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

March, 2010

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Rethinking Hello World


    Is it time to rethink and replace “Hello world?” Honestly I think so. The purpose of “Hello Word” is to walk a beginner through the process of creating a minimal computer program and getting it to run. It probably made sense when one had to use a text editor to  create a file and then manually run it through a compiler and a linker to get to the run part. For modern integrated development environments (IDEs) I’m not so sure it makes since though. It is fairly easy to enter some simple code and hit the F5 button and get a running “Hello World” to run. So what is the problem? What is the harm? Well two things.

    One is that the process doesn’t feel like it makes sense. It is just too trivial and too boring. As I  said before using an IDE is easy for students who have grown up with word processing and similar programs from early childhood. Why waste time with something that means nothing? Plus it violates Astrachan’s law - “Do not give an assignment that computes something that is more easily figured out without a computer, such as the old Fahrenheit/Celsius conversion problem.” OK “Hello world” is not exactly an assignment but more like a demo/exercise. And I am going to suggest a more powerful and interesting version of Fahrenheit/Celsius conversion but bare with me.

    The second problem is that “Hello World” does not lend itself to enough experimentation. I think that students get more out of a project, even a simple demo exercise, if they can play with it and stretch their creative muscles a little before moving on. What can you do with “Hello world?” You can change the message. If you want to introduce an input statement and a concatenation operator you can try some personalized messages. None of this makes for any thing but a slightly different trivial exercise.

    With text based console applications there isn’t much you can do though. It’s a lot of work to add loops so early for example. On the other hand with Visual Basic and C# from Visual Studio beginners can get graphic easily without writing any code. For years I have been using a version of the Fahrenheit/Celsius conversion that doesn’t require more than two lines of code with both of them being assignment statements. I use a form with two labeled label boxes and a slider bar.


    The two lines of code can be as simple as

    Label1.Text = VScrollBar1.Value
    Label2.Text = ((Val(Label1.Text) - 32.0) * (5.0 / 9.0))
    In this case I am taking advantage of some explicit type conversions of course and a little “hand waving” and “we’ll explain more of this later” but most students with some understanding of algebra should be able to handle it. You also have to spend a few minutes explaining setting some object parameters but that is a basic thing that will pay off later. It’s useful I think to get it in early as well. The result is an interactive routine that students can play around with.  

    The next benefit is that you can turn students loose and ask them to modify it to do other conversions. Currency, weights (Imperial to metric), volume or any of many that students may find interesting. This lets students take a little ownership and experiment a little in a safe simple project.

    So what do you think? Is this too much for a “Hello world” replacement or does a little additional complexity pay off in building early interest? Have you tried something to replace “Hello world” and if so what works for you?

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Interesting Links 22 March 2010


    What a week. Very busy with several speaking engagements including a set of hands on labs with high school students at the University of New Hampshire Tech Day event. We built a simple game of Pong. Friday was a tech career talk to several groups of students at Middlesex Community College. A lot of universities and colleges in New England took advantage of spring break to create events for high school students to promote both their schools and careers in computer science and information technology. It’s a great thing for everyone.

    I did Tweet a bunch of links over the past week but a lot of them wound up in regular blog posts. And some of them were interesting at the time but not of long term interest. Here then is the best of the rest. Oh and be sure to visit the main page for this blog and look through some of the more recent posts. Leave comments as well. I value your input – especially if you think I am wrong about something.

    Talk about perspective – Rich White (@RichWhite) posted a link to this image of 20 GB of disk storage from 1980 with a view of 32 GB of storage today.


    If that doesn’t make you go “Wow!” I don’t know what will.

    Bre over at Dell (@Edu4U) Announced the 2010 Totally Wired Teacher Award Sponsored By Dell.

    What is the Totally Wired Teacher Award?

    The Totally Wired Teacher Award is inspired by founder Anastasia Goodstein’s book, Totally Wired: What Teens & Tweens Are Really Doing Online, and the challenges she observed when teachers tried to integrate technology into their public school classrooms.

    The goal of the award is to recognize a teacher who has overcome these challenges and is inspiring to both students and other educators.

    From Zero to t-shirt shooting cannon in two weeks Clint Rutkas (who also blogs at Monkey See, Monkey Build by Clint Rutkas) Tells the story of how he and a few others were asked to build a phone controlled t-shirt shooting cannon in only two weeks. This is part one of a multi part series that will provide a lot of information for people who want to build their own.

    The XNA Game Studio Team blog as a lot of new information about XNA 4.0 community preview and if you are interested in game development you will want to check it out.

    What Employers Want is a post about making the case for Computer Science in education on the CSTA blog. It’s a good read and if you are at all interested in preparing students for future careers you should take a good look at it.

