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

May, 2012

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Kinect for Windows: SDK and Runtime version 1.5 Released


    If you are using the Kinect sensor for projects, especially if you have the new Kinect for Widows version, you will want to get the latest software development kit and related tools. There is a full list of what is involved at the Kinect for Windows Blog > Kinect for Windows: SDK and Runtime version 1.5 Released post. A video introduction to v1.5 is live on Channel 9 as well But a few highlights:

    • Seated Skeletal Tracking is now available. This tracks a 10-joint head/shoulders/arms skeleton, ignoring the leg and hip joints.
    • A set of Human Interface Guidelines (HIG) to guide developers on best practices for the creation of Natural User Interfaces using Kinect.
    • The Face Tracking SDK, which provides a real-time 3D mesh of facial features—tracking the head position, location of eyebrows, shape of the mouth, etc.
    • Significant sample code additions and improvements.  There are many new samples in both C++ and C#, plus a “Basics” series of samples with language coverage in C++, C#, and Visual Basic.

    Did you catch that last bit? For the serious programmers among use there are now more Visual Basic code samples! Yeah, I’m happy about that. Sure I can program just find in C# and even C++ but given a choice I am a Visual Basic guy.

    Anyway jump over and get the Kinect learning resources for the lasted version of the SDK. Download the latest Kinect software. And let’s see what you’ve got!

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Shouldn’t Computer Labs Be Cool Places?


    Back in the day when I went to a college with A computer room with A computer it was cool enough that there was a computer there and that it was available to students. Today that’s not the case – having a computer (or bunch of them) does not automatically make for a cool place.  For many students computer labs are down right boring.

    Some of the requests I get are for posters to decorate a computer lab. Unfortunately I don’t often have any posters and when I do have them they tend to be more geeky than interesting. It occurs to me that maybe we decorate computer labs wrong though. I think that to some extent the way a computer lab is decorated, organized and in general the environment that is created determines who is attracted to the classes in the lab and how the students in the lab think. How they think about themselves and how they think about problems they are working on.

    I visited a really cool computer lab the other day. The picture below is from the programming and web development program at Assabet Valley Regional Technical High School. I was there to judge some senior projects (saw an outstanding XNA/Xbox 360 game and some very professional looking web sites) and to see the facility.


    This picture was taken from the front where there are 25-30 computers facing front. In there front of the room there are two large screens with ceiling mounted projectors. For the demos the PowerPoint presentations were on one screen and software demos (from the Xbox) or web pages were displayed on the second. The students presenting stood on a low platform in front. OK so far nice but not that special. The rest of the large room and some attached smaller rooms make it special though.

    Oh! first off the walls are painted in interesting ways. Not computer geek ways but creative eye catching ways. The room in the back of this picture (behind the hanging white Christmas lights) is called the e-tank and the theme of the outside wall is fish. Cartoon fish – very colorful. The inside of the room has a green screen, stores robots and is generally set up for quiet work and audio/video work. The sort of thing that would distract in the main room. The colors are bright and fun – totally anti-institutional school wall painting styles. One of the more artsy shops in the school created the art work there and around the room. One wall has a painting of a window looking out over a beach scene.


    Could this all be distracting? Of course it could but it is also stimulating and the sort of thing I believe helps people think more creatively.

    Under the lights in the back of the first picture there is a couch and some comfortable furniture. A couch in a classroom? Yep! The whole area is ideal for collaborative work. A table in the middle and an area apart where a small group can work together on a project and hammer things out. Seems to work well from what I hear.

    The large space is divided in to several informal areas with their own names. The teachers, whose one time office is not the e-tank, have their desks in the center of the room. Right in the middle of everything where they can be involved and when need be out of the way.

    Honestly the whole place reminded me more of the offices of a high tech start up than a traditional classroom. There might even have been a fossball table but don’t tell anyone.

    I had a chance to observe some of the students in this program in this space. They were comfortable. They were at home. They seemed to like being there. There were both boys and girls in the program and not all your stereotype white or Asian males either. It wasn’t a set from “The Big bang Theory” but a wildly creative space appealing to many types of people.

    Seeing the senior projects and hearing the students talk about their processes and what they were learning I have to believe this space is working well. I’m told they had more students apply for the program next year than in previous years (this is the first year with this new set up) and I have to wonder if the environment contributed. 

    I’m not saying this is the end all and be all by any means. It is one example that is working well for one set of teachers. But it did make me really start to think about what the environment of our computer science labs and classrooms says to students. Are they environments that attract diverse students or do they attract a narrow subset of the populations? Does the environment stimulate creativity and out of the box thinking or does it encourage the same old same old idea of one right way to do things? What sorts of messages does the physical environment of your computer lab say about what goes on there? Fun and creative or dull and mechanical?

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Interesting Links 21 May 2012


    I spent Friday visiting with high school Computer Science teachers at the St Joseph's College (Long Island NY) programming competition. This is always a good time for me. Every year I have some good conversations. Some with teachers I see there year after year and some with teachers I am meeting for the first time. This year I got the chance to meet with Michael Zamansky who heads the computer science program at Stuyvesant High School in New York City. (His blog is at C'est la Z BTW) Stuyvesant is one of the top high schools in the country and the arch rival of Brooklyn Tech where I went to high school. We still had a great time together. Smile Mike was telling me how about the growth in his school’s computer science program since they got a computer science course to be a required course.  This has done wonders for increasing the enrollment of girls in more advanced courses as well. I may have more to say about that later in the week.

    You're never too old for summer camp! Check out Windows 8 Dev Camp! There are no s'mores but we promise you'll like it!

    Ready to dive in and learn more about Windows 8 and the developer opportunity it represents?  Join us for the video version of the full-day event designed to share all the knowledge you need to start building Metro-style applications for Windows 8 – today. We'll begin by showing you how to use Visual Studio to code fast, fluid, immersive and beautiful Metro-style applications in HTML5/JavaScript, XAML/C# and C/C++. Your existing investments in these languages carry forward, making Windows a no-compromise platform for developers.  Join in the fun by watching one or all four videos.


    My friend Edwin Guerin writes about Getting an App in the Windows Store: What, Why, and How. Something you may want to read before/after the Windows 8 Dev Camp videos.

    The article I responded to with Please Don’t Learn To Code had a lot of other responses on the Internet. AQ couple of my favorites are :

    Congratulations  Cameron Evans @educto (Microsoft’s CTO for Education),  Mark Guzdial @guzdial (the best CS education blog around) and Audrey Watters (one of the best education technology reporters on the Internet) @audreywatters for making the Top 50 Must Read Blogs in Higher Education by EdTech Magazine. All great people with great blogs. There are other blogs on the list but these three I read regularly and are written by people I know personally and whose work I can personally recommend.  

    From the people at @HPCodeWars (a large and amazing HS programming competition in Texas) tweeted a link to  Why do so many icons use outdated technological representations? Which is another great Scott Hanselman post. Lots of potential for discussion about user interfaces here.

    New from @TheCampusCoder is Campus Coder show #2 with @niccolley, get tons of insight into game development.



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