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

April, 2012

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Round 1 Finalists for 2012 Microsoft Partners in Learning Forum


    The big news for me yesterday was at Finalists Announced for Round 1 of the Microsoft Partners in Learning 2012 US Forum. I attended this event as a judge last year and learned an incredible amount from these amazing teachers. This first round announced 44 teachers representing 32 projects from across 15 states. Applications are still being accepted for the second round. What I did below was to pick out the computer science related projects to give you a taste of what people are doing and perhaps spur you on to applying. The projects below include several Kinect based projects, a Kodu project with second graders and a Windows Phone class using TouchDevelop. The best part for me is that almost all of these have a cross curricula component. This really excites me. I hope you are inspired as well.

    If you would like to track the progress of the 2012 US Forum follow the project team at @TeachTec on Twitter and the official Forum hashtag is: #pilus and “Like” us on Facebook to get status updates.

    The final deadline to apply to the 2012 US Forum is May 15th, we look forward to hearing what you’re doing in the classroom.

    Microsoft Partners in Learning 2012 US Forum logo

    Daphne Bradford & Jacqueline Lopez Crenshaw High School (Los Angeles)

    Project: Gaming for STEM & Health

    In an effort to engage students in biology, students were tasked with designing a simple Xbox Kinect Game to educate kids, parents and K-12 school districts about the importance of healthy eating and exercise to help fight the global childhood obesity epidemic and Type 2 Diabetes. Type 2 diabetes, often called non-insulin dependent diabetes, is the most common form of diabetes, affecting 90% - 95% of the 21 million people with diabetes. The game illustrates what happens when the pancreas does not produce enough insulin and glucose (sugar) can't get into the body's cells. When glucose builds up in the blood instead of going into cells, the body's cells are not able to function properly. The project included student-led game development for the Kinect using the Kinect SDK, Visual Studio, Silverlight, in addition to Microsoft Office tools in the planning and development process.

    James Bell & Denise Spence, Dunbar High School (Fort Meyers)

    Project: Kinect-the-Dots Motion Capture for 3D Character Animation

    Students in Dunbar High Schools Academy for Game Design and Programming Excellence are creating complex video games that enable the educator to teach a variety of higher order thinking skills, such as, strategic thinking, interpretive analysis, problem solving, plan formulation and project execution. This project’s innovation is how the use of Xbox Kinect has helped students to connect the dots with respect to how to bridge the gap between real-life movement and computer generated movement. As a unique and innovative part of the program, the students are able to utilize the Kinect system to solve the problem of creating 3D real time character animation without the major complexities involved in time lining the events. Students enrolled in the program have the opportunity to earn industry certifications such as Microsoft Office Specialist: Word, PowerPoint, and Excel, Autodesk Certified Associate: 3DS Max, and Adobe Certified Associate: Photoshop and Flash.

    Rodrigo Anadon, Penn High School (Mishawaka)

    Project: STEM Gaming Challenge

    By using video game development to tackle a problem in STEM, secondary students generate software that is fun, engaging, and educational using software development tools. Students have the option of using Visual Studio, Visual Basic, C++, C# (with the XNA Framework), or a different programming environment to generate a video game that can be incorporated in classes of STEM or other disciplines to engage students in learning. Student-lead teams of four allow for the challenge to incorporate competition, collaboration, and computation among students. Each team consists of a team leader, lead programmer, lead digital artist, and lead audio engineer. Each role must be filled by each student. At the end of the program development cycle, teams will present their STEM game to the class and present their experience in the process.

    Pamela Volakis, West Allegheny High School (Imperial)

    Project: Shapes, Letters, and Numbers; XNA Games for the next generation

    As enrollment in computer science classes declined this project introduced a new approach to teaching traditional programming concepts combining critical thinking, creativity and business thinking. Prompted by student use of computer gaming, this concept was incorporated into the computer science curriculum. Students worked directly with Preschool and Life Skills teachers to join forces by creating games to teach preschool and life skills students specific skills through student-developed games. Programming students observed and worked with students as “customers” in the preschool and life skills classes. Collaborating increased student communication skills and enabled students to design games meaningful for the preschoolers and other students using Visual Studio, XNA Game Studio and Xbox 360.

