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

April, 2009

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Do Programming Languages Ever Die?


    Maybe programming languages do fade away even become obscure but do they every go away? You can’t prove that they do by looking at COBOL. I found this interesting article called Cobol hits 50 and keeps counting the other day. I didn’t need to read it to know what it said though. I regularly talk to professional developers who create (and maintain but still actively create) COBOL programs. They do run as back ends and users never really see them. But they are there and doing productive work. FORTRAN is still around and used for a lot of scientific and mathematical computations. There are .NET (i.e. object oriented) versions of both languages around as well. Though honestly the idea of doing object oriented programming in COBOL scares me a little.

    The first three languages I learned were FORTRAN, BASIC (BASIC PLUS specifically) and COBOL. They are all still around though they have all grown and changed over the years. I had pretty much assumed that the first language I learned after college, DIBOL was dead though. It was after all quite a proprietary language, not widely used and, well, a bit limited. I see today that it is still being sold and supported as the Synergy/DBL DIBOL compiler. It even works with .NET forms and Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF). That sure would have made a lot of the programming I did decades ago easier.

    So perhaps we worry too much, if we worry at all, about the languages we teach today going away or being irrelevant when students graduate. The languages may not be as popular or as widely used for new applications but they may not go away completely. And how knows, with older programmers retiring, some of these languages may still need people for a long time to come.

    On the other hand even if you do think a language will go away I think the concepts will remain. There are minor variations in syntax but the most basic concepts (loops, decision structures, mathematical and Boolean expressions and variable declarations) tend to be pretty similar across languages.

    By the way, if you are interested in how different programming languages look you may want to visit the 99 Bottles of Beer project.

    This Website holds a collection of the Song 99 Bottles of Beer programmed in different programming languages. Actually the song is represented in 1259 different programming languages and variations.

    And take a look at the example in APL. Shudder! That one bucks the trend of things tending to look similar.

    There is also the Rosetta Code wiki to look at.

    The idea is to present solutions to the same task in as many different languages as possible, to demonstrate how languages are similar and different, and to aid a person with a grounding in one language in learning another. Rosetta Code currently has 272 tasks, and covers 131 languages, though we do not have solutions to every task in every language.

    Maybe you will find something there that you can have your student contribute a solution for.

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Recruiting Young Women into, and Retaining Them in Computing Majors


    If you are in the Pittsburg PA area you may find this talk interesting. I’ve served on several panels with Dave Klappholz and he is seriously committed to better pedagogy and better recruiting of women and under served minorities into computer science. I also appreciate that he studies the teaching of computer science and how do do it better. We don’t do enough of that in my opinion. He’ll be giving a talk at Carnegie Mellon University next week. I’m hoping he has a good turn out. I know he'd like to see a lot of high school teachers there and I know he has valuable things for them to hear.

    When :   Thursday, April 21, 2009 at 3:00pm
    Where:   Newell-Simon Hall 3305 Carnegie Mellon University
    Speaker: David Klappholz,
            Associate Professor of Computer Science
            Stevens Institute of Technology
    Title:   "Recruiting Young Women into, and Retaining Them in Computing
    Majors: A High School and College Level Initiative (ACM-W Project) Based
    Upon a 35-Year Psychological Study"
          Gender equity in computing has long been a national goal
    advanced by those concerned with fairness and by those who know that the
    female point of view improves the design and development of software
    . Unfortunately, though, the percentage of young women entering
    computing-related majors keeps falling, and the female dropout rate is
    higher than the very high male dropout rate.  The Bureau of Labor
    Statistics predicts a large increase in the need for B.S. and M.S.
    computing graduates in the next decade. The largest untapped pool of
    potential computing majors and, eventually, computing professionals, is
    science- and math-talented high school students, but only about 10% of
    entering undergraduate majors in computing majors are female. Despite
    the many initiatives aimed at attracting young women, the number of
    female computing majors keeps dropping
    . In this talk we will discuss
    results of an extensive psychological research study that followed
    thousands of science- and math-talented students from middle school to
    middle age and that explains why many previous initiatives have failed.
    We will also discuss a new high school and university level initiative
    that is supported by these psychological studies, and that has recently
    been designated an ACM-W project. We will invite interested attendees to
    personally participate in, and encourage their high schools,
    universities, and/or employers to participate in this initiative.
           Dr. David Klappholz is an associate professor of computer
    science at Stevens Institute of Technology, where his specialty is
    software engineering. Dr. Klappholz spent a Fall 2002 sabbatical with
    Barry Boehm at USC and has worked with Prof. Boehm, a major partner in
    the initiative, every summer since then. In addition to his interest in
    empirical software engineering research, Prof. Klappholz works, under
    NSF funding, with an educational psychologist on issues relating to
    engineering education pedagogy. He is also a member of a Stevens-based,
    DoD-supported, team that is crafting a reference standard M.S.
    curriculum in software engineering, a curriculum with a heavy systems
    engineering slant. In a previous incarnation Prof. Klappholz did
    research, supported by NSF, IBM Research, DoE, and others, on parallel
    machine architecture, automatic code parallelization, compiler
    optimizations, and, in his professional infancy, on natural language
    understanding and translation.

