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

September, 2008

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Using Maps From Windows Programs


    One of the areas that is seeing huge growth lately is geo-coded information. Applications that take location information and other data to create useful maps is a big deal. Clint Rutkas has written a demo application and a rather complete explanation of how do do this using Microsoft’s Virtual Earth over on his blog. The post is called Developing with Virtual Earth Web Services and it comes with sample code in both C# and Visual Basic. I suspect that most students who only know Java will not have much trouble understanding the C#. That makes this approachable for students who want to do something interesting with live/real data even if they are not C# programmers.

    Of course since this is a demo program it is ripe for the sort of “look at existing code and tweak it to see what it  does” sort of project I talked about in my last post.

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Sample Code For Students


    One of the key reasons behind the case study in the Advanced Placement Computer Science curriculum is to give students some experience modifying an existing piece of code. In this case the case study is also a fairly large (by school project standards) piece of code so there is lots more that students can learn from it. There is specific value is just having students read a good hunk of code written by someone who really knows how to write code. I was recently reminded of how smaller pieces of code can be useful as well.

    Last week I read a post on Programming Turtles as in the Logo sort of turtles written by “Rich Skyline.” One of the things he is doing is providing a working program for his students and inserting a number of comments that suggest things they can experiment with. For example a comment might suggest that students try different variable settings. Rich provides several samples and encourages his students to learn by tinkering. I really like this idea.

    I can think of several things that would be useful.  Take nested loops as an example. Have students try reversing the order (use the inner loop as the outer loop) – probably more interesting when the terminating values are very different. Graphic programs like the random turtle Rich blogs about are always interesting to students. One could also give students some code that pastes disks where the user clicks and ask them to modify the program in some way to made the disks move about the screen. Leave the algorithm up in the air to see what students come up with.

    A lot of students naturally love to tinker but others want to have a script laid out for them. Comments with suggestions of things to try, even if they do not suggest actual values to change, allow the latter students to get involved more comfortably. They will still have to read through the code and they will still learn by manipulating the code but they will not be pushed too far beyond their comfort level (hopefully). And with any luck at all this will be a confidence builder to help them experiment more broadly. The natural tinkerers will just fly through the sample suggestions and go their own way. In the right environment (a louder classroom than some teachers are comfortable) they will share their ideas with others and a lot of valuable peer teaching may just break out. And that is usually a very good thing.

    [Edit: Fixed typo of Lego to Logo thanks to a comment from a reader.]
  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Computer Science Is Everywhere


    Earlier this week Microsoft Research had a special opening symposium. I really wanted to go. But alas other work commitments kept me from going. Fortunately for me and for many others the talks were recorded and are now publicly available at:

    One of the talks I thought would be of particular interest to my readers is this one:

    · (Theoretical) Computer Science is Everywhere by Erik Demaine

    He’s got a lot of interesting and unexpected places where computer science is important. Highly recommended.

    A lot of you who are interested in Web 2.0 both in general will also be interested in Understanding Socio-Technical Phenomena in Web 2.0 Era by danah boyd. I’m pretty excited that danah will be joining Microsoft Research in January. I’ve been following danah boyd’s blog for a while and she knows a lot about how young people use the Internet.

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