Friday, February 26, 2010

NASA Be A Martian Pathfinder Innovation Challenge

Back last November I posted a short link to NASA’s Be A Martian program page. I guess I didn’t realize at the time that there was a programming competition called the Pathfinder Innovation Challenge as part of that. Not strictly a student competition but many may be interested in it. Here is the reminder announcement I received in my email today.

NASA has hundreds of thousands of images from their missions to Mars. With the Pathfinder Innovation Challenge, they want to enlist your coding skills to help them classify them. This is a unique opportunity where you can help NASA and win some great prizes by utilizing your existing .NET skills.

The Pathfinder Innovation Challenge consists of four different “leagues”.  In the Global Cooperation League, you’ll build casual games that will allow every day citizens to help classify images in a game environment (similar to the counting craters application that can be found online here – and do so using Silverlight and NASAs Azure-hosted APIs in codename Dallas.  In the Intelligence League, you’ll use the power of the Azure cloud to attempt to solve the same problem by programmatically examining and classifying the images.

Full details for the competition can be found on their website at  .  Details specific to the Global Cooperation League at  and details for the Intelligence League can be found at . Also be sure to check out the intelligence league site for a series of “How Do I?”  videos that show how to sign up for an use the Codename Dallas API.

In addition to helping mankind and being able to brag that your code was helping NASA, PIC winners will also win amazing prizes ranging from NASA swag, to ZuneHDs, to trips to see the launch of the next Mars Rover.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Students to Business Career Streams

Microsoft is doing a number of things to help people enter and grow in technology careers. Yesterday there was a post on Microsoft On The Issues called Microsoft Bolsters Efforts to Create More Opportunity for College Grads about some of those things. But there is also a program called Students 2 Business that I would like to highlight today. Specifically the new Career Streams site.

Do you know there are great technical careers out there waiting for you? Have you ever wondered…

  • What do people in these careers do?
  • What skills are needed to get started?
  • How do you get experience?
  • Are there jobs if you have the skills?

Learn about the skills that employers seek and relevant experience to land the job through Microsoft S2B Career Streams. Career Streams will introduce you to a variety of technical careers that are in demand today and tomorrow in the Microsoft community. It will help you learn the skills needed to get started in a technical career and offer opportunities to gain that vital first work experience. Career Streams guide you through three stages of training:

  1. Learn – about technical careers including a video of a professional in the field and an overview of the Microsoft tools and technologies necessary to enter the field.
  2. Skill – complete introductory training to develop skills via webcasts and online resources.
  3. Do – Practice the skills learned to create some “refrigerator art” and develop portfolio assets

Once you complete a career stream, employers can find you through Students to Business as the career stream will automatically populate your online portfolio – searchable by employers. Career Streams available today include: Web Developer, Web Designer, IT Security Specialist, Server Administrator, Network Specialist.

Register Today. Microsoft S2B Career Streams are FREE for students. All you need to do is register at and to begin your career!

Monday, February 08, 2010

Interesting Links 8 February 2010

Well did you watch the Super Bowl? I confess that I did not. I’m just not that into football. Still I had a good weekend and as usual I have spent some time looking though my Twitter feed of the last week for interesting things to share. I hope some of you are finding this useful or interesting. It’s serving as a good way for me to track things and record useful (to me) information. And now this weeks list.

Details for this year’s CSIT Symposium details have been released. I’ll be in California this Saturday meeting with the rest of the planning committee as we work out still more details but you can register now. I hope you’ll come. It will be at Google HQ. I think they are an Internet advertising company of some sorts. Doug Peterson (@DougPete) who is one of my favorite people to follow on Twitter is also on the planning committee BTW. So Canada is represented. :-)

@TeachTec sent out this link to a Project Natal video that explains how yesterday’s STEM students are today’s creative wizards. It was created as part of the Connect A Million Minds project which is a Time Warner Cable effort in conjunction with FIRST Robotics and CSAS - The Coalition for Science After School.

