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

July, 2008

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Periodic Table of Videos


    It’s a amazing the teaching aids one can find on the Internet these days. How about a short video including a demo on each of the elements in the periodic table? Yep, there it is! The University of Nottingham has created a periodic table of videos that may be very useful in many classrooms. Actually I found it most interesting for my own self education. Of course the fact that the video on hydrogen includes an explosion helped to get my attention.

    Experiments done by an enthusiastic science teacher really helped spark my interest in science as a student. Of course all science classes include some experiments and demos but who has time and resources to do a talk on every element in the periodic table? Not many! So this set of videos looks to be a great resource to me. I plan on watching a number more of them over the next few days (after work hours really). I’ve learned a lot already. I think I have a much better understanding of “heavy water” from the hydrogen video for example. Great stuff!

    You can subscribe to the channel (they are updating some of the videos) at the periodicvideos channel on YouTube or visit the home web site at

    [Hat tip to Miguel Guhlin whose blog post pointed me to this site and mentions that this is the sort of thing that blocking YouTube prevents teachers and students from using.]

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Goof Off Monday


    I have nothing serious today. I sent something to the AP CS mailing list and got back a lot of out of office messages. I'm guessing a lot of people, especially teachers, are just relaxing these days. So today, just ways to have some fun and avoid real work. My friend Hilary sent me the following information last Friday.

    We recently asked a number of students to use Popfly and submit a Popfly creation (a mash-up or a game).  10 of the games that were created were picked by the Popfly Team in the Games We Love entry in the Popfly wiki.

    Please find the links below … beware … these games are fun!

    Now if you insist on educational value you can open up and see how each of those games was developed and modify them to suit yourself. Go ahead and list this as research.

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Turning Consumers into Creators


    One of the talks in the Microsoft booth at NECC that I attended was Jacqueline Russell explaining Popfly. One of the things that hit me was when she said the goal behind what her group was doing was to turn “consumers into creators.” I’ve been thinking about that a lot since then. I have come to the conclusion that turning consumers into  creators should be a basic goal of education.

    Now one of the knocks on industry when they try to get involved in education is that all “they” want is mindless consumers and rote workers who don’t think much. But honestly I think those days, if they existed at all, are fast disappearing. Maybe the early days of the industrial revolution with narrow focused assembly lines could get along with workers who didn’t think but today’s information economy can’t afford that sort of worker at all. I recommend a recent blog post by Jonathan Rosenberg, Senior VP at Google who tells students to “Major in Learning.” [Hat tip to Vicki Davis who pointed me there]

    Those are not rote memorization and mindless consumer thinking that Google is looking for. Frankly I’ve never worked for a company that looked for things much different than Google is looking for. In fact the list that Jonathan gives is very much like the list I give students who ask me what Microsoft looks for in new hires. Which brings me back to creating creators.

    Vicki Davis asked in her blog “What does Major in Learning look like?” To me it is about creating things. Oh sure anyone can memorize data but that is not, to me anyway, real learning and it certainly does not look like majoring in learning. Most people learn best by doing – by actually creating some result, by putting knowledge to work. When I try to learn new things in computer science, be it a programming language, an API, or a development tool I find that reading about it only goes so far. To really learn it I need a project. Best of all is if that project solves a need (need is loosely defined :-) ) that I have. Only by  creating do I really internalize the data/information/learning. I need to be a creator – to create something – in order to really learn.

    I think that the “pundit on the platform” style of teaching only goes so far because it all too often doesn’t fit people’s learning styles. Learning is the key thing. We, society, business, industry, need creators. We need people who will go ahead and solve problems with new discoveries, new ways of looking at things, new ways of doing things, new ways of thinking. Training tomorrows (heck, TODAY’s creators) has to start in school. We can’t afford to beat the creativity out of students but rather we need to help them create even more. And more creatively!

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