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

January, 2012

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Software Engineering High School


    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?

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Interesting Links 16 January 2012


    Sorry this is late today. Not a good weekend or morning either. Should be close to 100% for the workshops I am presenting in Vermont on Wednesday and Thursday though. More of what I did last week (Teaching Teachers and Students Together) This week Ed Donahue is joining me for an Expression Web workshops. Should be fun for sure. Now off with some links that I hope you will find useful and/or interesting.

    First off the bat Lee Stott @lee_stott writes about the amazing Windows Phone Curricula Resources DVD and Online resources a huge number of resources for anyone who wants to learn or teach Windows Phone development.

    The amazing Angela Maiers @AngelaMaiers wrote about her experiences at the  Partners in Learning – Global Forum this past fall.

    New York City gets a Software Engineering High School this coming Septembers. Joel Spolsky writes about it in that link. Joel is on the advisory board. So is my good friend Leigh Ann Jervis DeLyser. The school is largely the dream of Mike Zamansky @zamansky from New York’s Stuyvesant High School. Most people call it an “elite” school but since I went to rival Brooklyn Tech I can’t bring myself to do that. Smile) BTW I just added Mike’s blog at to my Computer Science Education Blog Roll. Not sure why it took me so long to find Mike’s blog. Let me know if there are others I should be following.

    Audrey Watters @audreywatters who is rapidly becoming my first source for technology education news wrote Should ALL college majors (not just CS majors) learn to code? I think so but apparently not everyone agrees. Imagine that!

    Interesting look at an Imagine Cup team: UW students utilize the Kinect to teach math on GeekWire I love the whole idea of learning that involves people getting up and moving around. I think that makes people’s brains work better. Bodies too!

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Teaching Teachers and Students Together


    Kodu game labThe other day Chris Bowen (that’s Chris working with students below) and I gave a Kodu workshop for a group of students and teachers in Vermont. This was a train the trainer sort of work shop and the students will be acting as peer tutors as part of after school programs in their local schools. Some of the adults were teachers from the same schools while others were teacher trainers from the Digital Wish program who organized the workshop.


    Having both students who ranged from about 6th grade though high school and adults in the same workshop was pretty interesting. Generally speaking the adults asked more questions. The students tended to try more things before asking. One might expect adults to hesitate about asking for help in front of students but that was not the case. These adults were there to learn and if asking questions helped they were ready and willing to do so. In fact stopping teachers from asking questions seems just about impossible in my experience. It is one of the things I love about doing workshops for teachers.

    As I said before the students were rushing ahead to try things. They also wanted to learn but at their age discovery and trial and error appear to be the preferred way to learn. And learn they did! Kodu is one of those wonderful tools where you can point students in a general direction and get out of the way. We had some of the students demo projects at the end of the day and I must say I was impressed with how much they learned. It was more than I was able to teach them. I call that success!

    The adults learned a lot as well of course. It was interesting to see that while the students didn’t pay a lot of attention to what the adults were doing the adults were positively energized by watching the students. This is not really surprising in either case. Kids are notorious for not being able to see beyond themselves. Teachers are well known for thriving on the success of their students. It is the ability to push students forward and enjoy their success that makes people good teachers (among other things of course).

    My last big observation is that the teacher’s minds were racing with a different set of ideas than the students. The students were interested in “playing” while the teachers were seeing things like:

    • Problem solving
    • logical thinking
    • debugging
    • story boarding
    • teamwork

    And all sorts of other things students were and would be learning through the process. It’s as if mental light bulbs were going off all over the room. I can’t wait to see what all of these students – adult and school age alike – come up with in the coming weeks and months.

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