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

March, 2009

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    DigiGirlz Cambridge MA 2009


    Yesterday I attended my first DigiGirlz event. While this was my first DdigiGirlz event it was my third “career” event in three work days. And of them were different. Last Thursday was a sort of career fair with tables set up by different companies and educational institutions (colleges, universities, community colleges) at Brookline High School. Students visited each table and asked questions. Last Friday I talked to a group of middle school students about careers in computer science and demonstrated some game programming. But today I was strictly background support. The platform belonged to women and the audience (save for a few chaperones) was all female. The site was Microsoft’s New England Research and Development Center (called NERD by its friends).

    DigiGirlz is largely about helping girls visualize themselves in tech careers and the amazing women involved in this event left no doubt that women can and are making it in the field.

    The opening keynote was by Jennifer Tour Chayes, Managing Director of Microsoft’s New England Research center. After that the girls rotated through three different breakout/workshop sessions.

    The session I helped with introduced Scratch a great graphical programming environment from MIT which happens to  be very close to the research center. This gave the girls a chance to try programming in a friendly comfortable environment.

    A second session was on Internet Safety /Online citizenship facilitated by danah boyd. There are not many people (if any) who know more about teens and their use of and safety on the Internet these days.

    A third session was a selection of four different projects including information on robotics and design. This was an opportunity to sample a number of tech areas.

    After lunch was a panel discussion of careers in science and technology.  Panelists were from Microsoft, the Museum of Science, Intangible Asset Finance, and Conover Tuttle Pace. A number of different careers and career paths to be sure. After self introductions the girls asked a variety of questions about careers, career paths and how women dealt with various obstacles along the way.

    Monday’s event was attended by over 150 girls from about 25 different high schools. In some ways a drop in the bucket but in other ways, I hope, a lot of seeds were sown that will inspire a number of girls to consider careers in technology or at least college and beyond. Watching the girls work with Scratch I saw a lot of creativity and imagination. A lot of fearless experimentation and willingness to learn and to solve problems. Just what we need in this day and age.

    These day long events are just one part of the larger DigiGirlz program. You can find out more at the DigiGirlz home page.

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    When To Take Programming


    The AP CS mailing list has been having a discussion about letting sophomores take Advanced Placement Computer Science. Topics being discussed include “are sophomores ready?” Some are and some aren’t. Another issue was expressed well by someone who said “what happens to the sophomores if there aren't two years of viable classes to take afterward?” The big concern expressed by a few people is that if there are no formal courses for sophomores to take before college that they will forget a lot of what they learned. I think this is largely a valid concern. Well, for many students.

    Some students will take off and continue to work, learn and develop software on their own. The Dreamspark program is just made for those kids. I sure hope a lot of high schools take advantage of it. IF they do students will have development software (Visual Studio, Robotics Studio, XNA Game Studio) and servers (Windows Server 2008 & SQL Server) as well as online training available to them. This will keep many of the motivated students learning and growing while they continue though high school.

    But for many students time becomes a problem and for others learning on their own just doesn’t yet work for them. So finishing up their formal high school computer science education is going to be a problem. For some independent studies will be an answer. This also works for a lot of smart students. It’s a surprising amount of work for teacher but not as much as a full class. But for the student to have that adult guide and resource if a powerful support tool.

    With the APCS AB exam going away I see a natural gap opening up. I hope that a lot of schools will look to create higher level courses for students to continue with. Not having that AP bonus for the GPA will be an issue for some – especially those with guidance counselors who are all about tailoring the transcript for college admissions. But honors credit at least will help. These courses will give teachers as well as students some opportunity to explore new areas like databases, robotics, artificial intelligence, game development, and media processing. And more. Hopefully good administrators with good teachers will be able to do some of this. In the long run I see courses after APCS as a great opportunity. So let’s let the sophomores (perhaps even the precocious freshmen) take AP CS early. Who knows how far they will go?

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    A Little Link Love


    I have a number of friends and co-workers who are blogging for higher education students (and to some extent higher ed faculty) who I really should give a shout out to. If you are looking for some interesting people to follow these people are worth checking out – especially if you are or know someone in college/university.

    Hilary Pike and Diane Curtis blog at Springboard from mortarboard to on board. Recent posts include installing Windows 7 from USB onto a netbook, Technical Book Club (some great recommendations for CS related books to read) and Hilary’s Ada Lovelace Day – Women in Technology – Jennifer Marsman interview.

    Clint Rutkas is one of the bloggers at Coding4Fun but also blogs as an individual at his own site - You may want to check out his latest project – Webcam Software – Image Processing Edition

    Sam Stokes tends to write at a high level but covers some interesting things. Recent posts include Programming languages: C# versus F#, building AI and Physics, FUN: Use UML to map your great game idea design processes and Back to the finite state discussion. And if you are “into space”, MCO: More thoughts on the Martian Climate Orbiter.

    Dan Waters has gotten back on the blogging horse after being tied up writing his new Zune game development book. Recent posts include videos such as Doing Homework in Windows 7 and Win7 running on my Eee PC. He also has a video on IE8 Web Slices & Accelerators.

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