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

March, 2008

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    CS & IT Symposium at NECC 2008


    The information and registration page is up for this year's CS & IT Symposium at NECC this summer. Some of the announcement is below:

    Take advantage of this opportunity for relevant professional development!

    • Explore issues and trends relating directly to your classroom
    • Network with top professionals from across the country
    • Interact with other teachers to gain new perspectives on shared challenges
    Just a few of this year's sessions include:
    • Teaching CS with Gaming
    • Google Search: From Basics to the Latest Innovation
    • The GridWorld AP Case Study
    • Teaching Technology with Technology
    • Practical Tips for Teaching Object Oriented Design
    • Incorporating Student Culture in Your CS Classroom

    The closing keynote will be by Maria Klawe, President of Harvey Mudd College and former Dean at Princeton. I know many of the concurrent session speakers and some of the best teachers in the country will be presenting.

    This wonderful professional development opportunity is hosted by the Computer Science Teachers Association and sponsored by Intel, Google, and Microsoft Research. That sponsorship makes this an especially affordable day especially if you are already going to be in San Antonio for NECC.

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Binary, Hex, Octal - Does Anyone Care Anymore?


    As the old joke goes there are 10 types of people in the world. Those who understand Binary and those who don't. There seem to be fewer of those Binary understanding people in the world today. Or do I just ravel in the wrong circles? Does computer science really require a knowledge of different number systems anymore?

    I learned different number bases in around 5th or 6th grade. I thought they were a blast. I played around counting in things like base 5 and 7 for weeks afterwards. The pattern and structure of numbers just made so much sense to me after that and it was fun seeing how it worked in different variations.

    Then when I started taking computer science classes and Binary and Octal (Octal works very nicely to group things on computers with 12 bit words) were part of the daily vocabulary I felt right at home. Later using Hexadecimal was also pretty easy though I admit to being geek enough that I had a calculator that used Decimal, Hex, Octal and Binary and I used it quite a bit.

    Back in the day I used Octal and Hex arithmetic to work my way through stack dumps, crash dumps, and to make patches in code of all sorts. Binary was the number system of choice for bit flags and setting and checking bits was something I did every day - especially when I was doing OS development those many years ago. I was as likely to want to know an ASCII code in Octal as Decimal or Hex when looking at data dumps. Today I still enjoy my binary coded decimal clock. In spite of the fact (or perhaps because of the fact) that it drives my wife crazy when I point to it and ask her what time it is. There was a time when she could have told me faster than I can but she's a little out of practice.

    These days it seems as though Binary, Hex and especially Octal have fallen into disuse. Memory is cheap so people fell ok using a whole word to serve as a Binary flag. Sure there are people doing programming in C/C++ where they occasionally look at raw data but how many recognize that "20" means a space? Or maybe I'm wrong and people are teaching it. But are they teaching it as fun?

    I've never been a math geek. Sad but true. Still learning binary and octal and hex (and more) gave me an appreciation for how numbers really worked. Just like learning different natural languages helps people understand how their own works I found that learning these other systems gave me a deeper understanding of Decimal. It was a great thing to learn at an early age. Its a shame that it doesn't seem to be part of elementary school math anymore.

    I don't see many people getting down to the bits and bytes anymore - especially not to the bits. Are the days when one needs to know the bits gone or are they still around? Does understanding Binary (at least) still add an important component to a liberal computer science education? What do you think?

    [Welcome Oregon Ducks from CIS 210 - if you are interested in a possibly interesting binary number project check out Binary Number Game.]

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Summer Robotics Workshops for Faculty


    I see that IPRE (Institute for Personal Robotics in Education) is running a pair of faculty workshops this summer.

    We're offering two IPRE Summer Undergraduate Faculty Enhancement Workshops (K-12 teachers also invited!). In these workshops we will introduce you to a fresh approach to CS1 that uses robots. Attendees will be given a personal robot kit and curricular materials to take home. The curriculum is Python-based.

    June 11, 12, 13: Bryn Mawr College.

    July 7, 8, 9: Georgia Institute of Technology.

    Enter a reservation request.

    I've had the pleasure of meeting and talking to members of the IPRE team both at SIGCSE and on the Game Development in CS Education conference in the past couple of months and been very impressed with them and their program. Their robot and related hardware is now available for sale as well. (Buy here - I make no money off this. ) The package includes Parallax Scribbler robot, the IPRE software and the IPRE Fluke Add-on board. The Fluke board is interesting to say the least.

    What is it? This board plugs into the Parallax Scribbler robot. It provides a bluetooth connection to your laptop for the robot, and it adds sensors including a color camera and an IR ranging sensor.

    An interesting package I think, especially with curriculum to go with it.

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