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

June, 2012

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Finalists for the Microsoft Partners in Learning 2012 US Forum


    Today the US Partners in Learning team announced the Finalists for the Microsoft Partners in Learning 2012 US Forum. There are a lot of great projects in that list and I do urge you to not only look though them but share them with other educators you may know who are open to interesting and creative ways to teach with technology. What I have done below is to capture the descriptions of the computer science related entries. Several of them involve Kinect sensors and having students create educational games for younger students. Others involve Kodu as part of a multi disciplinary effort to teach several things in innovative ways. These tend to involve younger students but the use of them in some cases to extend the classroom beyond its four walls is particularly cool. BTW Kinect and Xbox plays an important role in several of the entries that I didn’t copy over for this post. Teachers are finding it very helpful with special needs students. Anywhere you can grab an edge it is worth trying. So take a look at the 10 samples below and then visit Finalists for the Microsoft Partners in Learning 2012 US Forum to read about the rest.

    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.

    Brenda Green, Cabin John Middle School (Potomac)

    Project: Hide and Seek--Kodu Style!

    Middle school students develop and demonstrate programming skills using Kodu to create a unique hide and seek game. Collaborative problem-solving is encouraged to brainstorm ideas, with remote teamwork enabled by Skype. Each student is challenged to fully exploit the software, using keyboard or XBox controller, to fashion a dynamic environment of land and/or water bodies with various Kodu objects and bots. Critical thinking will be required to include elements that allow players to locate and collect items that appear randomly and move to hide behind objects. Points are awarded for collecting objects and subtracted for contacting obstacles within a given time. The project provides sufficient flexibly to engage both the novice and the advanced gamer. Students will document results using Word, PowerPoint or Movie Maker. Success is measured by increased learning performance and includes understanding of mathematical logic, stepwise planning, teamwork, and creative strategies.

    Jenifer Conard, Springboro High School (Lebanon)

    Project: Going Green at the Grocery

    This project provides a solution to achieving paper-less checkout at the grocery. In our partnership with Kroger, we learned about inventory control and point of sale systems. Our intention was to create a mobile application that would be attached to a cart and used as a POS while the customer was shopping. The business process would be stream-lined to allow the customer a "check-out" as they go and the payment and verification would be done by store management at the conclusion of the customer's shopping experience. Students used Microsoft Visual Studio, SQL Server, Access and more to create the application.

    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.

    Caleb Gentry, Sequim Middle School (Sequim)

    Project: 3D Game Design with Kodu

    Using Microsoft Kodu to enable 3D video game design with middle school students has created an increased interest in game design and programming, especially in girls. Combining scientific information (e.g., types of volcanoes) and through their use of design and programming skills they create a STEM-themed game they can showcase while generating interest in computer programming.

    Kathy Wright, Eastlake High School (Sammamish)

    Project: .Net Gadgeteer - Controlling the Flow

    Using the .Net Gadgeteer modules and Microsoft's C# programming language, students learn and practice critical thinking skills to create a solution to a real-world engineering problem: how to safely manage traffic flow through a busy high school parking lot. Students research and identify situations where colored lights are used to stop and start traffic such as crosswalks, bridge toll booths, air fields and road ramps for merging cars. Students select an engineering focus (traffic entry/exit speed, improving pedestrian safety or reducing the carbon footprint of stopped idling engines) and build a working model using the Gadgeteer LED modules. Students have had no prior programming experience or use of the Gadgeteer modules.

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    There Is More To Computing Than Computer Science


    Last week Doug Peterson pointed me to an article called “Let’s not call it computer science if we really mean computer programming.” My initial reaction was “Let’s not call it computer programming if we really mean software engineering.”  Really the author was talking more about the difference between CS and SE than much else.The ACM has a great Computing Careers web site which lists a number of computing fields and degrees. I recommend this series to teachers and guidance councilors all the time. They list five different degree paths:

    • Computer Engineering
      Typically involves software and hardware and the development of systems that involve software, hardware, and communications.
    • Computer Science
      Currently the most popular of the computing disciplines; tends to be relatively broad and with an emphasis on the underlying science aspects.
    • Information Systems
      Essentially, this is computing in an organizational context, typically in businesses.
    • Information Technology
      Focuses on computing infrastructure and needs of individual users; tends to involve a study of systems (perhaps just software systems, but perhaps also systems in support of learning, of information dissemination, etc.).
    • Software Engineering
      Focuses on large-scale software systems; employs certain ideas from the world of engineering in building reliable software systems.

    For many of us we tend to focus on computer science as if it were the single area. It is the area that most research institutions focus on of course but it’s not everything. I do like the analogy for the article I lead off with that “Computer programming is like writing and performing music, and computer science is like music theory.” Like many analogies you have to be very careful about taking it too far. I think that you’ll find a great many musicians who find that a solid knowledge of theory helps them write and perform music. While there are for sure talented musicians who have not studied theory and there are talented programmers who have not studied computer science I don’t think you can take that as evidence that theory is unnecessary.

