Livin’ The Dream(spark)


Today’s entry into educational technology tools is not simply a web site or single piece of software, it is a licensing plan offered by Microsoft to get professional quality development tools into the hands of students.  The program is called Dreamspark and it is the best way to provide real tools for students at a price that any school district can live with.

Many development companies, technology shops, and “just plain businesses” use Microsoft development tools and Operating System software as the foundation of their business models.  Given that the shortage of qualified developers and technical workers continues to grow, Microsoft has decided that providing their tools to up and coming young programmers can help alleviate the gap between qualified applications and jobs.  They have developed a program that allows students and faculty to have access to their flag ship business products for a tiny fraction of the cost that business pay.

The Dreamspark program is available to qualified and accredited High School and Universities and provides software packages for students and staff to be used for educational purposes.  Visual Studio Professional 2013 (and soon 2015), MS SQL Server, Windows Server 2012, and all the various flavors of Windows 8.1 are available for home and school use for around $100 per year depending on your circumstances.  These are not crippled academic or “lite” versions, this is the real thing.  If your school district can find someone to teach it, Microsoft will provide the tools to build the class.  To give an example of the value of this program, one copy of Visual Studio 2013, purchase retail runs about $500.  A copy of MS SQL Server standard goes for about $1000, and a full copy of Server 2012 standard, depending on the number of clients and other factors, can run from $500 to more than $2000 per copy.  Dreamspark provides all this and more for around $100 per year.  The software may be downloaded be each student for use at home via a personalized web store.  Essentially there are no limits to the numbers (although I think they cap the install keys at 500).  The price is hard to beat.

Many companies are seeing the value of providing professional tools to students who are interested in the learning those products.  Adobe Creative Cloud subscriptions for academic use can be had for around $20 per month (the commercial license runs about $50 per month for individual use and $70 a month of businesses).  3D software like 3DS Max and Motionbuilder by Autodesk can be used for free by students on a yearly basis but costs thousands to be purchased for commercial projects.  It is sincerely worth your while as an educator to investigate what titles are available for academic discounts.  You owe it to your students and your self to see what is available.

Well….Lets Just Jump Right In With Both Feet

GreenfootContacted our local Pearson rep yesterday in order to request an evaluation copy of the Introduction to Programming with Greenfoot Object-Oriented Programming in Java with Games and Simulations textbook. Disappointingly enough I have heard no word from them. I have received several good responses on the Greenfoot IDE and system of teaching java and I hope that the lack of action on the part of our sales rep is does not cause me to have to make an adjustment in my plans. Oddly enough, as a private individual buying one book at a time, I can get them $20 cheaper on Amazon than the advertised price at Pearson.

On the other hand, from what I have been able to glean, the methodology that the Greenfoot system uses is sound. It is a modified BlueJ IDE (if you know Java, you’ll know what that is) that, aside from being color coordinated, allows the teaching of not only Java but the concepts of Object Oriented Programming as well. In a nut shell you teach people to write small, self-contained units of code that solve small simple problems and then put them together like Legos to solve bigger problems. It’s all about code reuse and not reinventing the wheel. For example, if I have a requirement for a program that connects to a database and stores street address and contact information and exports it I can, instead of trying to write one large block of spaghetti code to do it all, find a routine that connects to databases, a chunk of code that exports data from a database, a class or two to move the information from the GUI to the database, and then put all those pieces together in a way that reflects the way things are organized in the real world. This methodology is currently in vogue in the programming industry and so it seems a good idea to teach students not only programming concepts like variables and loops and things that can be learned in any programming language, but also things like a useful syntax and the foundations of a relevant language. Besides…all my kids wanna mod Minecraft. If you can learn Java you can learn the “C” family of languages. If you can master both of those you can work anywhere.

On the other hand, I need to find a good solid curriculum to prepare high school students to take the A+ exam. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated. I have a very good background in desktop support (over 20 years in the business with experience in Mac, Linux, and all flavors of Windows from 3.1 up) and I know, generally, what will be on the test, but I might need a starting point for teaching all this to kiddos. Suggestions for self-contained tool kits would not be amiss either. If you had to put together a toolkit for basic computer repair, what would you use? I am thinking a set of precision screw drivers and that’s about it. You don’t really do a lot of soldering, multimeters aren’t that necessary, and, outside of a static strap, I am not sure what hand tools to include.

Once again, it is time for bed. Tomorrow is another day (an easy one since it is a half day before spring break) so I am calling it a night. Any suggestions, contacts from Computer Science teachers, moral support, or grants to upgrade the technology I have available are greatly appreciated.