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

August, 2011

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    There Is Research On That


    Computers are good at games. Well sort of. Computers are good at following rules and making decisions based on rules that are programmed into them. These rules have to come from somewhere and that somewhere is people. That computers are good at playing games is do in large part to the fact that people are good at studying games. The hard part is really figuring out how a game is played and how a set of rules can be created that will enable someone (or some thing) to win on a regular basis. Once that happens a set of rules can be created to feed into a computer.

    People can learn these rules and play well themselves of course. For simple games this is easy. When is the last time you lost a game of tick tac toe for example? OK so I lose occasionally but generally it is because I am careless. People are pretty good a making careless errors, of not noticing something they should notice or forgetting a rule or guideline for effective play. Computers on the other hard are good at NOT making careless errors, of always noticing things, and of never forgetting rules or guidelines. And this lack of human error is the second thing that makes computers good at games.

    I recently came across a research study of the game of Connect Four (Thanks to and article in the Washington Post online called Annals of useful computer science research which someone Tweeted a link to). It’s a 90 page masters thesis from 1988. Think about it – 90 pages of game analysis. Probably more detail than you ever wanted to know about Connect Four. There is also a discussion of a computer program, with a small amount of C code shown, that analyses specific possible moves. Not a bad place to start for creating your own program to play the game. Or even to just learn to play the game better.

    A couple of questions that come to mind with this sort of study though. Does too much analyses take the fun out of the game? Or does it make the game more interesting? How do you feel about playing an opponent who not only knows the game better than you do but never makes a mistake? Would playing the computer be more fun if there was some random error tossed into the mix? Is it even worth playing when you know for sure that the best you can do is a draw and that if you make the smallest misstep you will lose?How much of game play involves the humanness for you? Just a few random things to ponder on a Tuesday morning.

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Interesting Links 22 August 2011


    No out of the area travel for me last week. It was nice to sleep in my own bed every night. This is not to say that I wasn’t busy. I had some meetings with the people at FIRST robotics for example. They are doing some pretty interesting things with technology these days. They are a Microsoft shop and their whole operation runs on Microsoft software including their impressive field management system for their competitions. It’s always exciting to hear what they are up to. I also kept my eyes open for interesting things to share and have a reasonable list again this week. Hopefully you find some of it useful.

    Microsoft runs a small high school internship program mostly in the Redmond WA home office. Recently Hélène Martin (aka @purplespatula on Twitter) wrote about her student’s summer as Microsoft High School Interns 

    In a change of pace from strictly computer science related things here is a post on Microsoft software for various college majors  Just in time for back to school and lots of it relevant for high school students as well.

    Great minds need great notebooks. See how OneNote could've helped make a better light bulb A fun little look at how OneNote can be used.

    New Book: FRIENDLY F# through Game Development and XNA Looks interesting for people interested in this powerful functional language and game development.

    Super-Detailed First (MashUp)Windows Phone 7 App Walkthrough –this post by Randy Guthrie shows one easy way to create Windows Phone apps.

    New Blog Post from one of our Microsoft high school interns is  Windows Phone Student App of the Week: Liverpool Chants Lite, Juventus Chants Lite, Barca Chants Lite These are football (soccer for us Yanks) chants for various British teams.

    Nice article about a pilot teaching programming in High Schools using Microsoft .NET Gadgeteer. This hardware is coming soon and it looks like it will find a place in a lot of schools over time.

    Official Building Window 8 twitter account at @BuildWindows8 The official Building Windows 8 blog is at So if you are interested in keeping up with the official news on Windows 8 now you know where to look.

    There is a new computer science teacher blog out.  Check out Doug Bergman's new blog. He's an innovative educator & part time alligator catcher. I met Doug this summer and am enjoying his posts so far.

    You’re seen all sorts of work cloud generators in the past but how about one that works on source code? Well there is a Source Code Word Cloud Generator out now. I’ve only played with it a bit but I see some interesting potential here. And some fun.

    Don’t forget about Windows Phone Mango Jump Start developer training August 23-24! Register for LIVE & FREE expert-led training from Rob Miles & Andy Wigley. I understand it will be recorded but the video will not be available for a couple of weeks. So if you are in a hurry to learn try and attend while it is live.

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Ready or Not–New School Year About To Start


    Well according to my Twitter feed a lot of schools in the US south are back to school. Teachers are reporting for duty and students are expected any day now. My post from 2007 called What Do You Do the First Day of Class is getting a surprising amount of traffic. Posts with programming projects (that link brings up a list of posts tagged for projects or visit my Interesting Projects–A Collection post) are also getting more than the usual amount of traffic. So I’m pretty sure that a lot of people are getting ready for the new school year. Maybe you are all ready for school. Maybe you are not. Maybe you are one of those people who just never starts preparing. But ready or not students are going to be showing up soon. Are you excited?

    If you do nothing else I urge you to get excited. If you can’t actually be excited, summer is after all hard to give up, please prepare to act excited for your student’s sake. As the expression goes “fake it until you make it.” Students are going to assume that if the teacher isn’t excited about what they are teaching that they don’t need to be excited either. That can be a poor way to start off  the school year.

    I’m excited about the new school year. I hope to visit more schools and talk to more students than ever before. If you are in the New England area and would like a guest speaker let me know and we’ll see what we can work out. Perhaps for Computer Science Education Week? (see a recent CSTA blog post on CS Ed Week for more ideas and the CS Ed Week website for resources.)  This can be a great week for expanding knowledge of and interest in your school’s computer science courses.

    How are you fixed for software? For you labs make sure you have a subscription to MSDN AA for great professional level software from Microsoft. And make sure you sign up your school for DreamSpark. More software than even you geekest student can use all of – and for FREE! Doesn’t get much better than free. The image below only shows some of what is available.


    Curriculum resources? Visit the Faculty Connection page and load up on free curriculum resources. XNA for game development? We’ve got it! And more coming. Expression Studio for web design courses? We’ve got that too! Kodu for the very young? Got it! Small Basic for middle school and high school? Got that too! In fact check out this post for Microsoft software for various college majors Just in time for back to school and much of it useful in high school as well as college.

    There are a lot of resources out there and a lot of them are free. Take advantage of as many as you need or can use. Let’s get students excited! Have a great school year everyone!

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