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

August, 2012

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Quantity Is Not Enough


    There is often a focus on quantity in our society. Let’s get more apps! Lets get more students taking the AP course! Lets get more [you name it]? Unfortunately this focus on quantity sometimes means that quality takes a back seat. I mean really how many fart apps do you need for your smart phone? Barb Ericson and Mark Guzdial have been looking at the statistics for AP CS test takers and finding some interesting things. (see How White and Male the AP CS Really Is: Measuring Quality as well as Quantity ) It appears that not only is there a gap between white and minority students it taking the exam there is a gap in them passing percentage wise. The same is true of the gender gap. If it were not bad enough that so few under represented demographics were taking the exam is appears that they are passing at a lower rate as well. Why? Well I don’t think anyone knows for sure. But it is an issue we need to think about and take seriously.

    I sure don't think that women and minorities are less capable than white males. There are other issues involved and some of them may be cultural and some of them may relate to how we teach and it may even relate to quality of teaching if I dare suggest  such a thing. In another great article Mark Guzdial talks about Experience drives learning: Implications for CS Ed which highlights some factors that I think may come into play. White males tend to get more and earlier experience with computer applications and general computer usage in general. This suggests to me that we need more widespread and better introduction to computer applications and computer science ideas at younger ages. OK I thought that for a while anyway. But this adds justification for those who need some.

    We have a well recognized shortage of good CS teachers as well. A lot of outreach efforts to under represented minorities involve training teachers to teach CS who are new to the field. It takes a while to get good at teaching APCS. It takes a while to get good at teaching anything really but when you are  starting from a limited knowledge base it takes even longer. Will the teachers in heavily minority districts get better over time? If they get support, on going training, and are willing – sure! The question is how many and how quickly. But at least people are trying.

    The other thing that concerns me in the numbers is the gender gap. If we assume that boy are doing better than girls in the same class (not a sure thing but perhaps a way to bet) that suggests we have a different set of problems. Is the difference because of different previous experiences or is it something that happens (or doesn’t) in the classroom? Back some years ago Carnegie Mellon had a summer program (offered three different summers) to try to help teachers learn to recruit, retain and properly teach girls. I sure learned a lot from that program and I like to think it helped. I never had enough girls to make up a good statistical sample though to judge the results with any reliability. I had some really smart and hard working girls in my classes when I did have girls though.

    The lesson I take from this is that while we need to work hard on getting more women and minorities into CS courses we can’t stop there. We have to make sure that they have success – that they learn! Taking an AP course and passing the AP exam are not the same thing. The prize comes not from starting the race but finishing it.

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Online Coding Exercises For Programming Education


    Well it is that time of year again – back to school. On the SIGCSE mailing list are a couple of reminders about online exercise tools for a variety of programming langauges.. A few old timers and at least one big new name. I thought it would be worthwhile to list a few of what I know about. The big new entry is Khan Academy of course:

    Khan Academy’s new computer science section (

    "The tutorials are interactive and live entirely in the browser.

    Instead of a video, each lesson contains a pane on the left side for students to enter code and a pane on the right that displays the output. The first lesson walks students through the process of writing code that will draw a face in the right pane. After learning to generate graphics, students work up to animation and eventually to games, such as a Pac-Man clone...."

    Some of what has been around for a while include: (Note that most of the text is borrowed from the web site referenced.)

    pexwebchallengePex4fun APCS ( is an online lab for APCS. It features 156 coding duels organized in chapters mapping the APCS program. In each coding duel, the student has to implement a program against a specification. At each attempt, pex4fun analyzes the student program together with the specification program to produce an input/output table showcasing cases where the behavior matches or not. Based on this feedback, the student can iteratively refine his solution until his program has the same observable behavior as the specification program. Pex4fun is free, runs in any browser and provides a rich auto-completion experience.

    imageF# is ideal for data-rich, concurrent and algorithmic development: "simple code to solve complex problems". F# is a simple and pragmatic programming language combining functional, object-oriented and scripting programming, and supports cross-platform environments including PC, Mac, and Linux.

    TryFSharp is an interactive web based tool for learning this functional language. We'll provide the tutorials, resources and tools you’ll need to begin working with F# right away.


    Practice-IT . Practice-It is an online practice problem tool created by the authors of the Building Java Programs CS1/CS2 textbook at the University of Washington. The tool is free for students and instructors to use. It contains over 1,000 Java programming problems and lets the student type in solutions, which are then tested to see whether the solution is correct.

    Problets is available for C++, Java and C#. Problets are problem solving software assistants for learning, reinforcement and assessment of programming concepts. They are designed to help students learn programming concepts through small-scale problem-solving, and as a supplement to large-scale programming traditionally used in introductory programming courses.

    [EDIT] Computer Science Circles from the Centre for Education in Mathematics and Computing at the University of Waterloo. This website teaches computer programming. This skill is very useful: with programming you can automate computer tasks, make art and music, interpret and analyze survey results, build tools for other people, create custom websites, write games, examine genetic data, connect people with each other, and the list goes on and on.

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Interesting Links 20 August 2012


    Back from vacation and trying to catch up with things. I had over 450 unread email messages in spite of doing some triage over the vacation so if I haven’t gotten back to you yet I will soon. I did collect a few links to share for you during the course of the week though.

    See how hacking the Kinect has led to advances from real-time light sabers to medical imaging breakthroughs in this CNN article.

    Modern UI courses for faculty (and students wanting self-study) on his blog at Courses for Windows 8

    Microsoft offers 90-day evaluation of Windows 8 Enterprise edition to developers and releases .NET Framework 4.5 and Visual Studio. …  

    Read about how a School for Blind Leads the Way in Distance Learning with Microsoft Lync. 

    Good timing. Programming Windows 8 Apps with C#: First chapter of @mbrit's book is available for free on download day.

    Back to School with Microsoft: Tampa Educators, Students to Benefit from New Digital Education Initiative with City 

    Clint Rukas @ClintRutkas announced the just  released, Coding4Fun Toolkit for Windows Phone v1.6.

    Gossip Girl To Geek: Transitioning From Quarterlife Crisis To CEO

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