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

November, 2011

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Leading With Kinect


    WP_000243Yesterday I had the pleasure of hosting a group of students from the Boston Preparatory Charter Public School. I even wore a tie because these students wear ties as part of their uniform and somehow I felt under dressed without a tie on previous visits. These were tenth graders who were visiting a couple of companies today on field trips. I was talking to them about careers in computer science and information technology. It’s the sort of thing I do regularly. Today I decided to do things a little differently. Usually I show technology at the end if there is time and interest but today I lead with it. Specifically I opened with a simple Kinect demo. People seem to really react well to the Kinect. It is both a different way of interacting with a computer and a wonderful example of how computer science can be involved in some amazing things.

    I like to start with the Skeletal Tracker demo that comes with Kinect for Windows (beta). 


    Why? Well it opens three windows that show

    • a color coded depth image
    • A stick figure representation of the person or persons in front of the device
    • What the RGB Camera sees

    What I like best about the stick figures is that they make it obvious how the Kinect software models the joints and body parts. It’s a more explanatory view than a fancier view with filled out images. Computer science really needs a bit of a hook (see this post from Garth Flint for example Computer Science classes need good bait) to get students interested. I find that the Kinect demo drives a lot of interest in the complexity and power as well as the beauty of computer science. It inspires a lot of deeper questions than many other technologies I have demonstrated.

    There are a lot of possibilities with Kinect. There are probably many times more ideas than I could ever think of. One of my hopes is that I can inspire more young people to take the technology we have today and build on it and ultimately help make the world a better place. Kinect is just one piece of technology of course. There are many more interesting exciting things out there. Every year we see students take steps towards using technology to make the world better via Imagine Cup entries. What does the future hold? It’s anyone's guess. But computer and information technology are some of the best ways to make the world better that I know of. So we need more smart hardworking smart thinking young people to go into those fields. That’s why I work hard to help build interest among students.

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Interesting Links 14 November 2011


    I spent a lot of time watching the Twitter feed and reading blog posts about the Microsoft Global Forum last week. And some watching the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing as well. A good number of this week’s links are to posts related to the Global Forum. Let’s start with post event reflections from three attendees who were there in different roles.

    Two more teacher reflections

    Doug Peterson had a series of blog posts from the Global Forum and between his tweets and posts I feel like I had a good idea (in a very small way) of what was going on. Here’s a bit of the day by day as Doug experienced it.

    Here is the list of the 2011 Global Innovative Educator Award winners!  If you are interested in participating in 2012 follow the Microsoft Partners in Learning Facebook page. A few more news pieces from the Global Forum

    US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan spoke to the group and throws a fish!  Also Microsoft announces partnerships to inspire and support educators around the world:

    Kinect was big at the Global Forum and coincidentally there is a new home page for Kinect for Windows

    From Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing Ed Donahue (@creepyed) send out an invitation to heck out the flickr group, This is what a computer scientist looks like,  A great collection of women of all types who are involved in computer science. Chances are good that girls you know will see imagines of women like them.

    Also at GHC, Ashley Myers (@OrganizeFISH) Tweeted this interesting tidbit “AP Calc and AP Stats have almost 50/50 female/male. AP CS ~16% female. ” Make you think doesn’t it?

    Launching the 2nd Annual CSEdWeek Ideas for colleges from Mark Guzdial (@guzdial) that apply to many businesses as well.

    Bob Familiar (@BobFamiliar) blogs about a new program for app developers.  [Your App Here] offers opportunity to have your Windows Phone app featured


  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Computer Science As Cross Curricula


    gflogoInitially I was going to write about how well computer science related projects did at the recent Microsoft Partners in Learning Global Forum. After all Louis Zulli won a first prize for Cutting-Edge Use of Microsoft Technology for Learning. And the “When Fish Fly” project won for Collaboration. And those are computer science related projects. And Doug Bergman’s computer science was another of the US based projects that was there. (Note I wrote about CS at the Global Forum last week). But then I read Doug Peterson’s excellent recap of his experiences and observations from the Global Forum (My Takeaways from the Partners in Learning Global Summit – go read the whole thing) and read this paragraph.

    * Computer Science seemed to be the black sheep of the family. There were a couple of examples of programming like one project that connected SharePoint to Moodle and a few examples of using Kinect but I didn’t see anything that I would consider hardcore computer programming. Perhaps I need to challenge my own definition of what Computer Science is.

    Now when Doug writes something I pay attention. He’s a sharp guy and the fact that we look at things a little differently from time to time is one of the reasons I value his opinion so much. His background is different from mine and he brings good stuff to the conversation because of it. So this paragraph has had me thinking for a couple of days. Now if you read though the lists of the 2011 Global Innovative Educator Award winners you will see some programming involved in some of them. There are several Kinect related projects and at least one Kodu project as well. But hard core computer science or computer programming? Really not so much. Why?

    Well I don’t think that is because Microsoft considers computer science to be “the black sheep of the family.” I do see two other causes though. One is that there are just not enough computer science teachers who are doing innovative “hard” computer science entering. This seems, though I could be wrong, to be more the case outside the US than inside the US. But even still there must be more going on everywhere. Perhaps we have a problem where the Global Forum and other Microsoft Partners in Learning programs are not as well known to computer science educators. In spite of me trying to fix that with my blog. Apparently there are computer science teachers who do not read my blog. Yes, hard to believe I know. Smile

    The other factor though is more positive at least in my opinion. Generally the computer science efforts at the Global Forum were cross curricular projects. The “When Fish Fly” project was created by a team that consisted of several CS teachers, a math teacher and a Media Arts teacher. It was designed to incorporate aspects of “computer science, fine arts, business and economics ” In short it is more than a computer science project and at the same time less OF a computer science project depending on your point of view.

    The second runner up project in the Cutting-Edge Use of Microsoft Technology for Learning category is a similar story. They used Kodu which is at it’s heart of programming tool for younger children. But if you read the description (below) you will see that it is much more than programming.

    Second Runner-Up: Zainuddin Zakaria (Malaysia): “Kodu in Classrooms Around the World”: Students create games using Microsoft Kodu Game Lab that teach environmental lessons. Students learn cooperation, logic and creativity in addition to programming, and share the games with students around the world.

    There is that whole wonderful environmental lesson (science) piece involved in an integral way. I see this as a good thing.

    Now don’t get me wrong I love real computer science – what ever that means – but it seems that making computer science – even if just programming – a tool for learning more than just computer science is a net positive thing. We use math to help learn physics. In fact we can’t study physics without math. We use reading and writing to help us learn history and geography and even “hard” sciences. Why not use computer science to help learn other subjects.

    Mark Guzdial has been writing a lot about “context” in computer science is posts such as “We’ve got to teach kids to program, but not as a subject in isolation.” and Fixing Our Math Education with Context and I tend to agree – students need context. They need an answer to “when will I ever use this stuff?”  There is another great value into making computer science more multi-disciplinary though. Finding room in the curriculum in the first place.

    I would argue that involving computer science in multi-disciplinary projects helps to move computer science more into the core of the educational process. It helps show the value to administrators as much as it does to students and parents. He helps create a better more rounded learning experience. It helps to in effect justify the existence of CS in the core to those people who for some reason don’t already buy into the idea.

    So while I truly would like to see more serious, focused computer science or computer programming projects at next year’s Global Forum (it will be in Athens Greece BTW) I am pretty happy to see cross disciplinary projects that include some computer science, a little Kinect programming, perhaps some Windows Phone development or SharePoint integration along with math, science, history, social studies, current events, environmental awareness or what ever else teachers are looking for innovative ways to teach.

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