Thursday, July 30, 2015

Musings on Blogging

Attending several conferences this summer I have talked to any number of people about this blog. Several people told me how much they appreciated the blog which made me feel very good. One person told me I blogged faster than they could read my posts. Another person asked why I was blogging less than I had been. Of course there is no one right rate of posting. I follow blogs with several new posts a day and others that post once a month (or less). And every thing in between. Bloggers post at a rate that works for them and that is great. I value all the blogs I follow.

Conversations also made me think about why I blog. Generally I blog because I feel like I have something to say. Sometimes that is an idea I am working through or a projected I am attempting. Writing them out helps me focus my thinking. And if I’m lucky there will be comments and those almost always help me refine my thinking. Sometimes these are ideas others can use – or at least I hope that is the case.

Other times I blog about things I am learning and events I am attending. I love learning about new tools, programming languages, projects, and other resources. There are so many good ideas from so many people at conferences, workshops and other events that I am lucky enough to attend. I feel like I have an obligation to report on them for those who are not there. It also helps me firm up the learning in my own mind.

My favorite posts are the ones that share ideas from other people though. After that, those that link to useful resources. My Monday Morning links posts are part of that goal. I love to link to interesting articles, new resources and especially other educator blogs. When I read interesting and helpful blog posts I feel like I have to share them.

According to the analytics I get something like two thirds of the traffic to this blog comes from search engines. That is typical for blogs BTW. By linking to good resources I am contributing to their getting more search engine love. In the short term a link from one blog to another may give a little boost in traffic right away. That’s great and everyone loves that. In the long run though each link creates more and more search engine based traffic. That makes those resources easier to find. I also hope that the blogs I link to get more subscribers and other regular readers. The community of computer science education bloggers is too small so those of use out there need to make sure we all get some attention.

Speaking of search engine traffic, my most read posts this year have been ones I wrote a while ago. Tops on that list is Programming With Blocks which I originally wrote in December of 2012 but have updated frequently. That is from search engine traffic. No one pages that deep into a blog. Apparently a lot of people are searching for that sort of information. I like to think I have a helpful resource there.

Lately Interview Questions for Computer Science Teachers, written back in March,  has been getting a lot of search engine traffic. I suspect more schools are hiring CS teachers these days. I hope that is what that traffic means.

My goal though is to be helpful. If that happens some of the time I’m a happy blogger. Thank you to the people who have told me they found something helpful, useful or interesting in my blog. It’s what keeps me going.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Putting Student Programmers To Work

I love CS Teaching Tips. I follow them on Twitter and Facebook as well as visiting the web site from time to time. Full list of links at the bottom of this post. Anyway, not long ago they retweeted someone’s suggestion of having students write a program to randomly pick students to call on. And that go me thinking.

I wrote my own program to randomly select students to call on some time ago. I really like it. It saves who has been called on from use to use and supports multiple classes. It even looks pretty good for an Alfred designed program. But the more I thought about it the more I thought that having students write their own versions would make a good project. Actually perhaps even two projects.

The first one, perhaps early in the semester, could have the names hard coded in to an array. That would be a nice fairly simple array program. A later version could read the names in from a file and perhaps dynamically build a list of objects for the display.  Either way we could have an interesting discussion about features and functions and how they  could be developed. It would be a program that should have some relevance for students.

We could also modify it to create randomly selected teams. (An other feature my program has though it could use some improvements) That is a program students could use for their own team selections.

There are probably other programs that teachers could use that would also make interesting projects. I’m thinking a timer app might be useful and interesting. Maybe a Binary timer if I am feeling particularly evil. Smile What other sorts of teacher useful programs would make good projects?

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Programmers Have No Ideas?

I read blogs by smart interesting people so I can be exposed to new or different ideas. Eugene Wallingford is one of those smart interesting people. He recently blogged THE FLIP SIDE TO "PROGRAMMING FOR ALL"" In the post he quotes from Chris Crawford who says in his essay, Fundamentals of Interactivity: “cruel joke that Fate has played upon the industry: programmers have no ideas and idea people can't program.”

Crawford claims that programmers do not live in a world of ideas and that they have a limited view of the world. Clearly I know a different class of programmers. Most of my friends in the field read books beyond science fiction (though in general I think that science fiction is something a lot more people should read to expand their thinking). They are creative in many ways beyond code. In their spare time, they are farmers, wood workers, inventive with electronics, sports fans, art and music fans and knowledgeable in politics and philosophy. Many programmers I know are serious musicians and perform in public as well as privately.

