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

December, 2008

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Free Online Career Development Course Now Available to 16 Million Students Nationwide

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    Do you know students who are wondering “What do I want to be when I grow up?” It’s a hard question and students look in all directions for answers. Recently Microsoft and the Michigan Virtual University released an online “course” for students to use to do some self evaluation to try to help answer that question.  The course covers a number of topics that includes things like globalization, career planning, financial literacy and entrepreneurship. I don’t usually copy complete announcements but I did today. Check out CareerForward today.

    Microsoft, Michigan Department of Education and Michigan Virtual University offer CareerForward to help students prepare for a 21st-century workplace.

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    SEATTLE — Dec. 2, 2008 — With financial support and assistance from Microsoft Corp.’s U.S. Partners in Learning, students across the nation now have access to CareerForward, a powerful, free online course covering globalization, career planning, financial literacy and entrepreneurship. CareerForward empowers students at any grade level in middle and high school to take charge of their own education, career path and future prosperity. Global education leaders from more than 30 nations are learning how to implement this program in their home countries this week at the School of the Future World Summit in Seattle hosted by Microsoft Corp.

    Increasingly, multinational corporations are seeking young people who possess a global perspective and an appreciation that their academic preparation is vital to their future. Students who take the new online CareerForward course will better understand the crucial importance of their education and have the ability to improve their motivation and choices in high school and college. Students, parents and teachers can access the course at http://review.careerforward.org/careerforward.

    “This course will help students understand how to thrive in a global economy,” said Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm. “It also will teach them to learn online — something they’ll need to do throughout their work lives.”

    Michigan ranks No. 2 in the nation for its online learning policy and practice according to The Center for Digital Education. CareerForward first launched in Michigan two years ago when the state became the first in the nation to require online learning as a requirement for high school education. This year alone, 18,000 Michigan students have pledged to complete the course.

    “Students and the career choices they make are critical to the talent pipeline and future business prosperity in the U.S.,” said Anthony Salcito, general manager of U.S. Public Sector Education at Microsoft. “CareerForward encourages the development of a skilled work force, as it helps young citizens explore global opportunities and recognize the importance of technology in jobs of the future.”

    CareerForward is a media-rich online learning program, developed through a unique public-private partnership between the Michigan Department of Education, Michigan Virtual University and Microsoft. The program helps students wrestle with some of the burning questions about their futures: What am I going to do with my life? What is the world of work like? What will I need to succeed? What’s next for me? Using a variety of multimedia, course topics explore these questions and more. Throughout the course, students are asked frequently to reflect on what they’re learning, to write their thoughts down as a continual refinement of their thinking, and to discuss their thoughts with other students, either in-person or online.

    Students can work with local educators to access the online course, which takes about four to six weeks or approximately 20 hours to complete. The course is designed to be facilitated by a local teacher and can be used independently or as part of an existing face-to-face course in career planning, business or global studies.

    “This course helps students realize the crucial importance of education to their future,” said Mike Flanagan, Michigan’s Superintendent of Public Instruction. “By integrating technology into every student’s education, this allows them to experience their education outside of the classroom — in the world of technology. It helps bring relevance to their learning.”

    “We are excited about the national launch of CareerForward,” said Jamey Fitzpatrick, president of Michigan Virtual University. “This innovative online course is something that every parent in the country will want their son or daughter to experience.”

    Further information on CareerForward is available at http://review.careerforward.org/careerforward. More information about Michigan Virtual University is available at http://www.mivu.org. More information about Microsoft U.S. Partners in Learning is available at http://www.microsoft.com/education/pilus.mspx.

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    We Need Wireless Power

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    New Hampshire was hit by a major ice storm last Thursday night. The power at my house went out initially around 7:30PM but my UPS system kept the Internet modem and Wi-Fi access point up for a while. The power came back briefly around 10PM but went out for good at midnight. This time the storm took out the cable so there was no Internet. After almost 36 total hours without power or heat (it dropped to 20F or –6C outside) the power finally came back Saturday morning. Now on Monday there is still no cable or high speed Internet at home. I was able to get to the Internet on my cell phone using EDVO and also make phone calls. The wireless networks were a lot more resistant to the effect of the storm than the other utilities. If only Tesla had been more successful with his research on the wireless transmission of power.

    Schools are pretty much closed state-wide in New Hampshire as much of the state is still without power. The north side of my town is still without as are several near by towns. You really don’t realize how dependent we are on electric power until you have to go without it. The same is true for the Internet. I found myself stopping several times a day thinking “Oh I’ll look that up on the Internet.” only to catch myself with the memory that the Internet was not available. No looking up bank balances. No looking up that company someone told me about. No ordering that Christmas gift. It felt weird.

    How did we get along before? Well my neighbor who has a very old house had a gas stove that didn’t need electric power and a fireplace. We were able to cook and stay warm there. But somehow I don’t see us going back to encyclopedia in place of the Internet. Not for full time at least. And have you seen a typewriter lately? I saw some in a store recently and they were clearly labeled for collectors rather than for people who wanted to use them. Long term there is no going back.

    Well that is my observation for today. More useful posts once I have had time to tap the network for a while.

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    When Is A Short Circuit a Good Thing?

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    I get inspiration for blog posts from a number of places. Sometimes from Twitter (see yesterday’s post) and sometimes for other blogs. Actually other blogs are a constant and regular source of inspirations. Today’s post was inspired by a Programming Pop Quiz posted by Rob Miles. The sample code he uses works because of what is called short circuiting. Let me show you the code and explain it in plain English (or what passes as plain English from me.)

    while (startPos < input.Length && input[startPos] != '"') startPos++;

    This is a while loop that first checks to see if startPos is less than the length of input. One assumes that input is a string array based on the context. The expression then check to see if the string in that location (indicated by startPos) is not equal to a double quote. Assuming that startPos is less than input.Length AND that the indicated character is not a double quote the value of startPos is incremented and the loop continues. Clear?

    Now here is where the short circuit comes in. If the value of startPos is greater than or equal to the length of input and the computer were to execute the second comparison there would be an error. Why? Because the program would be attempting to access a location that is not defined and that is outside the range of the array. This is what we call “a bad thing.” However, and good for us, if the first comparison evaluates to false the computer “knows” that it does not need to do the second comparison and so it doesn’t. This is a good time to review Truth tables if you are confused about why we don’t need the second comparison if the first is false.

    In Visual Basic this gets a little interesting though. The C# code (or is it C++ or Java or some other C-family language? Does it matter?) converts to the following in Visual Basic .NET.

    While startPos < input.Length AndAlso input(startPos) <> """"C
        startPos += 1
    End While

    You’ll notice that rather than And the operator that is used is AndAlso. What’s up you may be asking. Doesn’t VB have a keyword And? Yes it does. AndAlso is new though. In Visual Basic 6.0 and earlier there was only the And operator. The And operator did not short circuit. What that means is that the code above would not work the same way as the C#/C++/Java example if the And operator was used. You could (probably would) run into the unwanted exception error. Initially in the first beta versions of Visual Basic .NET the And operator was changed to short circuit just as && does. It seemed like a good idea. And in theory it was. The problem was that there was a lot of old code out there that depended on And not doing a short circuit. Ultimately it was decided to add the AndAlso command to do short circuit operations. By the way this is also why there is an Or and OrElse operator in VB .NET. Paul Vick of the Visual Basic design team explains their reasoning on his blog.  He also explains how C-family languages had two operators where VB had one.

    This is one of those issues that often comes up when there is an installed base of users. Its not always an easy answer. What do you think? Or your students think. Did the VB team make the correct decision? Why or why not?

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