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

October, 2011

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Southern Interactive Entertainment & Game Expo 2011


     siege-logo-11Last week I attended part of SIEGE 2011 (Southern Interactive Entertainment & Game Expo) in Atlanta Georgia. Before the main part of the conference started the conference hosted hundreds of high school and middle school students for a college open house and presentations on a variety of topics.  I was there to talk a bit about how students can learn to create their own games using a verity of tools from Microsoft. I started with some information about trends in computer gaming such as more and more graphics, faster and faster processors, and new and different devices for game play. Then I talked about what students who want to get into game development have to do to prepare. For programmers, math and physics are key subjects. A lot of students think they can avoid those but pretty much every professional game developer I have met or read about uses math quite a bit. Many also have math books on their reference shelves at work. But most of all those who would become professional game developers must have a passion for it. It requires hard work and it requires being ready and willing to create ones own games to show people what one has. Fortunately there are tools available for students to do just that. I talked about some of them as well.


    Xbox 360 controllers and Kinect Sensors are two of the devices I showed the students. Kodu, a great graphical programming environment for young programmers, is easily programmed using the Xbox 360 controllers for example. The Kinect Sensor device can be used to create games using the released Kinect for Windows SDK.

    I also talked a bit about DreamSpark. DreamSpark is the way these students (see picture below) and many more can get free access to a large amount of professional software development tools. These tools can be used for game development of course but they can also be used for all sorts of other applications. It’s a huge opportunity for students.


    I also talked briefly about the Imagine Cup. The last two years have seen high school teams make it to the US Finals of the game design competition of the Imagine Cup. Last year a high school team finished in the top three. I am really hoping for a high school team from the US to make it to the world-wide finals in Australia. I’m also hoping that some high school teams will enter other parts of the Imagine Cup besides Game Design. The Software Design event is the premier event in the Imagine Cup. It takes a lot of work to be really competitive and competing against college and university students can be a daunting prospect for high school students. I do believe that some high school students are up to it though. I should mention that there is a third category in the Imagine Cup – the IT Challenge – which we’ve also seen some high school students do well at. It’s a chance for students of things like systems and network management to really show off what they know. Something to think about for a lot of students at a lot of schools.

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Interesting Links 10 October 2011


    Last week the computing industry lost one of its great innovators in Steve Jobs. It’s a great loss especially for his wife, children and friends. We don’t know who will be the next big innovator of course but we can try to encourage talented people to enter the field and change the world in their own ways. That is an important part of the motivation behind Microsoft’s donation of 2,400 Kinect Sensor devices to FIRST Robotics last week. (Be The Robot) I also spoke to about 600 students in Atlanta last week, more on that tomorrow, about computer science careers especially as related to game design and development – the event was a gaming conference. I also collected a few links I’d like to share with you.

    Speaking of game development, have you checked out the new Microsoft Curriculum on Game Development using XNA

    Doug Bergman writes about his experience with the World Series of Innovation on his blog at Innovation, NFTE, and Microsoft.

    The CSTA Blog had a couple of interesting posts:

    A number of highly motivated Microsoft employees have been working at creating the Technology Education and Literacy in Schools Program (TEALS)  You can read about it in this piece on the Huffington Post

    For some reason  this three year old post on a binary number game saw a big spike in traffic last week. Are you teaching Binary numbers? I have a bunch of posts on Binary numbers linked using the Binary tag you may want to check out.

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Be The Robot


    One of the issues with computer science is that some people would rather move atoms than pixels. That is to say that virtual objects, even if they involve images on a screen, are less compelling to some than physical objects doing actual work in the real world. Robots have long been involved in the connection between real and virtual worlds.  How do we control those robots? How much autonomy is there and how much is machines responding to direct human control? Well that all depends. Some tasks are easily programmed and easily done by “rote.” Others have too much variability or require to much in the way of functions, vision comes to mind, that are not as easily programmed. So in  many cases there is a mix. The FIRST Robotics competition includes just that sort of mix. The event starts with a short period of autonomous action followed by a period of remote human control. This works out to create some interesting software developments. The 2012 competition will be adding a new wrinkle though. Microsoft is donating a Kinect device for each team to use. The idea is to allow the robot to become more of an extension of the human player. In a sense, to allow the human to “be the robot.” Some stuff from the press release.

    In the 2012 FIRST Robotics Competition, teams will be able to control robots via Kinect. They will be able to either program their robots to respond to their own custom gestures made by their human teammates, or use default code and gestures. The added ability for teams to customize the application of the Kinect sensor data is a valuable enhancement to the FRC experience.

    This is pretty exciting. During the autonomous period team members will be able to provide some guidance to one (of the three on a team) robot by moving their bodies. Gestures of various types either from sample code that will be supplied or custom code developed by team members will be used to give direction and activity for a robot. Some interesting possibilities. An additional possibility that is not obvious to me from the press release is that a Kinect could become part of the robot as well. Oh there are power concerns, issues of weight, and a small matter of software to make it all work but FIRST students are amazingly clever. So between all the possibilities I can’t wait to see what these students come up with.

    I understand that some teams are getting early hardware so that they can take part in a beta program. FIRST usually runs some sort of beta in the fall before the regular season starts so that they can test new hardware, new software or other new ideas that will probably be part of the new season’s game. Also some software is being developed to act as a starting platform for student teams to use and build around. I don’t know yet when this software will be available though. Not that teams have to wait for this to start experimenting on their own of course. Established teams often have robots from previous competitions to experiment with. The Kinect is not an expensive device and the software to develop for it is free. The Kinect for Windows SDK is a free download and students can either use the Visual Studio Express editions in C++ or C# or Visual Basic to develop. Or high schools can sign up for DreamSpark to get students free professional development products from Microsoft.

    Related links:

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