A New List Look?

Happy Follow Friday…

Do you ever get bored looking at the same old website – you know with conservative fonts so that they work on every device known to internet-kind?  If that’s the case, you might want to spice it up with FontFonter.  For today’s post, I decided to spice up the Ontario Educators’ list. 

It’s a simple process.  Just head to the FontFonter website and submit a URL to substitute a font.  In this case, I submitted the Ontario Educators’ list – http://www.twitter.com/dougpete/ontario-educators/.  I couldn’t resist picking Super Grotesk from the list of fonts!

There is no Comic Sans.  Isn’t that great?

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OTR Links for 07/15/2011

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

Really Smart People

Yesterday served as a testament to me that there are a lot of really smart people and I was so fortunate to be able to see them show off just what it is that they stand for.  At the end of the day, it really was a humbling experience.

In the morning, we started with a breakfast speaker.  Dean Kamen got our intellectual blood stirred by sharing stories about his efforts to bring science opportunities to the youth.  He started with a wonderful story of his attempt to bring science to the masses with the creation of a Science Centre but realized that he was missing so many students going this route.  This inspired him to found the USFirst series of robotic challenges.  It was amazing to sit in the audience and hear how this has taken off both in the US and internationally.  I really liked his understanding that youth had their heroes in sports and entertainment but nothing academically and he was about to change that through this program.  From its humble beginnings, it moved from 23 company support to championships held at Epcot Centre and GeorgiaDome.  The most impressive statistic was the $15M that students were able to garner in university scholarships last year.  Quote of the day here is attributed to President Bush when addressing students at the opening ceremonies – “It’s like the WWF only with smart people.”

Then, it was time for the entire conference to get on the bus and we had a nice scenic tour to New York University where the learning continued.  This time, it was another overview of the piloting CS Principles Course.

Paul Tymann provided a wonderful overview to his implementation of this course last year.  It was designed for those students who might not otherwise engage in Computer Science because of the fear of mathematics or perhaps they were just browsing to see if there was some interest in the discipline.  There were four big themes to the course: Nuts and Bolts, Algorithmic Thinking, Computing Systems, People and Computing.  That would indeed provide a nice introduction to Computer Science and also to societal implications.  Paul shared some of the things that worked:  Image manipulation, steganography, and “go buy a computer” and some things that didn’t:  generate a webpage, accessibility for all.  There was a great deal of interest from the audience looking to offer this course themselves when it’s finalized.  Resources are at http://csprinciples.org and links there to the College Board website.

Then we were in for a real treat.  A graduate student, a regular student, and a summer intern shared some of the gaming software that they had been working on at the university.  We saw how a Kinnect system monitors movement and got an idea about how that might be used in mathematics!  We got demonstrations of Factor Reactor, Super Transformation, and NoobsVersusLeets.  Development was done in XNA and Silverlight and the whole experience was quite fascinating.  Writing the game isn’t enough but also monitor its use was important for research.  To that end, we got to look behind the curtain to see, not only the data collected by the user, but how biometric devices like a pressure seat and skin cuffs measure student reaction when playing the games, collecting 8,000,000 data points in half an hour.  The big question was how do you leverage game playing with academic games?  We talked about solo play, competitive play, and collaborative play.  In the cool department was a demonstration of the Do It Yourself Touch Table.  It was fascinating to see what you could do with plexiglass, a couple of Kinnect sensors and the ability to think outside of the box.

Competitive Factor Reactor Game

Then, it was back on the bus to enjoy the New York traffic and head to the Lincoln Centre and the finals of the Microsoft Imagine Cup.  Speaking of thinking outside of the box…

Those who were competing where set up in booths that were open for us to walk through and talk about the projects with the competitors.  The main language of conversation was certainly English but the culture was world-wide.  Students were developing software and prototypes in their quest for a better world.  For the most part, it was just heavy traffic and then an opportunity to chat with the students.  At one point, though, there was this crush of humanity headed my way… Eva Longoria was there to take in the exhibits and talk with the students.  With my phone held high, I got this fuzzy ponytail shot over the shoulder of a really rude professional photographer.

Then, it was show time!  In the Koch Theatre the students all showed up to see who the award winners would be.  I didn’t have the ability to take notes so you’ll just have to visit the Imagine Cup website for the full details.

The presentation was just as good as any awards show might well be.  Betsy and I sat way, way up in one of the top rings with just a few others.

There were some really interesting projects that caught my eye walking through the display area.  One was a helicopter like device developed by a Singapore team that, by remote control, could survey a disaster scene from on high.  It had two cameras and could be outfitted with a number of sensors (radiation, smoke, etc.) to send important information back to rescue teams.

There were two tablet applications that caught my eye in particular.  One actually did win an award in its class.  It was a system of moving PECS (Picture Exchange Communication System) to a portable device for those students who need it to communicate.  I could see a huge demand for that.  The gentleman that was showing it off was from France and the product is tentatively named after a young lady who needs it for communication.

How about a traffic monitoring system complete with dry ice simulating fog?

Then, I spent almost half an hour talking to another group from India who had a sort of working prototype.  It was a tablet computer for the blind.  Instead of a clear glass screen like we normally think of when we think tablets, it had a braille interface with mechanical pins to interact with the user.  I was blown away with the concept – I wish that they had been closer to a final working product.  Talk about thinking outside the box, er, tablet.

As was noted, these students were all winners with their ideas and implementation.  One question that I asked at every table was how they intended to monetize their product.  Responses ranged from putting out a limited free version with the possibility of a purchased upgrade to donating all the work to Open Source.

The kids are all right.  If you ever have a chance to walk the hall in future Imagine Cups, you absolutely must do so.  Yesterday’s complete results are found here.

