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

July, 2011

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Student Media at the Imagine Cup


    One of the things that is special about this year’s Imagine Cup finals is the student social media team. The Microsoft Imagine Cup team set out to find the Microsoft Student Partners from around the world who are best suited to reporting the events from the student point of view using social media. These students are blogging, Twittering (Follow their hash tag #MSPSMT), taking pictures, posting things to Facebook and Flickr, and generally sharing their experiences and information about the various teams via social media. They are everywhere in their bright yellow t-shirts and conference IDs listing them as Press. And they are doing a great job. From the US we have three students.

    Here is a picture of Patrick talking to Jeremy Lee from Microsoft Game Studio. Jeremy is one of the judges for the game competition at the Imagine Cup. There is a lot of good networking going on here between students, industry judges, university faculty and all the participants. I’ve had some great conversations with my counterparts from around the world myself including some from Russia and Jordan. A wonderful learning experience just being here.


    Here are Den and Patrick with the game showcase going on behind them.


    Behind them the judges are play testing the game entries. Yesterday each of the teams made a formal presentation for 30 minutes followed by a 15 minute question and answer period. Today’s play testing is the final judging round before the winners are selected.  Den, Patrick, and Tom have been interviewing teams for the last couple of days as well. Over at his blog, Patrick has already posted some interviews and other stories from the Imagine Cup. I recommend you check them out to see what sort of teams and what sorts of entries are represented. Den has also posted at least one team review on his blog – Den by default and I know that more are coming. Tom’s posts appear at Tom On Tech and he also has several good posts up. So if you are interested in a student's eye view of the Imagine Cup those are three blogs worth reading. And if you are on Twitter you should follow them for the latest news as it happens.

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Imagine Cup New York City


    I’m in New York for the worldwide finals of the Imagine Cup this weekend. On Monday I will move over the the Computer Science Teachers Association CS & IT Conference. For right now I an enjoying the excitement of 400 competitors from around the world who are here competing and representing their home countries. There are 70 different countries represented here making this a truly international event!  There are languages other than English being spoken everywhere (honestly not that unusual in New York Smile) But English is the common language as students are making friends and learning for others constantly. I hear a lot of sharing of ideas going on and there will be more as the showcase opens up I am sure. Last night was the welcoming ceremony. (From the Imagine Cup blog)

    Today’s Imagine Cup 2011 Opening Ceremony was packed with celebrities and successful American business leaders, including Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, foursquare Co-founder Dennis Crowley, Jeffrey D. Sachs, director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University and Special Advisor to United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

    Also yesterday, CNN featured Steve Ballmer and some of the Imagine Cup finalists in a segment called "The world cup of science fairs" It’s a short but interesting interview talking about how students are actively working to change the world and make it a better more healthy place for everyone. Health care does seem to be a theme for a lot of competitors this year by the way.

    For myself this is a time to meet people whose work I admire (from the various teams), connect with old friends (Microsoft employees from around the world) and to connect with people I have so far only known online. Top of this latter list is Rob Miles from the University of Hull. Rob and I have been commenting on each others blogs and linking to each other for years. A bunch of years. But until today we had never met in person.


    I’m about six foot tall and I think the hat adds height so you can see how tall Rob is. His personality is also large and it was every bit as cool meeting him as I had hoped. Rob is the captain of the  Imagine Cup Software Design Invitational which is the premier event in this assortment of competitions and challenges. This means he is hard at work making sure the judging is as fair and as transparent as possible. The role of the various captains is critical and we really appreciate someone like Rob taking the time and spending the energy helping to make this all work.

    I’ve also attended some of the competition presentations to the judges. This picture is of Team Dragon who are developing a way to make testing ones breathing capacity a game for asthmatic children. It turns out that children with serious asthma need to check their breathing twice a day. For most of them it is a tedious “homework assignment.” This makes it very difficult to get regular and consistent results that can be used for diagnostic purposes. By attaching a device to a Windows Phone they are making this process into a fun game. The kids get to “breath fire” in an imaginary game. The game provides incentives for playing it twice a day with some hours in between.


    These teams are giving some very professional presentations. The judging job is going to be tough. Yeah, I’m glad I am not a judge.  Well that is a brief look into what is going on. More news as it happens. In the mean time, please take a look at the Imagine Cup 2011 Worldwide People’s Choice page and vote for your favorite. Personally I’m voting for the teams from the US. Smile

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Computer Programming at South Dakota Gear Up


    South Dakota Gear UP is an outstanding program run at the South Dakota Schools of Mines and Technology in Rapid City. This year a programming mini course was added to the mix for the group of rising freshmen who make up the newest cohort of this four year program. It was decided to teach them some C# and give them a feel for the Imagine Cup which is a major international software competition involving entrants from over 100 countries. Now you can’t expect rising 9th graders to do after 3 and a half weeks what computer science majors and even graduate students do. But what you can do is ask them to create a project about solving the world’s great problems using what they do know. As an extra incentive one of the senior members of the Microsoft academic team, Dr. Bradley Jensen, arraigned for some prizes. You can see the winning team holding them in the picture below. I am told that an Xbox with Kinect is considered a good prize by high school students.


    That is Dr Bradley Jensen on the left in the back and me on the right. The woman in the middle(Dr. Antonette (Toni) Logar, Professor, Mathematics & Computer Science Department; Interim Dean of Graduate Education) and the man next to me (Mr. Judd Nielsen, Regional Development, SDSMT Foundation) were judges along with Bradley and myself. Interestingly enough two of the top three teams were all girls.  We did not know anything about the teams during the judging so this was a surprise to us when we finished. Girls are slightly over represented in the cohort but even still this was encouraging. One boy we ran in to after the awards were given out was excited because his sister won an Xbox with Kinect. My hope is that he, and many more like him, will be motivated to try and learn some computer skills on their own though.

    The plan is to continue this program though the four year cycle so that this year’s class, and following classes, will get a short course every summer that builds on what was learned the previous year. These students are from schools that generally do not have the resources to teach programming.  A large percentage of these students come from Native American Reservation schools who struggle more than most for resources. This summer opportunity is important to them and the results show that it pays off. I am hoping that this programming opportunity opens one more door or one look in to one more option that they may not have realized they have.

    BTW I want to recognize the students who taught this mini course this summer (all from SDSMT). 

    • Zachary Boyd, Sophomore, Industrial Engineering & Engineering Management
    • Shawn McCarther, Sophomore, Metallurgical Engineering
    • Jonathan Lu, BS in Computer Science, May 2011, now a graduate student I believe

    Zach and Shawn are graduates of the SD GEAR UP Program: These guys did an outstanding job of not just teaching the course but supporting and encouraging their students. I t was a pleasure to work with them in helping to prepare them. Clearly SD Mimes attracts and educates great people.

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