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

August, 2007

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Leopard - A Beginner's Programming Language


    Brandon Watts has created a simple programming language for beginners called Leopard. Brandon sent me an email earlier this month and asked me to take a look at it. I had seen a write up on Leopard at Coding 4 Fun the month before but since I was doing heavy catchup from vacation at the time I hadn't looked at it yet. Brandon's email got me to read up on it, download it, and try it out a little. I appreciate the kick start.

    Leopard is a very simple language and it is easy to get started with it. The install went smoothly and I loved that a number of install options (like creating all sorts of extra icons all over the place) were off by default. There are also a number of sample code examples that give one a taste of it's power.

    I think of Leopard as what Logo would have been like if written for Windows programming. By that I mean one can create a window and add objects to it using code that looks a lot like what Logo is. The commands for drawing on the window are also reminiscent of Logo with instructions about lifting, dropping and moving a pen. One feature that is a big jump ahead of Logo is that one can use Leopard to open up a web browser and connect to web sites. The connection with Weatherbug, a sponsor of Leopard, means that doing all sorts of interesting and potentially educational things with weather data is really built into the process. A number of the provided samples take advantage of this connection.

    There are some limitations I find serious though. There is no looping or decision making ability. They are in the works I am told and I will be interested in seeing how they are implemented. Also there doesn't seem to be a way to create modules/functions/subroutines. I think those are really helpful and something that beginners can and should learn early.

    Obviously this is not an object oriented language but I don't see that as a huge disadvantage. The goal here is to hook beginners on programming and not to turn them into complete programmers.

    I do think there is a natural progression from Leopard to something like Visual Basic. After a while I think beginners will become less interested in specifying window sizes and locations using code and more interested in getting to more active code. With Visual Basic and its drag and drop object creation one can get to the code quicker. And of course there is a lot of power in VB that isn't in Leopard. And of course with Visual Basic Express being a free download a beginner can get started pretty much for free.

    Robert Scoble taped an interview with Brandon that includes a small demo of Leopard. You can see it here. You can read the Leopard blog Brandon maintains here. And the download site for Leopard is here.

    I'd love to hear what others think? Are you or would you use Leopard to teach programming?


  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    A Call For Sharing Stories


    I was stuck in Chicago the last couple of days and one of the items in my carry-on case was a copy of "Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die" by Chip Heath and Dan Heath. It seems to be written for a wide range of people and professions but there seem to be some good ideas for teachers in it. After all, teachers are in the business of communicating ideas and getting them to "stick" in student's brains.

    One of the steps to making things stick is putting them into a story. An example in the book is a number of copy machine repairmen sharing a story about a particularly tricky repair problem. By going through the steps that were taken to find the problem and fix it the friends hearing the story are much more likely to remember this particular issue when they run into it. You've probably run into the same thing in your live of work no matter what it is.

    I've heard teachers in the faculty lounge talk about problem students and how they handled them. I've heard stories of teachers who surprised a class with multiple versions of the same test to catch cheaters. I've heard stories of special lessons that just seemed to work so much better than average. These stories are one of the ways I learned a huge about about being a teacher. And not just in the early years either. I like to think that as time went on some of my stories were helpful to others but I never stopped learning from other teachers. The stories made the ideas stick far better than a dry recitation of steps to follow.

    Leigh Ann Sudol, CSTA Publications Chair, wrote asking teachers to share their ideas with each other in the CSTA (Computer Science Teachers Association) blog last week. Leigh Ann talked about learning some interesting things over the summer and posted some links. Then she said

    Well, I hope that you found my links useful, now how about one of your own? It could be your personal web page if you have some nifty lessons, it could be a site you visit often for information, or it could just be an activity or an idea that you use in your classrooms that you think others might find useful.

    The Internet is a great place to share stories of projects, techniques and other things that work. Because stories work, they make ideas stick, they are great teaching tools. I think it would really be great if more teachers shared their stories via blogs, comments in blogs, personal web pages and the more traditional workshops and conferences. Give it some thought. Share what you know with others.

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    FREE School Security Resource Kit


    While supplies last elementary and secondary schools can order a free security resource kit from Microsoft.  The kit includes "a CD packed with informational resources, including fat sheets, flyers, and video resources - a multimedia collection of material you can share with students, teachers, and parents on the importance of computer security."

    This kit would be useful for anyone at a school who understands how important it is to train young people - to say nothing of faculty/staff and parents - about computer safety.

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