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

July, 2008

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Visual Declarative Designer

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    Last week the Microsoft Visual Studio Middle School Toy was announced and I wrote about it in my blog. Today I wanted to give people a taste of what one of the features – the Visual Declarative Designer - looks like. This one really deserves the “toy” designation. In fact writing some code that does similar things might actually make an interesting assignment. Well except for the fact that this add-on actually includes the generated code directly into the program in the IDE. Making that work would be a whole lot more of a trick. :-)

    Any way, what does it do? It allows a user to specify information about a variable or structure and automatically generate the code for it and include it into the program. It works for both Visual Basic and C#. The image below shows it at work for C# and generating a declaration for an integer array.

    Capture1

    As you can see a limited set of the most commonly used variable types are supported – Int, String, Boolean, Array (of Integer or string) and Struct. Two dimensional arrays are supported and if you want you can have the tool automatically generate some random values for your array. This is a C# example of course but it works the same way for Visual Basic.

    If you declare a Struct as in this image below (Visual Basic example this time) you can add any number of integer and/or string fields.

    Capture2 

    This is a starter tool and most students will outgrow it rather quickly. But it can be used to demonstrate how to create variables with a minimum of confusion with the syntax. Learning the syntax of things that should (and are once you get it down) be easy to do can be a source of frustration for beginners. And of course someone who knows one language and wants to learn another on their own may find that this helps them pick up the basic “how to I create/define a variable” question very quickly. And if I can confess something … with all the languages I have used over the years remembering how to declare an array when I have been away from a language for a little while sometimes takes me a few more minutes then it used to when I was younger.

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Foundations Of Digital Games Conference

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    The Game Development in Computer Science Education conference has been renamed and this year’s event is called the Fourth International Conference on the Foundations of Digital Games. This is the premier educational conference for faculty who use game development to teach computer science concepts and principles. In the past we have had a small number of high school computer science faculty come on the conference but I am hoping that by giving people early warning we can get more this time. A lot of the work being done for early university computer science scales to high school as well. Frankly I am also hoping that some of the pioneering high school faculty out there will submit papers (and hopefully get them accepted) and be able to present as well. My observation is that some high schools are really getting a lot of value out of game development courses and people can really learn from those experiences.

    Conference dates:

    April 26-30, 2009

    Conference location:

    Disney Wonder cruise ship, departing from Port Canaveral, Florida, USA

    About:

    FDG '09, the International Conference on Foundations of Digital Games is a focal point for academic efforts in all areas of research involving computer and console games, game technologies, game play and game design. Previously known as the Conference on Game Development and Computer Science Education, this year's conference takes on a new scope covering the breadth of game research and education. The conference is targeted at researchers making contributions that promote new game capabilities, designs, applications and modes of play.

    The call for papers can be found on the web site for the conference at www.FoundationsOfDigitalGames.org The web site is still building out and more information will be coming over the next few weeks and months. I’ll post much of it here as well.

    Oh and yes the conference is on a cruise ship but it is as serious and professional a conference as you can imagine. The venue (especially with very limited cell phone and Internet coverage) promotes an awful lot of serious, valuable and educational conversations. The networking potential (of the human kind) is in my opinion unparalleled. Some of the top computer science faculty in the world present at this conference. There is also good attendance and technical presentations by people in the main stream of the game industry. This is an amazing learning opportunity.

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Teaching Flowcharts – Have the Computer Draw One

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    Last week the Microsoft Visual Studio Middle School Toy was announced and I wrote about it in my blog. Today I wanted to give people a taste of what one of the features – the Visual Programming Flow Chart - looks like. It’s really pretty simple to use. Point the mouse at a function/method name and right click for the context menu like this and select Generate flow chart

    genflow

    The result will look something like this:

    Capture

    The color bars on the right let the user change the color coding for different things like loops, if statements, Try statements, etc. The resulting image can be saved as a JPEG file. This lets the user include it as documentation if they want.

    This is not a super serious professional tool BTW. It seems to do a pretty good job for the student level modules I’ve tried it with though. I can see where it could be very useful for students because it shows what the logic of the code actually is rather than what the student might think it is. Note that right now it only works with C# – sorry about that. I’ve already started bugging people about Visual Basic support. :-)

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