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

February, 2012

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Kinect For Windows Is Out

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    imageI know you have been reading me write about Kinect for Windows for a while now so why is this news? The reason for that is simple – new hardware and new software. Oh and a new license. What I have been writing about is using the Kinect for Xbox with a Windows PC. The new Kinect for Windows has some new features. We’re pretty excited about it at Microsoft. We think it opens the door for even more possibilities than the original beta releases. I’m pretty excited myself to see the applications that people find for it.

    More information from the Kinect for Windows website:

    Commercial ready

    The Kinect for Windows SDK offers an installer, which makes it easy to install the Kinect for Windows runtime and driver components for end-user deployment.

    Enhanced Sensor Capabilities

    The Kinect for Windows sensor expands the possibilities for innovation with features like Near Mode, which enables the depth camera to see objects as close as 40 centimeters in front of the sensor. In addition, up to 4 Kinect sensors can now be plugged into the same computer.

    Software Improvements

    One of the many improvements to the Kinect for Windows SDK is improved skeletal tracking, which lets developers control which user is being tracked by the sensor. In addition, the latest Microsoft Speech components, along with an improved acoustic model significantly improve speech recognition accuracy.

    Of course there is a lot more at the Kinect for Windows website and especially on the Kinect for Windows FAQ.



  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Some Serious Fun With Kodu Programming

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    As regular readers know I am a huge fan of Kodu, the highly graphical, easy to program game development product from Microsoft Research. It is easy enough that an 8 year old can create some great fun games with it (and some smart younger kids have done cool stuff as well) so it is easy to take this software lightly. But as I play with it more and more I find that the opportunity for complexity and serious computer science is really baked into it. One of the members of the Kodu team recently discovered a Kodu soccer (or football if you will) game written by a middle school student. The game had an artificial intelligence but one that wasn’t all that smart. It basically played like elementary school kids are likely to play. In other words everyone after the ball and no one playing position. Still pretty impressive for a middle school student. Joe, our Kodu team member, worked on a serious soccer video game in a previous life so decided to up the ante a bit. His AI is smarter but he is challenging others to beat his by writing their own AI code. You can get the Kodu Soccer Game Jam v01 here:

    Kodu Soccer Game Jam v01

    Can you beat this AI....? The original AI was built by middle schooler, Juan G, from Kent Technology Academy. I thought what he had done was great and I was inspired by my time working on FIFA... FIFA uses a technique that allows the AI to see the pitch in terms of threats and opportunities; I wanted to see if I could reproduce this in KODU! Once you have an AI that beats mine; share it and post a message with a link on the kodugamelab.com forums. Let's keep JAMing on making better AI!!!

    Read more about this challenge and how it came about at February Game Jam: Soccer AI Challenge And think about if you can do better! If nothing else I think you can learn a lot and get some ideas from reviewing Joe’s code. Let me know if you take this challenge on and how it goes.



  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    No Room in the Inn–I Mean Schedule

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    I spent yesterday at Stevens Institute of Technology, an outstanding university across the river from New York City. The occasion was a high school computer science workshop for  faculty and students. While the students were getting demonstrations on some of the cool technology that Stevens faculty and students are working on the high school teachers were involved with a panel discussion. I was on the panel along with Jan Cuny (NSF), Bob Slater (Alice/CMU) and Tara Canobbio (Google). We started of with some great discussion of pedagogy. Don gave us a preview of Alice 3.1 Alice 3.1 looks amazing though I suggested they need an interface with Kinect so that avatars could follow people’s movements in the real world and act on them in the virtual world. Now wouldn’t THAT be cool? I of course brought up the usual – Kodu, XNA game development and Windows Phone development. There continues to be a lot of interest in game development and mobile/smart phone development to attract students and we do have a lot of free curriculum resources for that. But after a while a bigger worry became the topic of discussion – there is too little room for computer science in the curriculum.

    This is a complicated issue (I wrote some about it just last week at We Need A Wider Conversation on CS Education) but basically these are some of the issues:

    • Students have room for fewer and fewer electives because of increased mandates and CS is mostly an elective
    • Most states (42 of 50 including New Jersey) do not allow computer science to count as either a math or science so may not help towards graduation requirements
    • Students will often not take “hard” electives for fear of hurting their GPAs
    • Certification for computer science educators is a mess – I could write a lot about that but is should be sufficient to say that lack of a clear certification for CS teachers contributes to the problem

    Teachers, for the most part, feel helpless to fix these issues. There are large and powerful organizations for teachers of subjects like math and even art and music. These groups have lobbied hard to get their subjects either increased inclusion as graduation requirements. The CS community has not been as successful. Now there are efforts to change this. The CSTA (PLEASE if you are a CS teacher join and get active) has worked diligently at the national level and through local chapters at the state level to lobby for more CS education. Getting CS Education Week though Congress was a big win; a good step in the right direction.  But without computer science being in the common core we’re still playing come from behind. Computing in the Core, a partnership between professional agencies and some in industry (Microsoft is active) is working towards this goal. But ultimately education much like politics is local in the US. That means that decisions are seldom make at the national level (no matter how much some people which it were different). Decisions are made at the state and local level.

    Some schools have decided on their own to make computer science a requirement. Some, Los Angeles for one, have at least worked hard to make it more available starting with grade 9 in order to give more students the opportunity to learn what CS is all about.

    In the US we are not turning out enough of the high quality computer science professionals that we need. These are great, world changing jobs but we are cutting back – in many cases actively and deliberately  for cost cutting reasons – on the education of the very people we need most to turn the economy around. Some special purpose schools (Software Engineering High School) are great as far as they go. In the long run though we owe it to all children to have the opportunity to be exposed to a real, engaging, and valuable computer science course.



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