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

June, 2010

  • 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

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    How Many Types of Programmers are there?


    Paul Vick wrote a post called “There are only three types of programmers in the world…” in which he lists the three types he sees:

    • Programmers who want to write an operating system
    • Programmers who want to write a compiler
    • Programmers who want to write a database

    It’s an interesting perspective from a guy who has spent most of his career as a languages guy but who is now working as a database guy. But from my perspective his list is too short. There are also the programmers who want to write the next Halo 3 or better yet the next big successful game engine. And the programmers who want to just do weird stuff that no one else does. I think my friend Clint Rutkas fits in that latter category. He says he isn’t interested in the items Paul listed and I believe him. On the other hand he’s done some cool hardware/software combinations. These are the sorts of people who will probably be the ones to make natural user interfaces work BTW. Keep an eye on them.

    Someone asked me on Twitter if user interface creation is a category. I’m not sure that it is a full category. A sub category of both the game and the weird stuff programmers perhaps. Not sure. And of course some people defy categorization.

    For example, there are those of us who want to do it all. I was an OS developer for a while. That was some of the most fun and interesting work of my career. I would love to do it again. In graduate school I did a bunch of small, simple compiler projects and they really gave me a taste of what that was like. And I liked it. Part of me would like to create a language that takes the drag and drop methodology of Scratch or Alice and create a real general purpose language and environment out of it. Wouldn’t that be fun? OK maybe not for everyone. I have spent some time playing with databases. Honestly the math gets involved there pretty quick it seems. But the challenges! Wow! talk about excitement. OK am I on geek overload? Sorry.

    There is more to do than one person could ever do of course. At some point in time most people have to pick an area and try to become the best that they can be at it. But with the choices out there that shouldn’t be a problem. On the other hand, how do we expose students, especially pre-collegiate students, to all these possibilities? That’s something we need to do.

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