Monday, September 29, 2014

Interesting Links 29 September 2013

The big deal for me this past weekend was the birth of my first grandchild – a grandson. People are already asking me about what his first technology will be. I think I’ll leave that to his parents. At least for now. Earlier in the week though I did collect a few things to share.
First off, in case you missed them, I’ve blogged about several contests/competitions/awards for students lately. Check them out and see if any are appropriate for your students.
iPads and Pens in the classroom by Garth Flint. It sure does seem like a lot of technology is thrown into schools without proper planning and teacher preparation.
This is the largest collection of FREE Microsoft eBooks I have ever seen. Your IT support people may be very interested.
CS EdCamp Anyone? is my latest guest post at the CSTA blog. What do you think of a computer science unconference somewhere and sometime?
Inspiring Quotes from 10 Influential Women in Tech something for a bulletin board perhaps?
I love this carton from xkcd. A lot of people, basically people without experience with computer science, don’t understand the difference between what is easy and what is hard in software.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

IBM Master the Mainframe Contest

imageFor something different, IBM is running its tenth Master the Mainframe Contest for students age 13 and up.

From the web site:

What you need to know:

In Fall 2014, IBM is running its tenth Master the Mainframe Contest for students across the Unites States and Canada.

No experience with mainframes is necessary. In fact, the contest is designed for students with little or no mainframe experience, increasing with difficulty as the contest progresses. Students just need to bring drive and competitive spirit and be ready to compete!

Frequently Asked Questions/Answers:

When is the contest?

Registration will be open from September 23rd until December 31st! The contest runs from October 6th until December 31th. Students can register and join the contest through December 31st.

Why compete in a Mainframe Contest?

The prizes up for grabs in the 2014 Master the Mainframe Contest include:

  • IBM Master the Mainframe T-shirts
  • IBM Master the Mainframe Prize Packs (which includes):
    • Hooded Sweatshirts
    • Water bottles
    • Messenger Bags
    • IBM Notepads
    • And other cool IBM swag
  • Tablet Computers
  • All expense paid trip to the IBM facility in Poughkeepsie, NY
  • Experience!

Today's mainframes are growing in popularity and require a new generation of mainframe experts. This contest is designed to equip students with basic skills to make them more competitive for jobs in the enterprise computing industry. Participation in the Master the Mainframe Contest could give you the edge you need.

To help employers connect with the best mainframe students, contestants are encouraged to check out the jobs posted on the System z job board at

Who can compete?

Anyone is who is currently a student at the high school or university level can compete (13 years of age or older) – no experience is necessary! Please click here for the official rules and regulations.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

American Computer Science League Programming Competition

If you didn’t see this in the recent CSTA email blast read below about the ACSL Programming Competition:

ACSL has offered a unique programming competition for 36 years. Here are some excellent reasons to participate this year:

  • ACSL contests are conducted at your local school or institution throughout the year.
  • All of your students can compete and be successful, not just a very few.
  • All necessary preparation materials are supplies as soon as you register.
  • The contest allows for various experience levels - Junior, Intermediate, and Senior.
  • The Classroom Division provides a non-programming version of the contest.
  • Programs can be written in any language(s) that the students know how to use.
  • ACSL can extend the actual curriculum in computer science or be used as an extracurricular activity.
  • New, creative contest questions and programming problems are used every year.
  • Previous years' contest questions are able to be purchased for extra practice.
  • Important Computer Science topics such as Boolean Algebra, Graph Theory, Computer Number Systems, and Data Structures are introduced.
  • Prizes are awarded on a regional basis to top scoring students and teams during the year.
  • Fast e-mail response is provided for all questions and concerns.
  • Sample student-written programs in several languages are provided after each contest.
  • The level of programming increases in difficulty as the year progresses starting with only IF-THEN statements for the first contest.
  • ACSL has sponsored regional contests continuously since 1978 and is now international.
  • There is an annual All-Star Contest that is hosted at a different location every year and this year it is in Orlando, FL!
  • ACSL is on the Approved Activities List of the National Association of Secondary School Principals.
  • ACSL is an institutional member of CSTA.
  • All of the ACSL team members have been high school Computer Science teachers.

