Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Why Computer Science Teachers Should Read Books

Since I retired I have been reading more computer science related books. You may have read my book reviews on Humble Pi, Weapons of Math Destruction, or Computer Science in K-12. More and more I realize that I missed out on a lot of good ideas and information. Each of those books has given me ideas that I wish I had thought of a long time ago.

Currently, I am reading Nine Algorithms That Changed the Future: The Ingenious Ideas That Drive Today's Computers. I haven’t gotten very far yet but the book has covered indexing of web pages, PageRank, and public key encryption so far. I’ve started the chapter on error detection. Pattern recognition, data compression, data bases, and more are yet to come. I’m really looking forward to data compression. Teaching AP CS Principles has built up an interest that I didn’t have before.

The indexing chapter is one I had read long ago. Many years ago I experimented with indexing. I wrote some code that indexed the Bible for me. The program was more general purpose than that but the Bible seemed like a good challenge. The program used a list of words and a text file of a book as input. It output a markup language file that worked with a product called VAX Document. VAX Document read the markup language, called SDML, and formatted a document including an index. I wish I still had the code so I could adapt it for some other backend processors. Sigh.

In any case, the idea of creating and assigning indexing projects has some appeal for me. I can see this being interesting for students especially in the context of understanding search engines and more involved search queries.

Other chapters include a lot of information that would be helpful in understanding and explaining various important concepts. And maybe inspire still more programming projects!  So I do recommend this book to AP CS Principles teachers.

PS: More of my book reviews at http://blog.acthompson.net/search/label/book%20reviews

Saturday, September 12, 2020

How Are You Doing?

We’ve now finished the first week after Labor Day and at least in North America almost everyone is back to school. That may not mean physically back in a bricks and mortar school building though. My grandson is starting kindergarten online this week. I didn’t see that coming a year ago. Teachers, students, and parents are adopting to all sorts of new ways of teaching and learning. 

I confess to being happy I am retired but I am also sympathetic so those still teaching. I do worry about you all. I hope you are finding ways to take care of yourself.

My son is an elementary school principal and his summer was as busy, if not more so, than during the middle of the school year. Administrators have been having a tough time so have some sympathy for them.

Somehow many people seem to think this is all easier for computer science teachers. This is not the case of course. Yes, we may be more comfortable with computers than some teachers but the tools for teaching online are new to us as well. And helping students with computer problems is as hands on as helping students in art, or math, or English. Maybe more so at times.

I think we’ll see some tools appear and older tools will see new features develop Social media is full of teachers talking about online IDEs for example. I’m still not a fan but that’s me. I still like the idea of using virtual machines on a powerful server for teaching computer science..  No doubt a lot of people will be trying new things. If nothing else, we’re going to learn a lot this year about new tools for teaching CS.

And that brings me to a final point, have you thought about sharing what you are learning with other computer science educators? The call for proposals for CSTA 2021 is out. Even if you are learning a lot of what doesn’t work you are learning some things that do work. We’re all better off if we all share what we are learning. Please consider a proposal for the conference. If you have questions about what is involved let me know. I love presenting at CSTA conferences. It’s the best audience you could have. Seriously!