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Where Does DreamSpark High School Fit In


    Every since the public announcement of DreamSpark for High School I’ve been getting questions about how DreamSpark fits in with the MSDN Academic Alliance High School program. The answer is that basically the MSDN AA program is designed to provide software for in school and curriculum related activities. DreamSpark is designed to be more direct to students so that they can continue or expand their learning on their own. There is some software included in DreamSpark that is not included in MSDN AA high school. that software is available to schools though the college/university MSDN AA programs and high schools can get those programs if they need them.

    So let’s say you have some students who want to do more than what you have in the curriculum. Perhaps they want to get deeply into XNA or perhaps they want to install and manage their own server. or maybe they want to expand their design and/or web development skills with Expression Suite. By signing your school up for DreamSpark and giving out access codes you provide them with the software they need. And oh by the way there is some online training included in the package. So this is more than you may have available or need for that matter from the MSDN AA high school program.

    The MSDN AA programs are still the way to get development software for your school labs and for use in your normal (or exceptional :-) ) curriculum. They still let you provide software for students and teachers. They’re just for support of curriculum though.

    To save some time I have also blatantly ripped off the High School Administrator FAQ from the DreamSpark web site so you can get more information on that program easily.

    High School DreamSpark Administrator FAQ

    What is DreamSpark?
    DreamSpark provides High School students with professional-level developer and design tools available to students around the world at no charge. These Microsoft tools will help your students advance their learning and skills through technical design, technology, math, science, and engineering activities.
    What is the High School?
    High School is any upper secondary educational institution.
    Are the students in my school eligible to participate?
    This benefit is available to all High School students around the world who are attending accredited educational institutions.
    How can I offer this benefit to the students in my school?
    School Administrators will need to register, help verify their school as an accredited institution using a tool in the DreamSpark website, and agree to certain terms and conditions (which will only come into effect when and only when- your High School has completed the verification and registration process).

    As an accredited High School, you may already have all the requirements necessary to do this. You will just be asked to fax copies of accreditation certificate along with your name and contact information to Microsoft. Once your High School’s accreditation status is verified, Microsoft will send you a set of Access Keys to distribute to your enrolled students. DreamSpark will then rely on you to distribute the Access Keys to students who are enrolled in your school and request access to DreamSpark.

    I am a High School administrator. How do I get started with the registration process?
    Visit You will find a link to High School, click the link. You will be able to register and place an order for Access Keys (maximum limit of 200 keys per school). This will be followed up with an approval/rejection email. If your institution is approved, your order will be fulfilled.
    How do I (Administrator) pass the keys on to my students?
    Please provide only one (1) Access Key to each student and maintain a log to record when an Access Key is used. A suggested template will be provided with the Access Keys. Each Access Key provides access to the Dream Spark Download Website and can only be used once. Note that each student will have access to the Dream Spark Download Website for 12 months from date of activation with an Access Key. Attach the Access Key to this link (replace the ‘XXX’ with 1 Access Key from the list. Ensure there is no space between = and the Access Key.

    To access the Dream Spark Download Site, please instruct your students to complete the following steps:

    1. Set up a Windows Live ID account for instructions on how to do this please Click here.
    2. Click on the link to access the Dream Spark Download Site
    3. Sign in with a Windows Live ID and password. Note: Each student must remember the Windows Live ID and password that they sign up with for the Dream Spark program for future access to the Dream Spark Download Website.
    4. When requested, input an access code and submit. Access to the Dream Spark Download Website should now be granted.

    For any issues regarding access to DreamSpark, please contact Technical Support.

    Are there any reporting requirements on Administrator’s part?
    No, there are no requirements on the administrator. Since the keys are one-time use only, we do recommend the administrator keeps track of the keys that have been issued.
    Is the verification and registration process the same?
    No. Registration is when the Administrator signs up for the program via the Order Management tool. Verification is when Microsoft sends them an email letting them know that they are verified and ready to participate in the DreamSpark program.
    Do Administrators register every time they need more Access Keys?
    Yes, every time Administrators requests for keys they will have to register.
    Is there a limit to the amount of keys Administrators can order?
    Administrators can request for 200 keys per order.
    What happens if Administrator needs more keys?
    If Administrators require more keys, they will have to place a new order.
    What happens if Administrators need help?
    If Administrators have more questions, they contact local Subscription Centers listed on the DreamSpark subscription website at Support
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