If you are interested in participating in the ACSL contests, please visit our web site, read the 'How the ACSL Works' link and view the 'Sample Questions' link. All questions about ACSL can be sent to Jerry Tebrow @

As in the past, ACSL will include a free contest CD in the registration packet that is sent to all new teams if the advisor is a CSTA member.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Interesting Links 22 September 2014

Last week ended with International Talk like a Pirate day. Talk_Like_a_Pirate_DayI doubt this would have spread as far as it has without the Internet. Things were very busy for CS education on the Internet last week. I’ve got a lot to share today. I hope you find something useful here.

Last week I learned about Gidget  (thanks to Mark Guzdial) which is a more text based programming environment for teaching programming.

Gidget is a game designed to teach computer programming concepts through debugging puzzles. Gidget the robot was damaged on its way to clean up a chemical spill and save the animals, so it is the players’ job to fix Gidget’s problematic code to complete all the missions. As the levels become more challenging, players can combine newly introduced concepts with previously used commands to solve the puzzles and progress through the game.

The MacArthur “Genius Grants” for 2014 were announced last week. A computer scientist, Craig Gentry who is an IBM Research Scientist in their Cryptography Group was one of the recipients.

I created a short video introduction to operators (math and relational) in C# which you can watch or download from Office Mix -

Mark Guzdial announced the release of JES 5 (the Jython Environment for Students) It includes: New Jython, Faster, Updated Watcher, with Jython Music.

Karen North is  hosting a Houston Texas area Code Studio workshop (for teachers, grades K-5). 

The 2015 Code Hunt Challenge is part of the Microsoft Imagine Cup competitions.  The first event was over this past weekend but they are running more of them monthly. Worth pointing your students to since they don’t have to go anywhere but the Internet to take part.

You really want to look at this blog post -Wolfram introduces "Tweet-A-Program" – the Wolfram language looks VERY interesting. If you don’t think so yet you will after seeing the examples there.

Microsoft launches Cyberspace 2025 Essay contest for university students navigating the future of cyber security policy:

Today, we’re kicking off this year’s contest, the  Cyberspace 2025 Essay contest.  This year, we want to hear from University students who are conducting original research on how they see the future of cyberspace.  The inspiration for this topic comes from our recently published paper, Cyberspace 2025: Today’s Decisions, Tomorrow’s Terrain, where we consider the impact that such factors as demographics, education, immigration, regulation, technology, collaboration, and even trade will have on the future landscape of cyberspace and cybersecurity.

Friday, September 19, 2014

2015 Code Hunt Challenge

Microsoft is running their big Imagine Cup imageinternational student competition again this year. While some of the events take a lot of work and teams of students some of them are individual events. The Code Hunt Challenge is one of the later.

I grabbed a bunch of information from the Imagine Cup Code Hunt Challenge web page to share. Code Hunt

ACTIVE DATES (GMT): Wed, 10 Sep 2014 00:00 - Thu, 30 Apr 2015 23:59

WHO CAN COMPETE? Students 16 and older worldwide

WHAT'S THE TEAM SIZE? Individual Challenge

WHEN? Challenge #1 Begins September 20th

WHAT CAN YOU WIN? $1,000 for first place

Check the Official Rules for all the details!

Put your coding skills to the test. In cooperation with Microsoft Research, Imagine Cup brings you the ultimate challenge: write effective and elegant code, in real-time, in competition with thousands of other student programmers.

In the Code Hunt Challenge, you'll be shown a snippet of code, and you'll have to rewrite it to produce the desired output in as few lines of code as possible. The puzzles start easy but quickly escalate in difficulty. Can you solve them all?

