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

February, 2012

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Interesting Links 27 February 2012


    CS12_logoThe highlight of this past week for me was taking part in the CSTA CS & IT conference program committee meeting. The agenda should be available soon once some final details get nailed down and I’ll blog about that when it happens. Suffice it to say it looks to me like this well be an outstanding professional development event this summer. If you are a computer science and/or IT teacher start making plans to attend it now. Hope to see you there. Until then a few other links to share

    Student Windows Phone Apps Need Votes We’re looking for the public to vote on the finalists of the Big App On Campus competition. Please check out the apps students have created and vote for your favorites. I’ve actually installed a few and have been using them on my phone. Some good stuff.

    Don’t forget that there are still a few chances for student developers to enter the Imagine Cup. Check out this post about the next round of Imagine cup deadlines coming up

    For teachers of all subjects I hope you saw my blog post: Partners in Learning 2012 US Forum–Reminder Can we get more CS teachers to apply? Yes we can! Some special prizes are available for CS and IT teachers. Check it out.

    Are you attending a FIRST Robotics event this weekend? Events each of the next six weeks in the US and Canada. These are a real opportunity to see students creating some amazing robots and using STEM skills in exciting ways. If you have kids you want to see get excited about science, technology, engineering and math these are great events for them to attend. I find inspiration every time I go to one.

    Want to Get and Keep a Job…Coding Seems to be the Key according to this post by Tara Walker. It’s a shame that CS education isn’t growing as quickly as the need for CS professionals.

    Dani Diaz works with professional developers at Microsoft and he has been working on a cool Windows Phone Starter Kit for Conferences - Small And Mighty That might also serve as a foundation for other projects such as a school application. It’s worth a look.

    Lastly a link to my computer science education blog roll. If you are looking for good blogs about computer science education this list is a good start.

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Tutorials, Projects and Problem Solving


    Another recent confluence of posts on similar topics (list below) has caused me to spend some time thinking. And sooner or later I have to think though my fingers and get my thoughts out in a blog post. So here goes. Problem solving is one of those critical things for computer science students. Some people never seem to get it. They can understand all the pieces but putting them together to solve a problem can elude them. Abstracting concepts and reusing them for new problems seems to be almost a foreign concept to some students.  It’s frustrating for everyone. How do we deal with this?

    I have run into a lot of people, not just kids who just want the answer. Don’t tell me how to fix it just fix it! Or “I don’t need to know why just tell me what to do.” For these sorts of students a step by step tutorial is just what they want. They want a recipe that they can follow and get a desired result. If they learn something that is ok but really they just want to get to the end of the project and have something to show. The problem with this as Deepa points out is that this is seldom a good way to learn and it does little to nothing to build up problem solving skills. What it can do is serve as a platform for doing more and learning more. For example I’ve published a number of tutorials on my blog over the years. A teacher I know handed one of them (similar to Pong using XNA and Visual Basic) to his students and asked them to take it to the next level. They could define “the next level” with some flexibility. Several of them created a whole new Breakout game.

    Starting with a tutorial or starter kit is a sort of scaffolding for beginners. They can climb through the code that is handed to them and try things with it. “What happens if I change this?” They can build on new things knowing that they at least have a working base to start with. So tutorials can be a good thing especially when followed with more involved projects. But they work best when someone does some explaining of what is going on in the code first. That is the added value that teachers can and should provide. Students often seem to avoid reading the descriptions in tutorials so even if you are explaining the what and why in the text students may miss it. teachers can help a great deal just by facilitating a discussion about the tutorial.

    Many students need help with learning problem solving processing though. You’d think that after all the problem solving and learning children have to do in the first few years of life (what is that sound that object is making what does it mean and why are they always here?) that children would be natural problem solvers. Somehow that is not the case. Do we teach them out of it perhaps with too many boring worksheets tutorials and rote learning? A question for smarter people than me to answer. The fact is though that we do have to help students learn problem solving. Even things as simple as breaking complex problems down to smaller and smaller parts (as Laura points out in one of her posts) can be a huge step forward for many students.  Laura also states:

    I don’t know what the exact answer is, but project-based processes seem to encourage problem solving more than discrete assignments with teacher-defined goals.  At least that’s been my experience so far.

    Her experience matches my own. If goals are too rigidly defined by a teacher the students do not seem to develop the sort of ownership that leads to the kind of internal motivation that pushes students into learning on their own. The amount of open-endedness depends on the students though. Older and more motivated students are willing to take on more and to develop their own goals and even projects. Younger students can be a bit more timid and want more scaffolding. At all ages team projects can help though. Laura points out how much team based problem solving goes on with the girls in her robotics program. Talking though problems can be a powerful problem solving tool. 

    I have seen contests help with some students. Reading the story Mrs Marien tells about the path leading up to her student's visit with President Obama it seems clear that in some cases contests serve to send good problem solvers into hyper drive. Good as that is I think it is important to see that a bunch of other students found some incentive there to get creative and to work on some problems. In team based contests, I think of what some students have done with the Imagine Cup in recent years, there is an added incentive to work together to solve a problem which I believe causes results that are better than the sum of the parts (or individuals on the team.) Ultimately we need more problem solvers. The students who demand answers without understanding are not going to advance the world a whole lot. If creating games in Kodu or using Kinect or Windows Phones or what ever encourages learning to solve problems I think that is a good thing. If we can get students to taste enough success in problem solving and in creating new things that they want more of it that should be a goal.

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  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Next Round Of Imagine Cup Deadlines Coming Up


    The Imagine Cup series of competitions has a new round of deadlines coming up over the next two weeks. The good news is that the barriers to entry in most of these is low enough that students still have time to get their act together and enter. The Kinect Fun Labs Challenge and the Windows Metro Style App challenge are the two I really want to highlight. For the Kinect Challenge what you need to do is register your team and submit a project plan (a plan not a done project). The top 100 teams will get a Kinect device to use as they start work on the project itself. So get your thinking caps on and get in!

    For the Windows Metro Style App Challenge the entry is an online quiz (and there are two quizzes left to take for qualification) If you have been looking at Windows 8 you want to jump in to this at least to find out how much you really know. And get your friends to take the test so you can see how you all measure up. And then get ready to create a Metro app in the next round.

    Kinect Fun Labs Challenge
    Scope: Design a Kinect for PC game that relates to the Imagine Cup theme

    Round One: Team Formation/Registration and submission of your Kinect gadget project plan March 6, 2012 23:59 GMT

    The top 100 teams get FREE Kinect for PC sensors so you’ll have all you need for Round 2!


    Windows [8] Metro Style App Challenge
    Scope: Pass one quiz and design an app for Windows 8

    Round One : Pass at least one quiz about Windows 8 with a score of 50% or higher (15/30) and you automatically advance to Round Two!
    Quiz Start Time (00:01 GMT)
    Quiz 5    28 February 2012
    Quiz 6       6 March 2012

    Round Two: Submit your Windows 8 app: Start date March 13, 2012 end date May 3rd 2012


    Windows Azure (cloud) Challenge
    Scope: Design a Windows Azure (cloud) app

    Round One: Registration, concept and prototype design  March 13, 2012 23:59 GMT
    Round Two: Finished application submission May 3, 2012 23:59 GMT


    Windows Phone Challenge
    Scope: build a Windows Phone app (not a game) that relates to the Imagine Cup theme

    Round One: team registration and concept design March 13, 2012 23:59 GMT
    Round Two: app submission May 3, 2012 23:59 GMT


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