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

June, 2010

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Multiple Paths into Computer Science


    This started out as a comment on Mark Guzdial’s blog post titled “Skip college to study computing?” but I decided to add a little and post it here as well.

    I think there are multiple paths into computer science careers these days. For example I have been very impressed with students going through programming courses at career technical high schools of late. Note that they avoid the term computer science in part at least because of the vocational nature of these schools. While college prep high schools try to avoid the appearance of vocational training as if preparing one for a job is a bad thing, career tech high schools embrace the word as a part of their mission. More practical than theoretical these programs are sending students to college but they’re looking to prepare for industry not academia. The teachers come with some industry experience and supplement lectures with examples from the professional world. The APCS exam is usually not a focus but the senior level courses are generally large project based and involved a lot of complicated concepts tied together. Is one way better than another? Probably not better or worse just different.

    Community colleges are also more vocational (get them a job) focused but there is a mixed bag there. Faculty usually tends to be good but the students are not always motivated to work and learn. Far too many of these students think, like the straw man in the Wizard of Oz, that the only difference between them and others is a diploma. Sorry not the case unless you really have learned the stuff outside of class. This is not to say that some of these programs are not turning out highly professional and qualified industry capable graduates – many are. But you have to look carefully at what you get.

    Four year colleges tend to focus on theory rather than practice. I do believe that is usually great in the long run. It seems to have worked for me. These graduates may have a longer ramp up in industry than the community college/vocational program graduates but in the long run the theory will serve them well as the field changes. And it is going to change!

    And then there is the totally internally motivated self-directed learner. Some of these people can hold their own with any tier I university graduate. And better than many of them. I’ve known several of these over the years and they are amazing. Bill Gates is one of these people – not that I claim to really know him. These people are on top of things. There are often holes in their knowledge of course. They don’t always know that they don’t know something. But point them in a direction and give them some resources and off they go.

    We need several kinds of people in the field. To get there we need several types of programs. I don’t think there is a one size fits all learning program. And that is not necessarily a bad thing.

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Interesting Links 21 June 2010


    By rough count I went through 160 Tweets to cull out the interesting links for today’s post. It makes me wonder if I tweet too much. Of course for me Twitter is a lot about the conversation which explains a lot of that number. I hope for conversations here in the comments of this blog as well. So I hope if you read something here or in another post that you disagree with, find interesting, or disturbing, or which needs amplification or clarification you will leave a comment or two.

    While I’m taking care of house keeping, the URL of this blog has changed to The new piece is the /b in the middle. There are redirects in place so people will hopefully get to the right place using old links. But if you have a link to this blog (and I really appreciate those of you who do) if you get a few minutes could you update the link there? It makes life easier for the search engines. Thanks!

    Kathleen Weaver @kathweaver) gave a mini-talk about XNA Programming during a teacher workshop she was attending. On her blog she listed the handout matterials she talked about.  Good links there

    From Alec Couros (@courosa) a list of the "Best and Free Programming Ebooks with Open Source Licenses" Some interesting looking C# and PowerShell books there among others.

    Hilary Pike (@HilaryP) Twittered that  NerdGirls has put out a casting call. What is a Nerd Girl? YOU are. Check them out: Apply now with your eng + awesome

    Matt MacLaurin (@mmaclaurin) tweeted about a wonderful Kodu storytelling class in England

    Small Basic has been reviewed in Engadget Microsoft Small Basic gets a stable release, aims to inspire a new generation of programmers

    From the Imagine Cup US twitter account (@imaginecupus) Video – View the top 5 features in MS PowerPoint 2010 (via @Ch9)

    I run some occasional post in the Educators Royal Treatment blog. This week I wrote a post about getting the most from ISTE. Do you have any suggestions to add in the comments? And don’t forget that Microsoft has a lot going on at ISTE. Check out my ISTE preview post for more information.

    Have you ever wondered about the people who work behind  the scenes to get features into products? You may find this article interesting then - Professor’s Laser Focus Gets Mathematics into Office 2010

    Lynn Langit has been working with an after school program to teach programming using Small Basic. Her recap post is at - Teaching Kids Programming – After School Class Lessons Learned

    Explaining why we reinvent software is a blog post by Mark Guzdial that is the single best job of explaining why we have students write code to solve problems that have been solved and for which libraries exist. IF a student has ever asked “why are you making us write sorts when there are functions to do that already?” this post will help you prepare your answer. Don’t miss it.

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Critical Thinking


    Friday is not the day to talk about thinking. I think a lot of people in general and students in particular are looking to stop thinking right about now. But critical thinking skills are something I feel is really important so when I learned today that Microsoft has a bunch of resources for teaching critical thinking including a free e-book it seemed worth a blog post of its own. (Note that this is only the latest of a series of Teacher Guides for use in the classroom from Microsoft Education)

    [Microsoft] developed this critical thinking and web research curriculum with the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE).

    Lesson plans include prerequisites, rationale, essential concepts, and descriptions of related National Educational Technology Standards (NETS) and are designed for beginner, intermediate, or advanced levels, aimed at middle school and secondary students.


    Students have more information at their fingertips than ever before, yet the challenge remains for them to find, evaluate, and apply the information they discover in the classroom and beyond.

    Applying critical thinking skills through web research can help students:

    • Improve search skills.
    • Evaluate the information they find.
    • Incorporate them in their work.

    Explore the ready-to-use curriculum below, including detailed lesson plans, student worksheets, and class demonstrations on:

    • Mechanics of searching
    • Validity and reliability
    • Plagiarism
    • Citing web sources
    • Civil discourse

    Download the Critical Thinking e-book

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