Writing and Sharing Code

A while back, I had made reference somehow/somewhere to this infographic.

Thanks, mint.com.

It’s an infographic that claims to show how a credit card number can be validated.  I don’t know if the algorithm explained is true in all cases but it was interesting.

It’s kind of interesting when you have people reference your resources.  It’s an indication that someone is actually reading the resources and blogs that I’m creating.  So, it was with a smile that I read a message from Alfred Thompson (@alfredtwo) on Twitter) asking if I remembered the infographic about credit cards verification.  A quick search and I was able to send him the link.

I also sent Alfred a smart aleck comment to the effect "I smell a Computer Science problem here".  Alfred, if you don’t know, is the K-12 Computer Science Academic Relations Manager for Microsoft.  Within minutes, he got back to me indicating that that was exactly what he was up to.

As I look at the algorithm, it is indeed something that’s easily handled in secondary school Computer Science.  You need to ask the user to enter a credit card – it sure can’t be an integer with its 16 digits – then rip it apart digit by digit – do a little mathematical calculation – and then finally validate the check digit to make sure that the number was valid.

I had to go out and do something right after the exchange with Alfred and when I got home, I thought "What the heck – I’ll whip up the code to solve this".  In my Computer Science teachable qualification course at the university, we’ve talked about how teachers should solve all of the problems that they give to students so that they know, in advance, the challenges that students will have.  We had also talked about choice of languages and one of the ones that we had played around with (and enjoyed) was Microsoft’s Small Basic.  Now, we had done some silly little programs in class but this was a little more involved and so I decided to code the solution with this language to see how it looked.

It took probably 20-30 minutes as I had to learn some of the nuances of the language in order to make it work.  Eventually, it was done and I thought that I would share it with Alfred.  Now, in a traditional world, I’d save the code to a text file and then email it to him.  Given my blog post of yesterday, that would be a little hypocritical.  However, as I noted in the post, there are better ways to share resources and Small Basic fills the bill there.  Instead of saving the application, I just publish it.  The code goes off to Microsoft’s cloud and I’m given a code.  Could it be this easy to share?

Ever the skeptic, I save the program locally, shut down Small Basic and reload it.  This time, I give it the code I received before and, voila, there’s my program.  Sweet.  The code is on the way to Alfred.  Perhaps I could save him a little time but I suspect that he’ll write his own program and do a better job at it. 

From this experience though, I had a number of things confirmed.  The best programs for the classroom solution are all around us.  We just have to find them.  I’m impressed with how Small Basic could handle it.  I’m even more impressed with how easily I could share my code.  In the classroom, what a great way for students to collaborate. Or, from a teaching perspective, I could distribute a program for students to debug, or to distribute the basics of a program and allow them to complete it.  Best of all, Small Basic is free and so the home/school connection gets stronger.

I love it.

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OTR Links for 02/28/2011

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Whither Email

There was a time, almost 10 years ago, when email became so common place that it made absolute sense to try to incorporate it into the classroom.  For economic and other reasons, many school districts just couldn’t swing it.  As it turns out, that may be the best thing that could have happened.  Have you seriously looked at the cost of hosting your own email for a system of students?

Take a read of this article from the Huffington Post which makes reference to the annual report from ComScore.  This paragraph should leap out to anyone reading it.

Email use dropped 59 percent among users aged 12-17, as well as 8 percent overall, according to ComScore’s 2010 Digital Year in Review. Users between 18-54 are also using email less, though among those 55 and older, email actually saw an upswing.

There are a couple of things that make one smile.  First of all, in order for email use to drop, it means that the students have email accounts to begin with.  So, why does education need to provide another one?  I think, in my own little world, I have almost a dozen email accounts that various organizations and providers have generously given me.  Thankfully, I’ve written rules that forward them all to a single point of reading.  Secondly, while I’m certainly not in the 12-17 age group, my own email use has to have dropped at least that much as well.  In fact, there are days when I don’t even check email at all.

A while ago, I heard Dr. Gary Stager speak as a featured keynote at the iNACOL conference in Nashville.  He came out strongly against the use of clicking, voting technology in the classroom.  Other than it’s a frustrating, highly priced replacement for hand raising, he made a forceful point that has stuck with me ever since.  He has remained true to his message, including his most recent post in Tech&Learning.  I would urge you to look past his focus on a particular piece of technology but look at the real message.  While he does open the door a crack for the use of Interactive Whiteboards, his message is a wakeup call to any technology that puts the teacher on a podium at the front of the classroom.

They reinforce the dominance of the front of the room and teacher supremacy. At a time of enormous educational upheaval, technological change, and an increasing gulf between adults and children, it is a bad idea to purchase technology that facilitates the delivery of information and increases the physical distance between teacher and learner.

So, how does this tie into student email?  In my mind, email in the classroom reinforces the same dominant teacher position.  It is a dehumanizing electronic separator of teacher and student.  It’s not that students don’t want to use electronic communications; it’s that with all the options they have, they’re switching to better forms.

When you look at their preferred choices for communication, what are the characteristics?  Typically, it’s not one to one; it’s one to many.  It doesn’t rely on a single person reading and responding; they’ll amass a team of their peers for answers to questions.  When you look at texting teens, they’re not texting back and forth to a single person; they’re using the technology to engage a group in multiple conversations.  The capacity to do this is quite amazing.  Where does this leave the humble teacher trying to get back to a class full of emails?

In fact, most of what needs to happen educationally can be done with better tools than email.  The kids get it.  There are better tools for their form of collaboration – a wiki or a ning easily embraces the concepts that help working with peers.

Don’t think that they’re limited by a 9-4 schedule either.  While school based email systems may seem like a great idea for control, move your work to a better medium and you’ll see that the kids are alright.  They’ll be working on their projects late into the evening calling on their own experts as needed.  I think of a friend of mine teaching AP Chemistry who used private electronic rooms in a class wiki for groups to focus on their major projects.  Or another Grade 7 class where students wrote and peer edited manuals late into the evening – just because the technology enabled it.

“But, if we only had email, I could have students email me their assignments.”  Think about it.  That certainly is an expensive way to do something that’s better done with a tool designed for it.  You need to check out DROPitTOme.

In fact, when you think about all the ways that you might use email, there are so many alternatives to do the job and do it better.  It takes us away from Dr. Stager’s fear that everything needs to originate from someone in control and turns over the responsibility for choosing the best tool to the end-user.  And, all without receiving a phishing email that could encourage an errant student mouse click.

Given the statistics from the original article, the kids have got it.  They’re voting with their tools of choice.  Are we listening?

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OTR Links for 02/27/2011

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.