The winner of each month's Challenge is the student who produces the best possible answers in the shortest time. The Challenge lasts just 48 hours, and the first student to get the highest score will receive a $1000 prize! And every student who participates will be entered into our Grand Prize drawing. One student will be chosen at random to win a $5000 prize!

The first Code Hunt Challenge begins on September 20th at 12:01 AM (GMT), and ends on September 21st at 11:59 PM (GMT). Even when there's no Challenge happening, though, you can still visit and practice your skills to get ready for the big event.

To get started, please register now and sign into your Imagine Cup Dashboard.Then find the Code Hunt Challenge and sign up!

So Many Ways To Do The Same Thing

I updated my list of block programming languages and tools yesterday. Two more bringing the total list to 17. Seventeen? Yep. Also this week I learned about Gidget  (thanks to Mark Guzdial) which is a more text based programming environment for teaching programming. There are so many of these tools out there.
It seems like these sorts of tools for teaching beginning programming are appearing faster and faster all the time. A couple of years there were just a few of them with Alice and Scratch getting almost all of the attention. Next came Snap! in terms of attracting a large teacher base. Of course those were not the first around but they were the first to really jump into mainstream CS education. All of these have their fans and lots of people rave about them. Do we have research on how they work? Not much. Even less on the newer ones.
Recently I asked (Yet More Block Programming Languages) why these new languages were created and received a nice answer from one of the creators. (Thanks Jeff Gray) I suspect everyone who creates one of these tools has their own ideas about what should be done and how. I’m not going to tell anyone not to try something they feel good about.
In some cases, Spherly and App Inventor just to name two, a specific application domain is the target. Robots and phones in those two examples. In others a specific platform such as apps for iPads or Android devices. Or even different programming paradigms – TouchDevelop for small screens and a touch interface rather than a keyboard. They all touch some interest of study and some audience.
Students react to different tools differently. I have asked groups of students about several on different occasions. I’ll have some tell me they love Scratch and hate Alice. Others hate Scratch and love Alice. It seems to be a pretty personal thing.
Right now I am gathering a list of educational tools and projects that teachers are using to teach programming. Not just at the very beginner level up up to and even beyond Advanced Placement Computer Science. (Supported by I’m looking for volunteer teachers who are willing to help me review and rate them all. If you are interested and willing to help let me know. Email at Thanks

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Teach APCS–A New Shared Resource Site

A few days ago I was contacted by Christina Cacioppo whose day job is an engineer at a startup but who is also helping to teach Advanced Placement Computer Science. She is involved at a public school in San Francisco through TEALS ( which places software professionals in the classroom to help start CS programs. Christina has created her own site to share resources. I have to say it has a lot already but she is looking for others to contribute as well. The site is called Teach APCS.

According to its creator, Teach APCS currently has:

  • an interactive REPL to help students get started
  • a dictionary of common terms
  • a compiler-error-to-English translator
  • a list of exercises that have been tested in classrooms and seem successful (these look particularly interesting to me BTW)
  • a "microtext" – snippet-sized explanations of key AP CS concepts
  • a list of microlectures – solid YouTube videos that could supplement
    classroom instruction.

If you are teaching APCS or other Java course check it out. Perhaps share some resources of your own!

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

NCWIT Aspirations in Computing 2015


The nomination period for the 2015 NCWIT Award for Aspirations in Computing is now open. If you know a high school woman who is interested in computing nominate her or suggest she nominate herself. This is a great program to give some girls some recognition and support. And there are prizes too! From the web site:

The NCWIT Award for Aspirations in Computing honors young women who are active and interested in computing and technology, and encourages them to pursue their passions. This multi-tiered competition includes recognition at the national level (sponsored by Bank of America) and at the local level (sponsored by Microsoft), serving 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Criteria and Eligibility
Any U.S. high school woman with computing aspirations is eligible and encouraged to apply: NCWIT recognizes aspirations as well as accomplishments. Aspirations Award recipients are chosen for their outstanding aptitude and interest in computing, proven leadership ability, academic performance, and plans for post-secondary education. For more detailed information, please visit

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Why I Retweet Things From Heavily Followed People

I used to think that retweeting something that someone who had a lot of followers tweeted was a waste of time. After all they reach many more people than I do. Plus many of the same people follow both of us so I’d be duplicating things. Then I started to look at statistics that twitter provides. Mind opening.

