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

August, 2010

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Getting Started with Windows Phone 7 Game Development


    Announcing the first part of a series of educational resources for learning to create games for Windows Phone 7.


    Get introduced to Windows Phone 7, and phone game development with XNA Game Studio.

    This set of educational content is for all skill levels and phases of development, with a focus on introducing basic game techniques – such as input, graphics, and sound – to developers interested in making games on Windows Phone 7 using XNA Game Studio 4.0.

    What’s there? Sample code, lab exercises, articles and more. This is just the start. The Windows Phone 7 Game education roadmap lays out what you can expect over the next several months.

    One lab is the Catapult Wars Lab What’s in it?

    Sample Overview
    This lab is a full 2D gesture-based catapult battle game. Launch rocks to crush your opponent, but beware the changing wind! Two learning modules help you build the gameplay from scratch, then polish with animation, sounds, and menu screens, all in 90 minutes. Based on the Windows Phone Game State Management Sample.


    • Source code, in steps, compatible with XNA GS 4.0 Beta
    • Graphical, sound, and music assets
    • Detailed walkthrough in DOC format


    • 2D Background and Color-Keyed Sprite Graphics
    • XML-Based Sprite Strip Animation System
    • Tap and Drag Gestures Support
    • SpriteFont Text Drawing
    • Bounding-Box Collision
    • Simple Fire-and-Forget Sounds
    • Music Loading and Playing
    • Menu Screen Interactions
    • AI State Management

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Interesting Links Post 23 August 2010


    Happy Monday! Are you back to school yet? A lot of teachers are. If you are back I hope it is going well. If not yet, are you working out to get into “teaching shape?” The Principal’s Page had a post about that last week - Teacher Tired. Well in my attempt to be useful here is my weekly round up of interesting links I have found over the last week or so. I hope you find something helpful and/or interesting. I think this week’s selections are better than average.

    Back to School: Making Sure Students with Disabilities Can See, Hear, and Use their PC Find out about a free guide that helps ensure that all students have equal access to learning with technology. Microsoft’s new Accessibility: A Guide for Educators

    Some interesting things on Scratch this week. Hélène Martin (on Twitter @purplespatula) wrote a post about Scratch BYOB which lets you create higher order functions in a drag and drop environment. Why Build Your Own Blocks? Worth a read. Stacey Armstrong asks and answers Can Scratch be used to teach AP Computer Science topics? Stacey knows quite a bit about the APCS exam so I pay attention to what he says. Scratch and several other tools are highlighted in a post on the ReadWriteWeb called 4 Tools for Teaching Kids to Code. There are some quotes from me about why teaching computer science to K-12 students is important as well.

    Students will be interested in the new Microsoft Facebook page for Technology students -

      Lindsay Lindstrom (@LindsayInPhilly) asks and answers  Why choose computer science on a blog post.

        Garth asks if we’re asking to few tech teachers to do too much? I think we probably  are. Read CS and Teacher Education for more.

          There is an official Small Basic Enthusiasts page on Facebook. Join today! Some interesting looking Small Basic tutorials at  Also Lynn Langit has been recording companion videos for here Small Basic Recipes at the Small Basic wiki.

            Ready to start programming for Windows Phone 7? You can find the keyboard mappings for the Windows Phone 7 emulator at Keyboard Mapping for Windows Phone Emulator. You can also check out 12 hours of free video training on Windows Phone 7 development. Short on time? Take a look at Windows Phone 7 in 7 Minutes.

            Microsoft Research Interns range from High School students to PhD candidates - Interns Bring Fresh Perspectives

          • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

            Shortening the Time To Fun


            Recently my friend and co-worker Dan Waters was giving a presentation about XNA Game Studio as a development platform for the new Windows Phone 7s. One of the benefits of XNA is that it reduces the “time to fun.” In other words, the tool means that it takes less time and effort to get to the point where you can actually enjoy what you are working on. This means that some of the setup work is done for you automatically (by the IDE) but it also means that a lot of functionality exists in the platform so that you can use it rather than spend a lot of time creating something from scratch. It also means that if you are making a game you can get to a playable game a lot faster. Time to get to the fun stuff is reduced. I believe that this has some real relevance to education – and not just computer science education.

            There is a real difference between format and content in most endeavors in education. Take writing a research paper for example. The main piece – the most important part of the effort – is the actual content of the paper. The information is what we’re after. But in order to get that information in a usable format we have to pay attention to how it looks. how is the header (and maybe footer)? Are their page numbers? Are the references and citations complete and properly formatted? The fun if you will is the information but the time it takes one to add the fun can be slowed down by getting the formatting correct. Modern word procession tools, like Microsoft Office, help us reduce the time to fun by handling a lot of the formatting issues for us. We have automatic page numbering, functions to accept and format citations, and let us not forget spell checking!

            Our issue in computer science education is that all too often the time to fun is very long. Even “Hello world” has gotten to the point where there is a confusing amount of overhead (and code that has to be typed in) before getting to the interesting parts. The simple “Print ’Hello World’” of QBASIC is gone in languages like Java, C#, C++ and many more. Some of the dynamic languages are better of course but even there as one gets into more complicated concepts with a lot of overhead. The more serious the “fun” you are looking for the larger the time and effort to get there.

            This is a problem with game programs these days. Back in the day, when I was young, almost any computer game was novel enough to be fun. Today students have higher standards. The want color and graphics and maybe even sound.  This is why the old console applications while great for showing concepts and minimizing distractions don’t grab students attention. There is too much set up for not enough fun. Yes, I know, education is not about entertainment. I’m not sure that means it has to be dull, boring and perhaps even painful.

            Today we have tools that lower the time to fun for programming students. Tools like Scratch, Alice and Kodu all take most of the syntax out of programming and cut the time to fun. Small Basic with its easy to use Turtle graphics and build in libraries make it easy to do fun things with minimal code. Even Visual Basic and C#, when used properly from Visual Studio, have very short time to fun numbers. I think we owe it to ourselves to use these tools. Working to “get to the fun” is a motivator and increases learning. Fun in education is a good thing.

            (See also “Computer Science is NOT boring”)

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