That being said I do find that a lot of my students, who are young remember, would benefit from a wider exposure to creative efforts. And to a wider variety of people.

We do need more “idea people” to learn to code and we need to encourage people who know how to code to be more creative but I think saying programmers have no ideas is a bit harsh, a bit unfair and more than a bit false.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Interesting Links 27 July 2015

The early part of this last week was in Charleston SC for a great mini conference. I blogged about it earlier in the week. The rest of the week was catching up around the house since I’ve spent so much time away the last couple of weeks. So only a few links to share. Don’t miss the image at the bottom.

A lot of people were excited about the College Board calling AP CS the “AP Subject of the year”. Mike Zamansky had a different take on it on his blog - Teaching to the test - APCS
"Will Teaching New Computer Science Principles Level the Playing Field?" What do you think? I’m a bit skeptical.
Very cool games for learning from David Renton  @drenton72 at Some with xBox controllers and some with Kinect for Windows
It's here! Visual Studio 2015 & .NET 4.6 Available for Download. I installed the free community edition. Looks good so far.
I love this sign. Would your Principal but it on their door?

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Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Charleston Teach Meet Day Two

Today was the second day of a creative mini conference of educators. You can read about Charleston Teach Meet Day One here. We started off today a little differently. Doug Bergman showed off one of the Kinect games that one of his students created. We talked about about the cross curricular learning that such a project required. The student consulted with friends who had better math skills to work out a lot of what he needed to know to create a flight similar that was controlled by body movement.

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Next up was David Renton (visit his site of Games 4 learning) who showed us some of the educational games he created for use with elementary and middle school students. He has some interesting quiz style games for use with wireless Xbox controllers. Teachers can easily create their own questions. I may try this with my freshmen this year.

He also showed us one of his Kinect based games. This one was about angles. The program asked students to indicate an angle with their left arm and signal when they think they have it. The software measures how close they are to correct and awards points (it’s a two player game). David’s two children demonstrated the game and they are GOOD at it. I can really see how it would help students visualize what angles look like a lot better than drawing them on paper with a compass.

We were joined for a while by Lou Zulli from Florida. Lou couldn’t make it in person but we had a lively conversation as he talked about his internationally recognized work and ideas.

Julie Sessions showed off OSMO which I hadn’t seen before. OSMO is a set of educational games for use with the iPad. Looks like fun for younger kids.

The afternoon was spent in a wide ranging conversation and brainstorming session that explored many ideas we all had about innovation in teaching. It was great but moved fast for me. I’m hoping one of the other attendees will blog about that. Smile 

Overall I have had two wonderful days of idea sharing, conversation and real revitalization of my attitude for returning to school in the fall. I’ve got a lot of things to try for improving my practice. What more could a teacher want?

BTW the fun image below of me and Bob Irving (from Porter-Gaud) is courtesy of David Renton and one of his Kinect programs.

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Monday, July 20, 2015

Charleston Teach Meet Day One

This week I am in Charleston SC at Porter-Gaud School meeting with about a dozen teachers from around the US and two teachers from Scotland. It’s a bit unusual in several ways. First the small size of the group. Secondly the diversity of the attendees. We have teachers teaching a variety of subjects and age groups. Some people work at the school wide or district wide level. Some are private school educators and some are at public schools. About half of the attendees have been involved in Microsoft’s Innovative Educators program and have been recognized for their excellence and innovation in teaching. A couple of us have been judges for the MIE Forums in the US.

Another big difference is that we spent the whole first day on introductions. Now most other meetings like this would have each person giving one or two minutes of introduction and then move on to some formal program. Today we had in-depth introductions. We talked about who we are and how we teach. We talked about our methods, our philosophies, and how what we do works in our particular environments. These were interactive introductions with questions and answers and conversation what went in interesting directions. It was fascinating!

We talked a good bit about using technology in teaching (something we all do) but we also talked about grading and assessment. Everyone agrees we need to know what students are learning. As one person put it “you haven’t taught it until they have learned it.” But grades? Well grades are no fun for anyone. This will be a big topic for discussion tomorrow.

The idea behind this conference (sort of an unconference but less formal) is that when you get good teachers together to learn from each other good things happen. Seems to be working.


