Tag Archives: Teaching Tools

CS News – Learning Engineering Early

Learning Engineering Before They Can Spell It

This is a great article that shows that you can teach students some fairly complicated stuff when they are young.  Young children have not developed the same negative views about engineering and computer science as teenagers often have.  I have been able to visit the classes of my sons( 2nd and 3rd grade) and teach the classes how to program in Scratch.  I have found they are not scared of computer science nor do they view the process as hard in any way.  It is great to see schools attacking the lack of engineers problem by starting with younger students.  I think this is the right way to get more students to study engineering and computer science.  It is often too late to change the perceptions when the students are in high school.

CS News – Enigma Messages Go Digital

Enigma Messages Go Digital

It is hard to believe these records are still laying around in non-digital form, but they are.  Hopefully, not for much longer.

I find the Engima machine very interesting as I spend some time on Codes and Ciphers in my Computer Science classes.
Cap’n Dave Reed has some very nice materials on the Enigma machine on his site.

Student get much more motivated when they can see the relevance of what they are studying.
Pulling in real world topics and issues helps students see the relevance of Computer Science.

Pac-Man 30th Anniversary

Google Pac-Man

People Playing Google Pac-Man Wastes 4.8 Million Hours

The 30th anniversary of Pac-Man has come and gone.  What a cool game!
I remember playing Pac-Man on 25 cent arcade machines when I was a kid.
We had a local arcade / pizza house that all sorts of video games.
We had Space Invaders, Frogger, Galaga, Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, Phoenix, and Asteroids just to name a few.

Due to my fond feelings about arcade games and my perception that my students like them as well, I have my students complete several of these games in my classes.
I have a GridWorld Snake Project that can easily become PacMan.

I also have Space Invaders and Pong projects using Frames and Java Graphics.
I ported over my Pong project over to Scratch and use that in our intro CS class.
We also created Pac-Man in XNA / C# as an end of year project.  The students had to research grid-based gaming and the A* algorithm.  The project was fun.
My students love building interactive projects and really enjoying playing what they create as well as playing what others in class create.
It is very educational for the students to design and build a game and then explain that creative process to other students.

Scratch BYOB


If you have not seen this yet and you already use Scratch, you have to check it out.
If you have never used Scratch, this may be the new version that you needed to get started.
The new version of Scratch allows you to add in methods essentially as you can combine blocks to make your own new blocks.
It is very nice and my students are really enjoying it.

Starting the Comp Sci Career Track Early

The Drive Starts in 3rd Grade or Earlier

This is a great article.

I had my now 8 year old start working with Scratch when he was 6.  He can now do some amazing things with it.  My 6 year old has now started writing programs in Scratch as well.  It is fun to see the two of them collaborate on blend their ideas.
I have stepped up my work and have gone in and taught my older son’s 2nd and now 3rd grade classes how to program in Scratch.I have been amazed with how quickly the kids have picked it up and what they have been able to do.
I have taught them basic Animation, looping, decision making, variables, and broadcasting.  They are doing some fairly advanced stuff to only be 8 and 9.
I used some of the materials I developed for use at the middle and high school and they had no trouble with it.
I plan to go back in a few weeks and teach a few more lessons as many of the kids are working at home with Scratch and have been writing games and such for fun.
I think I have planted the seed with this group that Computer Science is not hard and that it is really fun and COOL!
I will post some updates later on as things change.

The GridWorld Case Study – A Great Teaching Tool

This post is a recap of an article I wrote for the CSTA Voice a year or two back explaining how I use the GridWorld Case Study in my AP Computer Science classes from day one.

The AP Computer Science GridWorld case study provides a tool that teachers can and should use from day one to introduce new topics, enhance prior topics, provide a game programming platform, and engage students.

From the very first day, GridWorld can be used to demonstrate what an object is and how to call an object’s methods without ever forcing students to write a single line of code.  Due to GridWorld’s interactive nature, manipulating the world is as easy as a mouse-click, allowing students to quickly add objects to the world and call methods.  Students quickly learn and observe how methods affect the appearance and behavior of an object; thus, learning why methods are important and useful.

