Category: ICSXX

What Will You Do Now?

Last week was Computer Science Education Week.

Many people were involved with the Hour of Code.

If you read the blogs and stories that permeated the media, you’ll know

  • kids had a whale of a time;
  • teachers hopefully made the connections between coding and their regular curriculum;

For me, I enjoyed the Angry Birds activity from

I downloaded and really enjoyed Codecademy’s iOS app.

But, I wonder.  Are things done until there’s a similar push next year?

I sure hope not.

Hopefully, students and teachers have seen the benefits of coding.  Hopefully, school administrators will be supportive of more coding initiatives within their schools.  Hopefully, schools and school districts will recognize the need for solid professional learning opportunities for teachers.  One excellent opportunity is the CSTA’s Annual Conference.  This year’s event will be held in St. Charles, IL, July 14 and 15, 2014.

Let’s hope that people find a way to keep the momentum.  Search and bookmark Hour of Code Resources.  There’s a great deal just waiting to be used.


Day 1 at #CSTA13

The location is the Marriott Hotel and Conference Centre in Quincy, Massachusetts and there are close to 300 Computer Science educators from around the world gathered for two days of unique and intense learning opportunities devoted exclusively to the discipline.  If you’re a Computer Science teacher, this is absolutely the place to be.

Check out the day’s agenda here.

Day one was actually a great deal of work for me.  This day is devoted to three hour workshops and my role on the committee was to serve as workshop chair.  So, I was on my horse continually visiting the rooms especially before the sessions started making sure that the presenters were all set.  As to be expected, there were some last minute gotchas.  Needed post it notes, tape, ability to connect a laptop into the audio system in the room, problems connecting to the data projector, and extra display tables needed to be brought into rooms.  Happily, nothing was insurmountable and everyone did a great job.  As could be predicted, internet access in a hotel had its own challenges.  Fortunately, we managed to encourage people to limit themselves to one device and that seemed to make a big difference.

Twitter messages from the day can be enjoyed here.

I didn’t count but I’m sure that Alfred Thompson was the most prolific content generator.


The conference was well documented by Peter Beens’ camera and abilities.  He’s shared his work on his Google Plus page.

I did get a chance to sit into a couple of sessions that interested me for a few minutes.  I really enjoyed Tom Lauwers’ session on robotics and programming with Finch, Hummingbird, and Snap in the morning.  In the afternoon, it was watching folks learn about Greenfoot with Neil Brown and Stephanie Hoeppner.  Of course, I saw bits and pieces of all of the sessions – it was great to see discussions about HTML5, App Inventor, Computing Thinking, and more.

The day culminated in a bus trip.  We headed to the Microsoft North East Research and Development Centre for a reception hosted by Microsoft.  We circulated through demonstrations of various Computer Science related stations featuring Visual Basic and TouchDevelop and were greeted by very friendly Microsoft employees and the mayor of Cambridge.  It was somber when we heard that there were thousands of jobs unfilled at Microsoft alone due to a lack of applications.  For those in Computer Science, this is a real call to action.  Why isn’t at least one course compulsory for graduation?

The view of the Charles River from the 11th floor room was spectacular.  Lots of boats and rowers made for some great pictures.


You had to be there!  It would have been nice to have got a lot closer to the get a better view.  Alas, time was not on our side and a couple hours later, we were back to the hotel where a few of us proposed solutions for all of the ills of the world.

It was a great Day One.  Looking forward to Day Two…

What Do Magic and Computer Science Have in Common?

Answer: CS & IT 2012

CSTA is proud to announce that Alex Suter, Research & Development Engineer for Industrial Light & Magic will be the closing keynote at this year’s Computer Science & Information Technology (CS & IT) Conference. Alex’s presentation, Industrial Software & Magic, will touch on his background in computer science and how he uses CS in his job. Alex is known for his work on movies such as Eragon, Starwars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith, and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.

Don’t miss this exciting closing keynote! This year’s conference will be in Irvine, California, on July 9th and 10th.