    Speaking of employers and careers, @CACMmag reports that IT job rolls grew by 12,900 in January and 14,000 in February, suggesting a reversal of recession-driven cutbacks. Communications of the ACM or CACM for short is one of the magazines I read the minute it shows up in my mail box (the hard copy version) and one of the best CS/IT news web sites going. Visit it online at

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Virtual Events for Educators and School Administrators


    I regularly receive announcements about Microsoft events for educators. Some of them are directly of interest to computer science teachers so obviously I blog about them. Some of them are really aimed at administrator or teachers of other disciplines. Those I sometimes blog about and sometimes don’t. Today I received two announcements that fit more in the administrator category but that I want to pass along so you (who read my blog) can pass them alone. Well the first one may be a interest to a lot of faculty I guess. This is especially true if you are looking at teaching Windows 7, the new Office products or the new software development tools that are coming. Administrators who are interested in looking at programs that lead to Microsoft certification (either as a teacher or an administrator) will definitely be interested in the  MCT & Educator Virtual Summit 2010. (follow the event on the Born to Learn Blog)

    District administrators including many technology coordinators who are looking into the Department of Education’s Investing in Innovation Fund (i3) will likely be interested in a free webinar titled Using Microsoft's US Partners in Learning Scale Framework for i3 Scale-Up Grant Proposals.

    MCT & Educator Virtual Summit 2010

    Great news for Microsoft Certified Trainers and Academic Educators (District, Secondary school, community college, university and more) Microsoft is proud to invite you to the MCT & Educator Virtual Summit 2010. Register now for this event which will be free of charge and exclusive to MCTs (Microsoft Certified trainers) and Educators. Join this exciting educator readiness marathon conference on April 7th – 9th, 2010.

    • Three days and nights of online readiness
    • Over 85 speakers delivering over 120 hours of content: technical sessions, train the trainer sessions and soft skills sessions.
    • Admission to this event will be free of charge and exclusive to all Academic Educators and MCTs.

    For the event agenda and further details, follow the event on the Born to Learn Blog.

    Are you or your district looking at the Investing in Innovation Fund (i3)?

    Using Microsoft's US Partners in Learning Scale Framework for i3 Scale-Up Grant Proposals

    Date: March 31, 2010
    Event Start Time: 12:00 PM Eastern Daylight Time (UTC - 4 hours)
    Duration: 1 hour 30 minutes

    On March 8, 2010, US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced the US DOE $650 million Investing in Innovation Fund (i3) final grant application. This program will award three types of grants: Scale-Up, Validation, and Development.
    Join Dr. Chris Dede from Harvard Graduate School of Education and Allyson Knox from US Partners in Learning Wednesday, March 31st from noon-1:30 pm EST to learn about how the US PiL Scale Framework can be used for i3 grant Scale-Up proposals.


    Dr. Chris Dede, Professor, Harvard Graduate School of Education

    Chris Dede is the Timothy E. Wirth Professor in Learning Technologies at Harvard's Graduate School of Education. His fields of scholarship include emerging technologies, policy, and leadership. His funded research includes three grants from NSF and the US Department of Education Institute of Education Sciences to explore immersive and semi-immersive simulations as a means of student engagement, learning, and assessment. In 2007, he was honored by Harvard University as an outstanding teacher. Chris has served as a member of the National Academy of Sciences Committee on Foundations of Educational and Psychological Assessment and a member of the 2010 National Educational Technology Plan working group. He serves on Advisory Boards and Commissions for PBS TeacherLine, the Partnership for 21st Century Skills, the Pittsburgh Science of Learning Center, and several federal research grants. His co-edited book, Scaling Up Success: Lessons Learned from Technology-based Educational Improvement, was published by Jossey-Bass in 2005. A second volume he edited, Online Professional Development for Teachers: Emerging Models and Methods, was published by the Harvard Education Press in 2006.

    Allyson Knox, US Partners in Learning, Microsoft

    Allyson Knox is the National Partnership Academic Program Manager for Microsoft Corporation's US Partners in Learning (PiL) program ( Partners in Learning builds public / private partnerships throughout the world to help achieve three central goals: digital literacy for all, stronger and more competitive workforce, and improved quality of life. Allyson manages Microsoft's partnership with the Corporation for National and Community Service focused on START (Service & Technology Academic Resource Team) project, the partnership with Smithsonian Institution focused on exploring problem-solving processes, and represents Microsoft on the Partners for 21st Century Skills board. She also works on issues related to scale, meta-cognition, and STEM. Allyson received her BA in English from the University of Michigan, MA in Adult Learning from Michigan State University, and Ed M in Technology in Education from Harvard University.

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