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

March, 2009

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Art and Computer Science


    Last year I heard an executive from a video game talking about hiring developers. One of the things he said (roughly paraphrased) is that they find a lot of good graphic artists and a lot of good software developers but it is rare to find someone who is great at both. Game companies don’t expect software people to create the outstanding graphics that today’s gamers expect. They hire artists for that. But there is something to be said for software people to know something about art.

    Daniel Rasmus, Director of Business Insights at Microsoft – basically a futurist, said recently in a blog post titled The ART of Software that “If you want to code for the web, design for the web, or do any software work that touches people, then take an art class first.” To me it is pretty obvious that customer facing software has to look better and be better designed for appearance than ever before. Not all of us are artists though. I’m sure not. That is why some of us need help now and again. But some basic understanding of art can still go a long way.

    But art doesn’t always lend itself to data driven analysis. Dan’s post also links to an article (Google's top designer quits, blames engineers) about a designer leaving Google because of an insistence on pure data driven selection of designs. While I would argue that some data analysis is helpful – I am an engineer by nature after all – I can understand that some things just do not lend themselves to that sort of analysis. Someone with an eye for how things work and and instinct for how people see things can do a lot with a lot less data. In other words, I think sometimes the best thing is to trust an artist.

    Yet an other reason that we all need to support art education in schools I think.

    BTW I only recently discovered Dan’s Future of Work blog but I really like it. I recommend it to you for a regular read.

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Ada Lovelace Day – Women in Technology


    This is my Ada Lovelace Day post as promised in January. Today well over a thousand bloggers are posting posts about women in technology who they admire. The goal is the present role models to young women and girls as well as to highlight and honor the fact that technology is not just a man’s thing. I thought about a good many women to write about. Grace Hopper of course but I’ve written about her several times. Chris Stephenson who is the Executive Director of the Computer Science Teachers Association was another who came to mind. A number of computer science teacher came to mind as well. Several of those are listed in the list of CS teacher blogs on the side of this blog. Several textbook authors came to mind - Beth Brown who writes for Lawrenceville Press, Diane Zak who writes for Cengage Course Technology, Maria Litvin who writes for her own company, and of course the prolific Nell Dale. And there are a couple of women I work with in my current job – Diane Curtis and Hilary Pike – who I have great respect for. Just an awful lot of choices.

    But in the end I decided to write about Thelma Thompson – my wife.  The very first gift I ever gave her was a stack of punch cards – with pink trim. Geeky isn’t it? She still married me. She was taking a programming course at the time and we were not even going steadily yet. Later after we were married she spent some time programming bank teller machines. In machine language. She actually had to break bits off of little plastic “combs” that fit into a rotary drum in order to program these devices. Imagine examining a comb to debug your code? I’m not sure if she is a good debugger because her programs always seemed to work the first time out. She taught me the value of careful planning and desk checking of code before trying it out. And of documentation!

    She spent part of her career writing documentation and training users in some of the earliest person computers back when a “personal computer” went for around $10,000 and small businesses were first starting to see that they could use computers. She has never been afraid of new technology but always jumps at the chance to learn new things and use them to solve both old and new problems. Yes she was and is a bit of a pioneer.

    Today she teaches in a middle school and has taught in both elementary and high schools. She teaches with technology and she teaches how to use technology. She uses tools like Alice to introduce middle school students to programming and computer science concepts. She teaches students how to really use Internet search engines intelligently. She introduces more than the default in computer applications like Word and PowerPoint. And she models good practice in the things she does and the ways she uses technology. Besides teaching students she also teaches teachers and administrators how to use technology in their own practice – leading by example. She’s still a pioneer.

    Lots of people point to the Fran Allen's (first woman Turing winner), the Grace Hoppers and the Ada Lovelace's of computer and technology history as heroes. And heroes they are. But the day to day heroes of today are teachers who insure that the heroes of the future learn about the creations of the heroes of the past. Thank you to all of you who are teaching students today!

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Alice Symposium Duke University June 17, 2009


    I was asked to pass along the news that the submission deadline for the June 17th Alice Symposium call for papers has been extended to March 31st. You can of course go to that website to find out more about the symposium and register to attend.

    There are also some other workshops going on at Duke in June. I understand that they are filling up quite quickly so if you’re interested you’ll want to sign up soon.

    Duke in June 2009

    * Two-day Alice 3.0 Workshop June 15-16, 2009
    * Two-day CompMedia Workshop June 18-19, 2009

    * One-week Alice Workshops

    • June 22-26, 2009
    • June 28-July 2, 2009

    Again, I have no direct affiliation with these events but I know a lot of people are seeing great results using Alice in the classroom.

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