Ok gentle readers, I am going to take a momentary break from reviewing educational technology and ask for your indulgence for a moment (or at least for one entry). As you may know, I teach various types of technology in a very small rural public High School in Texas. Our technology budget is limited but I would still like to expose our students to every tool that I can. Many of these kids are looking forward to a career in fast-food or retail (think Allsup’s or 7-ll) and that is the extent of their opportunity or ambition. My goal is to help my students find alternatives to these types of low opportunity jobs. One of the dreams I have is to be able to offer an audio/video engineering class in hopes that one of these students will become inspired and continue on to find a rewarding job in a satisfying career field. I need your help. I am trying to gather the necessary equipment to outfit a small but useful video studio for my students. I am using every tool, approach, or venue that I can find to get word to the Internet at large about how deserving these kids are and how much good a few dollars can do. One of the things I have done is to establish a crowd-funding project on http://www.donorschoose.org in the hopes of expanding my purchasing power in order to buy the equipment my students need. This is where you come in. I find that most people on the Internet are sympathetic to education (and kids for that matter). They are also interested in promoting technology and media creation. If this is you and you have a few dollars of disposable income (I mean a few…even $10 would be greatly appreciated) then please consider clicking on this link and donating to a very worthy cause. If you have never donated to anything like this before then today, being #GivingTuesday would be a great day to start. If you can’t donate then please consider sharing, reblogging, re-Tweeting, re-Facebooking, re-SnapChatting, or repeating my plea on whatever social media you can access. If you don’t care for social media consider sharing this link with a friend or neighbor who does. If you have no friends or neighbors, consider sharing with a total stranger (in a well-lit public place of course) and ask them to promote the idea. C’mon…there is so much on the Internet that is not good or not useful. Here is your chance to do a small thing to swing the balance the other way. Please Please Please consider helping my students with this project. Now…back to our regularly scheduled education blog.
Reviewing 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.
One 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.
My 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.
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.
Once 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.
Today 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.
It’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??
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.