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

October, 2007

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Phun with Phishing

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    OK maybe phun (or even fun) isn't quite the word but some people at Carnegie Mellon University Usable Privacy and Security Laboratory have come up with an educational game to teach young people about phishing attacks called Anti-Phishing Phil. It's a cute little game where a fish tries to avoid getting caught on fish hooks by identifying which URLs are legitimate and which are actually impostor sites.It was fun for me. I think it would be fun for others. I am a kid at heart after all.

    To be honest I missed one (ok maybe it was two could be three) of the URLs the first time through. There are some clever people out there trying to trick people into giving away personal information. While advanced features in phishing detection are being built into mail clients and web browsers these days, there is really nothing better then an educated user. Even some know it all middle and high school kids may find that they have a harder time with this game then they'd like to admit.

    And for more information either as backup or for older learners who are not willing to give a game a try take a look at Microsoft's anti-phishing resource center. There you can learn more about Microsoft's approach towards using technology, collaboration and of course education to help combat phishing.

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  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    PowerPoint as a Random Access Device

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    Here is something completely different. What I love about this idea is that it is really thinking outside the box. I love that it takes something familiar and uses it in a new and creative way. So here is the story.

    Mr. Chun was teaching PowerPoint. Specifically he was teaching a feature that lets the user create boxes that are actually links to other slides, not necessarily the next sequential slide. Faced with teaching it as a simple “here’s the menu, there’s the dialog box, let’s all forget about this immediately,” sort of lesson he got creative. And once he got creative his students really took off.

    In brief what he assigned was to create a "choose your own adventure" assignment. Kids created all sorts of unexpected things. If I had to guess I would guess that a lot of them went out and learned a lot of extra things just to make their projects better, more interesting and more fun.

    Read the whole story here and find out about some of the truly "not your typical PowerPoint presentation" ideas his kids came up with. In my book this is great teaching. Oh sure it is not the sort of "by the book, teach to the test" sort of thing that some people seem to like these days. But these kids are going to remember what they learned on this assignment long after any test. One of the things they are learning is that you don't have to use a tool exactly the same way everyone else does and that is a valuable life lesson all its own.

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    What Guidance Needs to Know About Computer Science

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    When ever computer science teachers get together and talk about what makes their life difficult school guidance counselors come into the discussion. Listen in and you will hear stories of guidance "dumping" unqualified students into CS classes to fill elective needs, counselors advising students to avoid CS because "there are not jobs there" or because "colleges want to see more foreign languages on the transcript", and other tails of counselors who just don't appreciate computer science education.

    This came up in the CSTA blog recently with a post titled "What School Counselors Need to Know About CS" I'll tell you that blog has been on a roll lately and this post contributed by Dr. Debra Richardson, Dean of the Donald Bren School of Information and Computer Sciences at the University of California at Irvine packs a punch.

    Two paragraphs in particular are worth repeating (emphasis mine):

    I'm going to repeat a somewhat controversial quote, but it's something that is echoing the halls of higher education today: Computing and information "is the liberal arts education of the 21st century - the skill that can be universally applied across domains to help solve the toughest scientific, economic and social problems. Nurturing and energizing the next generation of liberal arts specialists will bring about new dreams and new discoveries."

    It was Dan Reed, Director of the Renaissance Computing Institute who I first heard say this, and it's just so true. Today's college graduates simply can't call themselves properly educated for the 21st century if they don't have appropriate fluency in computing and information technology.

    There you have it. In the future, and I think that future is coming fast, students who are not fluent in computing and information will not be seen as properly educated. Not quite "reading, [w]riting and [p]rogramming" but close. Insert the broad "computational thinking" as an extension of math that includes programming concepts (can you search a database without Boolean expressions? Not really.) and I think you get the picture. There are far sighted people who are starting to say out loud that computer science (not applications usage either) should be a required course.

    The guidance department needs to understand that computer science will soon no longer be optional and if they really want to prepare students for the future they should work with computer science educators and not against them.

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