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

October, 2009

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Students Teaching Students


    The highlight of my first year of teaching came Monday morning when the kindergarten kids came into my computer lab. I was working part time at two schools and between them I saw grades kindergarten through grade 8. It was a crazy schedule but the kindergarten kids started my week off. Kindergarten students are excited learners. Not only do they think teachers are wonderful people (they’re right of course) but they think just about anything new is wonderful. Plus they are fearless.

    Fearless did not exactly describe me the first day the kindergarten teacher and her full-time professional aide brought 24 students to my lab which was outfitted with 12 Apple IIe computers – and left me alone with them. How am I going to do this? I wondered. I had some cute little educational game which had been purchased by previous teachers. But you see there were words on the screen that told students what to do and the first week of school few if any of these students knew how to read. I had visions of running from student to student, non-stop, telling each student what to do next. Fortunately the reality was much different.

    I quickly learned two things about kindergarten students. One is that they figure things out quickly. The second was that they share knowledge with their peers at an amazing rate. I mean really amazing. I doubt that I explained the same word more than three times to the whole class and never twice to the same student. Students sat two to a computer and helped each other out. They self-organized – yes kindergarten students – and took turns using the keyboard with one student helping the other make the right things happen. In fact in hindsight what they were doing looks a lot like pairs programming.

    The Lifelong Kindergarten Research Group at MIT’s Media Lab has some important insights into learning that makes some of my observations seem reasonable. A note from their home page.

    We develop new technologies that, in the spirit of the blocks and fingerpaint of kindergarten, expand the range of what people can design, create, and learn

    A lot of what we do with kindergarten students, sort of out of necessity, actually seems to work a lot better than things we do later because we think students are “ready for new ways.” One of these is having students work together. Teachers are starting to adopt pairs programming in teaching computer science. There is some research coming out that suggests this works well but many people still resist this because we tend to associate students working together with students cheating. I think though that is some cases this attitude results in less learning rather than more.

    We tend to assume that in any team one person will carry the work and the other will coast and not get any (or at least not as much) benefit from the activity. In some cases I think that is because of a self-fulfilling prophecy on the part of both student and teacher. We talk so much about that happening that students assume that is the way it is supposed to be. We appear surprised when teams work out when if we look at how things work in the very youngest grades we should be surprised when it doesn’t work.

    Interestingly enough, when I do workshops for teachers there is always a lot of “student helping student.” Teachers think nothing of helping their peers learn. No one thinks “Those teachers are cheating!” We recognize that these are people helping each other learn. We know that this helping results in all participants learning more. And yet somehow we don’t think it works that way for students. Seems a little silly if you look at it that way.

    Pairing up students to work on labs and exercises and perhaps even larger projects is an idea that is really starting to get me excited. Perhaps it is my lack of professional education training but I think more in terms of how much do students learn than how do I give out grades. (joke – I think) But learning is what teachers are all about right? So if pairing up students results in more learning isn’t it worth trying to do? That’s where I’m leaning.

    So have you tried pairs programming in class? Or small teams for projects? What’s your experience with this idea?

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Workshop Links September 17 2009


    One of the things I like to demo and to have people do as sort of a “Hello World” for XNA Game Studio is create a simple Pong game. I did this demo today (well technically I will do it this afternoon) and thought I should make the materials more easily available. So I have uploaded them to Skydrive at the links below.

    How To Create A Pong Game in XNA 


    • Step by step instructions
    • Code Snippits
    • graphical content

    I’d also like to link to a previous post where I listed direct links to the individual modules of the Introduction to Programming Through Game Development Using Microsoft XNA Game Studio curriculum which I talked about today. As always you can use the XNA keyword to find previous blog posts about XNA resources.

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Web 2.0 and Other Educational Resources from Microsoft


    OK, this may not be the definitive index to Microsoft resources for teachers but it’s close. Something for everyone from elementary school English teachers to high school science teachers (check out the world wide telescope) to high school computer science teachers. Lots to choose from.

    Web 2.0 and Other Educational Resources from Microsoft

    1. PhotoSynth -

    You can share or relive a vacation destination or explore a distant museum or landmark. With nothing more than a digital camera and some inspiration, you can use Photosynth to transform regular digital photos into a three-dimensional, 360-degree experience. Anybody who sees your synth is put right in your shoes, sharing in your experience, with detail, clarity and scope impossible to achieve in conventional photos or videos.

    2. Worldwide Telescope -

    WorldWide Telescope (WWT) enables your computer to function as a virtual telescope, bringing together imagery from the best ground and space-based telescopes in the world. Experience narrated guided tours from astronomers and educators featuring interesting places in the sky.

