Monday, December 31, 2007

Projects for a Programming Course

At their best teacher blogs are full of information and idea sharing that benefits other teachers. For teachers of computer science or computer programming one of the most useful things teachers do is to share projects. A good project engages students while at the same time enforcing important concepts that have been covered in class. A prime example of this is a recent post by Mr. Higgins (aka Higgy).

In this post he lists out and describes the projects he is using with his Advanced Placement Computer Science A course (APCS A). The list includes some fairly basic and perhaps familiar projects like ASCII and number base conversion up to some more complex and new (at least to me) projects like a Galton Board. For some he has links to more complete descriptions that I think many teachers will find extreamly helpful.

All in all this is one of the most useful CS teacher blog posts I've run into in a while.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Robotics and .NET Fundamentals Series

Sometimes it really pays to have smart friends and let them figure things out for you even if you don't really plan it that way. Early this week a received a brand new robot in the mail. I've been waiting for it for a while. The problem of course is that it came at a bad time. My schedule this week was full. I had some travel and a bunch of meetings that took me out of the office just about every day and filled the time in the office with other things. So the robot stayed in the box. A very sad thing.

Fortunately for me one of my friends and co-workers also received an identical robot this week. Now I don't know if he had more time or if his wife had a shorter list of things to do after work then mine did or if he just goes without sleeping. But long story short Dan had time to setup and experiment with his robot.

But it gets better and this is what is going to make my life easier. Dan Waters has created a series of videos of his initial setup and experience that I think are very well done. I've been watching them to prepare before  I setup and experiment with my own robot. The index for the series (they're all in nice short manageable chunks of time) may be found here. Hopefully I'll have some things to report about my own stuff shortly.

BTW If you haven't already you may want to check out and install Microsoft Robotics Studio and Visual C# Express (both free downloads) for use with Dan's projects.

Popfly Goes to School

Popfly is a very easy to use and yet powerful mashup tool for non-professional developers. It's really a lot of fun to use and lets amateurs create some really interesting combinations of data and displays.

Professor Mark Frydenberg of Bentley College teaches technology to business students. One of the things he does very effectively is to use technology to teach technology. This year he has added Popfly projects to the mix. Recently Bob Familiar who is an architect evangelist for Microsoft interviewed Professor Frydenberg about how this all fits into the curriculum.

Bob introduces the interview here but the interview itself is here on Channel 9.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Max Builds a PC

My friend Mac is building a PC from parts. Over at Channel 8 (First post in the series here) he's looking for recommendations and suggestions about parts. Looks like a good conversation is taking place already but there is always room for more.

Oh by the way did I mention that he's going to give the resulting computer away to one lucky contributor to the discussion? Yep, here's his plan:

  • In this series, I will present my point of view about a certain computer component (like a graphics card or motherboard)
  • YOU comment and tell me your point of view and why
  • Once we have all the components discussed and chosen, I'll build it and post video to show exactly how I did it
  • Here's the fun part... when I'm done, one of you clever community commentators will WIN the new PC!
  • It seems like a lot of students are "in to" building their own computers. Perhaps it is the new car hacking for the 21st century. If you or someone (perhaps a student) are really all about the custom computer send them over to Channel 8. Perhaps they'll win their dream computer.

    Tuesday, December 04, 2007

    How Do I - Videos

    I found out about a bunch of new videos that show how to do different things with different Microsoft development products. They all run between 10 and 15 minutes and focus on specific tasks. They are adding new videos every week so you may even want to subscribe to the RSS feed.

    What topics/tools do they cover? Glad you asked. Here's the list:

  • ASP.NET Ajax
  • Devices
  • Native Coding
  • Visual Studio Extensibility
  • Visual Studio Tools for Applications
  • Silverlight
  • Visual Basic
  • Visual Studio Team System
  • Windows Forms
  • Windows Presentation Foundation

    The site is called "How do 1? and you can find it here. I've already got my eye on a number of them to watch this week. I see them as a good way to digest things in a short period of time that fits into my schedule. I'd love to hear what others think.

  • Saturday, December 01, 2007

    Top November Posts

    November was an interesting month in some ways. It seems that when I really for for an opinion piece it attracts more attention in both readers and comments. At the same time some informational posts quietly attract a lot of readers.

    Is Computer Science Dying was the most read and most commented on post largely because it got some good attention from Dzone. Comments from Dzone readers are honest and respectful. Some goods comments were left on this post. Thanks!

    Carrot, Stick, Attract, Retain, Boys, Girls which was about attracting more minorities and women - especially women also attracted a fair amount of comments and readers. Not everyone sees the shortage of women as either a problem or something we can or should make extra efforts to do things about.

    My Ideal First Programming Language rounds out the top posts in terms of comments last month. I think that anytime you get programmers or other computer scientists to talk about programming languages you'll get at least as many opinions and there are people in the conversation.

    Speaking about first languages. Links to My Game Builder (blogged about here in October but still getting a lot of attention) Scratch and Alice were among the most followed links in November. It sure looks like people are looking for innovative ways to teach young people about programming.

    The last top November post I'll mention is my comments about the Kindle from Amazon. Robert Scoble added it to his link blog which sent me a few readers. An awful lot of people were doing search engine searches for the Kindle though and that accounted for most of the traffic. That's still a device I think will be interesting to follow BTW. If the Amazon people are reading the Internet discussions and taking them to heart the V2 version might just really be amazing. One commenter pointed out that the Kindle could greatly reduce the weight of elementary school backpacks. There have been some studies that indicate that some children are suffering back problems from too heavy back packs. Could the Kindle be a solution to a health problem? Stranger things have happened.

    Thanks again for all of you who stopped by to read, the leave comments or to send me feedback via the connection link. You can also reach me by email at Alfred.Thompson (at) 

    I am in Texas (near Dallas) this week taking a course. I hope to keep up with blogging and email but course work will take priority during the day.