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

December, 2008

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Are Teachers (Becoming) Obsolete?


    This morning a could of things that I thought about blogging just didn’t work for me. I couldn’t get into them. So I Twittered that I was feeling a lack of blogging motivation today. You may notice that I didn’t have anything yesterday either so this is a problem for me. A Twitter reply by Kevin Bibo (Cal Teacher Blogger) lead me to Teachers Are Irreplaceable, Right Up Until The Moment They Are Replaced by Rob Jacobs with the suggestion that it would get me going. And it did.

    I hear a lot of talk about teachers being replaceable by online education. It all reminds me in some ways about the talk of programming and programmers going away. (See A future without programming for my thoughts on that one.) Every time I read one of these articles I ask myself “have these people ever taught in a classroom?” and “Were they really paying attention to what young people are like?” Now I have met and taught a bunch of highly motivated, self-starting students in my time who were quite capable of learning online or even though other non-classroom resources. But honestly, those were not the majority of students. Most students seem to need a little external motivation. And I don’t just mean grades. They look for someone to be a little proactive about pushing them to work. Maybe not all the time but at least some of the time.

    That was high school. I have also taught elementary and middle school students. Trust me when I tell you that kindergarten kids are not that organized. They really do need some hands on (sometimes literally :-) ) instruction. Working independently for any length of time is something that has to be developed and until it is developed I believe that flesh and blood teachers are required. How long? Well it depends on the person.

    I suppose that in theory most high school students could learn online. They can read well enough. They can schedule well enough (if they want to) to get things done. They can decide to some extent what their interests are and what they want or need to learn. But I think there is an important factor that I doubt can be done online only. That is the expression of passion. Passion in the subject, the field, and insights into areas not in the curriculum that a student may just find valuable and interesting.

    Think back on your own school years. Was there one teacher who inspired you? Someone whose passion for the subject inspired you in your career or even just in your studies? Perhaps one teacher who took a subject you really didn’t like and made it a class worth attending? My guess is that for a lot of people the answer will be yes. I know it is for me. Would I have gotten that same inspiration from video casts? I’m not so sure. Can a teacher who is teaching via webcasts that students watch on their own schedule and whose interpersonal interactions are limited to web chats, email, Instant Messaging and other virtual connections see the spark or confusion in a student’s eyes? Maybe but is that the way to bet? I think not.

    Online education is going to require real teachers for the foreseeable future. Students need to ask questions. They need someone to occasionally point them in a direction for future study. They need better feedback on test/project/paper results than I think we’ll see for a great while to come. But the classroom teacher teaching face to face isn’t going to disappear for a very long time. I doubt it will happen in my life time. Probably not in my son’s lifetime either. And you know what? If online/virtual school becomes the norm for public schools I bet that the rich people will still pay for face to face education because it will be worth it.

    What do you think?

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Coding For Fun – The Book


    This just out in time for Christmas, Kwanzaa, Hanukkah etc gifts for the programming geeks you know an love - Coding4Fun: 10 .NET Programming Projects for Wiimote, YouTube, World of Warcraft, and More. The book’s web site is at Dan Fernandez who is one of the principal authors of the book wrote a blog post called Coding4Fun Book: The people and the projects that tells more about the people who worked on the book and some of the projects.

    The product description at Amazon reads:

    How would you like to build an Xbox game, use your Nintendo Wiimote to create an electronic whiteboard, or build your own peer-to-peer application? Coding4Fun helps you tackle some cool software and hardware projects using a range of free Microsoft software. Now you can code for fun with C#, VB, Lua, ASP.NET, WPF, XNA Game Studio, and Popfly. If you love to tinker, but don't have time to figure it all out, this book gives you clear, step-by-step instructions for building ten creative projects, including: Alien Attack: Create a 2D clone of Space Invaders with XNA for the PC, Xbox 360, and Zune LEGO Soldier: Create an action game using Popfly with a custom-built virtual LEGO character World of Warcraft RSS Feed Reader: Use WoW's customizable interface to have feeds pop up while you're gaming InnerTube: Download YouTube videos automatically and convert them to a file format for off-line viewing PeerCast: Stream video files from any PC TwitterVote: Create custom online polls on Twitter WHSMail: Build a website with ASP.NET for Windows Home Server that lets you view the messages stored on a computer with Outlook "Wiimote" Controlled Car: Steer your remote-controlled car by tilting the Wii Remote controller left and right Wiimote Whiteboard: Create an interactive whiteboard using a Wii Remote Holiday Lights: Synchronize your holiday light display with music to create your own light show.

    Written by a number of people who really know their stuff and who are behind the web site Coding 4 Fun this looks like a lot of fun for the slightly more advanced programmer who wants to show off a little and take on some non standard projects.

    Oh and check out the Coding 4 Fun holiday gift guide while you are at it.

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    School of the Future Summit 2008


    Microsoft recently held its fourth annual school of the future summit. Were you there? Me either. But fortunately there are ways to get something out of the event even if you were not one of the people who was invited to attend. I followed some of the event by reading Will Richardson’s Twitter feed. Will had an interesting and thought provoking blog post about the event and his time there called So What is the Future of Schools? Will has some mixed feelings with I largely share. I think there is still a lot of uncertainty about what the school of the future should look like. This is an area where we (actually anyone interested in improving education) have to have more discussion about.

    I’ve got a couple of other resources to recommend for additional reading about this event and the ideas that were discussed.

    Derek Wenmoth has a number of posts on his blog but you may want to start at a post called School of the Future Summit that includes links to his reviews of a number of the keynote and other major speaker talks. A number of attendees from New Zealand created a group blog called SOF – What’s Possible.  The main School of the Future web site also has a SOF documents page that holds a good many of the presenter’s slide decks. (Note that the decks I looked at were in PowerPoint 2007 format but there is a free PowerPoint viewer available.)

    There is an official School of the Future blog with a number of comments from participants. It’s not so impressive but at least it is something.

    Computerworld also had a summary article about the summit which I found interesting.

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