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

August, 2007

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    XNA Pong Game Source Available


    Dan Waters, a member of the Academic Relations team based in Florida, has been working on an XNA version of Pong as a tutorial for beginners. Last week Dan posted a link to the source code for people who are interested in playing with it. Dan isn't making any claims of brilliance for it and I haven't had a chance to try it out myself but I'm guessing this might be a piece of code a bright student might enjoy improving on themselves. The tutorial Dan has writen is clear and easy to follow. So this looks like a good starter project to me.

    Dan actually comments his code BTW. Brian Scarbeau who is planning on using this sample in his high school computer science game development course notes that this serves as a good example for students as well as being helpful for understanding the code. For teachers who want to intriduce XNA to students using this project (or even without it) Dan includes a PowerPoint presentation with the source code as well. And there are even speaker's notes with the slides!

    Dan and his wife recently brought home their first child and I'm guessing that Dan's time is being occupied with things other than programming these days. So I image that he would be happy to see someone else do interesting things building on what he has so far. Go check it out and maybe set some students lose on it.

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    How Software Is Built - Open Source and Closed Source


    How is software built in the real world? How are open source and closed source development projects different? How are they the same? How do companies leverage different development styles and ecosystems?

    Chances are these are questions that come up in a lot of classrooms. I know they come up in professional development shops all the time. So where does one look for answers? Well one possible place is a new blog called How Software Is Built.

    The blog is sponsored by Microsoft but includes interviews with people from a wide range of development organizations and companies. Open source, closed source and organizations that use a mix are included. There are a bunch of interviews from both sides of the open source/closed source side of the world posted already including:

    • Ryan Waite, Group Program Manager for High-Performance Computing at Microsoft.
    • Mark Gross,  Engineer Open Source Technology center Intel Corporation
    • Shawn Burke, Director, Microsoft’s .NET Developer Platform group
    • Stormy Peters, Director Community and Partner Programs OpenLogic
    • Michael Howard, Senior Security Program manager at Microsoft
    • Phil Costa, Director of Product Management for Flex and ColdFusion at Adobe
    • Marc Miller, Open Source Software Evangelist in the AMD Developer Outreach Organization
    • Patrick Hogan, NASA World Wind
    • Jay Pipes, North American Community Relations Manager at MySQL
    • John McCreesh - Marketing Program Lead – OpenOffice
    • James Reinders - Chief Evangelist - Software Products Division - Intel

    This is one to bookmark or subscribe to as it promises to be an interesting source of real information to fuel debate, discussion and mutual learning and understanding.

    BTW here are a few more links regarding Microsoft's ongoing dialoge with the open source community:

    • Port 25 – Open Source Software Lab at Microsoft (with blog posts by members of Microsoft's Open Source lab)
    • Codeplex – Microsoft’s open source project hosting site (I linked to one of the education related projects there last week.)
    • Shared Source – Microsoft’s set of programs for sharing source code with customers, partners, governments, researchers, etc.
    • John Lam’s Blog – John is a Microsoft blogger who blogs on IronRuby, Dynamic Language Runtime, Silverlight, and related projects. (IronRuby was released recently)
    • Microsoft Open Source ISV Forum –  Microsoft Partner Program through with offers for OSS ISVs
  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Will Cell Phones Save Education


    There are a couple of different opinions of cell phones in schools. Some see them as basically evil tools of cheating and distraction. Many schools ban then outright. Some allow them but only with serious restrictions. (You can read some of that here.) And then there is the opposite view - cell phones have valid and important educational uses.

    Bill Gates has said a number of times that cell phones could be the low cost, low power way to get computing power into the hands of people, especially students, in the Third World. Recently I watched an interview with Professor Elliot Soloway from the University of Michigan who is actually doing some work with educational uses of cell phones.

    In the interview Prof. Soloway talks with enthusiasm about the idea but doesn't provide a lot of specifics. His company web site, he founded GoKnow Learning, though does have more information. It does seem that they are further along then I would have thought.

    Still, color me skeptical. Largely I worry about two things: Curriculum development and teacher training. GoKnow does provide some of both BTW. They have a consulting and training operation and I am sure they do a good job. On the other hand education as a field has a poor history of providing enough training for teachers or development of curriculum that leverages new technology.

    The idea behind educational technology is all too often to throw the technology into the hands of students (maybe let teachers use it) and some sort of education miracle will happen. This seems to be the idea behind the One Laptop Per Child project by the way.

    Everyone has stories of students who get a computer and do amazing things with them. I've repeated several of them myself. They can be inspiring. But the fact is that for every amazing student who hacks the iPhone so that he can change cell providers there are dozens, perhaps hundreds of kids who will never do anything like that without a lot of help from a teacher. The potential may be there but teachers are often the ones who bring it out.

    Sure you might get Larry Page, co-founder of Google, in your class, as Prof. Soloway did, and people could argue that they got to where they are today without depending too much on their teachers. But are you going to bet that happening with the majority of students? I don't think so. Let me spell something out on its own.

    Most students need good, well-trained, well-equipped teachers to help them learn. Only a few students are going to be wonderfully self-educated.

    There I said it. Handing a student an Internet capable device and a network connection may in theory give him access to the knowledge of the whole world but it is not going to turn him into the next Bill Gates, Larry Page or Steven Spielberg. (I had to through some "art" in there and some people seem to think that a digital camera and access to posting video on YouTube will create great movies.) Most people, the overwhelming majority, need teachers as well as books, curriculum and other resources.

    And by the way, we need a lot more and a lot better educational software to take advantage of any of this high technology stuff - smart phone or computer. Is there a lot more potential in computers and cell phones and who knows what other technology is coming? Absolutely! But it is no silver bullet yet.

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