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

July, 2008

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Popfly Lessons


    There are a lot of very interesting computer science topics that typically have to wait a while before being taught. Or that people have to learn a whole lot of “plumbing” to use. Among these are things like XML, RSS, and using maps (the where things are sort of maps).  Popfly is a very cool mashup tool that lets people use those tools without writing code so it makes sense that it can also be used to help teach those concepts/tools in an academic setting. Or just for enthusiasts who are working to learn on their own.

    Well now there is help. Actual lessons, developed by an actual teacher (in this case someone who has actually taught this stuff in a freshmen level college course), for use in actual classrooms. And of course for free. From the description at the Popfly wiki:

    Mark Frydenberg at the Computer Information Systems Department at Bentley College in Waltham, MA has created a series of nine lessons about creating Popfly mashups. They are not tutorials. They won’t tell you what to do without telling you why you’re doing it. Each lesson illustrates a basic software development concept – such as structured data, logic, and iteration, or describes how to build a software application that relies on XML, RSS, or mapping data.

    So if you are a teacher jump right in and get in ahead of your students. I honestly believe that some lessons like this can help build interest in more formal computer science courses. So use them in an applications course or an introduction to technology course or perhaps just point students who you think might be interested in going deeper to them and cut them some slack time.

    Oh and while I’m at it, if you have already tried Popfly (or just been thinking about it) you may want to visit the Popfly team blog to read about some of the new things that were added with the July update. Also over at John Montgomery’s blog you can read about and play a new Popfly game called crayon cannon.

    [Edit: Mark pointed out that I forgot to say that I knew him. I've actually sat in Mark Frydenberg's classroom while he taught so I've seen the quality of his teaching first hand. He's a really good guy and a good teacher and Bentley is lucky to have him.]

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Terrarium Is Back!


    If you were around in the early days of the .NET Framework you may remember a game called Terrarium. I believe that Microsoft may even have had a version running at SIGCSE one year. Bil Simser who is bringing it back fresh and updated via a CodePlex shared source project describes it this way on his blog:

    In Terrarium, you can create herbivores, carnivores, or plants and then introduce them into a peer-to-peer, networked ecosystem where they complete for survival. Terrarium demonstrates some of the features of the .NET Framework, including Windows Forms integration with DirectX®; XML Web services; support for peer-to-peer networking; support for multiple programming languages; the capability to update smart client, or Windows-based, applications via a remote Web server; and the evidence-based and code access security infrastructure.

    Terrarium was created by members of the .NET Framework team in the .NET Framework 1.0 timeframe and was used initially as an internal test application. At conferences and via online chats, Terrarium provided a great way for developers to learn about the new .NET programming model and languages as they developed creatures and introduced them into a peer-to-peer ecosystem.

    Apparently Bil has updated it and brought it to more modern versions of the .NET Framework and is looking for people to help expand and improve it. It is pretty usable already by the sounds of it. There is a client version that can run stand alone and a server version that will let several clients share the same world.

    I see this as a great learning tool and potentially a lot of fun. I’m downloading a version now and hope to find some time to play with it. Too bad I didn’t have it before I went on vacation!

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Interesting Links – 15 July 2008


    I am struggling to  catch up from my vacation. One of the trailing points in my activity is blogging – both reading and writing. I’ve got over 500 blog posts (mostly in the education category – aren’t you all on vacation?) to read. But I’ve come up with a few things already that are worth giving some attention to.

    The $40 Billion GorillaBen Chun had an interesting post complete with slide show on his talk titled “Bringing a $40 Billion Gorilla Into Your Classroom: Using Video Games to Teach Computer Science” with some links to some free resources he uses. $40 billion is the projected value of the video game development industry.

    Learning Before Learning – A Canadian university student, Aziz, takes on the controversy about students learning things on their own before they are taught them in class in a post called “Learning Before Learning (or getting ahead of school curriculum)”. I have to think about this one still

    Imagine Cup Advice – This year’s Imagine Cup recently finished up and involved students from around 100 countries this year. Two university faculty whom I respect greatly have posts about what it takes to make a successful team for a competition like this. Didith Rodrigo from Ateneo de Manila (Philippines) wrote her comments at a post called Moving forward from the Imagine Cup While Rob Miles from the university of Hull (UK) wrote a post called How to Make a Great Imagine Cup Entry A lot of their advice works for any important project (or start up business plan) that has to be presented to an important audience. Well worth the short reads.

    Interesting Things Among My Team – I work with an interesting group of people just about any way you define “interesting.” A couple of them are up to special things these days. Clint Rutkas is getting very close to getting his self stabilizing skate board working. He’s got a video of him testing it on his blog here. Clint writes about some of his remaining issues here. I love that he admits in advance that his father is going to say “I told you so.”

    The connection between music and math is fairly well known but there seems to be a connection between music and computer science as well. (I don’t just mean things like Dan Waters’ creation of Guitar Matey for the Xbox 360 using XNA either) DeVaris Brown who is a full time high tech member of the Microsoft team is also a professional DJ under the name DJ Fury. So when the Imagine Cup team needed a DJ for a major party in Paris they brought DeVaris along. The interview is here and you may find it very interesting just how computer technology fits into his DJ practice. He uses technologies like SilverLight and Popfly to bring his shows to the Internet. I wish I was a talented and as musical as DeVaris but I’ll probably have to stick with just being better looking. (I added that to see if DeVaris reads my blog. :-) )

    Well I have a lot more catching up to do. More interesting stuff to blog about soon.

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