have read it happened because more women started traveling on business and would not put up with heavy hard to carry suitcases. Men of course tend to be too macho to complain. Women would have none of that nonsense.

    I heard Grace Hopper speak on several occasions about some of her early work in programming language development. It was always about making the programming easier. She started at a time when programming meant moving wires, then assembly language and finally the start of modern higher level languages. Her early work was to create programming languages that used natural language words to communicate with computers. I remember her talking about one experiment where they created a language that used English words. They got it done early and so decided to set it up to understand words from several languages. Why not? Well as it turned out the people they did the demo for were convinced that understanding several languages was too hard and so they concluded the demo was a fake.

    Today almost all programming languages are English words. I don't know of any that allow you to select different languages for key/reserved words. You can of course use what ever you want in comments and variable names but the restriction on keywords is mostly artificial. This doesn't make things easy for people who read other languages than English.

    I'm sure that their are other ideas out there that could make programming easier or more approachable to people who look at things differently. That's one of the reasons we need more diversity (not just more women but more people in under represented minority groups) involved in computer science. Wasn't it the Apple advertisements that urged us to "Think Differently?" The old IBM motto of "Think" is not enough anymore. Of course the same old people are going to have more trouble thinking differently than a bunch of new people.

    Edit: Interestingly enough Paul Vick writes today about a multi-language version of programming for Excel which almost happened.

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