Also from @TeachTec - Getting kids to tell their stories and the free teacher's guide to digital storytelling. Share this with a lot of other teachers you know. English/language arts, social studies, you name it.

The  @innovativeteach Twitter account linked to a blog post on their site called AutoCollage - a simple workshop Included in the post is information on how teachers can get AutoCollage for free.

The CSTA Blog had an interesting post called Getting Students to Test Their Programs This seems to be a big problem with some students. They are either unwilling or find themselves unable to really test their programs. Do you see this problem? How do you deal with it?

The CACM blog also has some interesting posts last week. One in particular got to me School pupils' attitudes to programming: "what's that?" How many students stay away from programming because they don’t know what it is? How about students who decide to major in computer science while being clueless about programming? How can we fix that?

Alerted by @blogCACM on Twitter I found this  Bruce Schneier & Marcus Ranum point/counterpoint: "Should we ban anonymity on the Internet?" They spent a little more time just debating if banning anonymity on the Internet is possible than on if it is the right thing to do. But both make interesting discussion topics. Dealing with ethics in computer science in your classroom? If so this may make a great item to talk about.

The @iRobotSPARK account alerted me to both the @roboweek account and to the First annual National Robotics Week which has been announced 4/10-4/18 Besides that article which lists some events already scheduled look up the National Robotics Week home page.

New Learning Resources on the Visual Basic Developer Center (thanks to Beth Massi on the Visual Basic Team Blog)

Today we revamped some of the Visual Basic Developer Center Learn pages with more content that allows you to pivot on more fine-grained topics and tasks related to Visual Basic programming. We’ve started with the Introductory Topics and Language Syntax pages. To get there, head to and then click the Learn tab. There you will see a set of general topic areas to explore.

The US Imagine Cup Twitter @imaginecupus retweeted a message by @LouisIngenthron with a link to a post that shows you how to create a simple endless ocean for an XNA C# game. Just one of the latest posts at Coding 4 Fun.


Sunday, February 07, 2010

Bliink Web Design Competition for Texas High School Students

The Microsoft Corporation, NASA, the Texas Business & Education Coalition, and the State of Texas would like to invite you and your students to participate in the bliink web design competition exclusively for Texas High School students. Information at

· Participants must register by 11:59 pm February 24, 2010 and use the referral code TexasNASA.

· Every team member must register individually. Students who register are not obligated to submit a Web site; however, students who do not register by the above date cannot submit a Web site entry.

· Final submissions must be received by 11:59 pm PT on March 25, 2010.

Will you be at TCEA? Microsoft will be running an Expression Web Introduction session at 11 AM on Wednesday February 10th in  Room 410 at the Hilton – The same Hilton as a lot of other TCEA sessions will be held.

You may also join us at TCEA for a three-hour hands-on workshop on Friday, February 12 from 8:00am until 11:00am

Registration required (This web site is down as I write this but should be up Monday the 8th once the TCEA server move is completed.)

SEE A DEMO AND ASK QUESTIONS about blink or Expression Web.

Get Expression Studio free-of-charge for your school in our live webcasts. Check the schedule at Http://

For more information about Microsoft at TCEA please see my previous post Microsoft at TCEA. I really hope to see a lot of my Texas readers at TCEA. Please at least stop by and say hi. Or is that howdy?

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

What Programming Language to Teach First?

Have you ever been asked a question that you have been asked time and again but suddenly decided you have a different answer for? One of the questions I hear a lot is what programming language should be taught first and this question was asked of a panel I say on last week. Except for me it was an impressive panel. Don Slater of Carnegie Mellon and the Alice Project, Michael Kolling, University of Kent and creator of Greenfoot for teaching Java, and David Klappholz from Stevens Institute of Technology who got his PhD while I was still picking a major in college. So of course I asked to answer first because that was the only way I had a chance of adding value. Plus I had suddenly realized that I had a new answer – one that I had not tried out in public before. And I wanted to give it a go.

