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

May, 2011

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Computer Science As Competitive Sport


    I was reading Stacey Armstrong's blog this morning. He was writing about the end of the Texas CS Competition season. Yep, in Texas there is a Computer Science competition season. Who knew!  Here in New England where I live there isn’t a season. There are some computer science, ok, let’s call them programming contests which is what most of them are. But there is no season. That is to say there are not whole bunches of competitions that you can take teams to on a regular basis. I’m not sure if it lack of people to compete – Texas has a higher density of computer science classes than many areas seem to. Or lack of a certain competitive spirit – they do like to compete in Texas. or something else again. Now there are computer programming competitions in the area. I know of one in New Hampshire and one in Massachusetts. And there is the SkillsUSA programming contest which takes place in some states but no where near all of them. Now I have mixed feelings about programming contests which I have written about before (Programming Contests – for good or for ill). But Stacey makes a good case for them on his post.

    He included something I had not thought about before.

    Another benefit is that many large software companies use similar problems for interviewing purposes as those often seen in contest packets. A common programming problem often involves determining if an exit from a maze exists. A former student of mine was asked to explain solving this exact problem when interviewing for a Google position.

    He has other points and he is probably winning me over on these short form competitions. Long form, like the Imagine Cup or the Bliink contest in web design or the Kodu Cup, I have always had an easier time with because they more closely approximate reality. But perhaps there is value in the short  form events as well. I think also of the idea behind the FIRST Robotics competitions – treating academic competition the way we do sports by rewarding and paying attention to people who work at it and make themselves good at it.

    This is one of the advantages of reading blogs for me – the chance to read ideas and arguments from other people. I learn for these blogs. I get ideas. And they often make me think.  It’s the sort of community thing that we don’t have enough of in computer science education. Hum, I wonder if teachers sitting and talking while their students compete is yet another side benefit of programming competitions? I know I have a good time and learn a lot at the events I have attended. Something to think about. Social professional development while motivating students to work hard to learn to compete. What do you think?

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Programming with C# and XNA 0.5: Jump Start


    Pat Yongpradit, a talented young HS CS teacher I have written about before, has created  a 5 week mini-course on game programming with XNA Game Studio. This course is particularly useful for educators who want to offer game programming to their students as an enrichment unit, as part of a summer school or after school program or other places in their curriculum. It is especially useful for educators who don’t already have the game development knowledge and who don’t have a lot of free time to learn it on their own. This curriculum gives you access to a free textbook (in PDF format) as well as video tutorials that lead students through the lessons. It is explicitly designed for students who already know how to program, the difference here is that this curriculum teaches them how program in a game context. Here are some other reasons I think this is such a good course:

    1. Students who know Java or C++ will find C# close enough to jump in quickly and easily
    2. This is serious programming and not drag and drop programming
    3. Everything is free for students including free tools, free developer license, and free app submission!
    4. Visual Studio. An integrated development environment similar to many Java IDE's.
    5. Simple one button deployment to Windows phones, and a great emulator fully integrated with the IDE for those without phones.
    6. Plug in an Xbox controller to a USB port in a PC  and program input into a game!
    7. Set the kids on it and step back! With video tutorials, you can learn with the students and start from day one.

    Where do you get all of this?

    And don’t forget to sign you high school up for DreamSpark to get students even more free development software!

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Interesting Links Post 9 May 2011


    I had a great week last week. Long but great. I finished up with two conferences where for once I was not presenting. On the other hand the next time I go to either of them I just might present. Friday was the Going Local with Social Media Conference conference at Bentley University. There was some really high powered quite knowledgeable people talking about using social media in business and industry. I learned a good bit and heard some good speakers. Saturday was something completely different – Ed Camp Boston. EdCamp was about teachers and education. EdCamp is what is known as an UNconference. This means that no sessions are put on the schedule in advance. People propose sessions and time slots and rooms. If there are more suggestions that rooms are available people vote on which ones to hold. In this case there were eight rooms available and most time slots had eight sessions going on. It was held at Microsoft Cambridge at the aptly named NERD Center (New England Research and Development). I was very excited to be able to arrange for the space to be made available for this event. People are already taking about doing it again next year.

    Left me start with a couple of quick reminders:

    Thanks to @21stprincipal on Twitter I found this useful article called 11 Free Microsoft Tools You're Overlooking in PCWorld. This is well worth checking out.

    Speaking of conferences, the CSTA blog has a nice post about Choosing conference sessions  for the CSTA CS & IT conference. Are you coming? Coming or not (though I hope to see many of you there) this is an interesting look as home sessions are selected for conference.

    The latest video in a series of Campus Tours is  The Microsoft Model Shop, which may be one of the coolest workshops south of the North Pole. Yes, Microsoft does do some things with hardware and of lot of  the design starts in the model shop.

    Ed Donahue (aka )@creepyed) blogged  I <3 Infographics!  with a  nice graphic on history of web page design and tools.

    Welcome to a new program from Microsoft called Microsoft Shape the Future and on Twitter at @shapethefuture

    Shape the Future helps governments to imagine and attain universal technology access for all their citizens. We help build the Public/Private Partnerships that lead to greater employability, economic recovery and a better future.


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