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

April, 2012

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Interesting Links 30 April 2012


    Home again! A lot of traveling the last two weeks but I’ll be home for a while now. I had a great time at the FIRST Robotics Championship talking to students who did some interesting things with the Kinect. Before that the Imagine Cup finals and before that a couple of days in New York City. Today is catch up with all the email that I didn’t get to during all the travel. If you are waiting for something for me I’ll try hard to catch up as soon as possible.

    An interesting post in which a  Three-time Partners in Learning US Forum alum reflects on her evolution teaching students and teachers. Good stuff!

    Just Announced – the new  Microsoft Foundry Summer Program at NERD for college students to develop apps for Windows 8.

    We are thrilled to announce today the launch of the Foundry, a brand new summer program for students to build apps for Windows 8 at NERD. The Foundry will be a twelve week program starting in early June. The students will form teams with the goal of building and releasing apps for Windows 8. We will provide training, mentorship, product reviews, space and infrastructure to help the teams be successful. The students will also participate in some of the many startup and tech community activities in the region.

    Sign up for the  Boston area college student developers Information Session and maybe spend your summer building apps for Windows 8!

    TEALS: Helping students discover computer science Read about this great program that is working hard to help with the shortage of computer science educators in American high schools.

    Grant Kot is an impressive musician who also writes code. He  has a great Musical Windows 8 app which he demonstrated at the recent Windows 8 Developer Camp NYC. Take a listen.

    From Microsoft News, Saving the world, one tech project at a time. Imagine Cup turns 10

    Heading into the U.S. national finals, Microsoft’s signature technology competition has reached 1.25 million students worldwide over the past 10 years.

    Please vote for the US Imagine Cup people's choice  I'm voting for the high school team called Digital Infinity and I hope you will consider voting for them as well.


  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Fun is to Entertainment as Education is to Training


    How often have you heard a teacher say something to the effect that their job is not to entertain? My guess is pretty often. I know I have heard it a lot. Teachers jobs are to educate. What bothers me though is that learning should be fun! I just love to learn. That is why I read, why I attend conferences, why I do many things. I enjoy learning. I think learning should be fun and enjoyable. I see fun as different from entertainment. Basically entertainment is passive. One sits and watches someone else do something interesting and entertaining. Fun is participatory. Fun is taking part in the experience rather than just observing. I think to some extent a teacher’s job should be partly about making learning fun.

    WP_000035Where does education v. training come into play? Professor Woodie Flowers (that is him with meat the FIRST Robotics Championship) talks a lot about the difference between education and training. I heard him talk about that very thing yesterday and it continues to resonate with me. In part he says (quoting from a recent article at A Contrarian View of MITx: What Are We Doing!? )

    I believe that education and training are different. To me, training is an essential commodity that will certainly be outsourced to digital systems and be dramatically improved in the process. Education is much more subtle and complex and is likely to be accomplished through mentorship or apprentice-like interactions between a learner and an expert.

    In effect education is more participatory. It is a joint effort between a student and a mentor. Training is important as it means getting the basic knowledge and tools that make real education possible. Education becomes more about understanding the basics and making them useful. Education is, I believe, potentially a lot more fun.

    The FIRST robotics experience is an example of the mentorship model that takes training and develops it as education. Students and professionals work together and students learn, are educated, rather than just learn basic skills with little to no context. This is the model I believe most teachers want. Teaching to the test unfortunately is just training. And not a lot of fun. Worse still it is not that practical.

    A couple of years ago at Microsoft we started some work on a new curriculum set for web development. We had (have and better than ever) a product called Expression Web that we felt would be great for the task. We talked to a lot of teachers and they told us loud and clear that they were not interested in training students how the use Expression Web. What they wanted was to educate their students in web design and development concepts. Expression Web was a great tool for the process though. And so that was our goal – education not just training.  We developed some widely used curriculum at Microsoft Expression for Educators. I think though that the active involvement of teachers is important with any curriculum.

    The context and guidance of a knowledgeable and caring professional really goes a long way.  Yes you can learn a lot on your own from books, web casts, and other curriculum but for me that personal touch is what really makes it education.

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Young People Doing Exciting Things


    This has been an inspiring week for me. Last weekend though Monday I was in Redmond for the US Imagine Cup. Great projects. Today I am at the FIRST Robotics World Championship in St Louis. And I’m seeing some amazing things here already. For example imagine a robot arm controlled by leg movements?

    Robotics Advancing The Human Condition is a project that does just that. 

    IMSA's FIRST Robotics Team 2022, Titan Robotics, inspired by IMSA's Principal/Vice President for Academic Programs, Dr. Eric McLaren, will lead a competition to design and build during the off season robotics devices that assist people with special needs. This year the project is about helping ALS victims and anyone else with very limited use of their upper body (i.e. arms and hands.) The challenge will be to design and build a robotic mechanism that people can use to feed themselves

    The students who developed this hardware and software have been demonstrating it at the Microsoft booth here at the FIRST event. Oh, why yes it is using the Kinect Sensor to “read” body movement and control the robot.

    Other teams here are using the Kinect Sensor to control their robots if different ways. Several are using it to get more human control over the robot. I talked to a team, FIRST Robotics Team 75, that was using the Kinect during the autonomous/hybrid mode of the competition. They are using body language to direct to robot to move, to pick up balls, to shoot balls and the move bridges on the playing field.

    Some robots have the Kinect sensor built into the robot. FIRST Robotics Team 987 has a Kinect as part of its embedded control system. They are using it for distance calculations and other information to control the robot in real time. They have some cool ideas about non-robotic ideas for the Kinect going forward. Very exciting.

    BTW we have some new Kinect for Windows curriculum resources available for download from Faculty Connection. These resources, created by Rob Miles (University of Hull, UK), are arranged into a half-semester course consisting of Lectures, Labs/Demos with Tutorials accompanied by a 57-page ebook. It contains information on the Windows Kinect sensor bar, the Windows Kinect SDK v1.0 and how to write Kinect programs/apps. It assumes a working knowledge of the C# programming language, the XNA framework and program development using Visual Studio.

    These materials can be used as follows:

    • Integrated into a CS course, such as Programming 2, HCI, Computer Graphics, NUI, etc.
    • Two-day instructor led workshop
    • Self-study

    Hat tip to Lee Stott who blogged about this first at Kinect for Windows curriculum resources

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