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

January, 2012

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Are You Applying for the 2012 US Forum?

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    Last summer I attended the US Innovative Education Forum in Redmond and came home quite inspired by the teachers and projects I saw. Dozens of teachers using technology to improve the quality and quantity of learning with their students. Microsoft Partners in Learning is now looking for this year’s crop of interesting, inspiring and innovative teachers and projects to attend the 2012 US Forum  in Redmond, this summer. I’ve copied some of the information about this event below but I hope you will check out the 2012 US Forum  page for yourself to learn about this wonderful opportunity for teachers. At the bottom of this post as links to some of my blog posts from this past summer’s event as well as some posts by teachers who attended it. Please read what some of these amazing teachers had to say about their experiences. And if you are doing interesting things with technology give some thought to applying. (BTW computer science teachers have been some of the top award winners recently.)

    Showcase and celebrate innovative teaching

    Show us how you engage students in problem-solving, inspire their creativity, and prepare them for life ahead. You could be selected to attend the forum in Redmond, Washington, July 31 – August 1. Winners there will proceed to the Worldwide 2012 Global Forum in Athens, Greece.

    There is an extra opportunity for computer science, graphic design or technology educators who are selected – an Xbox/Kinect system.

    Computer science, graphic design, and technology educators: You might win an Xbox 360 and Kinect for your school.
    Here’s how:

    • Computer science, graphic design, or technology educators who are selected to participate in the forum are eligible to win an Xbox 360 and Kinect for their school.
    • When you apply online to the Forum, be sure to select which Microsoft web design or software development tools are used in your project.
    • Educators eligible to win the Xbox 360 and Kinect must submit a gifting letter.

    Who can apply?

    • K-12 educators or teams of two educators who lead class projects that use technology to positively impact student learning
    • School leaders who direct programs and initiatives that use technology to enhance education throughout the school community

    Related posts:

    By teachers

    By me:



  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Kinect for FRC 2012

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    WP_000285Tomorrow is the official kickoff for the FIRST Robotics Competition. One of the things that means is that today is a day of workshops at FIRST Place in Manchester NH. I started my day here by presenting a 45 minute workshop on how the Kinect is used with FRC robots this year. There were some things I could not cover because the full game details will not be released until tomorrow of course. But I was able to provide some context and some architectural information that I hope was helpful to the 60 or so attendees who were present and how ever any people were watching the web cast. I am told that the talk was recorded and I will link to that once I know where it is. But I did want to share a few pieces of what I talked about via my blog post. Sort of speaker’s notes as well as hyper links to the resources I talked about. You’ll find those links at the bottom of this post.

    A Kinect sensor is supported by a great software development kit (Kinect for Windows SDK) which is a great place to start. Programing expertise among FIRST teams is sort of all over the map. much of this is a consequence of there not being enough computer science in the curriculum but let’s not get into that now. For now, know that there are some additional resources that are being supplied for FIRST teams this year. Specifically the wonderful people at the WPI robotics program have created some libraries that have been tuned a bit by some of the FIRST staff. The diagram below (created by Kevin O'Connor of FIRST shows the general architecture.

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    The Kinect device is connected though the Kinect SDK to an FRC Kinect Server program. This program, written in C#, may be modified by teams in any number of ways including adding their own custom gestures. The server passes on a lot of information to the Driver Station diagnostic and dashboard software. This includes:

    • Raw skeletal Data
    • Diagnostic data
    • Default Gesture data

    The server defines 9 different gestures by default. These gestures can be passed to the robot as if they were joystick or other controller data. This allows teams to use the Kinect out of the box without having to write Kinect specific code. Teams can also pass the skeletal and diagnostic data to the cRIO (an control device made and donated by National Instruments for the robots) and write code on the cRIO using Java, C/C++ or Java. This gives the teams an enormous amount of flexibility.

    I am really REALLY quite excited to see what FIRST Robotics teams do with the Kinect this year.

    FRC Kinect Resources

    All of the 2012 FIRST Kickoff workshops were recorded and are posted on the FIRST ThinkTank here: http://thinktank.wpi.edu/tag/1006



  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Software Engineering High School

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    It sounds like a movie title doesn’t it? Like Super Hero High for geeks. But in this case New York City gets a Software Engineering High School this coming Septembers for real. What’s it going to be like? It looks like Joel Spolsky and other software professionals including involvement from a number of major software related firms are involved from the industry side. From the academic side Mike Zamansky  from New York’s Stuyvesant High School and Leigh Ann Jervis DeLyser are involved. Leigh Ann is someone I have known for a while. She was my trainer when I helped grade the APCS exam a bunch of years ago. She’s being doing CS education related studies as a PhD student at Carnegie Mellon the last few years after being a HS CS teacher for a good while. So it is not just all industry people and not just all education people but people who actually know what they are doing in both fields. That makes it sound pretty good.

    One of the goals of this school is increasing the diversity of people in the software engineering field. With not entrance exam (NYC has a number of outstanding entrance exam high schools – I attended one) this one will be open to students with an interest regardless of tests. This should open a lot of doors. It has challenges as well but interest from students and good teachers can overcome that – I have faith in that! I do worry about recruiting though. How many middle school students know that they are interested in this area if they haven’t been exposed to some computer science (not applications use) in middle school? Perhaps students (or their parents) will be attracted by the career possibilities. I hope so. The software industry can be a great place to work and not just for the money but the chance to make a difference in the world. Joel Spolsky expects the school to be overwhelmed with applicants. I hope he’s right but I worry by nature.

    Besides students this school is going to need great teachers. The board and principal (they still need a great principal) will have to work hard to find the right teachers. I am more optimistic about this. I mean seriously I would love to teach at a school like this. What computer science teacher who loves the subject and loves teaching wouldn't? Will this strip the other high schools in NYC of all the best CS teachers though? Or will it attract enough new candidates from outside the area to really build a CS education community in NYC? Now THAT would be an exciting development. I really hope that happens.

    Over time schools are judged in large measure by their graduates. This school intends to be a rigorous academic environment. That’s a good thing. We, and by we I mean the software engineering professional and academic communities, need this school to turn out a diverse, motivated, and ready student body who will attend great universities and really move this country forward in the field. So the CS and the other academic areas need to be top notch. Sounds like that is the goal. Retention will be tricky. Rigorous means that some students who are not used to rigor will struggle. The faculty will have to help keep them motivated and moving. That’s what good teachers do of course. Environment is key though. I firmly believe that if the environment outside of school is not supportive the culture and environment inside the school becomes even more important. I like what I read so far (there are other articles on this school out there) though.

    Personally and professionally I hope to get involved in this school. I’ll want to make sure they are able to take full advantage of the new improved DreamSpark program for example. If you are familiar with MSDN Academic Alliance that is being upgraded to this new version of DreamSpark Premium with institutional subscriptions. And of course make sure they know about all the free curriculum resources at the Faculty Connection site. And we’ll see what else we can do to help over time. It’s going to be an interesting experiment. If it works it may be a model for more schools around the country. Wouldn’t that be something?



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