After learning to create and interact with objects, students learn to write basic code to create objects using Actor and Location classes.  As it takes very little code to do this, students are not overwhelmed and gain confidence quickly learning one skill at a time.  Students learn how to add actors to the world and how the location class is used to store the position of an actor.  Method calling and parameter passing comes naturally as the results are seen visually via the graphical nature of GridWorld.

Having the basics in place, Actor can be used to teach inheritance by a simple override of the act method.  Constructors and instance variables are not yet necessary which once again allows students to simply focus on mastering a single concept – inheritance.  Using inheritance, students can make new actors that move around the grid and explode when hitting an edge which is very entertaining and engaging.  Students learn how to use the fundamental actor methods and get more acquainted with the location class.

Once inheritance is down to an art, decision making can be introduced so that the actors no longer move and explode, but rather move across and reappear on the opposite side of the screen.  Students learn to use if statements to check boundaries and determine when to make the actor move so as not to collide with the edges.  This process is once again very visual and engaging and students really get into it.

At this point, Bug comes into play perfectly.  Bug has some new methods and it requires a fundamental understanding of inheritance and decision making.  Using Actor before Bug enables students to learn how a Bug is built before every seeing one.  Bug moves around the grid very much like the new Actors created in previous units.  Students find the movement and action of Bug pretty straight forward as the students have already made an Actor move and are also very comfortable with inheritance and method overriding.  The prep work has paid of big time as Bug is very easy to use and understand.

After using Bug and making Actors move, looping is pretty much ingrained as students have now been using the step button of world which continually calls the act method of each actor over and over again.  Students can now transition into writing loops and using loops to solve problems.  GridWorld can be used to teach for loops, while loops, and nested loops more easily as the graphical nature allows students to see the results of the looping.  Working with loops graphically helps students as they can see how the loop works.

Using GridWorld very early in the year enables student to gain a solid understanding of  basic object instantiation,  method calling, inheritance, and decision making while learning how to interact with a grid, properly use a location, create an actor, and interact with a world.  These are all very important skills that provide a great foundation for students in the AP Computer Science class.  The GridWorld case study provides a wonderful tool that can be used all year long to enhance the learning of all computer science students.

Once the foundation is built, lots of great game projects can be used to expand student knowledge and get students very excited about Computer Science.  Board games work very well with Gridworld and can be created with lots of interactivity.

More GridWorld Information

CS News – Gaming Degrees in Demand

Gaming Degrees in Demand

Games are very popular and most students like designing and creating games.  Scratch is a platform that enables quick game creation as does the XNA platform.  Game projects help get students excited about Computer Science.
As there are more and more companies creating games these days, it is much easier than in the past to find a job in the gaming industry.

AP CS Principles Website

AP CS Principles Website The AP CS Principles course website is now up and running.  Information regarding the work of the commission has been posted as well as some general information on the AP Computer Science Principles course.

As as member of the commission, I think the course is coming along nicely and that it will be a course that will convey to everyone the coolness, power, and relevance of Computer Science.
The course will include programming as programming is a very fundamental component of Computer Science, but not focus only on programming.

Alfred Thompson has some cool reflections on his blog about the AP CS Principles course.  His blog is a very good one to check out for all sorts of Computer Science information.

CS News – Lego Robot Set to Take Over Twitter

Lego Robot Set to Take Over Twitter

This is a funny and cool article if you like robots and web 2.0 tools like Twitter and such.  The Lego NXT kits can do some amazing things.  I use the NXT kits in my Computer Science classes and the results are phenomenal and will use them some at my AP Computer Science Summer Institute this year in Houston.

The following site has great Lego Robotics Projects –  NXT Programs I have had several students build electric guitars using the Lego NXT kit.  The projects on the NXT Programs site are pretty nice.  Try out the Forklift project as my students really had fun with that.

CS News – Google Page Rank Algo is Old as Dirt

Google Page Rank Algo is Old as Dirt

It is not quite as old as dirt, but the algorithm has been around for some time.
Many of the algorithms commonly used today for sorting and searching are also quite old.

Tag Clouds are cool things to discuss and they make for nice assignments for students.  The discussion of Tag Clouds gives students a better idea of how page ranking works.  I have my students create a basic tag cloud program and they really enjoy it.