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

November, 2008

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Free Copy Of OneNote for Teachers


    A couple of weeks ago I wrote about upcoming free online presentations in the education area from various people at Microsoft. (See that post and the full list here.) Well Mike Tholfsen has announced on his blog that any teacher who attends this week’s seminar and fills out the end of presentation review will be getting a free copy of OneNote. OneNote is an outstanding organization tool for students and educators. If you have really checked this tool out you will want to attend Mike’s Tech Talk.

    So to get your free copy of OneNote 2007 - watch this Tuesday's Teacher Tech talk: OneNote 2007 Teacher Toolkit

    Note: Mike reports that the on demand video of his talk is now available.

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Making CS Relevant, Meaningful, and Engaging


    Leigh Ann Sudol starts an interesting conversation about reenergizing pre-collegiate computer science at her blog with a post titled Another voice for enriching early CS education. She starts with a review of an article by Joanna Goode in the November 2008 issue of Communications of the ACM entitled “Reprogramming College Preparatory Computer Science.” Joanna Goode is one of the co-authors of Stuck in the Shallow End: Education, Race, and Computing which I am reading now and finding very interesting. Goode and the team she is working with has spent a lot of time working with computer science education. Leigh Ann highlights some of the issues they have documented in her post. (you should read it.)

    One of the things that Leigh Anne is particularly interested in is finding out “how can I measure what my students think is important and relevant?” Why? Because students need to understand how what they are learning is important and relevant to them. I think that anyone who has spent time in the classroom as a student or teacher understands that if students don’t see value in what they are supposed to be learning that they really don’t learn that much. To that end Leigh Ann is looking for ways to determine what students think. If you have ideas of what sort of questions she should be asking jump over to her blog and get involved in the comments.

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Computer Science for Middle School


    I spent yesterday at a large STEM event in Denver Colorado. Something like 1,500 middle school girls were brought to the Colorado Convention center for workshops and talks about science, technology and engineering. My colleague Hilary Pike conducted several workshops while I manned the booth we had in the exhibit area. While Hilary was working with students I was talking to teachers and parents who had brought the girls to the event. The common question was what resources are there for teaching computer science concepts to middle school students? I have a short list that I shared with people but it seemed like this was something that should be blogged about as well. If nothing else maybe it will help people using Internet search engines to find useful tools.

    Kinesthetic learning works well with middle school students if for no other reason that sitting still is not fun or easy for them. So the CS Unplugged materials should be very useful in this environment. I love these activities as they show the concepts without the need for computer hardware, special software or other expensive resources. And kids enjoy them. Since there is a story attached and an activity attached I think that students are more likely to remember what they are learning. As a bonus it really shows that computer science is more than just programming.

    For programming a couple of popular tools come to mind. Alice and Scratch are tools that use a drag and drop building block approach to programming. These tools allow students to learn about programming without syntax getting in the way. These tools are colorful and graphical. Alice uses a 3D environment while Scratch is 2D. Scratch is somewhat lighter in weight so tends to work better on older hardware than Alice. Both have versions for both Windows and Mac.

    Storytelling Alice was developed especially for middle school. It was built from Alice but is not 100% compatible. The storytelling features though have been tested as being very effective with middle school students and especially with girls. It is Windows only and doesn’t have quite the same support at regular Alice but it seems pretty stable.

    If you are “in to” BASIC or other traditional programming languages two resources that are available are Small Basic and a curriculum called “Code Rules” that uses Visual Basic. Small Basic is as simple to use development environment that uses a simplified version of BASIC. I wrote more about it here. Code Rules is a curriculum that was designed for high school students but its approach is very basic (no pun intended) and for some 7th and 8th graders I think it would work very well.  Both are obviously Windows only as they are from Microsoft. But they’re free.

    There are more as well. I have heard good things about Squeak for example. And there is a simple programming language for beginners called Leopard that I don’t know that much about but looks interesting. And Phrogram which used to be called Kids Programming language or KPL is being used in a lot of schools. For kids interested in games there is My Game Builder and Popfly about which I have written a lot.

    Edit: In the comments I was reminded of FIRST Lego League which is a great robotics program for middle school students.  It introduces a lot more than programming as they always tie the projects into other science areas.

    I think that many of the tools I have written about in posts tagged first programming experience would work with middle school students. Not all of them will work in every middle school of course. But most will at least be usable by students who really want to get their feet wet.

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