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

April, 2011

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    US Imagine Cup Finals 2011– Up and Running


    IC logo

    I have been in the Seattle area (mostly Bellevue and Redmond) the past couple of days for the US Imagine Cup Finals. And it has been an amazing time with the best yet to come. There are teams from all over the US here. They are competing in the Software Design Invitational and two categories of game development – Windows/Xbox (XNA) and Windows Mobile. (You can read about all of the teams on the Imagine Cup Facebook tab). These competitors are amazing. We had over 70,000 people register, hundreds of teams enter in the early rounds and picked 22 teams to make the trip to Redmond for the US Finals. So some really smart students are here.

    Last night we had our opening with a welcome reception and a dinner for the teams at Microsoft’s headquarters in Redmond. Our keynote speaker was Alex Kipman, General Manager of Incubation for Microsoft Xbox. Alex is one of  the key people behind the Kinect device from Microsoft and he illustrated his talk with stories and lessons learned for its development. BTW  I only found out after the fact that he was speaking while being under the weather with a high fever. He was inspiring anyway. I really can’t imagine how good he is when he’s feeling 100%. He said a number of things that  really stuck with me. On of these was that “With software the only barrier is lack of imagination.” I think I’ve seen that proved time and again in my career as things I thought could not be done have been done. That leads directly to another quote "When someone tells you it’s impossible, code it and prove them wrong.” So true.

    Today we had the first round of judging. This year I served as a facilitator for judging. Not an actual judge myself but helping to manage the judging process. This involved being the strict timekeeper – 20 minutes for presentation and 10 minutes for questions and answers. I also lead the discussion about which teams would advance into Monday’s final round. What a great experience. One of the judges in my room was Ken Lobb who is a game designer for Microsoft Game Studio. He’s listed in the credits for an amazing number of games and has probably forgotten more about what makes a good game than I will ever know. He’s a great guy who, as with all of the judges, took his role very seriously.  I learned a lot listening to his feedback to the teams. And the teams will get more feedback from Ken and the other judges as they all took lots of notes. Can you imagine getting game design feedback from someone like that while you are still a student? If you ask me that was a prize in and of itself.

    For more information check out these blog links and be sure to follow @ImagineCup, @MSTechStudent and hashtag #ICUS on Twitter this weekend to stay up-to-date on the Imagine Cup US Finals event and learn who the winners are on Monday, April 11. And yes I will be tweeting all weekend at @AlfredTwo Please follow!

    Check out our Flickr channel for additional photos of the Imagine Cup U.S. Finals event!

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Movies for Computer Science Students


    I had some email yesterday with a link to a post titled "The Top 10 Movies for Computer Science Students." It is an interesting list and I have seen most of these movies. And I have enjoyed several of them. I’m not sure if this is my top 10 list though. I worry about the computer science characters in some of them. Hacking is one thing but cracking is another. I think the differences are lost on many students (and still more in the media). I don’t like movies where the CS people are the bad guys. Antitrust: drives me crazy for example. It seem to show companies in the computer industry in a bad light. I don’t see the resemblance to Microsoft that some seem to see there BTW. It always makes me thing of one of several computer industry companies based in California which I will not name. 

    And while computer science is not as hard as some would say it’s not the child's play that Wargames and Hackers seems to suggest. There is that moral ambiguity again as well.

    I am surprised that Sneakers didn’t make their list though. Good hackers and evil crackers and a guest spot by a Cray super computer. It has it all. And speaking of Robert Redford and guest spots by famous computers there is Three Days of the Condor which has a PDP-8 in the opening scenes. Maybe that dates me – both remembering the movie and the PDP-8. I worked with one of those in college.

    I think we have to be a little concerned about how computer scientists are presented in the media. We make an easy target but its seldom a fair portrait. We’re a whole lot more diverse than other portrayed. And less geeky. You’d never know from the movies and TV that there are some really good looking women in the field for example. And many of us actually get outdoors enough to get tans. More than that though computer science is making the world a better place every day. I’m not sure you’d learn that from movies or TV. And that is not a good thing.

    So what movies would you recommend for computer science students? Are there some were the computer science is mostly real? Where the computer scientists are the “good guys?” Where computer science is helpful? Well, now that NUMB3RS is off the air. Sad smile

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Computer Science Curricula In Flux


    I don’t know when I have ever seen as much going on with computer science curriculum going on at one time. In the K12 space there is an NSF initiative looking at a new pre-APCS course while the College Board, also with NSF support,  is hard at work developing the AP CS Principles course. CSTA is reviewing and looking at updating the ACM K-12 CS Model Curriculum. (review draft of the new CSTA K-12 Computer Science Learning Standards: Revised 2011 ) EDIT: In the comments I am reminded that “ Texas is in the process of approving new TEKS for Computer Science K-12.” There is probably more going on in K12 than I am aware of too. With all that going on in K12 one might be tempted to think that was enough. But it’s not. There is actually an important curriculum review going on in higher education computer science curriculum.

    Specifically the CS 2013 project is going on to review curriculum recommendations for undergraduate computer science curriculum in American (and potentially other) universities. This is an effort undertaken jointly by the ACM and the IEEE Computer Society, the two main computer science professional societies. This effort is still in the early stages but a steering committee has been appointed and is holding regular meetings virtually and face to face. The steering committee made a brief report at the recent SIGCSE conference and more public information will be available over time. The committee has opened a web site (from which I have copied some introductory information below) at 

    Computing Curriculum: Computer Science 2013 (CS2013) Overview

    Following a roughly 10 year cycle, the ACM and IEEE Computer Society jointly sponsor the development of a Computing Curricula volume on Computer Science. These volumes have helped to set international curricular guidelines for undergraduate programs in computing. In the summer of 2010, planning for the next volume in the series, Computer Science 2013 (CS2013), began. The charter for this effort is given below.
    To review the Joint ACM and IEEE/CS Computer Science volume of Computing Curricula 2001 and the accompanying interim review CS 2008, and develop a revised and enhanced version for the year 2013 that will match the latest developments in the discipline and have lasting impact.

    The CS2013 task force will seek input from a diverse audience with the goal of broadening participation in computer science. The report will seek to be international in scope and offer curricular and pedagogical guidance applicable to a wide range of institutions. The process of producing the final report will include multiple opportunities for public consultation and scrutiny.

    The membership of the committee includes faculty from many universities as well as a few representatives from industry. You can se the whole list at CS2013 Steering Committee. You will probably recognize some names there. If you  get to the very last name on the second column you’ll find mine. Somewhat humbling to be in such august company but I’m doing my best to keep up.

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