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

October, 2011

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Imagine Cup as Group Projects

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    One of the things that often makes Imagine Cup entries a good educational experience is that they require planning and team work. A good Imagine Cup entry is seldom a one person project. Many universities use the Imagine Cup, especially the Software Design event, as senior projects. The Game Event makes a great team project even earlier in ones education however. Pat Yongpradit has been using the Imagine Cup Game Design event as a group project for several years now. He’s had a team make it as far as the US Finals in that category. This is quite an accomplishment as most of the competitors are university students. Still, he has great students and is an outstanding teacher.  For the Fall round of the US game competition he has 8 teams of students who have entered and submitted for round one. Recently he shared some of the documents he uses with his students.

    What I have copied below is the schedule and role breakdown that he is using this year. I would imagine that in many teams the work is not as strictly broken down as these but even there this document serves as a great description of what needs to be done and by when. Getting high school students to not wait until the last minute can be a challenge as any teacher or parent of high school students can readily attest. This means that making deadlines clear is critical as are intermediate status checks.

    Pat is also having his students write reflections at the end of each phase. Each team member completes and individual reflection and the group as a whole does a second reflection in a discussion lead by the student manager. (I have copies of his Phase 1 reflections that Pat told me I could share with interested teachers. AlfredTh (at) Microsoft.com if interested) A number of teachers I have talked to over the years have found the goal of completing a big project for entry into a competition can serve as a good motivator for students. Adding the value of teamwork, planning and examination of the project/plan against results makes this a very complete learning experience. Maybe it will work for you as well? This is the year I really want to see a high school team not just do well at the US level (a HS team came in third in the US last year) but go all the way to the world-wide finals in Australia (this year’s venue.) If you decide to try this with your students (there is a new US round in the spring) let me know if I can help.

    NOTE: some of the deadlines and schedules are a little different for the World-wide Imagine Cup. Also, the US Game Design entries do not automatically feed into the world-wide Game Design so US students will want to submit their entries to both using http://imaginecup.us and http://imaginecup.com

    NOTE: Also IT students will want to check out the Imagine Cup IT Challenge which is an individual event and which challenges student’s knowledge of systems and network management.

    Phase

    Designer

    Manager

    Programmer

    Artist

     

    Phase 0: Sept 16th

    Complete GDD for approved idea.

    Storyboard.

     

    Schedule: Deadlines per role, Meeting times.

    Create team on site, team name, invite members.

    Submit storyboard to site.

     

    List of Concept Code to reflect main algorithms.

    XNA research – videos, tutorials, books.

    Storyboard, create team logo

    Phase 1: Sept 30th

    Physical Game

    Play-by-play script or gameplay flowchart of first level

    Group Reflection

    Updated schedule

    Online Group Calendar w/ long-term and short-term, person-specific deadlines

     

    Concept Code for main algorithms.

    Concept art: Screenshots for all major screen types

    Phase 2: Oct. 7th

    Submission video script

    Level Designs and Progression

    Sprite list

    Help with Pseudocode

     

    Updated schedule

    Submission game summary

     

    Complete code overview:

    Pseudocode (UML Diagram, etc.)

    Game Structure w/ all screens (rough)

    Sprites, Sprite sheets, dummy graphics for everything else

    Phase 3:  Prototype 1

    Oct. 18th

    Audio: Effects and Music picked

    Updated team schedule

    Created programming schedule

    Schedule Check

    Game works and 50% play

     

    Backgrounds

     

    Phase 4: Prototype 2

    Nov. 1st

     

     

    Play Test Descriptions, Measurements

    Criteria for testing

    Criteria for testing

    Get testers

    Set up testing schedule for testers

    Audio: Effects and Music coded

    100% gameplay

    Game is “done”, ready for play testing

    Title Screen, End Screens, Cut scenes, Pause screen

    Phase 5: Testing

    Nov. 4th

    Areas for Improvement

    Getting outside testers,

    Assigned improvements, Game summary

    Test run of submission to site

    Algorithm testing, glitch testing

    Tested graphics cohesion, impact, size, clarity

    Code Release

    Nov. 7th (deadline)

    Video and summary

    Submitted package to site

     

    Level additions if possible

    Clean and polished

     

    Fixed all graphics

    Polished

     



  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    How Many Jobs Are There For Poets

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    I was listening to an Internet stream of Gary Stager presenting a keynote at an education conference in Iowa the other day. The technology for this amazes me but the opportunity it provides is even more impressive. In any case, during his talk he presented a conversation that went something like this:

    "Are you suggesting every kid should learn to program?"
    "Well...we decided every kid should learn haiku..YES! why NOT programming?”

