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.

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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.

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.

The Latest App Smash – OneNote and ShareX: A Great Combination

Introducing a great way to build easily followed lessons and interactive material; the OneNote Classroom Notebook and ShareX, the ultimate screen capture workshop.  ShareX allows you to sahrexOneNOtecapture still and video images from any screen and you can upload it to any possible destination on the web, all from inside the program.  OneNote allows you to build shared lessons and provides a way to present the information (the content library) as well as a way for students to securely complete and turn in assignments (the student area).  These two make a great combination.  ShareX is the best capture software I have ever used.  Find a video that you would like to use but can’t find an app or web site to download it?  ShareX to the rescue (Remember that just because you CAN download or capture a video does not mean you should.  Respect the copyright and the owners)  You can catch whole screens, whole windows, or selected areas just as fast as you can click the “Print Screen” button.  OneNote holds all this material and makes creating interactive lessons and flipped work as easy as pie.  Trust me when I tell you that I can build dozens of lessons per week that are professional looking with plenty of visual material to make learning a breeze.  You DEFINITELY need to try this.

App Smashing: Working with Combinations

Thus far I have been concerned with reporting on programs for teachers and students to use in the education process.  Now I gimpfootam going to mention a pair of programs that work together with an energy much greater than the sum of their parts.  The hardest part of game development is creating the assets to use in the game.  The code syntax is fairly easy to master but creating the sprites or images to be used in the game as well as backgrounds and character design is tough.  This package provides all the tools you need to completely design and build games that can be shared online or compiled into a desktop application.  I’m talking Greenfoot and GIMP.  Introducing GIMPFOOT.  Both of these applications are portable.  It is possible to create a game or simulation from start to finish with these applications installed on a flash drive.  This is very convenient when one is unable to install applications on a PC or when using a public computer that is incapable of having software added.

Both of these applications are open source.  They may be downloaded and distributed for free.  This is a huge plus when starting up a development class because it is possible to put professional quality tools in the hands of students at no charge.  In fact, given the cost of a flash drive, it is possible to provide students with multiple copies of the software, one for school and one to take home.  The programs will run on just about any flavor of Windows and it is possible to build flash drives for Linux and Mac as well.  All in all, this is a great way to get kids started developing for almost no investment.

This is not a perfect solution.  While Greenfoot is easy and intuitive to learn, GIMP requires a bit of practice.  It will, given appropriate training and effort, rival Photoshop in its capabilities.  There are plenty of tutorials and training material available on the Internet to bring anyone, teacher or student, up to speed.  Greenfoot may be downloaded from http://www.greenfoot.org  While GIMP is available in portable format from Major Geeks.  Both may be downloaded and install on any flashdrive and both take up no more than about 400 M of space.  They will seem a bit slow to run the first time they are activated from the flash drive but will speed up considerably after that.