For starters even though I have something around 5,000 followers it seems from the statistics that only between 150 and 250 people actually see the average tweet I make. Still an ego boosting number but it made me realize that just because I see a tweet doesn’t mean that all the other followers of a tweeter see it. In fact only a small percentage of followers see each tweet. So if I see someone tweets something really good then there is a chance someone who didn’t see the original tweet, even though they follow the other person, will see my retweet. And that is a good thing.

For me much of the value in tweeter is what people share with me. Sharing things with others, original to me or from someone else, is what keeps the whole thing working. This is also why I include links from people who have many followers on Twitter or on their own blog BTW. If information is good then it should be shared.

Linking from a blog or retweeting on Twitter also helps bring new readers/followers to people sharing good information. Since many of the visits to this blog come from search engines there is always a chance that someone will find a blog, a twitter person, or a piece of information that they were not looking for because they didn’t know it was our there.

So I retweet things I like no matter how many followers the person has and link to blog no matter how many readers they have. It’s what makes the web work.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Interesting Links 15 September 2014

Overshadowed, at least in the US, by the anniversary of the attack by terrorists on New York and the Pentagon, last week also included Programmers Day. Apparently started in Russia when Dmitry Medvedev issued an executive order establishing a new professional holiday, Programmers' Day, back in 2009.

Programmers' Day will be celebrated on the 256th day of each year, that is on September 13 or 12 depending on whether the year is a leap year.

I didn’t know in time to celebrate with my students. Maybe next year. I did collect a lot of good links to share with you. Read them all and don’t miss any.

Interesting article in @Marie Claire: How to Land a Job at Microsoft It’s good advice no matter what tech company you are interested in working for though.

Another hi-tech company is getting involved in promoting computer science education as Salesforce Pours $6M Into SF Schools, Computer Science Education Five million directly to schools and another million to CODE.ORG also announced their new  Code Studio set of tools for teaching programming last week. 

Computer science is now the #1 course at Harvard (Just passed Economics) How does that happen? I wonder.

Digital Literacy vs. Learning to Code: A False Dichotomy Worth reading as you probably need to talk about this. I know I do.

Debugging the Gender Gap Documentary thanks to the CSTA blog I found out about this movie and watched the trailer. Good stuff!

Laura Blankenship shows once again why teachers need to share what they are doing with other teachers.  Net Neutrality and other hot topics is about how she starts of class with a short discussion of current and important topics. I need to do this with my classes.

17 Rare Images Tell the Real Story of Women in Tech by @michaelmccutch About people who too often are left out of the history of technology.

Know any women in STEM fields looking for help with graduate education funding?  Microsoft Research is giving scholarships to female graduate students in CS, Engineering, Information Science and Math. Pass it on.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Getting Organized

Most years I have had a rough plan of what I wanted to teach.  I use the term “plan” loosely there. My granularity tended to be a week rather than a day. I knew the topics and the order of the topics but day by day plans tended to be recorded after the fact. This year I got really organized.

I’m teaching two courses and one of them includes sections of a course that two of us are teaching. Tom (the other teacher) and I (largely Tom) built up a daily plan based largely on records of how the course went last year. This seemed like a great idea so I did the same for the honors programming course where I am the only teacher. I laid out every day of the semester. Oh there is room if something runs long and I can deal if things go short and I adjust the schedule as that happens. But basically, in theory, I know what I am doing every day all semester long.

It’s early to see how it will work for the semester but so far I think it is going well. The plan forced me to spend more time and do more exercises with students on some of the early stuff. This is stuff I think I rushed too much last year. Very basic stuff like variable types, proper use of assignments, breaking down problems into little pieces, and other concepts that really have to be solid before getting serious about things like loops and decision structures and all that. Without the plan I might have rushed too much.