For more information about CS & IT 2012, to view a full agenda, and to register, visit:

From the CSTA…

What’s in a Tweet?

If you have been following the news, I’m sure that you’ve been at least mildly interested in the story coming from the Bronx Zoo about a missing cobra.  WPIX has the story on their website.  Someone with a great sense of humour has created a Twitter account for the snake.  You can "follow" the snake at @BronxZoosCobra.  The tweets coming from this account are hilarious.

So funny, in fact, that I sent out a Twitter message indicating that this account was one of the best follows on Twitter right now.

He/She has one of the great avatars and a really good sense of humour.  Even if you decide not to be one of the thousands who are following the account, at least click this link and see what the snake has been saying.  At least one person read my Twitter message and replied.

In other news, I was in the Google Chrome store today and noticed a "new to me" Twitter client called Streamie.  One of Streamie’s claims to fame, other than running in the Chrome browser is that it updates in real time, very much like the Twitter plugin that I use with Seesmic Desktop or from the web through the Twitter website.

In fact, the first time I read the message from @jaxbeachteach, it was through Streamie.  It didn’t look like the above; it looked like this.


You’ll notice that the layout of the message and colouring is completely different but the content is exactly the same.

I’ve always maintained that all students should take at least one course in Computer Science.  There are the nay-sayers who feel that it’s not necessary.  "Programming is all gobbly-gook.  What’s important is being an end user and using the stuff"  Really?  You need to read or ponder Douglas Rushkoff’s book "Program or Be Programmed".  An excerpt from the book appears here.

Back to Streamie.

Another claim to fame of Streamie is that you can configure it to see the JSON code behind a Twitter message.  All that you have to do is enable it in the configuration and double click to see it.  For the message above, here’s the code.