In this picture: Jamie Ewing (elementary school art teacher) @mrewingteach  David Renton (Lecturer in Games Development at West College Scotland) @drenton72 Marie Renton (Depute Head Teacher Lochfield Primary, Paisley, Renfrewshire, Scotland) @Goldilocks1972 Doug Bergman (computer science teacher, Porter-Gaud School)  @dougbergmanUSA

Interesting Links 20 July 2015

If this is Monday it must be Charleston. Seriously though I am in Charleston SC for a two day mini conference with a small group of great educators. More on that when I get home in a few days. Last week was the CSTA Conference followed by the CSTA Board meeting. Lots of good stuff. With a lot of in person conversations I wasn’t online as much as usual but I still have a few good links to share.

No Room For Lone Wolves: via Doug Peterson  @dougpete Lessons for teachers of CS from pro developers as shared at the closing keynote from the CSTA Conference. The video of that keynote and many other sessions will be available soon.

CSTA's New Assessment Landscape Study was released during the conference. Take a look. 

Free PD for teachers who want to teach Computer Science Principles  from @Harvard and professor @davidjmalan A few more openings so if you are in the area around Boston look into it. I’m taking it.

Bob Irving blogged about attending CSTA and included links about his Minecraft presentation.

Top Ten Myths about Teaching Computer Science Int3resting post on the blog@CACM | Communications of the ACM by Mark Guzdial. What do you think? Myths or true?

Some great news to kickstart the week: ScratchJr is now officially available for Android 4.2+ in @GooglePlay!

Raspberry Pi? Why Yes, I’ll Have Pi Cluster - Reed's Ruminations: A Blog by Dan Reed – imagine a super computer made up of very small, very inexpensive computers.

BTW Start thinking now about next year’s CSTA Annual Conference.

CSTA Save the day

Friday, July 17, 2015

CSTA Annual Conference 2015–Looking Back

The 2015 Annual CSTA Conference is in the books now. Over 350 people attended in Grapevine TX for 14 three-hour workshops and 24 concurrent sessions. There was also a tour and reception of the University of Texas Dallas, a sponsored happy hour and other opportunities for informal networking.

I had the chance to sit in on two of the workshops. The first was by Mark Guzdial and Barbara Erikson from Georgia Tech on their Media Computation course. They do a lot of cool things with manipulation of images and sound. They use Python which looks pretty interesting. On the other hand the libraries they use for images look like they would be easily duplicated in C# or Visual Basic and so usable with either or both of those languages. I may give writing them a try. Not sure about the sound stuff yet.

I also sat in on Problem Based Learning in Computer Science: A Case Study in Robotics Camp presented by Joshua Block. WP_20150713_003My big takeaway there was an interesting exercise in problem solving and planning involving making a tower out of playing cards.

It may be a replacement for the marshmallow challenge which I have used in the past. I’ll have to see about a cheap source of playing cards first.

My favorite of the concurrent sessions is probably Out of Your Seat Comp Sci: Coding Using the Kinect presented by Doug Bergman. Doug has a project based course for his advanced students that has them all making projects that use a Kinect. Apparently used version 1 Kinects can be found on the Internet now that the version 2 is out. Doug showed us some of his student projects and some of the code behind them. They sure do have to do a lot of design work and thinking to create these projects. Most of them have to use – gasp – math.

I also attended sessions on Minecraft and Pencil Code. Minecraft looks interesting but I’ll see how interested students at my school are before trying to include it in the curriculum.

Pencil Code has some nice ideas and lets users switch back and forth between block and text based programming. But mostly it seems like another version of Scratch (like Blockly, App Inventor, and Snap!) and I’m just not feeling the excitement in these any more. I’m going to stick with TouchDevelopment for now.

There were also keynotes and an industry panel of course. The closing keynote was from a game company and I think it had a lot of value for people who haven’t talked to game developers before. Lots of talk about the need for soft skills (communication and teamwork), problem solving ability and a reminder that professionals are always learning new things. I’ll share the video when it is available with my students who need to hear this stuff.

As is so often the case conversations were key to my enjoyment and learning. I’ve already blogged some about my conversations around the BBC Micro:bit. I had some conversations about projects, pedagogy, other tools (the exhibit hall was well worth the time here) and just catching up with friends from around the country. And a few people from outside the country.

Overall a great conference. If you missed it you really did miss something good.

And now we look forward to 2016 in San Diego, California. There will be a request for proposals in the fall. Start thinking about what you would like to present next year.

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