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

January, 2011

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    R Waldo Roth–In Memorial


    Computer science education in 1972 was a lot different from what it is today. Back then most computers were huge, expensive, intimidating and kept locked away in climate controlled rooms. Access was strictly limited. Few had seen one in person let alone used one. Taylor University where I was starting my undergraduate education had a small one. It was hear that I took my first computer science (programming really) course from a man by the name of R Waldo Roth. Wally to his friends and Prof Roth to his students. Though to be honest we students called him Wally amongst ourselves.

    I had no idea what I was in for but this course changed the course of my life. Prof Roth saw the fun in computer science and he let us discover it as well. The school’s one computer was locked in a room and used for administrative purposes from 8 AM until 5PM (or maybe it was 6PM I forget) but after that the administrative disks (remember removable disks?) were locked up in a safe and students could use the computer for their assignments. In theory the computer lab closed at 10PM. In practice many of us in advanced courses or even with advanced interests were allowed after hours access. Prof Roth was the person who wrote the notes for security so we could stay. And for some of us, gave out keys to the science building as well. It was heady stuff back in those days.

    He was always looking for learning experiences to share with students and not just in class. When the school was looking to buy a new computer (a huge investment) he invited students to attend the sales pitches made by the various computer companies. One day he handed me a large deck of punch cards and told me it was a graphics library for the drum plotter. There was no documentation and there were almost no comments in the deck. This made the library unusable. Would I figure it out and write up some documentation? He knew I was looking for challenges and this was right up my alley. I learned a lot from this experience with the importance of documentation and commenting code being just part of it.

    As a teacher Prof Roth was fun, interesting and not afraid to admit that he didn’t know something. Though honestly he knew a lot and most of us knew so little. It was a different time. He was also willing to go the extra mile for his students. As a senior I wanted to take a Programming Languages course but it was not being offered that year. Prof Roth offered to let me take it as an independent study. His style of independent study (point me in a direction, get out of the way, and check that I was making progress) influenced how I later taught independent studies. It probably made me more agreeable to them as well. That course was a huge help to me in my career and I will always be grateful that I was able to take it under Wally’s tutelage.

    As a teacher, especially in the early years when I was trying to figure out my own teaching style, I often thought “how would/did Wally teach this?” It was a help to me. He was engaging, open to any sort of question, and always available out of class time. He cared about every student.

    More than 35 years after my college graduation I think about this teacher still. Yesterday Wally Roth went to be with the Lord. He’d been suffering with ALS for several years and the last month or so faded quickly. An inspiration to generations of computer science students is gone. I will miss him.

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Microsoft Math 4.0 and more


    Something for the math teachers out there – Microsoft Math now at version 4.0

    From the download page:

    Microsoft Mathematics provides a graphing calculator that plots in 2D and 3D, step-by-step equation solving, and useful tools to help students with math and science studies.

    Microsoft Mathematics provides a set of mathematical tools that help students get school work done quickly and easily. With Microsoft Mathematics, students can learn to solve equations step-by-step while gaining a better understanding of fundamental concepts in pre-algebra, algebra, trigonometry, physics, chemistry, and calculus.

    Microsoft Mathematics includes a full-featured graphing calculator that’s designed to work just like a handheld calculator. Additional math tools help you evaluate triangles, convert from one system of units to another, and solve systems of equations.

    • The Step-by-Step Equation Solver The Step-by-Step Equation Solver

      Students can use this to learn how to solve difficult math problems.

    • Graphing calculator Graphing calculator

      Its full features and large two-dimensional and enhanced three-dimensional color graphs can better illustrate problems and concepts.

    • Formulas and Equations Library Formulas and Equations Library

      Students will find more than 100 commonly used equations and formulae to help identify and apply equations.

    • Triangle Solver Triangle Solver

      This graphing tool explains triangles and their parts.

    • Unit Conversion tool Unit Conversion tool

      Students can use this handy tool to quickly and easily convert units of measure, including length, area, volume, weight, temperature, pressure, energy, power, velocity, and time.

    And the Microsoft Mathematics Add-in for Word and OneNote:

    With the Microsoft Mathematics Add-in for Word and OneNote, you can perform mathematical calculations and plot graphs in your Word documents and OneNote notebooks. The add-in also provides an extensive collection of mathematical symbols and structures to display clearly formatted mathematical expressions. You can also quickly insert commonly used expressions and math structures by using the Equation gallery. The Microsoft Mathematics Add-in can help you with the following tasks:

    • Compute standard mathematical functions, such as roots and logarithms
    • Compute trigonometric functions, such as sine and cosine
    • Find derivatives and integrals, limits, and sums and products of series
    • Perform matrix operations, such as inverses, addition, and multiplication
    • Perform operations on complex numbers
    • Plot 2-D graphs in Cartesian and polar coordinates
    • Plot 3-D graphs in Cartesian, cylindrical, and spherical coordinates
    • Solve equations and inequalities
    • Calculate statistical functions, such as mode and variance, on lists of numbers
    • Factor polynomials or integers• Simplify or expand algebraic expressions

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Tell The Government What You Think about K-12 Computer Science Education


    Update: If you missed the 1/31 deadline, the program running this solicitation has said they will accept comments through Feb. 28. After 1/31, you must submit comments to:

    Cameron Wilson  of the ACM has a new blog post (Let the Feds Know Your Thoughts on K-12 Computer Science Education | blog@CACM | Communications of the ACM) about the Federal government actually soliciting input on K-12 Computer Science education. ACM and CSTA as well as some private actors through Computing in the Core has been pushing for more understanding of computer science education for a while. Now it looks like there is a good opportunity for public comment.

    Prompted by a report External Link from the President’s top science advisors, The Networking and Information and Technology Research and Development Program (NITRD) asked three sets of big and open-ended questions:

    “The Presidents Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) report calls for fundamental changes in K-12 STEM education in the United States, including the incorporation of computer science (CS) as an essential component.

    • What CS concepts are important to effective elementary, secondary, and post-secondary curricula? Among these concepts, which are commonly found in curricula today? Which are missing?
    • What do teachers need (including preparation and training, tools, and resources) to be able to deliver CS education effectively?
    • What factors are important in promoting student interest in CS?”

    This is a great opportunity for educators from the computing community that work on K-12 CS education issues, curriculum, instruction or generally anything in the subject. It isn’t often that the community gets asked for advice on these issues. We should take advantage by filing comments on their questions External Link.

    Note that Microsoft is involved with both Computing in the Core and a sponsor of the Computer Science Teachers Association.

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