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

August, 2009

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Ready, Fire, Aim is not the way to buy computers


    I have to admit that from time to time I like to toss an observation or a question out on Twitter and see what sort of response I get. last night I noticed that a teacher was looking for software to teach computer science on Macs. This struck me as odd. After all for most of my 35 years in the computer field I looked for software to solve my problems and then looked for computers that ran the software. This was the other way around. Unfortunately I see/hear of this often. So the question I sent out on Twitter was “why do schools buy computers first, software second, and figure out how to use them third?” And I received a number of answers and a large (for me) number of retweets (people passing the question on to their followers. Some of the comments are below. Some pessimistic views were expressed.

    • seankalahar@alfredtwo and it isn't just schools...

    • seankalahar@alfredtwo because schools are not where the real intelligent people money in it! capitalism!

    • BeckyFisher73@alfredtwo Uh, because that's what we have always done?

    • scottlum@alfredtwo Absolutely, they sometimes promote technology for technology sake. From danah boyd:

    • kstevens77@alfredtwo b/c to schools spending money means progress. that's why fed gov cant properly fix edu. they just throw money

    • jonbecker@alfredtwo it's also due to the horserace mentality that exists in education; gotta keep up with the others and they have lots of computers!

    • kathweaverRT @alfredtwo: why do schools buy computers first, software second, and figure out how to use them third? -> Sounds like our new attend sys

    • jonbecker@alfredtwo I call it the Field of Dreams mentality "If you build it [tech. infrastructure] they will come..."

    • rverzub@alfredtwo Yeah I've always felt if you don't know how to use the software don't buy it - figure it out, then consider purchase...

    For some I think computers are seen as a sort of “silver bullet” that cures things. They don’t know how computers will cure things but they believe they will. Just spend the money and install the computers and magic will happen. The problem with silver bullets though is that they need the right firearm to use them. That is the missing piece. Bullets work as part of a system. The right surrounding hardware and a well trained person to use it all. So if you have a computer but no one trained to use it, no software system to run on it, not support to keep it going, and not plan for how to use it then it becomes useless.

    That’s the problem with all “silver bullet” solutions though. The Gates Foundation is spending large sums to find out what makes the best teachers be the best teachers. Great idea. But if those teachers don’t have the right system to work in much of their value will be lost. I like this quote by Dean Kamen on Education " I’m not so sure the problem is our education system. It’s the rest of our culture." Culture has a lot to do with how schools work. No teacher or computer or textbook or what not can truly work outside of a culture that values learning and knowledge. Maybe we need to fix the “pistol” before we go looking to load up with “silver bullets?”

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Interesting Links August 24 2009


    As I put this summary together I’m just about ready to head to Redmond WA by way of Seattle in the morning. Early in the morning. Even earlier than my wife gets up to go to school.  It’s my first trip to  the Microsoft headquarters area in over a year so I am really excited that I’ll be seeing some people I haven’t seen in a while. It will be a week of meetings to kick off the new fiscal year. In some ways it will be like the pre-start of school meetings that a lot of teachers are going through these days. We’ll be meeting some new team members for the first time. And learning about rule and process changes. And getting training on various programs. This is the first big sign of summer heading to a close. Sigh. I’ll have a hard time keeping up with Twitter, blogs and email this week because of the meetings. So I’m not sure if I’ll have a good list on the 31st. But I have a few for you now.

    Matt MacLaurin (@mmaclaurin) Posted a link to a video that the whole #kodu team is watching with their jaws on the floor. This video shows examples of Kodu worlds that even the development team isn’t sure how they were done. Any doubt that a creative person could do amazing things with Kodu is gone now. Matt also twittered about a “fantastic in-depth Kodu video tutorial - best I've seen yet.”

    For people interested in Scratch, Peter Vogel (@PeterVogel) retweeted an announcement that the Scratch Ed site has been officially launched.

    The TeachTech blog (on Twitter @TeachTec) had an interesting blog entry.  Or is it the start of a debate? Why showing movies in class is a good thing. Student and teacher generated movies that is. Interesting read.

