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

February, 2011

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Interesting Links 14 February 2011


    Happy Valentines Day! Surely there is some appropriate computer project or connection for the day but I can’t think of one off hand. Can you? So for me, here are this weeks interesting links. Oh, before I forget. I have a new format for the blog so if you are reading this via RSS reader jump on over to and take a look. Comments are welcome.

    From my good friends at @TeachTec: Are you interested in winning a free trip to ISTE 2011? Join the Partners in Learning Network. More information at

    From the fun people at Channel 9 and the Coding 4 Fun development team there is now the Coding4Fun Windows Phone Toolkit.

    We lost a great pioneer of the computer industry last week. Before Google and "do no evil" there was Ken Olsen and DEC with "do the right thing"  He was a great man and I was pleased to work for his company for about 14 years. He created a great company culture. Read about his at (also

    I found a couple of interesting blog posts about programming projects last week. Otello in Scratch a great cross curriculum project by Ben Chun And a great project and post by Garth Flint - Teaching and learning with Battleship.

    Michael Howard & Adam Shostack, experts in Security Engineering at Microsoft chat about their top 10 security pet peeves.

    Are you interested in the new APCS course? I found this good slide show about the developing AP CS Principles course.

    How good and realistic are the sports video games? Last September the Xbox football game from EA Sports predicted the winner of the Super Bowl. That sure says something about how much serious simulation work goes into these sports games. Apparently they have picked the winner in 6  of the last 7 seasons. Or perhaps 7 on the last 8?

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    TCEA 2011 In Review


    I’m on my way home from TCEA which is probably the largest regional technology in education conference in the country. As usual it was great to see a lot of old friends and I had some great conversations. Texas is, in some ways, ahead of much of the country in computer science education. But even here budget cuts are taking a toll.And in all honesty these big tech conferences don’t have computer science as a main focus. There were only about 35 people at the Tech Apps and Computer Science special interest group meeting for example. Now not everyone comes to the SIG meeting which is actually unfortunate. Why? Because the SIG meeting is a great place to find out what politics are doing to education. The TA/CS SIG does have some activist members but could use more. I will say that TCEA does have more to offer for CS teachers than most regional ed tech events though. That’s why I attend.


    I didn’t attend many sessions myself this time around. I was busy with some work activities – booth duty for example. And I did do some lightly attended talks about Small Basic. Our location for these talks was pretty much out of the way and without being in the official schedule, as most vendor talks are not, it made it hard to get a good crowd. Still I was able to have some good curriculum talks with people who are looking for something small, light weight, and easy to use for programming and Small Basic may meet their needs. Bryan Baker presented on XNA a number of times as well. Lots of interest in game development in programming courses and Baker is doing some great things with his students. Pat Philips presented a couple of times and did some workshops on web development. There is a free curriculum available at that is well worth checking out. Scott Thompson also did some sessions and you can find out about them at TCEA Session Recap on his blog.

    My friend Kathleen Weaver (blog at Teaching CS in Dallas) has been blogging about many of the computer science related sessions at TCEA. The woman is tireless. You can get an idea about what sort of talks were available from her recent posts. Stacey Armstrong blogged about the session on the future of the new Advanced Placement computer science course. Stacey is one of the people working on this important project. If you are interested in these developments visit TCEA Panel Summary – What is the Future of AP Computer Science? to read more and find some good links. The nice thing about this new AP CS course is that there is no mandated language. That’s going to give people more flexibility which I think is a great thing.

    TCEA is a good conference and I’m happy that I could attend again. If you were there and I didn’t get a chance to talk to you I hope we’ll have another chance. Perhaps at this summer’s CS & IT Symposium in New York. If not, I hope to be back at TCEA again next year.

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    18 Monkeys in a Room


    “18 monkeys in a room” is how a friend of mine described the typical high school programming competition. You take a much of kids, usually in groups of three to four, and lock them in a room for X hours and give them Y programming tasks to solve and give awards based on who solves the most in the least amount of time. Not a lot of time for deep thought, careful design, or the creation of really useful programs. Is this any way to see who knows how to program? Maybe, maybe not. But what is the alternative?

    There are longer form competitions of course. There are many high school students competing in the Imagine Cup, though mostly in the IT Challenge and Game Design events. Very few in the Software Design Invitational which takes a longer term view and requires a lot more in the way of design and development.  There is also the Bliink web design competition specifically for high school students. Even still it is very difficult for high school students to compete. They have more classes to take than college students which means no free time during the school day and lots of homework. Plus sports, plus clubs, plus for many students jobs to go to. So time is an issue.  That is why the “18 monkeys in a room” version is the default. It takes less time for students and less effort for judging.

    I would not suggest these competition have no value. I think they do. They promote thinking on ones feet, problem solving under pressure, and are great for bragging rights. And our computing students need to be recognized for what they do. We get what we celebrate in society. The best thing about a programming (or web design) competition is a chance to celebrate kids who are good at computer science.

    But still I wish for some thing in the middle. Some competition that is not just for a day but that requires some long form thinking. Some planning and an outcome with purpose beyond showing off ones mental quickness and skill at tossing a bunch of code together and getting it to work. I’m not at all sure what such a competition would look like. Surely you have an idea? Or is the “18 monkeys in a room” way the best that it can get? Or perhaps we should focus on real long form events knowing that we will only get the few, the crazy, the highly motivated to enter? Come on I need ideas here people!

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