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

August, 2011

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Education Leadership Day 2011

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    leadershipday2011Leadership Day is a project started by Scott McLeod and is now in its fourth year. The idea is for people to “blog about whatever you like related to effective school technology leadership: successes, challenges, reflections, needs, wants, resources, ideas, etc.” This is something I have thought about participating in for several years but for one reason or other never gotten to actually do it. This year I thought I really had to because I really do have thoughts about school technology leadership. So here they are:

    School Technology Leaders Lead They lead by example. Back when I was a technology coordinator for a private high school I ran learning sessions for teachers called “Technology Tuesdays.” The headmaster showed up at several of these sessions. He was aware that he, like many in education from superintendents to teachers to Para professionals, needed to know more about technology and took steps to learn. He realized that teachers would follow his example and so that he had to not only encourage the use of technology and professional development but he had to lead by example. So he learned and he used technology. If leaders don’t become lifelong technology users and active technology users they can’t expect teachers to do so. Do as I say not as I do  doesn’t work any better for educational leaders than it does for parents.

    School Technology Leaders Remember Who The Boss Is You would not believe how many times I have heard from a Principal or even a superintendent of schools “I’d like to do that but my tech support people will not let me.” Astounding. Too many school leaders are willing to subsume their goals to those of the tech support people. I am reminded of a quote attributed to J P Morgan “I don’t hire lawyers to tell me what I can’t do. I hire lawyers to tell me how I can do what I want.” The equivalent is that school technology leaders, who want to really BE leaders, need to hire, train and encourage technology support people who can tell them how they can do what they want rather than what they can and cannot do. For technology to be the learning tool that it can be it has to enable teachers, enable students, and yes, enable administrators to do new and better things. Sure it is easy to lock things down tightly but too often we miss teaching moments because of this.

    School Technology Leaders Know When to Say Yes Suppose you had students who were willing to spend their own money to buy a computer several times more powerful than the one that controlled the Apollo lunar lander. Would you let them use it for educational purposes? Or would you ban them from the building? I am of course talking about smart phones. They can of course be a distraction. But if teachers are willing to deal with the classroom management issues to take advantage of these tools do you say yes or quote policy and say no? If teachers want to bring new technology into the classroom like wikis, blogs, Twitter, web pages or other tools that (shudder) take education beyond the four walls of the classroom is the answer an automatic no or is there a fair discussion and an intelligent choice that often results in a yes? I saw some amazing projects at the Partners in Learning 2011 U.S. Innovative Education Forum that had students from all age groups learning from peers in other countries. Students in remote rural areas getting to understand other parts of the country and the world as real places with real people. Would you say yes to that sort of experience.

    School Technology Leaders Are Always Learning We’d never accept “I’m just no good at Math” or English from a teacher. We also expect more from those who would be leaders. The best teachers, administrators, the people who are and who remain leaders are constantly learning. There are learning opportunities for learning for administrators. There are of course educational conferences but there are other options as well. Microsoft offers various leadership training opportunities. So do other companies. Sure they are product heavy in some ways but they also offer great networking opportunities and the chances to learn concepts with general applicability.

    Basically school technology leaders don’t just let things happen. They seek out opportunities, they learn new things, they trust their leading teachers, they take advice from their tech support people but not orders from them – in short they lead.

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  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    i.am FIRST – Science is Rock and Roll

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    I’m a huge fan of the FIRST organization and their robotics programs at various education levels. So I thought it might be a good idea to pass along this announcement. Most of us know that STEM – Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math are cool, fun and exciting. A lot of students don’t know this. The hope is that this special will help show kids, and adults, that what we know is actually real.

    Check out: http://iamfirst.dipdive.com/

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    i.am FIRST – Science is Rock and Roll is a ground breaking, one-hour special promoting education, science, and technology and features an electric hour of highlights from the 20th Annual FIRST Championship.  This very special celebration of technology features performances by The Black Eyed Peas and Willow Smith, as well as special appearances from a host of high profile celebrities such as Justin Bieber, Jack Black, Bono, Miranda Cosgrove, Miley Cyrus, Josh Duhamel, Willow Smith, Britney Spears, Snoop Dogg, Justin Timberlake, and Steven Tyler speaking out to support STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) education. i.am FIRST – Science is Rock and Roll airs SUNDAY, AUGUST 14 (7:00-8:00 p.m., ET) on The ABC Television Network.
    Check out FIRST on:

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  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Computer Crackers are Evil

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    Recently a friend of mine, Vicki Davis, received a pre-publication copy of the new book by Kevin Mitnick the famous cracker. Vicki wrote here review of the book at Ghost in the Wires: Kevin Mitnick's memoir. She found the book disturbing.  BTW I refuse to call him a hacker because that is in many ways a term of respect. I don’t have any respect for the things Mitnick did to gain access to computers. What he did was to lie often and effectively to gain access to computers that did not belong to him. He’s a great liar – not something that engenders respect in my opinion. Most of what you hear and read about Mitnick comes from his own words. Someone who is both a convicted and admitted liar. There is a word for people who believe Mitnick and it is not a compliment. What you seldom hear are the stories of people whose computers he broke into. Well that changes now.

    Are crackers harmless? Not really. I was a software developer some years ago working on a system called The Ark that was broken into. Unfortunately it was accessed during a time when the disk that held the source code for the operating system we were working on had read/write access. Now the hacker claimed that they didn’t change anything. So harmless right? Someone lies repeatedly to gain access to a computer. Time after time they tell falsehood after falsehood and now, after they are caught we should believe what they say? Does that sound as foolish to you as it does to me? Fans of Mitnick and others like him find that reasonable. On the other hand for the development team I was on this seemed a bit risky. After all this system would be used by hundreds of thousands of people, perhaps millions of people, all over the world. Major banks would be trusting it to be secure and safe. So we should just trust a serious liar that he left things alone? That was something that seemed unreasonable to us. So what did we do?

    For a month approximately 70 people scoured the source code line by line. It was compared to developer notes, personal backups, old listings, read line by line and verified by every means we could think of. Seventy man months shot. The release of the software was delayed meaning lost opportunity costs. The lost productivity was measured, conservatively at hundreds of thousands of dollars. That is real harm. But there is more.

    Have you ever had your home or car broken into? Know any one who has? It takes an emotional toll. It makes one feel violated. Having your development computer broken into leaves one much the same way. Thirty years later it still upsets me to remember that feeling of violation. People who break into other people’s computers are violating people’s personal spaces. They are taking an emotional toll beyond and different from ay financial toll. How would you feel finding out that someone your didn’t know was looking all through your personal files and projects?  And then there are the people who were tricked, people who just wanted to be helpful and fell for the lies of someone out to prove how smart they are. How must those people feel knowing that they inadvertently let the wolf into the henhouse? Reportedly Mitnick names those people in his book. How can anyone see that as anything but twisting the knife that these people have been living with in their backs for years. “Changed people” don’t do that so if you think Mitnick is somehow changed for the better clearly you don’t base that on his book.

    I know that a lot of people respect Mitnick – I don’t understand them but perhaps it is because they don’t really understand what Mitnick and others like him did. And what they continue to do today.



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