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

February, 2008

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Visual Studio Learning Opportunities


    I received some information about some new offerings from Microsoft learning last week and thought they would be worth sharing with others. If you are looking to upgrade to Visual Studio 2008 now or in the near future these resources may help you jump start your learning.

    Free Visual Studio 2008 e-book

    If you want a book to get up to speed quickly on Visual Studio 2008 this free e-book may be a good start for you. There are also some special training offers there.

    Find Classroom Training on Visual Studio 2008

    There is a new one day training course being offered at training centers all over the county. This course teaches new development features available in Visual Studio 2008. Read about the course and find local training near you here.

    Visual Studio 2008  Free E-Learning for Visual Studio 2008

    There is a new free online course, "Developing Enhanced Web Experiences with Microsoft ASP.NET AJAX Extensions", for people who want to incorporate ASP.NET and AJAX.

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    How To Study For A Computer Science Exam


    Many years ago I came up with a personal philosophy about studying, especially cramming, for test taking. I looked at my peers and realized that a lot of them worked very hard to cram a lot of information into their heads in a short period of time to prepare for taking a test. Shortly after the test, weeks a the latest, they forgot most to all of what they had crammed into their heads. All that mattered to them was taking the test and getting a good grade on it. Now to me learning was the most important thing so any practice that didn't lead to holding the knowledge for the long term seemed at best to be wasteful. At worst I decided that short term study for a specific test or exam was hard to distinguish from cheating. After all the results of the test did not reflect what they had actually learned.

    Now I admit that some of my friends accused me of using this idea as a way to avoid work. But honestly I used this philosophy to push myself to study (read the book, pay attention in class, put time into the projects) in ways that would let me keep a higher percentage of knowledge longer. In the short term I may not always have gotten the best grades but I like to think that if we'd all taken the same test a year later without warning I would have out scored them.

    Later in life when I was writing and giving tests to my own students I wondered just how good the tests were evaluating what students really knew. One of the things that complicates cramming for students of computer science is that everything builds on everything else. A student needs to know everything they were taught in the first week of class in the last week in class. It is not like a student will be tested on variables and not need them again after the test.

    I used to tell my students that anything I had covered at any time (in the past of course) could show up on any test or quiz. Personally I would have liked to make every test a surprise test. But of course students hate that and parents would have had my head. My testing philosophy is that tests are there to help the teacher know what students have learned and what they need more help on. I'm not a big fan of grades but I am a big fan of students learning as much as possible. Only if I know what they are and are not learning can I as a teacher help students learn. Cramming seems to be a barrier to me getting that information accurately.

    Now I have helped students review for the AP CS exam. I didn't feel completely good about this but I did feel some responsible to help them do as well as possible on that important exam. It was not an easy exercise though. It is not something one can do in a day or two. I didn't mind talking about test taking strategies though. The AP CS test is complicated and has some unique characteristics. Those things one can teach and I don't really see that as cramming or studying in the conventional sense.

    For the longest time it seemed like my philosophy was unique to me. No one I explained it go seemed to agree with me. And then I found this blog post by Steven Downes Tony Targonski. There is a good little discussion there. It ends with this paragraph:

    For my last CS exam I found more benefit in relaxing, enjoying some music, and reading blogs. Though maybe I’m missing something. What does everybody else do for their exams?

    I remember in middle school when one of my teachers told the class much the same thing. That it was more important to get a good night sleep and to be as relaxed as possible before starting the exam than to drive oneself crazy cramming information that would not stay in the brain. What do you think?

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    DreamSpark - Microsoft Gives Software to Students for Academic Use


    OK so it is already all over the blogosphere that  Bill Gates announced a new program called DreamSpark to give software to students. (The official press release is here BTW) So I'm kind of late to the party already. Channel 8 is going to be a key source for developing news on this project so you may want to keep looking over there. (The main DreamSpark site is here.)

    In fact to kick it off there is an interview with Bill Gates (in case you were wondering who that guy with Max Zuckerman was) talking about the program and about the future potential of software.

    So what is being offered? Glad you asked!

    Microsoft developer tools.

    Microsoft designer tools. Expression Studio, including:

    Microsoft platform resources.

    • SQL Server 2005 Developer Edition
    • Windows Server, Standard Edition (Yes, Windows Server Edition!!)

    There are two key FAQs.

    A couple of questions have come after that. They are probably in the FAQs but maybe you can't wait or maybe they are not. Yeah, that's why I was waiting to blog so I could answer more questions. No really! OK maybe not  but it works out well that way.

    What about high school?

    It's coming. It has a high priority as the next step. Bill Gates says it will happen and that commitment appears several times in the press release and in other official statements. I'll have more information about this as things get settled and information becomes available.

    How do students learn how to use this stuff once they have it?

    I've got a few resources listed here and I am working on getting more listed. So return often. And if you have some to recommend please leave them in the comments.

    • Beginning Developer Learning Center - a great place to start with videos, tutorials, and projects for learners of all ages.
    • Coding 4 Fun - Lots of fun projects most with step by step instructions and many with videos.
    • MSDN Forums - These are the forums the professionals use but beginners are welcome and there are lots of people willing to help with technical questions. A lot of students and faculty members are already there asking the tough technical questions.
    • XNA Forums - If you want to learn how to develop video games with XNA this is the place to ask questions.
    • Channel 8 and the Channel 8 Student Union - lots of information in the videos there and lots of good discussion in the forums of the Student Union.

    What about faculty? What about classroom/course use?

    Microsoft is retaining their existing programs for getting software into the classroom and for course/faculty use. The MSDN Academic Alliance program (MSDN AA) is great for getting software for teaching labs, including a lot more than DreamSpark offers students, into the hands of faculty. Also there is the IT Academy program. If you are a faculty member who teaches IT/CS or related topics you really want to check those programs out. MSDN AA and IT Academy are both programs that already include high schools in case you were not aware of that.

    Faculty can also get access to software though the Faculty Connection sites.

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