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Last weekend I visited the Maine State Championship for FIRST Lego League which is run by a group of volunteers in an organization called Maine Robotics. They had about 500 students (grades 3 to 8) who were part of 62 teams competing to win some interesting trophies. There was quite a lot of excitement throughout the day. I’ve been to FLL events before and every time I go I am impressed with the results students are demonstrating.
I watched several matches and was impressed with the focus students had. The event consists of several parts including a presentation to judges of student projects, research done on the year’s topic and the actual running of an autonomous robot on a playing field.
As you can see on this photo of a practice filed there are many objects on the table and there are tasks that robots have to complete on the field. For each task the students have created a specific program and designed a hardware configuration. The robots will run one program and return to a “base” where a student will set up the next program and reconfigure the robot for that task. Things have to be done quickly as there is a two minute limit for the whole set of tasks. Students are dealing with a lot of stress and it only gets worse when things go wrong as invariably they do. I watched students shake off frustration and keep moving in order to get as much done in the time left.
FLL is just one competition run by FIRST Robotics BTW. This year, well, the 2012 season, the largest robots (FRC – FIRST Robotics Challenge) will be able to use a Kinect to control their robots. I’m pretty excited about that. Yeah, I’m a FIRST Fan. But most of all I am hoping to see some really cool applications for the Kinect from FIRST teams. These are some of the most creative out of the box thinkers I run into. And I run into a lot of creative out of the box thinker.
Does your school have a robotics team? if not FIRST is well worth checking out.
Last Friday the Microsoft Technology Center in Waltham MA was pleased to again host a group from Year Up Rhode Island. I again gave a career talk. Unlike last time (NUI Whoops) I didn’t get fancy and try to use a Kinect to show off. During the lunch break the students did try out a Kinect and Xbox 360. The young man in the center of the picture below moved much better than I ever could.
I talk about Kinect during my career talks these days because I firmly believe that we are right at the beginning of how it and devices like it will change how we interact with computers and through those computers with many part of our environments. It is enabling technology. To me computers, and especially software are at the heart of world changing opportunities.
The availability of the Kinect for Windows SDK and the relatively inexpensive Kinect sensor device opens many possibilities for new ideas and creative solutions. Perhaps even to solving “problems” we don’t even know we have.
Something else that I talk a lot about these days is the opportunity for young people with ideas, ambition and brains to start their own companies. Besides free tools for students to learn with (DreamSpark) there is the Microsoft BizSpark program to help start up companies get started on the Microsoft platform. And of course Cloud Computing services like Windows Azure allow new companies to focus on their applications without stressing out over buying and maintaining infrastructure. The people from Year Up (a group of them below staying awake while I talked) were a great audience. They asked good questions as well. That always makes for a more interesting event for everyone. I wish them all the best as they complete the Year Up program and move into the workforce full-time.
Last week I posted a list of some of the great computer science related blogs I read on a regular basis (Computer Science Education Blog Roll) Week after week these people share ideas and thoughts and tools that really make a difference in the world. This week, as usually, I list some of the best posts from those very special people. But first Andrew Parsons reminds me that Just One More Week To Enter The Rock Paper Azure Fall Sweepstakes! This is an opportunity for programming hotshots to learn a little about writing applications for the cloud and have a go at writing some artificial intelligence code as well.
I really love Ben Chun’s idea of spending the first 5 minutes of class writing a method of the day. Take a look at his blog post Question of the Day and find the link to the first 10 questions he used with his students. For C#, Visual Basic and F# you could probably do something like this fairly easily with Pex 4 Fun and save some grading time.
I also enjoyed this blog post by Johnny Kissko ( @johnnyeducation) about Kinecting the Gaps in Education. Well worth the read.
In other news, the Alice team (alice.org) out of Carnegie Mellon University has a new Alice Facebook page to help build community.
Ed Donahue ( @creepyed) tweeted about A beginners guide to developing for Windows Phone . Download the guide (the link is to a PDF) and get started!
Computer Science in Top Ten Degrees That Pay Back: In Computer Science As more and more students (and their parents) start to take the economic viability of various degrees and majors it is nice to see computer science near the top of the list.
The student focused Microsoft home page at microsoft.com/student/ has been completely updated and redone. Well worth checking out and sending students you know to visit.
Did you notice that the new Kinect for Windows SDK Beta 2 is now available for download?
last but far from least, Tony Franklin (@TeachTec) has but the most amazing list of Tools for Schools at teachtec.cloudapp.net. This site lists over 100 free Microsoft Education resources that you can use. Oh and perhaps FREE works for you? Check it out and pass it along to any other teachers you may know.