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

October, 2011

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Interesting Links Post 31 October 2011


    Busy week last week. You may have read about my two days in Atlantic City (Kinect-ing at the NJSBA Annual Workshop). Real  work. Enjoyable work but none the less it was work. Friday I visited a career technical high school, Upper Cape Cod Tech, and had a wonderful visit with students and faculty alike. And then from Saturday night until Sunday night I got the experience the wonder of life without power. Yes we did have a big snow storm in New Hampshire and the trees and power lines took a beating. It was quite a reminder of how dependent we are on electricity these days. But we’re nice and warm and have Internet back now so all is right with the world. I was afraid I would have to run the engine in my car to power my laptop and get me an Internet feed from somewhat to do this post but I’m getting to do it from the comfort of my home after all. Here now some links that I hope will be useful.

    People often ask me what it is like to work at Microsoft. I tell them it is pretty great. Last week Great Place to Work® Unveils World's Best Multinational Workplaces and Microsoft tops the list. This list is for companies with a global foot print but Microsoft regularly makes local lists in numerous countries, states, and local geographies. Most of the people who work at Microsoft love it.

    Please welcome Doug Bergman, Computer Science teacher and innovative educator, to Twitter @dougbergmanUSA. Visit his blog at Read about how Doug is excited to represent the US at the Global Innovator Forum Nov 7-11 in Washington DC as well.

    Congratulations to Mitchel Resnick - awarded the McGraw Prize in Education for Scratch

    The new Windows Phone Blue Book now available from Rom Miles (@robmiles) Learn the latest for creating Windows Phone Apps from someone who really knows how to teach.

    Meet the Microsoft Tech Student of the month for October – Shashank Srinivas 

    Did you see the news that once again a technology company is promoting a woman to the top spot? Last week I read that  IBM tapped its first woman CEO to succeed  current CEO Palmisano. The opportunities for women in technology are there all the way up to the top.

    The Teacher Tech blog (Twitter @TeachTec) continues with there TeachTecTip series with Add sounds, movies and animation to your PPT (this post includes a How-to video & step-by-step instructions.)

    Are you ready for Computer Science Education week? If not read about some Activities for CS Education week on the CSTA blog.

    Have you heard about the upcoming HTML5 Game Camp Series? Coming soon to Boston on 11/17, plus Atlanta, NYC, and Penn State soon after.

    NEW: Streaming videos of CS&IT 2011 Presentations! Did you miss the SC & IT conference in New York City this past summer? Good news then. The presentations were recorded and videos are now available. Catch them now!

    Have you seen some of the latest things from coding4fun? Check out Digesting Kinect. Using the Kinect to teach the Digestive System

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Preaching to the STEM Choir


    This week I received an announcement about yet another “STEM Summit.” My first reaction was - are these STEM Summits just “preaching to the choir?” Now as a preacher’s kid the term “preaching to the choir” has real meaning to me. On one hand it means talking to the already converted – those who already believe what you are talking about. If your job is to convert more people this can feel like a useless exercise. I think for most people that is what the term means – wasting your time trying to convert the already converted. In fact though there is a second piece to preaching to the choir. That piece in two parts is a) training people to go out and convert people and b) motivating them to actually do that work. If you are working on pushing this outreach piece than preaching to the choir is anything but a waste. So how does this relate to STEM Summits?

    Most of the summits I have attended (and I’ve attended a lot of them) also have two parts. Part one is a keynote. In these keynotes someone of influence tells the choir the disheartening story of how bad things are. We don’t have enough STEM graduates. The STEM graduates we have are not diverse enough – too few women and minorities. Yada yada yada. I think this keynote is supposed to motivate the choir to go out and do something – to change the world.

    The second part of the summit consists of workshops where people talk about programs that work. This is the training part and is intended to give people the tools they need to go out and “fix” the STEM problem. And honestly some of these programs are awesome! If the keynote year after year were not telling the same story but giving us some indication that serious progress was being made I’d feel a whole lot better though. The numbers don’t seem to change a whole lot though.

