Thursday, October 23, 2008

Announcing Small Basic From Microsoft DevLabs

Do you remember the old days of learning how to program with a simple, easy to use, uncomplicated version of BASIC? A lot of people including a lot of teachers (and more than a few professional developers) do. But in general companies are working on more and more powerful version with added complexity. Here now is step sideways. Not all the way batch to the command line but not so far forward that it takes a trained professional to use Small Basic is a new development tool for beginners. For over a year Small Basic was a part-time project by a software developer at Microsoft. He had a small number of people who experimented with it, tried it with their kids, and provided feedback. Today Microsoft released it into “the wild” as part of the new DevLabs portal. (Nice video there with Microsoft engineers talking about innovation and inspiration.

A little more information from the Small Basic portal site:

Small Basic is a project that's aimed at bringing "fun" back to programming. By providing a small and easy to learn programming language in a friendly and inviting development environment, Small Basic makes programming a breeze. Ideal for kids and adults alike, Small Basic helps beginners take the first step into the wonderful world of programming.

  • Small Basic derives its inspiration from the original BASIC programming language, and is based on the Microsoft .Net platform. It is really small with just 15 keywords and uses minimal concepts to keep the barrier to entry as low as possible.
  • The Small Basic development environment is simple, yet provides powerful modern environment features like Intellisense™ and instant context sensitive help.
  • Small Basic allows third-party libraries to be plugged in with ease, making it possible for the community to extend the experience in fun and interesting ways.

You will find a getting started guide at the Small Basic Portal BTW. Check it out and send me you feedback or discuss it in the Small Basic forums or the Small Basic Blog hosted my the developer behind it.

Cross posted from my main high school computer science teacher blog which is updated more regularly.

Tech Talk Tuesday For Teachers

I got a lot of “T” words in that title. What I found this week was a whole calendar of videos and presentations created by the “Microsoft in Education” team that are aimed at teachers, Tech Coordinators, and others involved in using computer technology in schools. Some of the talks are under the “Teacher Tech Tuesday” banner and are aimed specifically for teachers. Some of the talks are yet to come and can be joined live when they are being presented. Others have already happened but can be viewed on demand. A few of the upcoming talks are listed below (borrowed from Mike Tholfsen‘s blog which is worth you checking out as well.)

Here is the schedule for upcoming Teacher Tech events

Friday, October 10, 2008

Friday Links 101008

I have a small backlog of interesting links so I decided to group some of them in this post. Some are different from what I usually post and some are more typical. But I think they are all interesting to someone who is likely to be reading this blog. I hope so anyway.

I don’t usually link directly to a comment on another blog but this is an exceptional comment. Alan Kay replied to a post by Mark Guzdial recently. In it he compared computer science and programming to Jazz and creating music. A remarkable thought provoking post to say the least. My reply to Mark’s series of posts is boring and unenlightened by comparison. There are some good comments on Mark’s first post on the subject as well.

BTW Robb Cutler weighs in with the whole “Computer Science Without Programming?” question on the CSTA blog. Well worth a read. That makes four CS blogs weighing in on the subject. If you know of more leave me a comment, send me an email or Twitter me at

Web hosting is a question I actually get asked about from time to time. A surprising number of students and even teachers what to know about hosting their own websites independent of their school (or others their business. Clint Rutkas has a post about what is involved in a post called “Web Hosting, what to do and where to get it” He wrote this in response to a student who asked him the question. From now on I am just going to point people to Clint’s blog.

I found this article in ComputerWorld that postulates that the current economic crisis may help drive more students into computer science and information technology. Why? Well because finance and investment banking doesn’t look so good as a way to get rich anymore. Interesting idea. The article circulated about the team I work with and Randy Guthrie lays out some of his thinking in a post titled “Financial Crisis May Be Boost for Computer Science/IT Education” Something to discuss in your class or Personal Learning Network (PLN a term I learned from twitter.)

Speaking of Twitter, also on Twitter I found a nice video called “Adding binary numbers explained in 2 minutes” that is just what you’d expect. A two-minute video demo on how to add binary numbers. Sure you can do it yourself in class but you could also link to this as a resource students can access for review or watch a couple of times until they get it down pat.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Beginner Developer Learning Center

One of the questions I get all the time is “I have a student/child/nephew/daughter/etc who wants to learn programming on their own. Where should they go?” My answer is always the Beginner Developer Learning Center and from there to the Kid’s Corner. I may also recommend Popfly as a starting place because it is so much fun. But if they are interested in more than mashups and games, which many of them are, the Kid’s Corner is the place to start. Well this week the Kid’s Corner went though a complete re-design and re-launch and it is better than ever.

The same great resources that were there before are still there but there are some great new ones as well. One of them that I particularly love is a new video on classes and objects. This video is 10 minutes long and features a bunch of kids explaining objects, classes, inheritance, and more using themselves and cardboard boxes as examples. The language is suitable for students as young as middle school without losing the important parts of the concepts. It may be the best 10 minute explanation of objects and classes I have ever seen.

There is also a seven minute explanation of what the Internet is and how it works. This is also suitable for younger students. I can see it being used by a lot of computer literacy classes. I’m sending a link to it to my 83 year old father too.

Everything at the new version of the site is rated Beginner, Intermediate or Advanced to help people select where they should start. So for home schoolers, after school programs, individuals who want to learn on their own or even teachers looking for supplemental resources this is a great place to start. Of course teachers will also want to make sure they check out the resources at the Pre-Collegiate Faculty Connection site as well.