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

September, 2007

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    A Tablet PC School That Works


    While I am not a fan of just dropping computers into a school and expecting miracles I do believe that with the right training, preparation and supportive teachers and administration things can work out well.

    Recently I heard from Robert Carlson at the Thomas Jefferson School, an independent day school in Joplin Missouri. They have a pretty impressive technology program that includes Tablet PCs.  

    All high school students are issued their own Tablet PC for full time use. Middle school students share Tablets at school during the course of the day. Elementary school students use Tablet PCs in specific classes with fifth graders getting extra time as they prepare for middle school.

    The purpose of the Tablets is to be tools for learning "regular" subjects rather than to teach technology itself. That is how I really think things should be. Students learn a lot of technology on their own but at this school they are also taught the specific skills and tools to use with other subjects.

    They use OneNote for note keeping. Personally I have been telling people for a while that if my son was a student today OneNote is the very first software I would install on his computer. Note taking is quite important and a tool like OneNote allows students to organize and search their notes easily. Between the search capability (even of hand written) notes and the natural style of folders and tabs I think OneNote is a pretty powerful tool for students.

    Teachers all received training in the Tablets included "troubleshooting their tablets, student tablets, and student/faculty connections to the wireless projectors in each classroom." I love the idea that they have wireless projectors in each classroom BTW. I can't imagine teaching without a good projector these days. The ability to move around the room that a wireless connection allows gives even more flexibility.

    And the teachers have support that includes documented processes for getting started each day and generally making the technology work. It seems like a good system from what I've heard so far.

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Debugging Training For Beginners


    One of the hardest things for students to learn how to do is to debug their code. I think that most students are somewhat surprised when their programs don't work. They get over that surprise pretty quickly of course because bugs are pretty common place. The more someone codes the more bugs they create. So debugging is quite an important skill.

    Important doesn't mean it is easy to learn. Recently an announcement came through a mailing list I am on about a set of videos that have been created to help students learn how to debug their code. These videos include a wide variety of common problems discovered by students in CS1 and CS2 courses in college. Of course beginners discover many of these same problems not matter how old or young they are and wether they are learning on their own or in school.

    The videos I watched seem to be mostly based on Java and C++ but should work with most "C-style" languages. The basic concepts work with other languages as well. The people behind it (the ITiCSE Debugging Repository Working Group) are looking for students and teachers to use these videos and to provide feedback for future development. So check them out here. I'd love to know what others think about them.

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  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Excel Training for Teachers (and others)


    Teachers and school administrators have lots of data. lots and lots of data. Grades, test results, attendance information, behavior reports, often budget numbers, and well it goes on and on. People would be surprised at how much information teachers and school administrators have to deal with. It can be overwhelming.

    For good teachers the shear amount of grades can be oppressive. Quizzes, homework assignments, in-class exercises, tests, projects, class participation, and attendance all add up (no pun intended) to a massive amount of data to store, correlate and somehow develop into a report card grade. And more importantly, much more important than required grades, to use to assess student learning.

    One of the things I used to do as a technology coordinator was to provide teacher training opportunities to help teachers use technology, various computer applications, to manage all that data. Excel was and continues to be a useful tool for teachers. But not everyone has the time or interest in long training sessions. Recently I found another way for teachers to learn Excel.

    There is a new site available called School Data Tutorials that has a large set of video tutorials that are specifically tailored to the needs of teachers and school administrators. From the Welcome message:

    The tutorials on this site highlight many of the Excel skills that are helpful when working with building- and district-level data. These tutorials are targeted at data managers, principals, guidance counselors, teachers, and other school personnel who have the responsibility for collecting, analyzing, and reporting K-12 performance data.

    I've looked at a couple of them and at the list of topics. They seem really quite good. I like that they are short and can be consumed in reasonable time periods that make them easier to fit into a teacher's tight schedule. I also like that they are specifically designed for teachers and use the types of data that teachers and administrators are familiar and comfortable with already. And I think the set of topics will open a lot of new ways of managing and looking at data for many people.

    Most people use only a small percentage of the power of their software - Excel and other spreadsheets are prime examples of this - but with a little more knowledge they can see large jumps in usefulness of the data they already have. These tutorials have the potential to help a lot of people.

    I think a lot of people who are not teachers will find them useful as well.


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