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

January, 2012

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Inviting ALL EDUCATORS to share their GREAT IDEAS

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    I love sharing by educators. It is one clear way that I believe we can all make education work better. So this announcement seemed like something I had to share.

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    The NEA Foundation, Microsoft US Partners in Learning Seek Solutions

    Using Technology to Engage Students in Learning

    New Challenge to Innovate Query Offers $1,000 Awards for EducatorsBest Ideas

    WASHINGTON, DC (Jan. 23, 2012) -- How can interactive technology and game-based learning help students learn? In its latest Challenge to Innovate (C2i) initiative, the NEA Foundation has partnered with Microsoft US Partners in Learning to encourage public school educators to explore, share, and discuss their responses to this question on the Department of Education’s Open Innovation Portal. The best 10 ideas, as judged by the C2i community on the portal, will receive $1,000 cash awards and recognition as their solutions are shared with educators nationwide.

    “Nine out of 10 kids, between the ages of two and 17, play electronic games in the U.S, according to a recent national study. Should these new tools be limited to simple fun, or can they open new doors to learning?” said Harriet Sanford, President and CEO of the NEA Foundation.  “The next great teaching frontier is light years away from chalk and erasers. If we change the classroom conversation from a one-way exercise to an engaging process that is constantly being renewed and refined, what would happen? Can gaming and education be combined in effective ways?”

    Sanford said that the Foundation created C2i last year in partnership with the Department of Education to explore crowd sourcing as a way to exchange ideas and identify innovative solutions to a range of instructional challenges. With the help of an expert panel, the Foundation reviews the community’s top selection and gives cash awards for the best ideas. To date, more than 9,350 individuals have joined the C2i community.

    Proposed solutions for the gaming challenge will be accepted from Jan. 23 through March 5, 2012. To submit or to review, comment, or vote on solutions, participants must register on the Department of Education’s Portal. For details on how to participate or for more information, please visit the Foundation’s C2i page.



  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    We Need A Wider Conversation on CS Education

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    There is an active conversation going on in the UK about computing education. From the Royal Society report (Shut down or restart?: The way forward for computing in UK schools) to Op-ed pieces in newspapers to blogs people are asking “why are we not teaching students more computer science?” I see some of that conversation in the US as well. Andy Young’s piece on Why programming should be required in schools was Slash Dotted this week. The response on Slashdot is mixed. We have Computer Science Education Week now and some in Congress are talking about the need to do more. But far too little of this conversation is taking place outside the computer science education ghetto/echo chamber.

    Computing in the Core seems like a good step and the organizations that are involved are the right ones.

    Computing in the Core is a non-partisan advocacy coalition of associations, corporations, scientific societies, and other non-profits seeking to elevate the national profile of computer science education in K-12 within the US and work toward ensuring that computer science is one of the core academic subjects in K-12 education.

    But other than Microsoft, Google and SAS there doesn’t seem to be much participation from industry. Frankly industry should have the most vested interest in participating. Where are the other hardware and software companies? Where are the tech bloggers for that matter? The answer I’ve gotten before is that “not my area of expertise” or “I’m focused on other things.” Joel Spolsky is one of the exceptions with his involvement with the proposed software engineering high school in New York City. He sees the need for more highly skilled and trained computer science people. Then of course he is not just a pundit spouting off but a practitioner who actually hires software develops for his company. It may be that smaller companies are feeling the shortage of qualified people the most. The Microsofts, Googles, Facebooks, HPs, Dells, and other really large companies get to pick from the cream of the software development crop after all. The big companies need the small ones though. That is one of the reasons Microsoft has programs like BizSpark to help startups and works to help increase the pool of computer scientists – so that our partners will also be able to find the people they need.

    Startups, who are also sucking up some of our best and brightest, are too small and too focused to get much involved. So it is the big companies we need to be involved for the betterment of the whole industry. The pundits in their blogs and social media outlets could be a powerful force in getting more companies involved. I just wish they would look around and get active. If they don’t they may all have to move to India or China to cover the software industry one of these days.

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  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    One Option for How to Teach Kodu

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    Kodu game labI recently ran some workshops to prepare students to be peer mentors and to mentor younger students with Kodu. The method I suggest is to have mentors show students some small steps and then let the students try. The latest version of Kodu has some really nice step by step lessons that students can do on their own or with a peer. After a lesson we encourage the students to try the same things on their own from where the lesson leaves off. For example adding a second character and having that character do something similar but slightly different from what was done in the lesson. I also encourage students to explore a little as well. They keep discovering things and sharing them with partners or others in the class. The general pattern of show a few things followed by experimentation with those things and repeat seems to work very well.

    It can’t be all lecture/demo or students get bored. Kids just naturally want to try this stuff! On the other hand if you don’t stop and introduce new things students are likely to miss out on things. Although you can also count on some students learning things you didn’t know on a regular basis. Take those as teachable moments and use them to your advantage.

    Students running into issues (bugs if you want) are an additional opportunity. This gives one a chance to talk about problem solving skills and how to look carefully at what is being asked of the program or not being asked. For example a common error when using additional code pages as sub routines is to forget to return to the original or other code page at an appropriate time. This is really an important programming concept that students can easily grasp using Kodu.

    In our recent workshops which included high school and middle school students we gave the students a challenge list after the lunch break (we ran for three hours before lunch). That list looked like this:

    • Create a new world with mountains and water
    • Add several characters including some that move and some that don’t (like trees?)
    • Program the movable objects to move on their own
    • Keep some sort of score and act on it (e.g. win/lose game)
    • Make some object jump
    • Have fun!

    Bonus:

    • Use two score boards
    • Use a path
    • Create and use a second (or third) code page
    • Make characters have a conversation (use When Hear)
    • Use a “creatable” (adds copies of things to the game as it runs)
    • Add intro text (background and/or instructions)

    At the end of an hour we had students demonstrate and explain the projects they had created. I was amazed at what students were able to do in a short period of time. I can see creating a series of simple challenge lists for an after school program that would include both material that had been covered and some items for students to discover on their own.

    There are also some curriculum resources at http://fuse.microsoft.com/page/kodu (scroll down to the Kodu Classroom Kit for Educators) Also on that page you will find some introductory videos and a link to the Kodu community at KoduGameLab.com The videos can be particularly useful since everything in Kodu is so visual. It is easier to show something than explain it.



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