"data": {
  "entities": {
   "hashtags": [],
   "urls": [],
   "user_mentions": [
     "indices": [
     "screen_name": "dougpete",
     "id_str": "8381832",
     "name": "Doug Peterson",
     "id": 8381832
     "indices": [
     "screen_name": "BronxZoosCobra",
     "id_str": "273531261",
     "name": "Bronx Zoo’s Cobra",
     "id": 273531261
  "text": "@dougpete @BronxZoosCobra I agree. The cobra has been the best entertainment. I hope he starts trending!",
  "place": null,
  "in_reply_to_user_id": 8381832,
  "favorited": false,
  "created_at": "Tue Mar 29 18:47:17 +0000 2011",
  "coordinates": null,
  "in_reply_to_screen_name": "dougpete",
  "in_reply_to_status_id_str": "52800615931314176",
  "source": "web",
  "contributors": null,
  "geo": null,
  "retweeted": false,
  "in_reply_to_status_id": "52800615931314176",
  "in_reply_to_user_id_str": "8381832",
  "id_str": "52804034662375425",
  "retweet_count": 0,
  "user": {
   "lang": "en",
   "profile_use_background_image": true,
   "created_at": "Mon Jan 19 20:42:22 +0000 2009",
   "profile_background_color": "C0DEED",
   "description": "Instructional coach and a member of the NSDC Learning School Alliance. Outside of work I cycle and try to keep very physically active to balance out my cooking.",
   "default_profile_image": false,
   "profile_background_image_url": "",
   "show_all_inline_media": false,
   "geo_enabled": true,
   "time_zone": "Eastern Time (US & Canada)",
   "profile_text_color": "333333",
   "profile_image_url": "",
   "follow_request_sent": false,
   "following": true,
   "profile_sidebar_fill_color": "DDEEF6",
   "followers_count": 188,
   "id_str": "19200920",
   "verified": false,
   "notifications": false,
   "profile_background_tile": false,
   "favourites_count": 6,
   "friends_count": 237,
   "url": "",
   "screen_name": "jaxbeachteach",
   "statuses_count": 2077,
   "protected": false,
   "is_translator": false,
   "contributors_enabled": false,
   "profile_link_color": "0084B4",
   "location": "Jacksonville Beach, Florida",
   "name": "Jill Kolb",
   "listed_count": 10,
   "profile_sidebar_border_color": "C0DEED",
   "id": 19200920,
   "default_profile": true,
   "utc_offset": -18000
  "id": "52804034662375425",
  "truncated": false
"prefill": true,
"created_at": "2011-03-29T18:47:17.000Z",
"conversation": {
  "index": 131,
  "tweets": 1
"mentions": [
"mentioned": true,
"textHTML": "<a href=\"\" class=\"user-href\">@dougpete</a> <a href=\"\" class=\"user-href\">@BronxZoosCobra</a> I agree. The cobra has been the best entertainment. I hope he starts trending!",
"hashTags": [],
"html": "\n<li class=\"tweet mention conversation131 \">\n\t<a href=\"\" class=\"user-href\"><img src=\"\" alt=\"Jill Kolb\" width=\"48\" height=\"48\" class=\"profile_image_url\" /></a>\n\t\n\t<div class=\"status\">\n\t\t<p class=\"text\"><a href=\"\" class=\"user-href\">@dougpete</a> <a href=\"\" class=\"user-href\">@BronxZoosCobra</a> I agree. The cobra has been the best entertainment. I hope he starts trending!</p>\n\t\t<ul class=\"actions\">\n\t\t  \n\t\t\t\n\t\t  <li title=\"Retweet\" class=\"retweet\" tabindex=\"0\"></li>\n\t\t\t\n\t\t  <li title=\"Reply\" class=\"reply\" tabindex=\"0\"></li>\n\t\t  \n\t\t  <li title=\"Quote\" class=\"quote\" tabindex=\"0\"></li>\n\t\t  <li title=\"Star\" class=\"favorite\" tabindex=\"0\"></li>\n\t\t\t\n\t\t  \n\t\t</ul>\n\t\t<div class=\"header\">\n\t\t\t<h3 class=\"h user-name\"><a href=\"\" class=\"user-href\">Jill Kolb</a>\n\t\t  </h3>\n\t\t\t<div class=\"time created_at\"><a href=\"\"></a></div>\n\t\t\t\n\t\t\t<div class=\"in_reply_to_screen_nam\"><a href=\"\" class=\"conversation\" title=\"Show conversation\">in a conversation with dougpete</a></div>\n\t\t\t\n\t\t</div>\n    \n\t</div>\n</li>\n\n\n",
"height": 103,
"age": 131089

Students of Computer Science would be able to read and decipher a great deal of the above code.  They would be able to understand what’s in a message.  They would understand how threads are built.  They would know how images are attached to messages.  They would understand the twitpocalypse and how Twitter had to scramble for indexing of messages because of its own popularity.  They would get a deeper understanding of how privacy and geo-locating issues are transferred in a seemingly innocuous message.

The best of Computer Science students could pull the content apart and write the code that would give a custom look to a Twitter message.  Some of the very best could actually write their own Twitter client!

Those that don’t understand could point out that one is blue and the other is green.  <tongue in cheek>

There really is a deeper understanding to what is happening in the device that you’re reading from at the moment.  Now, not everyone who studies Computer Science is going to write the next great Twitter client.  But, I would maintain that they do have a deeper understanding of what’s happening in their digital world.  Do we want students to be happy with being programmed?  Do we want them to grow up not being able to articulate what they’re trying to achieve or to explain when something goes wrong?  I don’t think so.

Even something as simple as a Twitter message about a cobra on the loose does reveal that there’s more going on with your computer and behind the scenes than what would appear on the surface.  It does make sense that we have the skills to be able to pull back the covers and have a sense of what’s happening inside.

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11th Annual Computer Science and Information Technology Symposium

Register Now for CSTA’s Annual CS&IT Conference

July 11, 12, & 13, 2011 Columbia University, New York

July 11: Hands-on Workshops
July 12: Keynotes and Breakouts
July 13: Imagine Cup Activities

You are cordially invited to attend the 11h annual Computer Science & Information Technology Symposium at Columbia University Faculty House in New York, NY!