I have planned out what projects and exercises to do as well. I spent some time during the summer tuning them up a bit from previous years. While I leave myself open to changing projects based on student interest at least I know what I need and when I need it.

What I have found most amazing is how this has kept my stress level down. I know what I did when I did it and what to do  today. When I get in to school I review the plan for the day and I am good to go. It feels great.

This is not to say I don’t spend my prep time doing things. I do. Grading of course takes up some part of it. Mostly though the time is spent improving what I had or have used in the past. And some time improving things for the next time I present the same topic. Improving slide decks and building additional support resources for students seems like a natural result of almost every class. our learning management systems makes it easy to share things with students and I encourage them to go there for review information.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Fun With Code Monkeys

In industry demos I have worked on over the years the people who enter code as part of a demo, usually with someone else explaining what they are doing, are referred to as “code monkeys.” It’s all in fun and taken with humor. This year one of the things I am working on is putting more students hands on and taking an active part in demonstrations of code. I know that most good teachers do stuff like this but I’ve had trouble giving up control of the keyboard. Embarrassing to admit.

I know that I need to get away from being the boring voice in the front of the room. So having students do more “board work” is a step in the right direction.These students are sort of like code monkeys except that there is more interaction between them and me. So far having students do the work seems to be getting students more focused. So I’m happy. Why didn’t I do this years earlier?

I have instituted one primary rule – anyone who makes fun of or gives the student doing the demo a hard time has to replace that student. It seems to cut down on teasing and makes the student in the demo a bit more comfortable. Interestingly enough it seems to encourage other students, not just the demo student, to call out peers for unsupportive behavior. Since a mutually supportive environment is one of my goals this may help there as well.

One other thing I have done is to let the demo student call on others when I want an answer from the audience. They find that empowering and as it turns out they are better about spreading the questions out than I am.

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Can I Look That Up?

The other day a student wanted to add something to a program using functionality we had not covered in class. His question to me was “Can I Google how to do that?” I resisted telling him to use Bing and just said “sure.” I want students to go beyond what we cover in class. And in fact being able to find and learn things from ones own research (internet or other source) is a valuable skill that I want to see students develop.

Another student who had finished the required code for an assignment asked me if he could add more features to his program. Again I answered in the affirmative. Any time a student wants to do more than the minimum required I am all for it.

I almost wondered why students felt they had to ask me these questions but I realize that there are teachers who demand precise work that doesn’t vary from a comment set of standards or rubrics. Schools do not always encourage creativity and when they do there are often limits placed on it.

The one big limit I try to enforce though is that the minimum requirements for a project have to be done first. Once that is done I really want the students to make the project theirs. I don’t want to grade a classroom set of completely identical projects. That is boring for me and it means the students are likely to be bored as well.

I want students to make the project their own but more than that I want them to stretch themselves in directions that interest them.  Students who learn to do something because they want to learn it and use it seem to learn those things much better than if they are just learning for a test. Passing a test is pretty sad motivation. Yes some students will never get as excited about computer science as I am and that’s ok. Some of them will need the pressure of a test to make them study. That is reality. But for the most part I want students to want to learn to solve problems that interest them. If that means looking things up or adding additional features that work fine for me.

Monday, September 08, 2014

Interesting Links 8 September 2014

Busy busy last week. I feel like I am getting back into the rhythm of school but grading takes up a good bit of time. As it always does. Still enjoying working with my students though. This week the post ends with a couple of images I found this past week. Some I have already shared with students and some I will be sharing.

From  @sbceoedtech and the BBC A computing revolution in UK schools Things are changing in the UK and it is not always smooth.

Check out the latest (Summer) edition of The Journal for Computing Teachers (JCT). Here's the link:

Great video from NSF about ECS! Use it to help administrators understand the impact of CS!

 Pushing the Start button on a computer science curriculum for K-12 schools. People are talking in California which is often a bellwether state in education.

