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

December, 2007

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Torque X 3D for Education Boot Camp


    Torque X is an extremely powerful game development tool (built on Microsoft's  XNA) from GarageGames. Garage Games is running a special edition of their Torque X Boot Camps specifically designed for educators. It's coming in January and will be hosted by the Guildhall at SMU (one of the premier university game development programs in the world).

    The full announcement is here but I have included some of the announcement below:

    January 17-19th, 2008
    The Guildhall at SMU, Plano, TX

    Torque X has just gotten one dimension better, and GarageGames will be rolling out a brand new Torque Boot Camp curriculum specifically for Educators to celebrate!

    XNA is a great place to teach game development, and Torque X adds a rich feature set and core systems that let you focus on making a game-but there is more to teaching with game development than simply knowing how to use a game engine, and this boot camp will cover the spectrum of not only Torque X 2D and 3D technology and tools, but the process of making games within a classroom environment. From Rapid Prototyping to Iterative Spiral methodology discussions, all the way to tips and techniques for amazing 3D worlds within Torque X, we'll provide what you need to motivate your students to learn!

    The course is designed for teachers (university, community college or even high school) who are teaching or planning on teaching computer science in a game development framework. If you have a particularly bright student or three you can bring them along at a specially discounted price. That's something I would conceder if I had a junior who I could get to help next school year or if I had a student who really and truly had a future in game development.

    They have other boot camps for commercial developers or would be independent game developers. Check out their training site here.

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Inspiring Teachers Inspired Students


    I visited a high school last week. This is not atypical for me of course. I visit high schools on a pretty regular basis. In this case I was taking advantage of being in Texas for some training to visit Allen High School (Go Eagles!) in Allen Texas. Bryan Baker teaches computer science there and he and I have communicated by email for a couple of years. We'd never met in person but I'd heard so many good things about what his students were doing that I just had to see it for myself.

    So Cy Khormaee (a great new addition to the Academic Relations Team) and I snuck away from the course we were taking to make a field trip to Allen High School. It was a trip well worth making.

    We interviewed Baker's (everyone seems to just call him "Baker") third year students about their projects. Two teams were creating video games. One team was working with DirectX 9 and C++ and the other team was working with C# and XNA Game Studio Express. Both of them were hard at work learning various concepts and technologies like graphics, physics simulations, collision detection and artificial intelligence. A third team was doing leading edge work with zigbee networking hardware using hardware donated by Texas Instruments. Another student was learning about mainframe technology (COBOL, JCL and Assembly Language) in the context of a competition being run my IBM. So far he's already won several events and learned quite a bit. Every project we saw would be challenging for university students. (And Cy and I see a lot of university projects too!)

    I was impressed not just by the projects and the progress being made but by how articulate the students were in explaining their projects. Baker makes presentations an important and ongoing part of the curriculum and it shows. The students were also able to explain how important teamwork and communication were to making their projects a success. They knew they were taking on more than one person could do alone and that the were dependent on each member of the team to pull their own weight.

    We talked a little about how reproducible this program is and agreed that the key piece was the teacher. I think we underestimate the number of really bright students who can handle this type of project based course. Students will work hard if they have the proper motivation and leadership. The hard part seems to be the instructor.

    Now don't get me wrong there are a lot of great people teaching and doing a wonderful job. But this kind of course is different. Sure it takes a teacher who has a high level of technical background and honestly that is not easy to come by in computer science. There are too many other ways that someone like that can make a living - a living that pays a lot more than teaching. But even when you have a very technical person that is not enough. No one can know it all and students are going to want to go in wide directions. So you need a teacher who can admit, to themselves as well as to their students, that they don't know it all and that the student will have to figure some things out on their own. And of course you have to have a mutual trust between student and teacher. The teacher has to trust the students to work and learn. The students have to trust that the teacher will support them and that grading will be fair.

    But you know the real "gotcha?" The real hard to come by piece is a school administration that will let the teacher run the course their way. It's a little scary to let a course in a field like computer science go off in a less traditional way. Oh sure they'll let the shop teacher do it. They understand shop and besides that's "vocational" but computer science is "academic."

    I'd maintain though that learning is learning. Project based learning is no less valid in science than it is in carpentry.  We just haven't got enough teachers comfortable and knowledgeable and passionate about teaching that way. And we don't have enough administrators who will cut teachers lose to design their own courses.

    There is a wall full of acceptance letters to college computer science programs on the wall of Brian Baker's classroom that attests that his methods works. The colleges that are writing these letters have experienced the students he sends them and they want more. Is there a better indication that a teacher is preparing his students for success in college than that? I can't imagine what it would be.

    I sure do hope some of his students apply for jobs at Microsoft some day soon. We'd be lucky to get them.


  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Could not find any resources appropriate for the specified culture or the neutral culture


    There is a problem, a technical problem, that I hear about from teachers from time to time. I've passed along a couple of solutions to it by email but it occurred to me that posting the issue and the possible solutions here might make it easier for people to find it. I'd also like to hear from others who are having this problem to find out if these solutions do or do not work for them.

    The problem happens most commonly when an InputBox is used in a Visual basic program that is saved on a network drive. The error message says:

    System.Resources.MissingManifestResourceException was unhandled
      Message="Could not find any resources appropriate for the specified culture or the neutral culture. 

    Make sure "Microsoft.VisualBasic.CompilerServices.VBInputBox.resources" was correctly embedded or linked into assembly "Microsoft.VisualBasic" at compile time, or that all the satellite assemblies required are loadable and fully signed."

    One way this problem happens is if the network share where the work is saved is not a "trusted share." This is a safety feature that is designed to protect a computer from malicious software on a remote disk drive. There are steps you can take to indicate that a network share is trusted and can be relied upon. Complete instructions on how to set that up may be found here. I go though the steps with pictures for several versions of Visual Studio there.

    In other cases there are some project privileges issues which can be corrected by following these steps:

    1. Open the "Project" menu and select the "project properties" option. Select the  "Compile" tab and turn off option explicit and check  the "disable all warnings" box.
    2. Under the "Security" tab, select include for "ReflectionPermission" in the permission requirement table. Then close the application.
    3. Lastly open the the directory where the project is stored and in the bin/debug subdirectory find and delete the *.vshost file.

    You can read about and discuss this problem solution at Microsoft's online support forum here.

    I'm really not sure why this later solution works or why it is sometimes necessary and other times not. But for the time being it seems to be solving the problem for a lot of people and that makes it seem worth sharing.

    Other resources are this article on MSDN - which is about .NET Framework Configuration Tool (Mscorcfg.msc)

    And this one that lists some not really supported things that I do not recommend -

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