    Joli Barker, Slaughter Elementary (McKinney)

    Project: XBOX 360: the iConnect Project

    Using Kodu gaming, gaming vernacular and concepts, 2nd grade students utilized ePals, Edmodo, Skype, and Microsoft Office, PhotoStory, Skype, and Xbox 360 to participate in a global literary book study and multimedia festival. The class connected with over 8 classrooms across the world who read the Magic Tree House books with us and participated in creating multimedia reports and Kodu games to extend and express their learning. When the book series took us to a new country, the classroom from which the book was set "hosted" the Q&A for that book via Skype. The overall result was an extraordinary literary experience that transcended reading comprehension into a cultural study and a global connection that far surpassed the original goal.

    Michael Braun, Rainer Beach High School (Seattle)

    Project: Exploration of Computer Science on Smartphones

    In collaboration with Rainier Beach High School, Southshore Middle School, Seattle Public Schools, and Microsoft TEALS, our class is designed to teach students app programming. By using Windows Phones and the Windows Phone SDK students learn how to create apps for a phone with TouchDevelop. There are no separate PCs in this course. Students develop scripts to perform various tasks similar to regular apps. Students use TouchDevelop to install, run, edit, and publish scripts.


  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Better Learning Through Movement


    And fun as well. Recently a co-worker sent me a link to some videos that were done by the Houston Independent School District about the pilot program they are running in several elementary schools. These schools are using video games involving the Kinect Sensor to help teach. And not just physical education which is sort of the default image people have for Kinect-based games but things like math as well. (video and article in English - video and article in Spanish) While test scores are not everything they are important and the early results indicate that student scores are climbing in these classrooms.

    Last year I heard a talk Dr. John Medina (Brain Rules) at the Microsoft US Education Forum who talked about what we know from brain science about learning. He strongly believes that physical activity helps students learn. He believes that we are more or less wired to learn while moving and that too much sitting hurts student learning in the long run. It makes sense to me what with more blood flowing and everything. I’ve also seen that students with ADD and ADHD have to spend so much energy just sitting still that I wonder how they learn anything at all. My understanding is that in Japan students have more exercise breaks than American schools do. I suspect that extra activity also has a positive effect on students.

    Others are developing an interest in Kinect projects for teaching as well. One of the teams in the US Finals of the Imagine Cup, KinectMath from University of Washington, Bothell Campus, has a project for math instruction. “The tool utilizes Microsoft Kinect to provide a new interactive way to teach abstract math concepts and visualize them in real-time.” I’m looking forward to meeting them and learning more about their project this weekend. You can also see their project video on their team page available from the People’s Choice page on Facebook.

    Active learning seems to be something well worth investigating more.For now we have teachers using games that were designed just for fun in new ways. Educational games, that one hopes are still fun, are being developed as well as people become more open to the idea of games for learning.

    Perhaps students can take their own creativity and create their own active learning activities using the Kinect. Maybe that is even something to include in the curriculum of computer science classes. We have some things to help (really you saw that coming didn’t you?)  And maybe we’ll see a team of your students competing in next year’s Imagine Cup.

    Also  more information about Kinect in Education at

    Game Development with XNA Game Studio

    XNA game development appeals to high school students on many levels; it encourages creativity, employs the latest tools, delivers fun, and it provides the means for students to express their personal values and the power to make a difference. The XNA 5-week JumpStart, Game Development with XNA: Semester 1, and the soon-to-be-ready, Game Development with XNA and Microsoft Technologies (Advanced XNA, Window Phone, and Kinect) curriculum are designed to inspire students to learn advanced programming skills, design exciting games and create simulations that will help solve the world’s toughest problems such as those presented in the Microsoft Imagine Cup®. Students will develop projects with C# and XNA for Windows, Xbox® 360, Windows Phone, and Kinect.