    I had a sarcastic Tweet that I followed this with - We teach school kids to write poetry but not program computers because there are so many more jobs for poets than programmers. Right?

    Now I was a student for many years and a teacher for a few as well so I know the argument that “we’re not a vocational school” or that “not everything we teach is about a job” or that “things we are teaching are part of being a fully rounded out individual.” They’re all somewhat valid arguments. So is “not every one will be a programmer.” But it seems to me that:

    • Programming today is about being a fully rounded out individual
    • Programming skills build the sort of problem solving skills people use in many jobs
    • Programming is a still growing and profitable career but when is the last time you saw an opening listed for a poet?

    Sure the arts are important but even though we don’t teach English to create professional poets (or novelists) we are seldom upset if students write poetry or novels. Likewise we should expose students to the beauty, power, and fun of software development and not be too upset if they do follow that into a career. And if they don’t become software developers they will have good life skills that will help them in what ever field they do enter.

    The late Steve Jobs called computer science a “liberal art.”

    “In my perspective … science and computer science is a liberal art, it’s something everyone should know how to use, at least, and harness in their life. It’s not something that should be relegated to 5 percent of the population over in the corner. It’s something that everybody should be exposed to and everyone should have mastery of to some extent, and that’s how we viewed computation and these computation devices.” via Steve Jobs: ‘Computer Science Is A Liberal Art’ : NPR.

    Personally, for me, a well written piece of computer code is just as cool, just as artistic and just as valid a thing to teach students as a Haiku.



  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    New Hampshire TechFest 2011

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    WP_000225Last Saturday I spend the day at Windham High School in Windham New Hampshire for the second annual NH TechFest. TechFest is a project  created by parents and others interested in making sure that students are exposed to information about STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Math) careers in an interesting way. They have recruited a good group of companies – local, regional and local divisions of national companies to set up exhibits and hands on experiences. There were telescopes aimed at the sun. A company that makes equipment for scanning for explosives. The FBI was there talking about the technology they use. There was a time when the FBI mostly recruited accountants and lawyers. Today computer scientists are high on their list of people to recruit. Several universities where there. I had a great time talking to some Mechanical Engineering students from the University of New Hampshire about their robot project. There were a lot of robots there by the way. They were there to exhibit but a number of student robot teams were there to compete in a Trebuchet Contest! So what was I doing there? Representing Microsoft and our great opportunities for students.

    OK we had an Xbox 360 and Kinect set up. The nice people at BestBuy brought us a couple of very large LCD monitors to use for our demos. And people did have fun with them. But the point was to explain how Kinect works. To that end we had a second monitor set up connected to a laptop that was running the Kinect for Windows SDK with sample programs. This was also pretty popular. The demos show off how the Kinect software identifies the parts of the body and allows programs to react to body movement.

    For a while I also demonstrated Kodu for younger programmers and Small Basic for middle school and up. The student in the picture on the right below is experimenting with a version of Tetris written in Small Basic. He remained totally focused for quite some time.

    WP_000229

    WP_000228

    My message of the day was that students can do more than play games. They can create. Sure they can create games, Kodu is great for that, but I encouraged them to think outside the box and look for important real world problems to solve. Computers are amazing tools and as fun as they games are the real excitement is in creating world changing software. That lead to some conversations about the Imagine Cup. I think a few studnets I talked to are thinking about entering. I hope so. But even if they don’t if one or two young people visited the booth and thought – I can create software – my time there will have been worth it.



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