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

April, 2009

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Programming Languages Side By Side


    I’ve been thinking about a parallel programming language textbook for a while now. Not for parallel programming but I’m not sure how to phrase it. What? OK let me explain. One of the popular Bible study tools is a parallel Bible where several translations are printed side by side with each other. That way someone can easily compare how different interpretation teams have looked at the same Bible verses. What I have been thinking about for some time is a textbook of sorts that covers multiple programming languages in a similar parallel fashion. Each concept would show side by side examples in multiple languages. This way students would see different implementations – different syntax – for the same concepts. In theory (completely untested so far) this would build both a greater understanding of the concepts and make it easier for students to transition from one programming language to another.

    From there is gets complicated. What languages and how many languages? Handling C++, C# and Visual Basic seems like a logical easy combination since all three languages are built into the Visual Studio IDE. Is there enough of a difference in early stages between C++ and C# though? Certainly in some areas like class creation and OOP concepts. Should Java be included realizing that a second IDE would be required? How about something like Small Basic which is largely a subset of Visual Basic?

    How about completely different paradigms? F# will be in the next version of Visual Studio so would permit the easy (ok relatively speaking) inclusion of a functional programming language. That might over complicate the book though. I need input on that one. Is it worth trying? Similarly how about a graphic beginners language like Scratch or Alice? Some concepts would not translate at all but some of the early ones would fit in nicely.

    How about some historic languages like FORTRAN (still often used in scientific programming) or COBOL (still used for many legacy applications with believe it or not some new development still taking place)? Not sure about the development environments for those though.

    Help me brainstorm on this a bit please. Are you interested in seeing something like this? What would it include to make it useful?

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    When Should Professional Development Be Offered?


    Let’s say you want offer a professional development workshop. When is the best time to do it? During the school day? During the evening? On the weekend? During summer vacation? How about webcasts and similar so called web 2.0 training tools? This is a challenge for many. The answer is obvious of course. Well except that for different people different answers are the obvious one. Let’s take a look at them.

    During the School Day – I have met teachers who will only take training when it means they get out of school. After all they are only paid for a set number of days and training is work related right? People in business take training on paid work days so why not teachers? But then there are teachers who just can’t get the days off from school. They have principals who don’t let them take off for professional development or contracts that require them to pay for substitute coverage out of pocket. Ridiculous? perhaps but I’ve heard from more than a few teachers that they would like to attend a workshop if only they could get sub pay covered. And let us not leave out the dedicated teachers who just hate to lose time with their students. This is especially true in AP courses where time is not your friend.

    Evenings/Weekends – Well there is no conflict with school or need for sub pay. On the other hand even teachers like to have some time with family. Or the inevitable grading. And after a long school day? Hard. But people do it. My wife has signed up for and taken a lot of evening workshops. A lot of teachers work on their graduate degrees at night as well. But it’s still hard. Which is better between an evening or a week end? Informally it appears that both are equally good. Or bad. People will tell me that one will work and the other will not but different people will tell me that in different ways.

    Summer vacation – I took a bunch of workshops during summers myself and loved them. To me that was the ideal time to take a course, a workshop or other professional development opportunity. No distractions. No pressure to do a prep or grade papers. But do I need to remind people that these are not paid work days? Some people will just not interrupt their well deserved summer vacation without getting paid for it. I suspect that some of these people talk about “life long learning” as it if is for other people BTW.

    But even without the no pay/no work attitude that a minority espouse it is often hard to build a critical mass of teachers. After all people take trips, visit family, work second jobs, and generally fill up their summers quickly. The well established workshops and summer programs usually need to attract from a wide geography to fill up. I’ve seen a lot of proposed summer workshops, even free ones, fail to get enough people to sign up to make them practical.

    Online How about webcasts? Things on the Internet that you can watch when ever you have time? I’ve heard a number of people propose that as the heart of a new model of professional development. It costs a lot less than in person training and it is almost completely flexible. But do people sign up for them and if they do sign up do they find them as valuable as in person training? It seems like the answer but is it?

    If you are a teacher when is your preferred time to take professional development and why?

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson



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