Alfred Thompson blogs his thoughts about the day here.

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OTR Links for 07/14/2011

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

CSIT Symposium 2011

Yesterday was the annual Computer Science and Information Technology Symposium.  Held annually, it’s an opportunity for teachers of CS and IT to get together for a day of learning focussed on these subjects.  Like most conferences, it is an opportunity for learning and sharing and the conversations among attendees are at least as valuable as the information shared during the sessions.

I must confess upfront a personal bias towards the event as I am one of the organizers.  I think that it’s fair to say that the events and topics are carefully selected for relevancy and currency to ensure the best experience for all in attendance.

My notes for the sessions that I attended are nicely tucked away in Evernote so that I can make reference to them later on.  There were many opportunities to think and reflect about current trends and also to wax philosophically about where Computer Science has been as a discipline.  Some of the highlights appear below.

Morning Keynote – Douglas Rushkoff – Program or Be Programmed
I had been waiting for this presentation ever since we put the agenda together.  I wasn’t disappointed.  It was almost a shame that I was taking notes since the presentation was high energy with many key things to ponder.  Each of the attendees received a copy of Rushkoff’s book and it will be nice summer reading for me.  As the title suggests, he talks about the amount of technology and how we use it daily.  There is a significant difference between those who are passively using the technology and letting the developers determine just what and how it’s used as opposed to those who truly understand how to program and leverage that skill to make the technology truly work for them.  Rushkoff talks about the current state of computer programming and asks the audience if it’s going to take a “Sputnik moment” to realize the advances made by so many outside of the United States to change the attitudes here.  Best quote of the day was “how do you share that active participation is better than passive ignorance?”


BTW, my teacher-librarian friends, this book needs to be on your shelves.  If you’re looking for a great resource for a book talk with staff and/or kids, this would be a really engaging start.

Bootstrap: Algebraic Programming for the Middle School Classroom – Emmanuel Schanzer
I was forced to attend this session as proctor and I’m so glad that I did.  I had never heard of Bootstrap before but I sure have now and I’m motivated to dig deeper into it.  It’s free; web based with all kinds of resources and this session did force us to look at some of the things about algebra, mathematics, and programming that make it a challenge for students to learn.  We started with asking why x is a “variable” in this equation.  6 = x + 2  Bootstrap essential takes the ambiguity and jargon away from mathematics and just gets down to using it as a tool to solve and also to develop ones own code.  I learned a new concept – that of Circles of Evaluation.  I was fortunate enough to sit next to a gentleman who used Bootstrap and he helped me as I tried to fumble through some of the examples.  We had a great conversation about prefix and postfix notation.  This will definitely occupy my attention for a while.

Quick Start to Small Basic – Quick Start to Small Basic – Damian DeMarco
I had used Small Basic with my university class as an tool for the introduction to programming and was curious to see how others were using it.  As I might have guessed, the presenter was a real fan of the resources that Microsoft provides with the product.  We had a walk through of the language and resources.  It confirmed many of the things that I had already been using with the program.  In addition to the official Microsoft resource, we were shown an alternative resource at www.teachingkidsprogramming.org that extends the teaching resources.

Lunch was great and a wonderful opportunity to just sit and talk to folks for the hour that we were there.  I had a delightful talk with a teacher from Massachusetts, Brooklyn, and a couple from the Bronx.  Joining us was a recent graduate who was looking forward to his own classroom in September.  I hope that we didn’t scare him too much!  Over lunch, Mark Hindsbo, VP of US Developer and Platform Evangelism for Microsoft shared a few moments with the group and recognized some of the students in the audience and congratulated those teachers in the audience for their continued support of Computer Science.  Where can I get a job with a title like that?

Tips from a CS Principles Pilot: Activities, Techniques & Strategies to Help Make Computing Ideas Accessible to All Students Jody Paul
This was another session that I had to work.  We were late getting started because of the great lunchtime conversation and then I had to duck out to get more handouts duplicated and so I missed the opening where Jody set the stage for this Pilot.  Fortunately, my friend Chris was in the audience and explained to me that the pilot was all about developing ways to creating an engaging introductory course for students into the world of Computer Science. What I did understand what the approach to the course.  It would be a great challenge for many – the students set the curriculum by expressing their interests and the teaching flowed from that.  There were some great examples shared about how to get into programming without that scary introductory mathematics moments.

Part of my duties involved setup for the closing keynote so I didn’t get to attend a final break out session but then it was on to…

SPIRAL:  Combining Learning, Play and Exploration Ken Perlin
If you ever needed permission to just program for the enjoyment of programming, you were given it through Perlin’s keynote.  In fact, everyone needs to enjoy the results of his programming at his website.  His session was the perfect one to set the stage for Day Three where we will get to experience Microsoft’s Imagine Cup.  Perlin took us through many of the little applets that he had written and you couldn’t help but be inspired to try to write a few of your own.  It should be great with a summer ahead for folks.  Our setup involved a computer connected to three simultaneous displays that didn’t like switching from Powerpoint to Safari and we didn’t resolve that in time to go live but a quick workaround and I’m sure that the audience didn’t recognize it at all!  The academic part of the talk got serious about games in education and Perlin talked about the research into understanding what leads to learning and what doesn’t – how intrinsic rewards play against extrinsic rewards.  Quoteworthy here was “Computer science doesn’t just need a grammar.  It needs a literature.”  Marvin Minsky”

It was a long day of learning but it wasn’t over until the grand reception and door prizes.  On the top floor of the Faculty House, we got a chance to say our goodbyes from the balcony overlooking Morningside Park.

Alfred Thompson was also at the CSIT Symposium.  His reflections are located here.

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