    The content is organized into clustered, topic-centered lessons and modules. Students will build upon their foundational programming skills to design and implement games and simulations that utilize input and output, involve complex logic, and apply object oriented programming (OOP), advanced algorithms, and data structures. An SDK for Windows Phone® and Kinect® development enable even more advanced learning. Resources include lesson plans, projects, activities and video tutorials.

    Learn more about XNA Game Development and download the free curriculum resources at Faculty Connection.

    1. All the development tools that you need can be downloaded for free. The first thing you will need is the Windows Phone SDK. You can download it from here:
    You might think it strange to use the Windows Phone SDK, but this contains the latest version of XNA and can be used to create XNA programs for Xbox 360 and Windows PC as well as Windows Phone.

    2. You will also need to download the Kinect for Windows SDK which you can find here:
    This installs the USB drivers for the sensor components and the library file that contains the Kinect for Windows SDK.

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Plagiarism v. Learning


    The SIGCSE mailing list has been having a very active discussion of plagiarism in computer science classes of late. These discussions seem to recur with disappointing regularity. If not in the SIGCSE list they show up on the APCS mailing list. These discussions tend to follow some very predictable paths. They start with attempts at writing a bulletproof statement of acceptable use and reuse. Students are amazing “classroom lawyers” and find loopholes that a tax attorney would be amazed at. This leads invariably to a discussion of what is and is not plagiarism. Code sharing? A good think in the professional space. There are “how do you?” type sites that are widely used by developers at all levels to learn. So where is the line between learning from a code sample and “stealing” code? And where does open source fit into the discussion? It’s all so much more complicated than one would ever hope it would be. I’m not sure I am ready to jump into the discussion at that level. What I am really interested in where all this leads in terms of education. Here is where a comment by Jim Huggins from the Computer Science Department at Kettering University who wrote:

    A student who pursues good grades rather than a good education will ultimately receive neither.

    Some times these arrival of poor grades comes later than we’d like. One would like to see these poor grades come early enough in a student’s educational career to serve as a wakeup call. Some students are just outstanding at gaming the system and so realize too late that they haven’t really learned enough of a real education. This is their loss mostly but it is also a loss for society. Imagine if that talent was trained with real education? Alas, too many students get through with a transcript that doesn’t reflect the reality of what they know. Or don’t know.

    What is the responsibility of the educator here? I remember when I was a high school student my teachers and guidance counselors told me that university professors would not care if I failed or succeeded. It would be up to me. I didn’t find that to be true where I went to university though. I found faculty would who go far out of there way to help me succeed. Of course they expected me to do may part. They expected me to work and to do my own work. They’d help me as long as I would work with them and not expect them to carry me. I learned a lot from them. Arguably students who plagiarize or otherwise take short cuts are not doing their part.

    It is tempting to ignore the plagiarism and wait for the inevitable failure to wake the student up. There are problems with this attitude though. One is that with our over emphasis on grades too many students are likely to see others getting away with cheating and decide that they need to do the same to “keep up.” This is unfair to otherwise good honest students. Arguably it is also a failure on the part of educators to do a complete job of education. So where do we go?

    Ethics also comes up in the plagiarism discussion as you might expect. This seems to be increasing in importance for teachers of all subjects but especially for computer science educators. Not just because of plagiarism but the many societal issues that computer science is developing as unintended consequences. Ultimately perhaps the answer to plagiarism is not a bulletproof set of rules but an honest discussion of the purpose of projects, tests and other evaluative tools. If students were able to buy off on the importance of learning over grades and understand that evaluations are tools to help them as much if not more than to show up on their transcripts maybe the drive to cheat would diminish? Can we restore the idea of educators and students are partners in learning rather than opponents fighting about grades? Seems like something we should be trying.

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