Here We Go Again

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Once again it is time to saddle up and prepare to ride herd on another group of technology students. With the hustle and bustle of preparing for a new year I often forget how important it is to document what works and what does not. This year my goal is to journal, at least some of my classes, with an eye towards technique. We spent the morning in a professional development seminar presented by Dave Burgess of Teach Like a Pirate fame.  Needless to say, while I did not agree wholeheartedly with everything that was said, I do believe that Mr. Burgess was correct in one very important area.  We absolutely DO need to carefully consider our presentation and we need to devise ways to make it more engaging.  We are packaging and marketing a product for sale and we are competing with some of the best marketers in the world for the attention of our students.  In order to engage our students and give them the best opportunity to retain the material we present, we must make it palatable.

Before anyone grabs the tar and feathers, I have not bought into the theory that each lesson needs to be an epic presentation of Hollywood-like special effects.  I survived the “Working on the Work” phase of 2007 and 2008.  We all built carefully crafted set-pieces to be trotted out for special occasions like evaluations.  I have seen teachers with fire station poles, amusement park rides, and all sorts of props in the classroom.  I don’t think that this is a legitimate expectation for every teacher.  I do, however, think that each of us can, and should, put more care into the format and presentation of our lessons.  Any good craftsman will be interested in improving their craft because each of us, in the end, wants to do the best we can for our kids, or at least, they should be our highest motivation.

At any rate, my goal this year is as follows:

1.) Document what I am doing in class with video, audio, and careful notes.

2.) Use that documentation to improve what I am currently doing and use legitimate data collection and analysis methods to determine what is good and what is not so effective.

3.) Brain-storm ideas for more ways to present information more accurately and more interestingly.

4.) Archive and share what works and what does not in the classroom on these pages.

Having said that…Wish me luck…Here We Go Again.

Favorite Computer Science Teacher Tools – Day 2

dell745On day 2 of our investigation into useful tools for teaching Computer Science I would like to point out a web site that makes teaching several different aspects of Computer Science a breeze…CodeAcademy.com

codeacademyCodeAcademy.com is one of the most useful and user friendly coding sites on the Internet. It also contains a huge amount of free content. I realize that the purpose of most sites is to generate income and I applaud that. Generating income is the motive force that keeps quality content in production. However, it is nice to share the wealth and give away quality material to draw people to your site. CodeAcademy has this down pat. One can learn Java, HTML, CSS, JavaScript in various flavors, and SQL just to name a few. I use CodeAcademy.com in most of my classes, even some that might not otherwise involve code. It is possible to set up classes and monitor the progress your students are making as well as to view the material they are learning. As a supplemental source of material it just can’t be beat. Thank you to CodeAcademy.com for providing such a useful amount of free material for my students.

imagineThe next item on my all-time list of favorite tools is a program (not software) created by Microsoft and labeled Imagine. This program, recently known as Dreamspark, provides professional grade coding tools and software to students for, basically, no charge. Where else can a high school student, learning to code, find a copy of Visual Studio Professional with a legal license, at no charge. The school or academy that uses the program pays a token fee of $99 per year and can make items like Visual Studio, SQL Server, and many other professional Microsoft tools available to their students at no cost to the student.

Well, that is day 2 of our top 10 list.  Only 3 more days to go until completion.  If you have questions about any of the programs or tools listed, OR if you would like to add your favorite application to the mix, please use the comment section below, and don’t forget to “like” and subscribe if this sort of topic seems worthwhile to you.

Computer Science Tools Review

9ipArbkiEReviewing the live adaptation of Ghost in the Shell has put me in the mood to present some other reviews and so without further adieu I will be presenting my Top Ten for Computer Science Teaching Tools. These are presented in no particular order or ranking and I would be very happy to have someone add to the list in the comments section below if I miss one of your favorite tools or programs.

greenfootOne of my personal favorite programming tools will always be the Educational Java IDE Greenfoot.  I believe that this is one of the most comprehensive and useful combinations of curriculum and tools available for teaching Java and the basic concepts of Object Oriented Programming.  Notice I added both of those qualifiers.  There are certainly more effective programming interfaces and some tools that make learning the basics of programming simpler but to combine both of those things into a single application, Greenfoot can not be beaten.  The program creator, Michael Kölling, is first and foremost, an educator rather than simply a programmer, and this is apparent in the way that he designed the Greenfoot application to bring out the basic tenets of programming, and specifically Object Oriented design while hiding much of the complicated boiler-plate code that students will get to soon enough in Eclipse or Net Beans.  Rather than begin in a procedural mode teaching loops and variables and other constructs and then bringing class into it  (There I go…bringing class into it) Michael starts off with proper class design principles from the beginning and teaches constructs along with OOP design.  The best time to build a mind-set, in this case, for Object Oriented Programming, is in the beginning and that is exactly what Greenfoot does.

arduinoMy next favorite tool is the combination programming environment and hardware that make up the Arduino system. In order to get students interested in programming and code creation we need to get them engaged. Nothing creates interest and focuses attention better than creating something that works. Lights flash. servos turn. robots move. All of these things tie the attention of the young programmer onto the task in a manner that does not seem at all tedious or difficult. With the Arduino programming environment concepts like functions, methods, variables, loops, and program logic can be taught in bite-sized portions that don’t overwhelm the young programmer. Also Arduino provides an avenue to teach fundamentals of engineering, circuit design, and making in general. Considering the price of the hardware, this is an excellent investment for a part of your classroom budget each year.

