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

February, 2007

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Texas High School Computer Science - Alive and Well


    I spent several days in Austin Texas last week at the TCEA conference. TCEA is the second largest computer education conference in the US (probably the world) and is a pretty exciting place to be. Like most such conferences this conference reaches a wide variety of teachers, administrators and tech support people who use computers to teach. It is not a computer science conference by any means. Still there are a lot of computer science teachers there. NECC will have more but NECC is national. And it may not be many more.  SIGCSE will have more but most of them with be university faculty.

    But computer science is alive and well in Texas. I wish the news were as good in other states but there are signs that it isn't. I am hearing talks of cut backs in computer science programs in a number of states around the US. It is really a shame.

    I had a lot of conversations with HS CS teachers at TCEA. As a group they are highly motivated, highly intelligent and really love what they do. They have some frustrations of course. NCLB is a huge factor in reducing support for anything that isn't tested by the high stakes standardized tests in Texas as it is elsewhere. The real shame there is that rote memorization and formulaic test taking is replacing critical thinking and real understanding. I hear that for teachers of other subject as well.

    But no one is giving up. Of course it is the very best teachers who make the effort to attend conferences like TCEA and FETC, SIGCSE and NECC and others like them around the country. It is not easy to get release time, find the money (many teachers wind up paying their own way, carpool and/or share rooms) and be away from students and family. The teachers who attend these conferences are life-long learners who work hard to improve the way they teach, the knowledge and skill levels in their areas and who are not afraid to try new things to better prepare students for the future. These are the teachers you want running the classrooms your children are in.

    At TCEA the sessions were full, the exhibit hall was teaming with lots of inquisitive minds asking serious questions. I spend a good bit of time at the Microsoft booth on Thursday and Friday morning and everyone who came by was looking for information - looking for ways to do more for their students. No one said "don't change anything" but rather they asked "how will these changes help me help my students." What a wonderful environment.

    With teachers like those there is a lot of hope for the future.


    By the way I will be at SIGCSE and am planning a special event for high school computer science teachers there. If you are a high school (or middle school) computer science teacher who is going to be at SIGCSE look for me there for more information.


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  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    How Many Ways Can Your Name be Misspelled


    Every so often I run across an interesting little program that someone hacks together that looks to me like a potential programming assignment. Yes I know - suck all the fun out by assigning it to students. Must be the evil teacher in me.

    Be that as I may I got quite a kick out of Mark Punzalan's blog post about ways to misspell his nickname. His nickname is "Punzki" and in the post he relates the number of single and double character mistakes that people make, calculates the possible variations and shows the result of a program that generated all the possibilities.

    Most names can be misspelled incorrectly. You would be amazed at how many ways there are to misspell "Thompson" for example. Although many of them are actually correct for other people if not for me. Thomson, Thomsen, Thompsen, Thompsson are all wrong for me but correct for other people. And that is just the messing around with the "p" not being there and the "o" in "son" being an "e."

    I imagine one could also come up with a good number of other words other than proper nouns that would make for an interesting programming exercise. And I'll bet some kids would have some real fun with this one. What do you think?

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    More Game Development Resources


    Somehow it has slipped my mind that Microsoft Research's Gaming group has released something called the Computer Gaming Resource Toolkit. There you will find a series of talk, papers, curriculum resources and Software & Code Samples having to do with game development.

    You will find the Tablet PC SDK (software development kit) and the Tablet PC Gaming SDK at this site for example. At the Courses link you will find a number of courses including two from DigiPen.  (DigiPen offers computer science, computer engineering and fine arts degree programs related to the field of digital interactive entertainment technology. They train a lot of people directly for careers in the game industry.)

    The papers link provides a number of papers that talk about how and why game development can be used in computer science education. These may be useful if you know people who think that game development is all fun and games (which it is) but with out real learning (which it isn't).

    The talk link includes links to a number of presentation videos on the subject of gaming as an educational tool.

    The software and code samples link includes links to downloads of development kits and a number of starter kits to create programs in several programming languages.

    There is a lot there and it's worth checking out if you are interested in game development as an educational tool.

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