    Interested in Tablet PCs in education? Check out "WIPTE"? which is a great conference for tablet pc educators - Register before Sept 14 and save! Jim Vanides from HP has some of the news.

    Look like there is a CSTA K-12 Computing Teachers Workshop at Grace Hopper 2009. Looks great. Wish I could go.

    There is a new version of Small Basic released. The good news for me is that the documentation as been updated and includes arrays now. Good stuff for beginners.

    On the lighter side, do you ever talk about network device handshakes? Cartoon about wireless devices connecting.

    Talk about irony. From Peter Vogel I found a link to an article about famous hacker now security consultant Kevin Mitnick who is having trouble with script kiddies who attack his site & cell phone account. It seems that his Internet and phone providers are finding to too hard to defend him and want to drop him as a customer. Interesting on two levels. On one hand he is getting a taste of his own medicine. On the other it makes one worry about overall network security on the Internet and cell phone services. Something to talk about in class perhaps.

    Have you seen AutoCollage? From the Teacher Tech teams (@TeachTec) I learned that teachers can get a  FREE copy of Microsoft AutoCollage if you join the US Innovative Teachers Network (free!). Free is good!

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    In the land of the blind …


    My wife and I were talking about students and technology today. There is this common perception that kids today are great with technology. “Digital Natives” they are called. We hear things like “There's no doubt that the latest generation of students has grown up with technology, understands it, and makes very good use of it.” (sorry to pick on Gail Carmichael but she’s the most recent one I’ve read say this.) While I don’t doubt that the latest generation of students has grown up with technology I don’t believe they either understand it or make very good use of it.

    Some years ago I was working a book sale at school and a father of an incoming student started telling me about how tech savvy his son was. “Probably knows more about it than his teachers” he said. I ignored the comment because I realized that his son probably did know a lot more about technology than his father. To the father that seemed like a huge gap and he assumed that other adults were as far behind his son as he was. That was not quite the case though. People see others with more knowledge than they have and want to believe those people have some special and exceptional knowledge.

    I’ve watched students using technology for years and have been amazed at what I have seen. Some exceptionally advanced things for sure but that is relatively rare. I’ve heard from students explaining to a teacher that there was “nothing about cloning on the Internet.” Search experts? I don’t think so.

    Another thing I see often are students who claim to be experts at spreadsheets but use calculators to calculate the values that they enter into the software. Or students who add line feeds to skip to the next page of a document in word processing software and have to go page by page to correct page numbers they entered manually. I see email messages and documents that were written on computers but never spell checked. People keep telling me that the reason they don’t need tools as powerful as those of Microsoft Word or Excel are because no one uses or needs them. My reply is that these features would make people more productive and far better content creators and knowledge users. The problem is not that people don’t need these feature but that people are not learning (or teaching) them.

    Sure students can all send text messages. And they can send email even if they seldom do. Plus they can keep multiple IM sessions going at the same time. But big deal. The amount of knowledge required by those things is trivial. The way these things work though may as well be magic to most students.

    The problem with the talk of “Digital Natives” is that it assumes students are more advanced then they are and that schools don’t need to teach them more about the technology.  It reminds me of when I left first grade as a student. I had entered school with one goal in mind – learning to read. At the end of first grade Mission Accomplished! Or so I thought. Fortunately my parents and my teachers knew better and several (17 so far) years of schooling followed that first year. The problem with “Digital Natives” is that they still need a lot of help to fully take advantage of technology.

    Of course a lot of teachers are not ready to do that teaching. I hear mixed results about new teachers entering the classroom as well. I hear talk of tech savvy teachers but I also hear about teachers who seem to see teaching as a field that will let them avoid technology. When I was a high school technology coordinator there were teachers who were interested in in-service on technology but many more were avoiding it as much as they could. Scott McLeod talked about this attitude last recently at "I'm not good at math." "I'm not very good at computers."

    Teachers are smart people and they could catch up and pass their students in computer/technology in many areas very quickly if a) they want to and b) they get some good training. That’s really something we need unless we are going to be content with our “digital natives” staying “digital adolescents” their whole lives.

    Note: I tagged this post “rant.” Feel free to rant back at me.

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