And now some images. Hope you enjoy them.

Embedded image permalink

Embedded image permalink

Embedded image permalink

My students were surprised this week when I showed them the first floppy disk some of them had seen.

Thursday, September 04, 2014

Thoughts On The Start of School

Today is the eight day of classes for me. By and large the school year is off to a good start. The students are great. I told my students this morning that I was happy because I was spending the day with them. I don’t think they believed me. One of them said “teachers always say that but then we give them a reason to hate us.” Now that is a mixed story.

I think that most teachers really do enjoy spending time with their students. On the other hand students can be very frustrating at times. Discipline can suck the joy out of a classroom for both students and teachers. And yet I think things would be horribly boring if students sat in class like little robots just listening and regurgitating facts and information. Somewhere between that and kids wildly doing what every they want is the sweet spot. Some good questions. Even some off the wall questions that spark good discussions. And yes maybe even a little goofing around – in moderation – can be a good thing.

So far though my students haven’t given me a reason to hate any of them and in fact most of them fascinate me.  I found out today that one girl used to drive race cars in races. We had a fun conversation about that before class today.

As for the actual teaching that is going pretty well. Our Explorations in Computer Science course (2 teachers/5 sections) seems right on schedule. Well on adjusted schedule. Things always seem to pop up that require moving one thing up and another later but a good plan allows for that.

I’m still working on the timing for my honors programming course. Last year was the first year for it and we had a mix of prior experience that included some with no prior experience in programming. My schedule this year was based in part on how long things took last year. This year all of my students have had some prior programming even if only a partial semester of Visual Basic. More sticks with some than others and for some the switch to C# is easier or harder than for others. The result is some things are moving much faster than planned and some a little slower. Can one ever get it all right? Probably not – each class has a pace and a personality of its own.

One change this year is starting off with the students doing more coding between topics. I have found that not doing that means students forget simple basics later on which can get in the way or using new concepts.

The biggest change for me is the most detailed plan for the semester I have ever had at the start of the semester. (I’ve seen a lot more detailed plans by others but at least I’m moving in the right direction.)  Only time will tell how it has to be adjusted as we go along. In the long run I think I and the students will benefit from the summer planning.

Monday, September 01, 2014

Interesting Links 1 September 2014

Nothing like easing into the new school year. Last week was a four day week and so is this week. Today being Labor Day in the US most schools are closed. Here in New England and in fact much of the US tomorrow is the traditional day to start school. Some have been back longer of course. Standards and US education seem to have a rough time of it. No matter if you are off today or working I have a few links to share.

School administrators are really starting to take notice of and advantage of social media. The school district where my son is an assistant principal has made that a priority this year. Not just school accounts but administrator accounts. Want to help my son get going? Follow him at @ace_thompson

Mark Guzdial is looking for help figuring out how to design ebooks to be usable. If you have ideals drop on by his blog.

I made some minor updates and additions to my Computer Science Education Blog Roll last week.

I’ve been seeing a lot of good times from CS Teaching Tips @CSTeachingTips on their Twitter feed and in the gadget on the side of my blog. Like this one:

Speak to students directly if they use language that downplays the ability of women and students of color.

Are you a STEM teacher? Interested in serving at the national level for a year?

The Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator Fellowship (AEF) Program is now accepting applications for the 2015-2016 Fellowship Year. Program applications are due by 5:00 pm EST, November 20, 2014, and must be submitted through an online application system.

The AEF Program provides a unique opportunity for accomplished K-12 educators in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) to serve in the national education arena. Fellows spend 11 months working in a Federal agency or U.S. Congressional office, bringing their extensive classroom knowledge and experience to STEM education program and/or education policy efforts.

Sniff – A (next) programming language for Scratchers on Arduino and Raspberry Pi Sort of a textual version of Scratch. Interesting idea.

Is this a great clock or what? I wonder if I can find one for my classroom to go along with my clock that shows time in binary lights.

Embedded image permalink