Archive for July, 2013

Observations from a computer camp

July 31, 2013

I am observing two summer programming camps last week and this week.  The camps are advertised as game programming for Android and iOS devices.  It is being taught by a prof from the local university CS department.  I like the instructor personally and he really knows his stuff as a programmer but as a teacher of middle school and high school kids I think there is a disconnect.

The first week (6 hour days) is for grades 6 – 8 and uses TouchDevelop and the second week (3 hour days) is grades 9 – 12 and uses AppInventor, HTML5, Java and C#/XNA.  For both weeks it is read and follow a tutorial.  Not much discussion or conversation, and lots of cut and paste.  With the kids that are there it works because they are all computer geeks but it is not something that would interest a mainstream kid.  Out of the 25 kids in the middle school group, only 2 were girls and one was the daughter of the instructor.  The high school camp was only 10 kids on purpose.  No girls in the high school group and I could see nothing in the teaching method that would attract a girl.  I have to rate the camp as a grass growing camp, as exciting as watching grass grow.

I cannot really complain too much because at least something is being offered and I am really not involved with the course.  A lot cannot really be done in a week if starting from scratch as some of the kids were but I still think learning how to cut and paste is not a programming camp.  Four different languages in the high school camp gives the kids no time to really build anything.

Maybe this is the way programming camps are supposed to be, after all, I have a sample of one.  It just seems that there is a better, more exciting way to do it.  Both camps were pure coding, no game concept or design, no discussion of games the kids like and why they like them, no discussion on games at all, hardly any conversation at all.

Next year I have to get involved with this camp.  I think with Corona I can juice this up quite a bit.  In a week I can get the kids installing a game they wrote (maybe not from scratch but pretty close to) on their Android smart phones.  The Good Idea Fairy is going to bite again.

There were some interesting asides I did learn by sitting in on these camps.  Room arrangement was one.  The 21 inch computer monitors were in rows facing the front of the room where the projector screen was.  Do you know what a smallish 6th grader can see from that position?  He has to stand up to see what is going on up front which he is not going to do so he sort of peeks through the cracks.  Does the instructor have the slightest idea what that same 6th grader is doing on his computer while the instructor is talking at the front of the room?  I was observing from the back of the room.  They can’t do much listening while playing Minecraft.  The instructor did not have much say about how the furniture was arranged but it is something to consider for the future.

Another thing is let the kids play games and see what they like.  Initially there were about 25 different games being played but in about 15 minutes I would say at least half the 25 were on Minecraft.  I need to get one of my students to show me the ins and outs of that game.  I am not a gamer and I am finding this a big handicap for teaching game programming.

Some software to project student computers would be nice.  Being able to show the rest of the group what the kids have done would be slick.  There is software to do this but it is not cheap and the free ones are worth what is paid.  I have to research this some more.

I think this computer camp has merit.  The time crunch would seem to be the big issue, how much can be done in a week or whatever.  I also think the camp has to have more of a finished product at the end.  The kid should have something they can show Mom and Dad and, more importantly, siblings and friends that is half way cool even to a non-geek.  If I work diligently for the next eleven months I might be able to come up with something of a camp to meet these criteria.

Life is not all CS

July 28, 2013

Yesterday was my 50 mile mountain bike race.  I finished.  9 hours and 50 minutes of pedaling and pushing.  Lots and lots of pushing. The Butte 100 (I did the 50) is called the most difficult mountain bike race in the nation.  The 50 is the hard half.  Finishing this thing was one of the hardest things I have done in 40 years.  At about 6 hours I started to get an upset stomach.  I was drinking a lot so I am guessing I was not doing enough electrolytes to balance the water.  Whatever, the upset stomach just drained me.  I finished (Marines, even former Marines, do not quit, ever) but I pushed a lot of hills than I would normally have pedaled up.  I will not do this race again.  I mountain bike for fun, the challenge and the thrill of the downhill.  This race was not my type of fun.  I am glad I have done it because now I know.  Now I can work on that 4 hour marathon time for next July.  What an idiot.

Summer is not vacation time

July 22, 2013

It has been a busy summer.  The school has about 50 laptops.  I got them out to the staff and kids midyear as quickly as possible and as a result there was no organization involved.  Some did not even have antivirus software.  So I have to go through all 50 one at a time installing our new management software on them.  There is undoubtedly a more efficient way of doing this task but my labor is cheap.  We also have 148 iPads that had to be integrated properly into Apple Configurator and our Mobile Device Management software one at a time.  No shortcut for that.  Of course in order to do all of this I had to learn how to do all of that.  Piece of cake.  The more I work with iPads the less enamored I am with the things as a teaching tool for the classroom.  I, of course, look at the things from the school techie angle.  The teachers that are using them seem to get what they want out of them.  Now if Surface Pros were in the same price range….

I have rebuilt three computer labs with new (to us) computers.  We own no imaging software so I have had to install everything by hand.  It is amazing how fast the process can go with lots of cds and a chair with wheels.  Again, my labor is cheap.  I have a student working for me during the summer and he has done a large percentage of the work.  His labor is real cheap.  Oh, and somewhere I am supposed to take a month off.  On the other hand if I work I do not spend money.

I have been playing with TouchDevelop a bit also.  I have not spent a lot of hours with it but enough to get the general idea.  For writing software on a device it may be a decent option but if a computer is available it is not even a close runner for building programs for Android or iOS.  I am just used to seeing more code on the screen and only seeing 5 or 6 lines just limits the way I am used to coding.  I am really a bit confused by the whole idea of using a language like this to program on a mobile device.  Why?  It is kind of fun to learn something new but using one of several computer based languages seems much easier and more efficient.  I can understand wanting something to write a quick program if a computer is not available but write a game?  I use BASIC! on my Android phone occasionally when the Good Idea Fairy bites me and I do not have a computer handy.  If I get more than 20 or so lines of code I just wait until I get to a computer. I will be helping a programming camp next week and the guy putting the camp on is going to use TouchDevelop.  Hopefully I will get a broader perspective.

For the last three months or so I have been training for my mountain bike race next Saturday, the Butte 100.  I am only doing the half, “only” 50 miles.  The Butte 100 has been called the hardest mountain bike endurance race in the US, and the 50 mile piece is the hardest part.  I have had better ideas for a Saturday.  Give me another couple of months and I might be sort of ready.  A friend of mine has done it twice.  He is at least 20 years younger and is in very good shape.  He had issues just trying to finish both times.  Since the start and finish are at the same place I keep telling myself half of this race has to be downhill.  At 60 you would think I would be smart enough to not do things like this.  At 60 I am no smarter than I was at 20 and I was not too bright at 20.  At 20 I was running around through jungles being chased by bad men with guns.  A bike race is a lot less risky and a lot more fun.