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

June, 2010

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    New England Innovation Month 2010


    June has been designated as New England Innovation month. It was innovation (the company was Digital Equipment) that really caused me to move to New England 30 years ago. Today I think people tend to underestimate the innovation going on in New England. Forbes recently named Boston number 8 on their list of the most innovative cities in America though which is something. But the west coast seems to get a lot of the innovation attention. Of course there is a lot going on out there but, well, let’s just say I’m not a west coast person and leave it at that.

    I think it is important to promote innovation, new business start ups, and technology growth where ever you are though. Diversity has a lot to do with where people live and not just their ethnic, racial, religious and gender attributes. Innovation is not one size fits all. That’s one reason I am glad that Microsoft opened the New England Research & Development Center (aka NERD Center) in Cambridge Massachusetts. Some of the best universities in the world for innovation and technology are based in New England. Arguably the Boston area has the highest density of top technology programs in the world. So a lot of innovation starts here even if it something moves elsewhere eventually.

    If you are in New England and interested in technology (or teach or know students who are) and innovation there are always lots of things to do to get involved. The New England Innovation month site lists many of them. Microsoft NERD is please and proud to host technology and innovation events regularly. You  can see a list of events at NERD on their website. Many of these events are great for learning about technology, networking to build a career/job finding network, and just being with interesting people who do interesting things.

    If you are not in New England, what do you do? Start with user groups for products you are interested in. has a list of user group links you can try. You may also have a group like the Mass High Technology Leadership Council who sponsor many events including my favorite event Tech Tuesdays (hosted by Microsoft at NERD BTW).

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  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    A Show About Computer Programming


    One of the things that comes up in conversation when ever getting more students, especially women, interested in computer science comes up is that we need a TV show that would show the field in a good light. People mention how CSI has gotten students interested in forensics for example. The closest thing we have in computer science is NUMB3RS and the star there is really a mathematician. I’ve been giving a TV show about computer scientists or programmers or related some thought lately on some longish drives. I see a couple of possibilities.

    One is a reality show. Think The Apprentice or Top Chef and the like. What would it look like? I see two teams of hotshot programmers who are assigned a coding project each “week.” Perhaps a casual game. Or a phone application for a specific business problem. Or maybe a scientific data analysis project. Something that a small team can do in a reasonable time. Not easy because it has to be non trivial but yet still handle able. Each team would work with a customer and at the end of  the projects they would be evaluated for things like ease of use, meeting the customer’s needs, reliability, etc. The losing team would have to pick two people who would be evaluated with one of them being dropped. Teams would vote people off based on poor coding practices, lack of teamwork or communication, and other issues.

    What would you show? Brainstorming and designing sessions, pairs working at computers (team programming seems like it would work in this environment), progress meetings, user interface mock-ups , customer discussions, demos and the like. We need a mix of people – men, women, personalities, races, etc. It has to show all sorts of people.

    Another is a scripted show. Comedy is fine but let’s not have too many characters like those on the “Big Bang Theory” please! And of course the women should be smart and no one should be ugly. Well maybe one guy but most shows use good looking people and there sure are a lot of them in the computer industry. No really! Drama would also be cool. Tight deadlines, customers changing specifications, differing development philosophies, are all fair game. But can we show people having real lives as well? I know people who ski, snowboard, do wood work (even some serious carpenters), musicians (lots of those) and other people who engage in all sorts of activities that are not associated with geeks and nerds.

    What other ideas do you have? Who would you see cast in these sorts of show? Would they make a difference in attracting young people to the field?

  • 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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