    I hear things like this “I meet thousands of software developers every year, and the majority are self-taught. I cannot tell the difference by watching them develop software.” taken from the article I referenced all the time. Well I’m sorry the author can’t tell the difference but generally speaking I can. I’m not saying the self-taught are worse, though often they are, or that the CS degreed are always better, sometimes they are not, but they are different. They look at problems differently and they tend to use tools differently. There is value in both but it takes a special sort of person to derive on their own what they could have learned in school. And if you want to be a programmer than study software engineering. Real software engineering is where the self-taught really show up – and not in a good way either!

    I think that in high school we are fine talking about computer science and squeezing a tiny bit of software engineering in with our programming, some computer engineering into our discussions, and at least reference IT and IS. The goal in high school is to build interest and expose students to their options. Sure computer science is more theoretical than software engineering and SE is more “practical” by some definitions of practical than CS. That doesn’t make one better than the other though. Sheldon Cooper on TV’s The Big Bang Theory may deride experimental physicists as less serious/important than theoretical physicists but in the real world of education we should avoid such petty comparisons.

    As long as we make it clear to students that things open up a bit when they get to college let’s talk about and teach real computer science concepts. They’re going to need these basics no matter which division of computing they eventually wind up in. In fact they will benefit from them even if they go into a completely different field.

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Interesting Links 4 June 2012


    This past Saturday was my 9th anniversary working full-time for Microsoft. It’s been a great time so far and I hope if continues to be great for some time to come. I’ve sure met a lot of great people though this role and this blog and its readers have been a big part of that. So thank you all. And now a whole bunch of links (this was an interesting week) starting with a slightly self-promotional link.

    Fascination Awards<br />
This is an honor. I don’t know how the judges came across my blog but I’m pleased that they liked what they found when they did. Feel free to vote for me if you also find this blog interesting .

    Voting is a bit tricky. You have to got to Google Plus at open the comments, find my blog (listed third) and give it a G+.

    Voting ends June 11th at 11:59 PM (EST) and is now open.

    Windows 8 Release Preview now available Get it now and try it out. Summer is a great time to see if your favorite applications will work with it.

    Are you looking for more computer science education related blogs to read? Summer time is coming and that’s a good time to look through some blogs for ideas. I have a Computer Science Education Blog Roll that includes some really great educators who have a lot to share. So take a look and maybe you’ll find someone who resonates with you. Oh and if I’m missing someone you think should be on the list by all means let me know. I’m always looking to add more – and to follow more myself. I learn so much for other bloggers. Speaking of new blogs, Mark Guzdial linked to this one on  exploring the connections between writing and programming/computing.  I need to dig into it myself but Mark’s recommendation is enough for me to pass it along.

    Are you involved with computer science at the younger levels? You’ll want to check out the latest from CSTA at New CSTA K-8 CS Resource

    We regularly feature elementary and middle school topics in the Voice and have just published and entire 32 page document dedicated solely to CS in elementary/primary and middle school! K-8 Computer Science: Building a Solid Foundation is the latest comprehensive CSTA publication for describing and illustrating what a quality CS program might contain. You will find dozens of articles offering a variety of PERSPECTIVES, and examples of IMPLEMENTATION and ENGAGMENT for younger students.


    Ed Donahue and Glen Gordon have put together a video series called The Campus Coder. Each post is a half-hour podcast series that features interviews with student developers who have made the leap into professional development with Microsoft tools. It’s intended to educate, entertain and enlighten aspiring student developers!. They’ve got three episodes up so far. Worth a listen/look.

    One of the reasons I like Microsoft is the large number of employees who go a step beyond to help others. This Employee Philanthropist Spotlight: Erin Zuehlsdorff. highlights someone who is not as atypical as you might think.

    News via @CSEdWeek there is now a blog for CS Education week A good place to keep up with what is happening with this annual event. Are you planning for the fall yet?

    A New Your Times article passed along by @MSFTResearch: Freaks, Geeks and Microsoft “How Kinect Spawned a Commercial Ecosystem”

    Advice from Loudoun County, VA teachers on how to use Kinect in education. Their story was recently published in @usatoday Video games help autistic students in classrooms

    Doug Peterson @dougpete passed along Let's Not Call It "Computer Science" If We Really Mean "Computer Programming"  Working on a blog response to it. Gave me a lot to think about.

    Great post by Cameron Evans @EDUCTO on savvy work by student developers building learning games for preschoolers

    U.S. Women in Computing: Why Isn't It Getting Better? from the blog at| Communications of the ACM:

    "Women In Technology: 4 Reasons Why Females Will Rule The Future" - Great coverage of Kara Swisher's speech at the Anita Borg Women of Vision awards ceremony.

    Learn how to migrate your Windows Phone app to a Windows 8 Metro app with this series by @jbienz

    4 Innovative Student Projects That Could Change the World Mashable highlights four of the teams headed to Australia for the Imagine Cup 

    Develop a Windows 8 app in 30 days and win great prizes this summer. Rules:

    Software Needs Seatbelts and Airbags This may be the best article on debugging I have ever read. Something to keep and use with your students when you discuss this sort of issue – which I hope you do!

    8 FREE Online Computer Science Courses for Beginners and Advances Users Interesting list


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