    3. Office Labs – Concepts

    a. Community Clips

    If there’s a new trick or skill you want to learn in Microsoft Office, but you don’t have the time to take a course, check out Community Clips. It offers a portal through which you can easily browse, view, share, and discuss informal "how-to-use” Office videos from around the world. It also gives you the ability to record your own screens and voice, so you can create your own training videos to share.

    b. SharedView

    Connect with up to 15 people in different locations and get your point across by showing them what's on your screen. Share, review, and update documents with multiple people in real time. A Windows Live ID (Passport, Hotmail, or MSN) is required to start sessions, but not to join sessions. New in version 1.0: we have added a web based join experience to make SharedView even easier.

    4. Live@edu -

    a. Office Live Workspace

    If the H1N1 flu virus keeps your students away from the classroom, continue the learning online by using Office Live Workspace to:

    · share assignments

    · distribute handouts

    · post presentations

    · enable group collaboration

    Use this free online service to publish and share Microsoft Office Word documents, Office Excel spreadsheets, and PowerPoint presentations. Students can get class information from anywhere they have Internet access.

    b. Skydrive

    With SkyDrive, you can embed public or shared folders on Windows Live Spaces. Everyone can see what’s public, but only people you’ve granted permission can see your shared folders.

    Computer Science and Computer Technology Resources

    1. Pre-Collegiate Faculty Connection -

    Microsoft’s site for K-12 educators where you can access resources developed for middle school and high school technology, computer science and math teachers. Just released: A tutorial and Curriculum unit for teaching and learning Expression Web – the latest Web development software.

    2. MSDN Academic Alliance -

    The MSDN Academic Alliance is the easiest and most inexpensive way for academic departments to make the latest Microsoft software available in labs, classrooms, and on student PCs. The program, which is available in more than 45 countries worldwide, has two primary goals:

    1. To make it easier and less expensive for academic institutions to obtain Microsoft developer tools, platforms, and servers for instructional and research purposes.

    2. To build a community of instructors who can share curriculum and other learning resources to support the use of these technologies.

    3. DreamSpark -

    DreamSpark High School provides professional level development and design tools to students enrolled in an accredited, secondary educational institutions at no charge. Register now and give your students access to all the great software and training DreamSpark offers.

    4. Expression for Educators -

    These educational materials provide a variety of resources for learning Web design with the tools provided in Microsoft Expression Studio software.  Students, educators and hobbyists of all ages will find quick tutorials, short learning units and extensive course content to fit their individual teaching and learning styles. The range of difficulty goes from easy - with the quick start tutorials that require no previous Web design experience- to a more advanced level for people who are already skillful at using Web technologies and employing design strategies.  The one semester web design course is appropriate for high school and introductory post-secondary technology courses.

    5. IT Academy -

    The Microsoft IT Academy program is designed for accredited academic institutions worldwide. Today there are thousands of Microsoft IT Academies in more than 100 countries and regions.

    The program provides educators with the tools they need to effectively train students on Microsoft technologies, prepare students for the global economy, and create a skilled community. This subscription-based membership program offers curricula, courseware, and online learning for students focused on a profitable career path, life-long learning, and Microsoft certification.

    6. Alfred Thompson’s High School Computer Science blog -

    Alfred Thompson's blog about teaching computer science at the K-12 level. Alfred was a high school computer science teacher for 8 years. He has also taught grades K-8 as a computer specialist. He has written several textbooks and project books for teaching Visual Basic in high school and middle school. Alfred is the K-12 Computer Science Academic Relations Manager for Microsoft.

    Other Education Resources for Education

    1. Innovative Teachers Network -

    The Innovative Teachers Network makes it easy to find the resources you need, contribute your favorite curriculum resources, and connect with educators to transform your classroom into a technology-rich environment for classroom learning!

    2. Microsoft Partners in Learning -

    Partners in Learning is a global initiative designed to actively increase access to technology and improve its use in learning. Our goal is to help schools gain better access to technology, foster innovative approaches to pedagogy and teacher professional development and provide education leaders with the tools to envision, implement and manage change.

    3. PiL (MSFT Institute)

    Participate in a unique professional development experience that will provide you and your organization with tools and resources to create and support innovative environments and organizations. Based on key learnings of Microsoft initiatives and our Partners in Learning program, (which has already reached nearly 3.5 million educators in more than 100 countries), this program will give you new ideas to implement in your organizations, district, classroom, or workplace. One coming October 27 - 29, Cambridge, Massachusetts.

    4. Microsoft Education Teachers Site -

    The home page for Microsoft resources for teachers of all levels.

    5. Digital citizenship curriculum -

    The Digital Citizenship and Creative Content program is a free, turnkey instructional program. The goal is to create an awareness of the rights connected with creative content. Because only through education can students gain an understanding of the relevance of and a personal respect for creative rights and grow to become good digital citizens.

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