Sunday, August 3, 2008

Reflections on the 2008 AP Java Workshop at CMU

Last night I flew home from the 2008 AP Java Workshop that I had been attending all last week at Carnegie Mellon University. Although I'm happy to be home, I'm also a little sad that the workshop is over. (Yes, I do appear in these pictures of the workshop--not sure why it's called a picnic, though.)

Leigh Ann Sudol
ran a great workshop. In particular, I was interested in her views of women and minorities in computer science, as my programming classes have a large number of female and/or minority students.

Don Slater
gave us some top secret looks at Alice 3.0, which was perhaps the highlight of the workshop for me. Alice is really a special program, and having EA come on board can only help make it even better. Although I would prefer Alice to be a full open source project, I think including the EA models from the Sims 2 game is probably a very good thing.

Randy Pausch passed away a couple days before the workshop, so CMU had a somewhat somber feeling throughout the workshop. He will be missed. I also got to meet Wanda Dann, another main member of the Alice team.

All the presenters at this year's workshop were excellent. I was especially amused by the humor and energy that Dave Feinberg brought to mix. The world needs more teachers like Dave.

Now the hard part: applying what I've learned. Our school is no modern technological wonder. I've already found out that adding 15 computers to my classroom is just not possible, according to the district electrician. That leaves me either using a mobile lab of laptops in my classes (hoping the batteries hold out), or taking my classes into a nearby computer lab that is anything but cutting edge. The irony here is that more and more the advances in open source are making it possible to reach students like my students, and yet there is always something that seems to hold them back, like when I asked to have Alice running for my students last year and it never happened.... :-( Teachers who use open source software must have their own installation privledges, something I don't have at all in my own classroom--except for on the IBM-donated MESA laptop that I have running Ubuntu.

On the brighter side, however, I have used Dreamhost and set up plenty of space for a new school web page and more than enough room to house all the STEM teacher's Moodle class pages. The computer programming club also has free use of my site for their own web page, along with any students in the club that want to host on my domain:

Not a commercial site, but EVERYONE thinks ".com" nowadays. Anyway, you can watch the site develop over time, if you'd like. Right now it's pretty sketchy.

In conclusion, it was a good week. I was especially ammused by the discussions I heard of two very deservedly hot topics: Python and Ubuntu. From the short time I got to talk to these other computer science teachers, I'm convinced that in almost every case a Python user is a Python fanatic, and an Ubuntu user is an Ubuntu fanatic. I heard of more students using Ubuntu than teachers using Ubuntu, but teachers are slow to change.

I also must say that I have a new level of respect for Macs, after using Macs exclusively the whole week. May have to get me one of those someday to complement all my Linux boxes.

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