Normally of course I would have launched into a great explanation of why Visual Basic was the best and language wars would likely have erupted. But that just did not feel right. So I answered that it depended on a number of things such as the goals of  the course, the type of student but most importantly it depended on what language the teacher was most comfortable with and had the most passion for. The first programming course is hugely important. It is during this course that many students will either be turned on to computer science or turned away from it. This is the first impression and it needs to be a good one. If the teacher knows the language, is comfortable with the language, can have fun with the language and really enjoys the language the students will have a better experience. Everyone wins

I remember teaching Java for the first time. It was not a good experience for me (I was not ready for it) and I am sure it was not a good experience for many of the students. I did then a disservice. In hind sight I should not have agreed to teach the course. But I did and I tried my best but it was not ideal. Teachers easily, and without thinking about it, transfer their feelings about material to their students. Recent reports say this is true of math for example. (Study finds female teachers' fear of math can be catching) I doubt the same is any less true for computer science education. This is why we need well trained and confident computer science teachers in our schools.

There are other considerations BTW. Michael Kolling pointed out that supporting tools are very important. Greenfoot and/or Alice for Java for example. I personally think the Visual Studio IDE makes learning Visual Basic and C# much easier than they would be using a command line and text editor. Plus the drag and drop editing of graphical user interfaces make creating real looking Windows program easy and fun. There are also curriculum materials available for some of the better tools. The Greenfoot site has some for that tool. has some for Alice. The Scratch web site has many resources as well. The Microsoft Faculty Connection has curriculum resources for VB and C#. And there is the newly revamped beginning developer learning center. Python which is a language that has a lot of proponents  (I like that it is dynamic) but not as much in the way of a support environment for teaching. Yet.

I know that a lot of curriculum is slaved to the AP CS curriculum these days but I really strongly believe that APCS is too much for a first course. Students need a gate way course that will introduce them to programming in a fun, exciting, dynamic and enthusiastic way. For that course it is best if the teacher uses a language and a platform that they love. Communicate the love not fear, the enthusiasm not the necessity of a specific language, and share passion not pain.

Monday, February 01, 2010

Interesting Links 1 February 2010

All sorts of good things last week. Tops among them was a visit to Stevens Institute of Technology for a workshop with a great group of high school computer science teachers. You’ll see more posts on the things I learned there during the course of the week. But here now some links that I hope you will find useful and interesting.

Tom Ziegmann (on twitter at @tomontech blogging at Tom On Tech) was a visitor to Microsoft’s Redmond HQ last week. While he was there he had a chance to interview members of the Microsoft Surface team. His video is posted at Microsoft Surface – What is it and how does it work?

Texas people heading to TCEA Please sign up for some of the Microsoft workshops Pretty please. They'll be good I promise.

The US Imagine Cup Twitter account (@imaginecupus) sent out a link to an article about learning the basic techniques for XNA 2D Basic Collision Detection. In to game development check this article out and let me know what you think. BTW if you are wondering about the educational value of having students create games this article on Science Daily (Learning the Art of Creating Computer Games Can Boot Student Skills) might be interesting to you. Apparently there are good things happening for students who create there own games.

Speaking of gaming the people behind the conference have a proposal  to create an ACM special interest group called SIGGAME. If you’re a member of the ACM you may want to take a look and sign on your support if you think it is worthwhile.

Key Royal (@kenroyal) posted a link to National Science Competition Searches for America's Top Young Scientist for all your science geek students.

Clint Rutkas (on Twitter at @ClintRutkas) was a member of the academic team that I am on but has started doing some new and interesting things at Microsoft. His profile is now on Microspotting! - Take a look and see what sort of interesting things are going on.

From the @iRobotSPARK Twitter account that is sponsored by iRobot I saw that Hawaii Gov. Lingle announced $2.8M for Robotics education.

Governor Linda Lingle announced today in her State of the State Address that she has authorized the use of $2,805,200 in federal stimulus funds to enhance robotics education programs in Hawai‘i’s schools.

That is serious money in a state the size of Hawai’i. I’ve seen a lot of good things come from robotics education programs so I think this sounds like a great idea. It gets kids creating things, getting creative, and learning all sorts of skills. Good for Hawai’i.