This CSTA conference is a professional development opportunity for computer science and information technology teachers who need practical, classroom focused information to help them prepare their students for the future.

Symposium Opportunities for Learning:
Take advantage of this opportunity for relevant professional development!

• Explore issues and trends relating directly to your classroom
• Network with top professionals from across the country
• Interact with other teachers to gain new perspectives on shared challenges

Act now to register for Symposium 2011 at:

Pre-registration is required and will be accepted for the first 250 teachers. You will receive a letter of confirmation when your registration is processed that will include the final agenda and location details. Registration deadline is June 28, 2011. Also please note that you must complete the Google checkout in order to be fully registered for the conference!

Find more information (including the full agenda) at:

Thanks to the generous donations of our sponsors, the registration fee of $40 (+$50 per workshop) includes lunches, resource materials, conference reception, raffle, and exciting Microsoft Imagine Cup activities in New York City.

Please note that all workshops are “bring your own laptop” and that registration is limited to 25-30 participants so please be sure to register early to get your workshop choice.

The 2011 CSTA CS&IT conference is made possible by the generous support of Microsoft Research, Google, and the Anita Borg Institute.

Please join us for this exciting event!

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Writing and Sharing Code

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


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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Staying Safe

It’s not always safe when you’re online.  For the most part, if you have any up to date virus checker and a good firewall in place, you’ll be protected from people trying to get into your computer.  There actually is a safer way but that means being disconnected from the internet altogether and that’s just not fun at all.

We’ve even become pretty good in realizing that there’s nobody who has hired a lawyer with minimal English skills who has a business proposition for you or an inheritance that’s just waiting for you to claim.

But, the attackers continue to work on ways to entice you to make a slip and put your computer and/or your personal information at risk.  Over the past while, there have been a couple that we should all be aware of.  They come to us via two of the most popular social networking tools – Facebook and Twitter.

Somewhere along the line, you’re enticed to click a link to get some sort of reward.  In the case of Facebook, one of the most recent ones involved the text “OMG – is that you in this video” or something.  Of course, you want to protect your reputation and see what the video is about.  Those that would do bad things to your computer are looking for you to do that and they’re waiting on the other end.

Now, they’re not going to do something stupid like sending you to the website “”.  Instead, they will hide the actual URL using any of the URL Shorteners that are available on the web.  You’re seen them; they’re very commonly used in a world where short is better.  Things like or are shorteners that take a long internet address and make it a short one.  I’ve put together a short list of trusted URL shorteners here on my PD Wiki.  There’s also a page there about how to create your own.

So, what’s a person to do.  There are some common sense tips to help out.

Check who sent you the original message.  Is that really an acquaintance that’s doing something in your best interest?

Is there a way to check the URL before you click it?  In my case, I use Seesmic Desktop with Twitter.   I have installed an extension that lets me view the real URL of one that’s shortened.  That’s really handy so that I can preview before launching a link.


If you’re using the web version of Twitter, just pause a second and hover over the URL and let Twitter reveal where you’re really headed if you click the link.

Is there something funky about the name of the sender, or their avatar (like they have the default Twitter bird) that sends up a signal to you?  If there is, just take a pass on the link.  There are lots of safer ones!

Speaking of red flags, if you’re at the level of paranoia where you’d like to take all reasonable steps for safety, consider installing an add-on/extension like Web of Trust.  On the web, you’ll see little red, yellow, and green icons next to URLs.  Web of Trust pulls in information from the masses about the safety of links for you.  The first few days of use can be uncomfortable as every link on a page is evaluated but you may find that every little bit of information helps.

Fortunately, most of the activity that you’ll run in to is good stuff.  You’ve chosen your friends wisely, right?  But, it doesn’t hurt to have a tool or two to use along with some common sense to keep yourself safe.