With that, the first edition of my Top Ten Computer Science Teaching Tools comes to a close.  I will continue the list tomorrow and try to finish by the end of the week.  If you have suggestions or comments, please list them below.  Also, “likes” are appreciated.

Thanks.

Useful Skills in Canvas

w3c_logoI am going to start a series aimed primarily at teachers who use the Canvas Learning Management System.  I have found, over the course of the last three years, some tips and tricks that can make your experience with Canvas easier, or possibly more effective.  The first trick I will offer is the use of HTML to control how your embedded images relate to the text you place them with in pages, quiz questions.  Most people ignore the HTML editor portion of Canvas and just use the Rich Content Editor.  I think this is a mistake because the HTML editor allows you much more control and functionality.  All you need is a cursory knowledge of in-line style commands and CSS.

Let’s say you wish to add a picture to the top of an informational page.  Ordinarily you would upload the file to Canvas, use the Embedded Image button in the page editor tool bar to place the picture, and then put your cursor where you want the text to appear and start typing.  The problem here is that if you wish the text to appear on one side or the other of the image and/or to wrap the image, it is difficult do do in the Rich Text Editor.  Often you end up with a single line of text next to the image and the rest of your text below the image, like this…

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With the addition of a tiny html snippet into the HTML editor you can go from this to what appears in the image below.

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To accomplish this task we only need open the HTML editor and find the code that embeds the image into the page.  We are looking for the following structure:

chrome_2017-03-08_11-12-51We see the line img src=”https://whitesboro…  This line tells us the source for the picture we have embedded into our page.  We need to edit that html slightly with the addition of the following snippet of html code.

“style=”float: left; padding-right: 15px;”

Everything, including the quotation marks, must be included.  Essentially this line of code tells the HTML browser to float or move the picture always to the left of the text and to give us a 15 pixel space between the right margin of the image and the start of our text.  Entered correctly, the code will now look like this…

chrome_2017-03-08_12-18-23This is the same bit of html with the code snippet above pasted in.  We placed the line of code between the “img” and the “src” and now our text politely starts at the top of our image, wraps nicely around our image, and gives us a 15 pixel buffer space between the right margin of the image and the left margin of the text.  This particular bit of html can be pasted anywhere that you are allowed to edit a page with html.  In fact, I used it on the smaller images on this page at WordPress to allow me to wrap the text around the images.  This is just one example of the power that simple HTML and in-line CSS style commands provide.  The link above will take you to the W3C page on style sheets and you can begin your journey from there.

If information like this is useful to you, please leave a like and share on social media.  If there is some topic you would like covered, please leave a comment below.

Live From TCEA…Sorta

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I am currently at the premier technology education event certainly in Texas, and possibly in the world.  This is my 5th such event in as many years and so I am not exactly a newbie to this environment.  I have seen a great many changes, some good and some bad, but the one constant ingredient I find is the caring demonstrated by the educators here.  While we may not all agree on what is best for our students, we can all agree that we want the very best for our students.  I am proud to be surrounded by such professional and caring individuals

Having said that, the other draw to this incredible meeting is the amazing amount of technological innovation being displayed here.  The leading technology players in the world gather here because they know that teachers are an excellent source of sales and we seem to be drawn to toys.  Perhaps we like toys because we like kids.  Who knows?  All I know is that I am exhausted and off to bed.  Hope to see you tomorrow in Austin.

TCEA 2017

arduinoOnce again I am off to Austin, TX (not my favorite place to travel to but I seem to go there a lot) to present my way of teaching technology to the attendees of the Texas Computer Educator’s Association.  I have done this for the past 5 years and it just keeps getting better each year.  I am presenting on the topic of using incorporating the Arduino microprocessor and the Internet of Things into the curriculum of a technology classroom at the secondary level.  I have been using Arduino for also about five years and find it to be an incredible tool for creating engagement with the students.  Everyone likes to be in control and make things happen.  Something about typing code into a screen and seeing a motor turn or watching an LED blink on and off in response to a sensor is satisfying beyond what it should be.  Compared to Raspberry Pi (which I also use) or other small computers/processors, the Arduino is inexpensive and easy to incorporate into all sorts of projects.  The basic theories of electronics (Ohm’s Law, Kirchhoff’s Law, etc) are easy to teach and building circuits that actually do something really helps focus the student’s attention on the task at hand.  In short, it is an excellent way to spend some grant money if you happen to have it available.

So off I go.  Wish me luck.  I will do my best to blog while I am away but no promises.  It is, after all, a very busy time.  I hope to see you there and I REALLY hope that you can drop by at 8:00 am on Monday and sit in for my demonstration.  I think you will find it interesting and useful – at least, that is my goal.  Safe journey if you are traveling this week.

TCEA 2017 is a GO!!

I just got my acceptance letter to present a premiere session at TCEA 2017 in Austin, TX tbusyhis year.  I will be presenting Arduino and the Internet of Things on Monday, Feb. 6 at 8:00 am.  You will need a premiere admission to attend as this is a half-day “hands-on” session.  I would LOVE to see someone there who is also a blog reader.  Speaking of which, I know I have been remiss in posting but this year has been incredibly busy.  I have nine (NINE!!) preps this year.  Seven classes, two of which run two classes concurrently.  Needless to say I am very overloaded.  Also, my fledgling music career is moving forward.  Fifth Sparrow completed their summer tour of West Texas and also played the Whitesboro Peanut Festival.  So before you chide me for inattentiveness, please be aware that I am not just being lazy.