    Now I am not opposed to STEM Summits. I actually do think most of them are good things. The problem I have is that we’re not reaching the right people. But you’re going to say “look at all the students these programs are reaching!” and I will agree with you. But I think Dean Kamen said it well when he said “We don’t have an education problem. We have a culture problem.” These summits are not changing the culture. The people who control our culture still don’t get it. We are still, as a culture, promoting the sports stars and the media stars as heroes to students rather  than the engineers and scientists who really make a difference in the world.

    Programs that send the STEM choir to work converting students are great. They are important. They are necessary. What they are not is sufficient!

    One of the aspects of the FIRST program founded by Dean Kamen and Woody Flowers is that there is an outreach to change the culture as an important part of the program. Teams are encouraged, even incented, to not only help start new teams but to influence government and industry leaders to join the movement. That may be the missing piece from many STEM Summits – a call to change the adults – the power brokers in government and industry – into STEM advocates. We need a cultural shift and that takes more than just reaching out to students. It requires government officials who promote STEM beyond the halls of the STEM Summit and into action on their own part. It requires industry leaders to do more than complain about a shortage of employees and take action to support teachers, to promote the excitement of their fields and to also speak out beyond the STEM Summit.

    We’ve seen some recent movement in Computer Science. Computer Science Education week for example. A good step that many are using to promote CS education more widely in their own schools. The Computer Science Education Act which may or may not pass would be a step in the right direction as well. It will take the STEM choir to work beyond their comfort zones to make those things really work though. It means we have to talk to the unconverted adults in the world. We know the issues. We know the importance of growing the STEM pipeline and we know how cool STEM is. We need to share those messages more broadly.

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Kinect-ing at the NJSBA Annual Workshop


    Normally the conferences I attend are about educational technology or computer science education. Events like ISTE, MASSCue, TCEA, SIGCSE or CSTA’s CS & IT. But the last two days I have been at the New Jersey School Board Association annual workshop. We’re hear talking about Kinect in Education. Yesterday we had a talk on their conference exhibit hall’s main stage. Today we were in the exhibit hall demoing Kinect and talking to attendees about Kinect. We’ve had some great conversations. Kinect in Education is still in its infancy and people (both in schools and at Microsoft) are still figuring out where and how it fits. This is especially true for beyond Physical Education where the application is pretty obvious. In fact I think if I demo Kinect enough I will start to like the shape of the guy on the screen. Smile I also had a chance to talk to some students at the conference who were showing off their robots.


    There were students showing off several classes of robots that are part of the FIRST Robotics family of events. They have events from grade school and middle school up through the FTC and FRC event for high school students. The students with me in this picture are part of FRC or FIRST Robotics Challenge. These are the “big robots” that can weight up to somewhere around 150 pounds. Microsoft has donated Kinect devices tor all FRC teams for the upcoming 2012 season. All of these students knew about that already which shouldn’t have surprised me. These are sharp kids. They are all ready thinking about what Kinect for control of a robot might mean for them and their team. I can’t wait to see what they come up with. Them and the 2400 other FRC teams we expect to see using these devices. My hope is that they will also start to think of uses for the Kinect beyond the robots. That would be pretty exciting.

    I have to say that a conference for school boards is different from one for teachers. And I don’t just mean for educational technology teachers. For one thing there were a lot more people wearing suits. I was dressed ok I think but without a jacket and tie I felt a little under dressed. And the booths were different. I counted at least three but maybe there were four booths with putting greens. The one below was the best of them though. And the food! Yes there were food service companies displaying the sort of food they would (in theory at least) be offering for students. The bread display below was just one of many I saw. And there were exhibits by insurance companies, architects, lawyers, and companies that sold artificial grass and “dirt” for athletics fields. Who knew that there were companies who made a business out of providing specialty dirt for baseball diamonds?


    All in all it was a good event and we had a lot of good conversations about Kinect in Education. But for me I missed talking to teachers. Thank goodness most of my favorite ed tech conferences are still to come. I hope to see some of my readers at one or more of them.

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