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

October, 2008

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Video Games As Educational


    Last week Microsoft announced a large investment in research into educational games. There have been a lot of educational games over the years. Some of them I think have been educational in theory more than in practice. Others more accidentally educational than anything else. But what does make a game effective as an educational tool? Does the brain work differently while playing games? I have known ADD and ADHD kids who could not sit still for a few minutes in a regular class who can sit and play video games for hours at a time. What’s going on? Well the fact is that we don’t know very much about the effectiveness of educational games. We don’t know what makes a good educational game. We don’t know how they work or how they can be made to work better.

    The Games for Learning Institute is an attempt to do some serious research on these questions.

    The Games for Learning Institute (G4LI) is a first-of-its-kind, multi-disciplinary, multi-institutional gaming research alliance that will provide the fundamental scientific evidence to support games as learning tools for math and science subjects among middle school students. It is great example of how technology can play a role in changing how students learn and give teachers new tools to create dynamic and effective curriculum.

    There are a number of good quotes about what this study/research hopes to accomplish in this article by the Seattle P-I. One of the things I am hoping for is that a framework of ideas will come out of it that will allow more people to make more effective games to reach more students who don’t do well in traditional classrooms.

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Friday Links 101008


    I have a small backlog of interesting links so I decided to group some of them in this post. Some are different from what I usually post and some are more typical. But I think they are all interesting to someone who is likely to be reading this blog. I hope so anyway.

    I don’t usually link directly to a comment on another blog but this is an exceptional comment. Alan Kay replied to a post by Mark Guzdial recently. In it he compared computer science and programming to Jazz and creating music. A remarkable thought provoking post to say the least. My reply to Mark’s series of posts is boring and unenlightened by comparison. There are some good comments on Mark’s first post on the subject as well.

    BTW Robb Cutler weighs in with the whole “Computer Science Without Programming?” question on the CSTA blog. Well worth a read. That makes four CS blogs weighing in on the subject. If you know of more leave me a comment, send me an email and Twitter me at

    Web hosting is a question I actually get asked about from time to time. A surprising number of students and even teachers what to know about hosting their own websites independent of their school (or others their business. Clint Rutkas has a post about what is involved in a post called “Web Hosting, what to do and where to get it” He wrote this in response to a student who asked him the question. From now on I am just going to point people to Clint’s blog.

    I found this article in ComputerWorld that postulates that the current economic crisis may help drive more students into computer science and information technology. Why? Well because finance and investment banking doesn’t look so good as a way to get rich anymore. Interesting idea. The article circulated about the team I work with and Randy Guthrie lays out some of his thinking in a post titled “Financial Crisis May Be Boost for Computer Science/IT Education” Something to discuss in your class or Personal Learning Network (PLN a term I learned from twitter.)

    Speaking of Twitter, also on Twitter I found a nice video called “Adding binary numbers explained in 2 minutes” that is just what you’d expect. A two-minute video demo on how to add binary numbers. Sure you can do it yourself in class but you could also link to this as a resource students can access for review or watch a couple of times until they get it down pat.

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    In Praise of Small Colleges


    Following in the footsteps (sort of) of Bill Gates, Craig Mundie is making a fall college tour. He’s visiting Princeton University, New York University, the University of Michigan, University of California-Berkeley, and UC San Diego this week. YAWN! No, really, who cares? If any of the students at these schools need inspiration about computer science they should never have gone to those schools. Likewise any of them who need a visit from Craig Mundie to get them to think about going to work for Microsoft are clearly not bright enough for Microsoft to hire. Not that I am saying all the smart kids should come to Microsoft but they should all be evaluating it on its merits. So what’s the point? Public relations I guess is part of it. The local, regional and sometimes national media covers these trips. Truth be known I suspect that some people at some of these schools (but not the one *you* admire) consider this their due recognition. Personally, I would rather Craig visit small colleges and universities. Better still some rural and inner-city high schools.

    I admit to a bias towards smaller colleges. I attended Taylor University in Upland Indiana. Never heard of it? It’s not so big and it is sort of in the middle of nowhere. It is a great school though! I’m on the CS department advisory board so I may perhaps be doubly biased of course. But it sure did well by me. While I was a student I heard talks by Grace Hopper and Ken Olsen (at that time president of Digital Equipment Corp). And yes, hearing Ken Olsen talk did influence me to think about working at DEC and I did work there for about 14 years. But more than that I was inspired to make a career in a field I was only starting to understand and which was much different from what it is today.

    I sure hope that students at Princeton don’t need someone to tell them they can aim for the stars. Heck for a lot of people getting into Princeton is itself aiming for the stars. But I think that students at smaller schools need to know that they too can get to work at the big companies, create their own companies and otherwise make a big difference in the world. Yes, it’s true that many big companies tend to ignore the smaller schools when they do their recruiting. It may be a bit harder for students from these schools to get the jobs at Microsoft or Google or what ever. But they can get there. I’m working at Microsoft after all. :-) So I think that visits by top people can be more influential at smaller schools. The press will tag along anyway if only to ask “why this school?” No one is asking “why NYU?” trust me.

    I also believe that bringing some attention to other smaller, fine schools will help recruit more students into the computer field. I doubt that Michigan or Berkeley are having trouble getting the message out that they have good computer science programs. But smaller regional schools could use the attention. A Rose-Hulman or a Harvey Mudd is a good compromise BTW. Their programs are incredible and are better known than most small schools but not as well known as they could be. But I’m sure that other small regionally known programs could benefit from some extra attention as well.

    And what about some large high schools that don’t currently have great computer science programs? Wouldn’t it be great (and helpful) to inspire hundreds of kids who don’t know that computer science is an option to demand courses in the subject? Or at least get them interested enough to start in college. The college CS majors are won over already. We need to jump start interest and demand in high school.

    And speaking of attention, wouldn’t it be great if the next time Bill Gates thinks about donating $50 million dollars for a computer science building that he split the money five ways and built smaller buildings at five campuses? I’ll bet the student served per million would be a lot higher than all at one school. The incremental improvement in a small program would be a lot greater as well. Raise the tide for all boats rather than a big wave that helps one large boat.

    Well that’s just my opinion and senior management has shown an ability to go their own way and even be successful without my advice. In the mean time, if someone from the bottom of the hierarchy (like me) can be helpful visiting your high school (especially in New England) let me know and I’ll see if I can work out my own tour.

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