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

July, 2009

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    When the power goes off in the computer lab


    Charley Williams, from Villa Park, IL, sent me the following guest post today. It’s a real thinker or as Charley put it a “discussion-starter.” It puts me to mind of the CS Unplugged curriculum and some of the things taught in the CS4HS workshops created by Carnegie Mellon’s School of Computer Science.

    I was working out at the YMCA this morning, when the lights suddenly went out.

    So how much were folks affected? ...Surprisingly, almost not at all! We on the weight machines just kept lifting, people on the bikes just kept peddling. There were treadmill people whose "roads" suddenly stopped moving; they organized their own group and went outside to the nearby running path.

    ...which got me to thinking --> If the lights suddenly went out in a CS classroom, how much would it impact us?

    Here's what I think --> If a teacher is focused "too much" (my opinion) on how to use specific tools, how to use particular features of certain software packages (i.e. how to apply clip-art in PowerPoint, how to use the debugger in Visual Studio), then when you lose your computers, you pretty much lose the purpose of your class. Not that the tools aren't important, but are they driving the learning goals of the class?

    In a "good CS class" (again, my opinion), your electricity can go out, your computers can be taken away, and you can still have a class that's every bit as valuable! This means you're studying problem-solving processes, algorithms, design methods, and evaluating the correctness and efficiency of what you've designed. Sure, computers can help us do this much faster, but what you're really learning isn't dependent on a computer at all, necessarily.

    Just a thought...

    What are your thoughts on this? Please join the conversation!

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Would You Wear A Ribbon That Labeled You a Trouble Maker?


    I remember when I was teaching elementary school as a technology specialist. Stickers were king. Little kids will do almost anything for a sticker. I thought that once students moved to high school that was all over but it turns out that some high school kids will do a lot for a sticker as well. I think it is the recognition as much if not more than the sticker itself though. Students like to have something visible to show that they have accomplished something or that they are a part of some thing. Look at the t-shirts and other clothing that students like to wear. How much of it has words on it that identify them as part of something. Most of that is either athletic or social related though. It is so seldom that it is academic related.

    Why don’t students wear more to indicate academic accomplishment? Did you ever wonder why we don’t have “honor student” jackets like we have “letterman jackets?” Because it is not cool? Doesn’t it worry you a little that being smart is not cool enough to show off but being able to hit a baseball is? People wear things to represent things they are proud of. Why aren’t students proud enough of their grades to show it off on their clothing?

    This week at the National Educational Computing Conference (NECC this year but it will be called ISTE next year) a lot of attendees wore ribbons on their badges. These ribbons denoted the usual conference indicators, speaker/presenter, board member, SIG member, etc. But there were also other ribbons that are less traditional. I picked up one that said edublogger for example. And there were several versions of Twitter ribbons. But one of the most coveted ribbons said “trouble maker.” People really wanted to wear those. I did get one by the way and it was the only ribbon(of the five I wore) that anyone asked “where did you get that?”

    I think that is interesting as well. The teachers who asked about a “trouble maker” ribbon are often seen as trouble makers in their local schools. They disrupt the status quo and a lot of schools, and administrators, and other teachers resent change. many of the teachers at NECC, especially it seems the ones who hang out at the blogger cafe but many more besides, are not happy with the status quo. They want to change things – to be disruptive influences – and make things better. These people are the exciting people to talk to. These are people who are in it for their students; who want to change the world through education. These are the people who put themselves and their careers at risk (some more than others of course). But boy are they sure exciting to talk to and learn from. At their own schools trouble maker may be a derogatory term but at NECC which  is about change and using technology in new and different ways being a trouble maker is a badge of honor and many wear it proudly.

    Late note: I guess I wasn't the only one to write about this. See Trouble Maker Tag by someone else at NECC.

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  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Interesting Links July 27th 2009


    Computers and vision – what’s up with that? Things we do with our eyes without out a seconds thought are difficult for computers. From Scott Lum  (@scottlum) I learned about a page outlining Computer imaging & vision projects from Microsoft Research Fascinating stuff.

    Paolo Barone (@pbarone) lives and works in the UK but he’s from Rome Italy so he finds stuff like this -  The Gismondy model of Ancient Rome powered by Silverlight and Deepzoom Just fascinating. I see this as the sort of technology usage that has great potential for teaching and learning. Show it to your friends who teach history or who are interested in things Roman.

    Paolo also recommended DeepMoon the biggest DeepZoom composition in the known universe for all you lunar explorers and astronomers.

    Lots of people wonder about Windows 7 for education. With so many schools sticking with XP for so long they wonder what’s in Windows 7 for them. Scott Thompson (@K20_Education) recorded a video demo of Windows 7 for education as part of this blog post on the subject. 

    Are you bummed out about Popfly going away? So am I. The good news is that you can download and play Popfly Games Offline So check out this post on Coding 4 Fun and get your games while there is still time.

    Most people who are interested in the intersection of robots, science fiction and ethics are familiar with Asimov’s 3 Laws of Robotics. According to this article in Wired magazine Robo-Ethicists Want to Revamp Asimov’s 3 Laws. What an interesting and relevant topic of discussion for a computer science class, computer scientists in general, and really anyone concerned about the future of human machine interactions.

    Now I happen to believe there are other and more important reasons to pick a college degree or even a career than money. But if you are interested in money this article on the Best Undergrad College Degrees By Salary  May be of interest to you. A lot of technology in those degrees but they all have a need for math. So pay attention in math class everyone! 

    The CSTA blog post titled Summer Learning for Teachers talked mainly about summer learning opportunities for teachers. But I found the comments on learning by doing not just by reading to be especially meaningful to me. Closely related was the articles on what it is like to be a student I linked to last week.

    Speaking of CSTA,  the Speaker Presentations from the 2009 CS&IT Symposium are up now available online. SO if you didn’t make it to the CS & IT Symposium, or you did but missed some talks or you did and you want links to what people talked about head on over.

    New last week as the announcement of Microsoft education labs with projects to help educators. The first announcement was a Microsoft Live Services Plug-in for Moodle. Check out the site and the Microsoft Education Labs blog for more news on a regular basis. Seriously if you are into technology in education you’ll want to track what is going on here.

    Now a blog for something I wrote in another blog I maintain. While I don’t post there as often I like to write about social networking and social computing at Live Spaces. Recently I posted something there about how Twitter is something I use for professional development and keeping up with education news and events. The post is called Twitter Is My Virtual Faculty Lounge. Please take a look and leave a comment if you have something to add or want to straighten me out.

    Microsoft New England Research & Development (yes, Microsoft NERD) has a blog. Read about their summer high school interns. I’ve been hoping to see more intern opportunities for high school students outside the Redmond WA area for years. So I’ll be watching this summer closely. I’ve met these interns and they are really great kids. I hope they enjoy their internships and learn a lot.

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