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.

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Live From TCEA…Sorta

tcea17

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.

It’s A Done Deal

graduationToday I received a final communication from someone with whom I have had almost constant contact with for the past 2 years. Dr. Richard Rose, my faculty adviser from WTAMU, sent me word that I had passed the final course necessary to complete the curriculum for my Masters of Education degree. I will (on December 17th 2016 for anyone interested in buying a graduation gift :)) graduate with a Masters of Education in Instructional Design and Technology from the West Texas A&M University in Canyon, TX (although my graduation ceremony will be the first time I have ever set foot on the campus).  Needless to say it has been an interesting journey, made all the more so by the length of time that has passed from when I started my educational career until this point when I have reached, at least for the moment, a stopping place.  I began my formal education in 1969 in Lovington, NM at the Parkview Elementary School.  47 years later…here I am.  Possibly the most important thing that I have learned in all that time I will share now.  Don’t ever stop learning.  You are never too old.  Just wanted to share that.  It is not very profound or poetical but I believe there is truth in it.

Saddle Up for 2016-17

computercowboyIt’s time to saddle up and get ready for the 2016 – 17 school year.  Classes begin in Whitesboro on August 22 and so the teachers are diligently working through Professional Development exercises and preparing exams and lesson plans for the arrival of our new group.

It is also time to dust off the blog site and get ready for another year of promoting technology and all things computer.  I have already been accepted to present at the #TCEA2017 conference in Austin in February and I will also be going there two more times as part of my UT On-Ramps program.  As of today I am one class away from graduating from West Texas A&M University with my Masters Degree in Instructional Technology.  I will (fingers crossed) begin a Doctoral program with Sam Houston State University in the Spring of 2017.  Wish me luck 🙂  Meanwhile I have a full plate of classes to teach this year.  We offer Robotics and Automation, Concepts of Engineering, Principles of Information Technology, Computer Maintenance, Computer Science, as well as Basic and Advanced Programming.  Why couldn’t they have all this stuff available when I was in High School??

Weather or Not…(I know I know…Not very original)

I had mention once before that a weather station was an excellent addition to a Computer Science classroom, not only for the interest it generates, but also for a source of data to practice formatting and manipulating.  I recently purchased an Ambient Weather Observer 1400 IP to fulfill this purpose.  It allows me to upload data to wunderground.com  Click the link.  That is my personal weather station data uploaded every few seconds.  Weather Underground has an interesting take on crowd-sourcing that other agencies of this type should look at.  They get their weather data, in part, from hundreds of thousands of private weather stations across the country.  All these data points added together ideally should make for a very accurate forecast.  My computer science class will be able to create an application that downloads XML data from the web site and imports it into a SQL Server for further review.  We hope to develop our own model for prediction as soon as we get enough data points to start looking at the numbers statistically.

 

 

Introducing….ME!

loverobotsYeah right…like I have time to run TWO blogs. This one may not see much traffic, or it may get the most. I am tasked with beginning a computer science program at the High School where I currently teach Biology and Robotics. I will be teaching Java programming as well as basic Computer tech and an introduction to technology. I am alone in my endeavor and this will act as a journal of my efforts to get this thing off the ground. Right now I am sending out the call to other High School Computer Science teachers (and there are way too few of them) who might be willing to offer their opinions on my issues as I post them. As it stands now I will be teaching Basic Programming, Introduction to Computer Tech. (Step 1 of the A+ certification), introduction to technology (a basic overview course for all things tech), as well as my old standby Basic Robotics and Automation (using the Lego NXT Mindstorm System running RobotC). I will also have one period working as a support tech in the school (our guy is already running himself to death and we just instituted a 1 to 1 with Chromebooks).

This blog will also serve as a sounding board for opinions, both mine and yours, on the use, abuse, or general suitability of all things techno as they apply to secondary education. I do not hold with the accepted opinion in education today that children are “uber-technical”. My experience has been that most of them can turn on a computer or tablet. They can farm on Facebook, flap a bird through some pipes, dig a hole, or post a “selfie” but very few of them actually generate digital content of any value. Computer science is without doubt, the fastest growing employment opportunity for today and the foreseeable future. We need to STOP sending perfectly good tech. and programming jobs overseas just because we don’t have the people to fill them. We need to get students OFF social media and ON to creating content and generating code. Without solid programming skills to create the outlets and portals, social media is nothing but another annoying advertising medium. Without maintenance and hardware people to keep it all running, social media stops all together.

Oh well…that seems like a good place to stop for the night. I have a lab tomorrow and we are recreating the Great DARPA desert race down the main hall of our school with lego’bots.