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

January, 2007

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Launch Day Opportunity to Win a Computer Lab for Your School



    I just found out about a special promotion designed to get people into the stores the day that Windows Vista officially becomes available for sale (January 30th 2007). The program is described here. But a brief description cribbed from the site is below.

    Enter your school for a chance to win a $25,000 Computer Lab Calling all parents, students, teachers, and administrators Spread the word - increase the odds of your school winning Visit the designated store location in your area on January 30, 2007 between 3:00-7:00 PM local time and enter your school for a chance to win a computer lab worth $25,000. Share this information with your friends, parents and teachers to increase the odds of your school winning. One lucky school at each participating retail location will win a computer lab. See official rules more information.

    So if you know someone who is planning on visiting one of the stores listed (they are not everywhere unfortunately) make sure they know to enter your school. Hey maybe even make a special trip!

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    What are you teaching (in your first programming course)?


    I ran across Robert Floyd's Turing Award lecture last night. It was an interesting read and frankly there was a lot in there to make me think about the state of computer science, computer programming and how we teach those two closely related topics. One question he mentions is asking another computer science teacher "what he teaches in his introductory programming class." The answers he often got were "Fortran" or "PASCAL". The talk he gave was in 1978 and those were the languages used. Today we often get the answer "Visual Basic" or "Java" or even "Python."

    But as Dr. Floyd suggests those are really the wrong answers. Those languages are just syntax and grammar and not what we really need to be teaching. We need to be teaching design concepts, paradigms of programming, ways of looking at and solving program, and in short concepts that are (usually) language independent.

    The Fortran I learned in the first programming course I took is all but dead. COBOL is pretty dead outside of specific and legacy applications as well. (Not that either language seems to ever want to die completely and yes I know that people still write new applications in them.) But the concepts I learned live on and have served me well long beyond those courses.

    When Dr. Floyd gave his talk structured programming was the new paradigm and now it is an old one. Top-down design was new then and now is old. But they are both still valid even today. Object Oriented Programming is the new thing and it is great. But it doesn't replace the old completely.

    So what then do we teach in the first programming course? Is the language important? Of course it is. Discussion of which language to use causes great debates. My own recent post on the subject has a large number of comments. But that is not the essential question and I have come to think that it (the language) should not be the name of the course and it really should not be the foundation of what the course teaches. When the language becomes the subject the value of the course in preparing students for a live-long career is diminished.

    So what do you teach (or recommend teaching) in your first programming course?


  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Deploying Windows Vista (and Office 2007 and Windows XP and Office 2003)


    I attended a big launch event for Windows Vista and Office 2007 in Boston today. Over 2,500 people, mostly from business, showed up to get a good look at these new products. We did have a group of students and teachers from Minuteman Tech and I think they got a lot out of the event. They seemed to have fun at least. And they all had answers when we asked them questions about the demos and talks.

    Since I've been running various versions of Vista and Office 2007 since the early betas you'd think I'd be bored watching the demos and hearing the talks but that wasn't the case. In fact there is so much in their products that I learned a good bit that I didn't already know. I've been trying some of them out tonight.

    One thing that is not exactly part of Windows Vista or Office 2007 that I found particularly interesting and that I think will be very useful in schools was the new deployment tools. I think that a lot of schools will find some value in the Business Desktop Deployment or BDD software. BDD is "the best practice set of comprehensive guidance and tools to optimally deploy desktops running Windows Vista, Microsoft Windows XP, the 2007 Microsoft Office system, or Microsoft Office 2003." If you have a lab, several labs or a whole LAN to manage these tools are something you really want to look into.

    The BDD lets you create images that can be deployed on computers on the LAN over the network without user interaction. An advantage of deploying Windows Vista is that you don't have to have multiple images for different hardware configurations because of improvements in the install process. But even with Windows XP installations these tools should be useful.

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