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

April, 2008

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Popfly in the Classroom - Trip Report


    First the surprising secret - students today are not all that Web 2.0 knowledgeable. Now you wouldn't get that from the media but its true. Oh sure there are a lot of young people out there creating new media, using instant messaging tools, downloading music and software and connecting via Facebook or MySpace. But beyond that? Not so much. Not much in wikis, or blogs, or Twitter, or many of the other Web 2.0 tools that so delight the techie crowd. Believe it or not students have to be taught such tools.

    The students who find this on their own get a lot of attention though. And people want to think they account for all or at least the majority of students. But no that is not how it is.

    So with that in mind I am a big fan of the teachers who do teach their students those tools. People like Vicki Davis who teaches younger students and  Mark Frydenberg who teaches college students. Mark is on the faculty of Bentley College not too far from me and we've known each other for several years now. Mark teaches a technology intensive introductory technology course at Bentley. It is about as bleeding edge a course and you can imagine. Bentley is a leader in business education with very sharp students so when they teach technology they teach it full out.

    This is a Web 2.0 course. As Mark describes things on his web site:

    The theme for the current offering of the course is “Learning Information Technology through the Lens of Web 2.0.” In addition to the topics in the standard course, students will actively use (and therefore learn about) blogs and wikis, subscribe to and create original podcasts, collaborate via Skype, monitor RSS feeds, use social networking applications, and learn about tagging and other topics.

    Well one of the tools being taught this semester is Popfly. Mark invited me to come down and sit in on one of his classes because he knew I was interested in using the mashup capabilities of Popfly to demonstrate broad concepts. So the other day I drove to Bentley to sit in on his class. By coincidence a professor of Spanish was also visiting the same day. He is was also interested in how web tools can be used to help this multi-media generation visualize language and concepts.

    During the class Mark talked about information and applications in "the cloud." This seemed to be a new term for most students but they grasped the idea quickly. It is after all the environment they interact with on the Internet. A big part of the class then was creating a mashup of data, information about Presidential candidates in the example, combining it into a stream and then filtering it for display. User input for parsing was added. In all it was something that would have taken days worth of work using traditional programming tools. Using RSS feeds of search engine searches getting the data in a form of XML using standard Popfly blocks was a matter of minutes (if that). Combining and parsing was also easy with the hardest part being understanding a small line of JavaScript. Another pair of blocks allowed user input and the building of a filter statement and we were off and running.

    At the end of class the students had a good handle on what it means to get data from multiple sources, mix it, filter it and display it. This is the sort of thing that anyone dealing with information in the future needs to know about. Other forms of data discussed included location data that was used to create annotated maps. This is of course yet another form of data that modern tools allow people to use more quickly and easily than ever before.

    While Popfly is currently set up for hobbyists and people who want to have fun with data I think it is the sort of tool that is the forerunner of data tools for the future. Students need to learn about getting, manipulating, and analyzing data. If they can do that in a fun way using their own data (Popfly connects easily to Facebook for example) so much the better.

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    NCWIT Award for Aspirations in Computing


    NCWIT (National Center for Women & Information Technology) is running an award program for high school women in the greater metropolitan areas of Atlanta, Boston, Charlotte, Chicago, Dallas, and New York City

    Sponsored by Bank of America, the NCWIT Award for Aspirations in Computing recognizes young women at the high-school level for their computing-related achievements and interests. By generating visibility for these young women in their local communities, the NCWIT Award for Aspirations in Computing encourages their continued interest in computing, attracts the attention and support of educational and corporate institutions, and emphasizes at a personal level the importance of women's participation.

    Each qualified awardee will receive:

    • $500 in cash.
    • A laptop computer, provided by Bank of America.
    • An expenses-paid trip, provided by Bank of America, for each awardee and a parent/legal guardian, to attend the Bank of America Celebrating Stars of the Future Technology Showcase and Awards Ceremony, August 1-3, 2008, in Charlotte, North Carolina.
    • An engraved award for both the student and the student's school.
    • Inclusion in a video that highlights her accomplishments in computing, her future aspirations, and her participation in the Award events in Charlotte, North Carolina, as well as a copy of the final Award video.
    • For awardees who will be high school seniors in the Fall of 2008, an expenses-paid trip for the awardee and an accompanying parent/legal guardian to attend NCWIT's national workshop on Women and IT at the University of California at Irvine, November 5-6, 2008.

    Lots more information available at the NCWIT site here. If you know a young woman in the targeted areas let them know right now so they can get involved. Online self-nominations must be submitted by April 23, 2008 April 30, 2008. Supporting documentation must be received by April 25, 2008 May 2, 2008; if you mail these documents, we suggest mailing no later than April 18 23, 2008.

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    History of Data Storage


    Thanks to a link from Leigh Ann Sudol's blog I found this set of images and descriptions of some early computer data storage devices. I confess to having some old punch cards and I think some old magnetic tapes in the attic. I used punch paper tape as well. Yes I'm that old.

    I try not to be too much about the "in my day" but I can't help but tell students how far we have come in how little time. Take the picture of the first hard drive that was over a gig of storage for example.

    As they describe it "the IBM 3380 in 1980 (it could store 2.52 GB). It was the size of a refrigerator, weighed 550 pounds (250 kg), and the price when it was introduced ranged from $81,000 to $142,400." Now compare that to the 4 GB SDHC card I have that is smaller than a quarter and can practically be given away as a party favor. That's in less than 28 years. Where will we be in 28 more years?

    The implications of all this are often taken for granted. When one had only a few megabytes of storage (my first computer in school had 5 Mb on two drives) one had to think very carefully about what to store and how to store it. Today we blithely download files that are multiple gigabytes in size just in case we may want them later. Or we store thousands of songs just because we can and we may want to listen to them sometime. Planning ahead seems to have gone away. Is this a good thing or a bad thing? We're getting to the point where we need search engines to find things on our own computers. How long can this go on? Something to think about.

    In the mean time, if you have a chance take a look at how far we have come. And also take a look at the other computer history links I posted recently.

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