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February 2007
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March 2007

What the local colleges and universities can do

I'm lucky.  I live in Dallas.  We've got SMU a stone throw's away, we have UTD a bit farther and then UNT and UTA.  Here's the deal.  Only UTD has ever tried to help me. 

I felt really bad for the guy, they sent a professor down to observe my classes for a few days.  He threw up his hands in disgust after about 10 interruptions in 5 minutes and wondered how I would ever get anything done.  Last I heard of him.

I know UNT thought about workshops for teachers a few times but I'm not sure why they never happened.

What we need are short and sweet workshops, either in the summer or in the early fall.  Maybe as late as January, but we start panicking about getting our students ready much past that.

One week workshops are hard on the body.

The best workshop I've gone in recent years was up at Hendrix University.  Their workshop was a couple of weekends before school starts -- it was great because that's when I start thinking about this year's assignments.  They provided transportation to and from the airport, put us up in a dorm, and fed us every meal.  It was great for the teachers because we could concentrate on the workshop.  It went from Friday morning until Saturday night.

I still speak fondly of that university. 

I'd gladly do something like that IN town too.  Show us what you do in the first couple of CS classes.  Have your instructors give the workshop.  Give us time to do your assignments that you have your kids to do.

It really is not that hard.  I believe Hendrix got a local business to spring for the workshop expenses.  And it is a good way to get publicity for your CS department.

CS Teachers and language issues

Alfred asks about teachers and the language changes. 

There tends to be three sources for computer science teachers.

One group tends to be like me -- refugees from industry.  I've met some who admitted they weren't competent to work in the industry, and others like me who don't like the atmosphere. 

One group are math teachers.  Some of them have choosen to teach computer science -- they decided they wanted to teach an elective.  Some were choosen by someone else, maybe because they had a few programming courses on their transcripts. 

Then there is one last group.  I run into them for time to time.  An uneducated administrator thinks that anyone can teach CS, and picks a business teacher, or a science teacher.  Again, some had had a programming class on their transcript.  Quite a few of them haven't.  I also won't express too much of an opinion about the last group except express my sympathy.  I too have been thrown into teaching something I wasn't prepared to teach.

Notice I haven't mentioned anything about the certified / alternative certification battle.  

But the issue is why does the language change drive teachers out of computer science.   Some of the people who couldn't cope with the language changes were CS people.  Some of them were math people.

I'm lucky, I had a really good education in computer science and was even lucky enough to take a course surveying computer languages.  I also wrote the same software in several different languages when I was working in industry as we needed a common set of user interfaces on different hardware.   I doubt that I am the normal.  Throughout my career, I've met people who could only program in one programming language, or maybe only two or three.  I do know that it took a major shift in thinking from going to Pascal to C++.  It also took a major shift in thinking when going to C++ to Java.  Things are done differently.  It takes a good bit of writing code and making it work to make the shift.

So why did teachers quit over the language change?

First, I don't think many quit over going from Pascal to C++.  The ones I know that quit, when they heard about them ove to Java.  When we moved from Pascal to C++ we had to throw everything out.  I know I threw trashcans of handouts and materials away.  Not the first year, but the SECOND year, because nothing I had from Pascal worked.   And it wasn't just books and written materials, it was IDEAS!  There were few assigments that survived porting from Pascal to C++.

So a lot of people anticipated that happening again.  And they didn't want to go through that a second time.

Second, they received zero support on moving from Pascal to C++.   I know, I taught one of those workshops.  I got no support from the College Board.  And in fact, the only thing that saved me, was a) new textbook adoption that happened at the same time, and b) a local cheap college where I could take C++ at night.  And I didn't even know I needed to do that until November or so.  I was even lucker that I had a good professor teaching the class that would take the time after class to help me with teaching ideas.  The gas money and the tuition money came out of MY pocket.

So if I had been at retirement again when Java was announced I might well have quit to.  Just the anticipation of change and no support is enough to do it.  

Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson : Advanced Placement Computer Science - Time for a Big Change?

I thought for a long time, that we are covering way to much material in both subject areas.

However, I'm not sure what material should be cut from the A exam.  Having experienced and taught Java for a few years, the coolest part of Java is inheritance.  It definately needs to be included.  Perhaps moving arrays and array lists to the AB exam might be a good choice.  I know that some colleges don't do them until the second semester of CS.

The AB exam is also way too big.  It was fine when it stopped at queues and stacks.  Most data structure classes stop there, or only briefly touch on Maps and Sets.

I honestly do not believe that the AP CS program would survive another language change.  However, I wish we'd never left Pascal.  It was designed as a teaching language and there is nothing wrong with that.  I would never, ever want to see us go back to C++.  Even going there was a big mistake.  It drove a lot of high school teachers out of teaching computer science.  It also drove a lot of schools out of it, because it was just too expensive.

Changing to Java drove out teachers also, but most of those are ones who had trouble with coping with the C++ change, and thought it would be as bad.  I know a few who left during that area and I think they should have hung out longer.

I do believe Java is a good choice.  I just don't think we should be jumping to each major release.  Remember, it takes a long time for textbooks to be revised and a longer time between adoptions.  Texas adopts new textbooks every 7 years.  We should also give the teaching tools time to adapt.

The main reason I like Java is there are a lot of good free materials out there.  However, there are not enough yet.  Many of them are written by college professors for the college market and these are high school students. 

I also like the case studies.  I've tried using them as I go, but it never seems to work out.  This year is working out well though.  I am also really looking forward to GridWorld though I think it is not much different than the MBS.  However, the biggest reason I like the case study is that the students have access to a large body of code to model on during the test. 

I would like to see the local universities do more to help us.  They have talked about it in the past, but they never seem to follow through.  I'd also like to see more online learning opportunities, and not just for the AP program.  There are a lot of high schools who have choosen Visual Basic and I would like to see Microsoft giving us more support.  The Mainfunction was a great website, but we need more!

Link to Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson : Advanced Placement Computer Science - Time for a Big Change?

Identity Theft

Seems it never ends.  We've been getting a letter, I think every other day, requesting that we pay a check we didn't write.

Of course, we're not going to.

I just keep sending out the same letters, to different people.  You'd think they would figure it out by now.