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

August, 2010

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Girls, Games and Software Development


    Girls play games – computer games, video games, console games, online games – all kinds of games. Yet girls are not big into creating their own computer games. Why is that? A recent article in the Chicago  Tribune (Women missing from video game development work force) says that:

    “According to the Entertainment Software Association, 40 percent of video and online game players in the U.S. in 2010 are female, having inched up from 38 percent in 2006. The number of women working as game developers, however, is much smaller. In a 2005 demographic survey by the International Game Developers Association, only 11.5 percent of the respondents were female.”

    Why is that a problem for the industry? Mindy Farber says "If the game designers out there are more inclusive and representative of our general culture, we're going to make better games that reach more people." I see that as quite true but not just for games. I maintain that more diversity makes for better software of all kinds. That is the big reason I try to interest more young women in taking computer science courses and considering the field as a career.

    Why are girls not looking at careers in computer game development? Why are girls who do go into computer science avoiding the game development area? I’m not sure. I can’t speak to a group of students without having one (usually several) boys who want to create the next Halo 3. Not that many girls raise their hands when I ask who wants to create video games. Maybe girls are more practical or maybe they want to appear more serious? Or maybe all the stories they have heard about game development companies that seem to be little more than sweat shops with 80 hours work weeks turn them off. Or maybe they think that all games are first person shooters and they don’t want to be a part of that? Or maybe they think they are not up to it? Girls are notoriously under confident while boys are notoriously over confident.

    In all honesty though there is no reason that girls can’t be creating wonderful games as easily and as well as boys. None at all. And I wish more of them would. First person shooters bore me to tears. I need some more interesting games to get me more active in game playing.

    There are a lot of teaching resources for teaching game development using XNA (all free) at XNA Resources and Teaching Tools for your Classroom. One last recommendation, tell the students no games with sex or violence. You’ll force many of the boys to be more creative and allow a lot more students to be a lot more comfortable with the games that are created.

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Computer Science is NOT Boring!


    Well I guess a lot of people, especially students thing computer science is boring. According to a recent article (Steve Furber: why kids are turned off computing) the UK’s Royal Society is trying to understand why students are not interested in studying computing. One conclusion they have come to early on is that “something was happening with the way ICT and computing was presented at schools that was turning the kids off.” IN short, computing is taught in a boring way. Digging deeper into the article we find that people are confusing ICT (information and computer technology – think Office applications) is computing. Well of course it is not. Worse still those classes are boring as can be so there is less incentive for students to do real computing.

    Of course there are some boring “real” computer science courses out there as well which doesn’t help. In the article, Steve Furber is quoted as saying “the curriculum may actually allow everything that’s necessary, but it’s simply that the materials aren’t there to support the interesting bits.”. That’s a little scary because we really DO have to tools to make it interesting. For example:

    And the list goes on and on. These are tools that make program development fun and interesting. And dare I see even exciting! The two problems I see are that not enough people are trained and ready to teach using these tools and secondly that many people, especially some administrators, are too afraid of things looking like too much fun. After all school is serious business and shouldn’t learning be painful? The answer to the second problem is to point out that most people learn more when they are enjoying the process. Don’t most teachers love their subject and strive to make it fun? Teachers of all subjects create and use learning games so let’s get serious about adding some fun to computer science.

    The first problem is harder and in the long run we need more computer science teachers who know what they are doing enough to enjoy the classes themselves. I think administrators need to commit some money (yes, even in this economy) to invest in training opportunities for computer science teachers. There are workshop out there. CSTA supports Teacher Enrichment in Computer Science (TECS) events and the annual Computer Science and Information Technology symposium (THE must attend CS education event of the year in my opinion) which are great. There are many more great training events around the country. Yes I know that school is starting and many of these events are in the summer. But many of the TECS events are both local and during the school year. Plus I think administrators should be thinking now about asking for more training money for next calendar year.

    What ever it takes let’s show kids that computer science is anything but boring. It is a way to change the world for the better.

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Free Microsoft Office Add-ins for Educators


    Just in time to start off the new school year, several new supporting tools are now updated for teacher use. You can read some summaries below but first check out this review by Christopher Dawson of ZDNet Education – Microsoft creates Office addins that take 1:1 to the next level. Also more Microsoft Goes Back to School news at the Microsoft Blog.

    clip_image001The Microsoft Interactive Classroom (IC) Add-in for PowerPoint 2007 & 2010 and OneNote 2007 & 2010 bridges lessons delivered in PowerPoint to students using OneNote in 1:1 classroom settings, or large lecture environments.  It enhances the learning experience by enabling educators to insert polling questions (multiple choice, yes/no, or true/false) into their presentations when creating lessons, increases student engagement by allowing students to answer in-class polls, and supports agile teaching practices through the sharing of ink annotations and slides within the students OneNote Notebook.

    clip_image001[4]The Mathematics Add-in for Word 2007 and 2010 and OneNote 2010 uses dynamic 3D graphs and charts to help educators illustrate complex math problems and concepts.  From algebra and pre-calculus to physics and statistics, teachers and students can unravel equations and visualize formulas through 2-D and 3-D graphs. The add-in helps students plot functions, calculate numerical results, and dynamically solve for "x".  Users can also take advantage of the awesome Ink to Math capability in OneNote 2010 to convert and solve handwritten equations. ‒


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