“Computer science is not always seen as a priority. On the other hand using computer science in ways that support learning other disciplines pays off in big ways.” – Alfred Thompson, USA
Alfred Thompson has been a computer science enthusiast since the days of punch cards and room-sized mainframes. That’s more than a few lifetimes in a world where technology seems to leapfrog itself on an hourly basis. The fact that Thompson has maintained that same enthusiasm nearly four decades after he wrote his first program made him the ideal person for his role at Microsoft. As K-12 Computer Science (CS) Academic Developer Evangelist for nine years, Thompson helped (mostly high-school) teachers get the resources and insights they needed to advance computer science in the classroom, and played a key advisory role in developing CS curriculum. Thompson’s excitement for his subject, along with his many years of experience as both a software developer and a high school computer science teacher and technology coordinator, mean that he continues to be an invaluable resource to teachers and Microsoft alike, even after leaving his full-time role.
Thompson continues to influence thinking about CS curriculum in schools, and maintains a blog dedicated to computer science education. He also serves as a member of the ACM/IEEE-CS Joint Task Force for CS Curriculum and is a frequent speaker at conferences. Thompson has also written several textbooks and project books for teaching Visual Basic and C# in high school and middle school.
We’re pleased to welcome Alfred Thompson to today’s Daily Edventure as he shares his unique perspective on the current state of technology education.
Can you describe how your professional achievements have advanced innovation in education?
I’m most proud of the resources I have created and shared with teachers over the years. Along with two published textbooks, I have created a great many programming projects for teachers to use. These have been shared online, in presentations and in workbooks. Along with my own work, I have helped to promote the work of others by helping them present at conferences, sharing their work though my online activities and bring their work to the attention of others. I am particularly proud of the growth in computer science education in Microsoft’s Partners in Learning Forums. I am also proud of the high school student accomplishments in the Imagine Cup the last several years which is something I worked hard to promote.
What has changed as a result of your efforts?
I believe that a lot more computer science educators are using game development and mobile (smart phone) development in their classrooms as a result of my work. These platforms serve as a “hook” to motivate students to learn more and work harder.
How can others facing similar challenges implement what you’ve learned through your work?
The key thing is to take advantage of professional development opportunities, especially those that come at free or subsidized costs. The programs I attended at Carnegie Mellon in my first few years of teaching were invaluable. The CSTA conference is the highlight of development for CS education but there are also affordable regional events. Secondly there are free resources out there for CS education. Microsoft’s DreamSpark, for example provides an amazing resource for budget strapped schools. The Faculty Resource Center is loaded with curriculum resources that cover a wide range of needs.
How have you applied technology in innovative ways to support your work?
Social media has been a key tool for me. Both to share what I have learned and even more importantly, to learn from others. Between blogs, Twitter and Facebook, I am in contact with a group of amazing educators who are constantly teaching me things.
What is the biggest obstacle you have had to overcome to ensure students are receiving a quality education?
Computer science is not always seen as a priority. On the other hand using computer science in ways that support learning other disciplines pays off in big ways. Funding is a problem in many school districts though, so getting up-to-date hardware can be a big issue.
What is your country doing well currently to support education?
Requiring regular professional development is huge. We could do better about supplying useful PD for computer science education, though.
What conditions must change to better support education?
We need more recognition of good teachers. We also need to do a better job of helping the best teachers teach other teachers what they are doing that works.
What is the best opportunity for innovation in education?
Resources available on the Internet. Not just videos, though those can be helpful, but the connections that can be made between teachers to share innovation that works.
What advice would you give a new teacher (or to anyone wanting to make a difference in education)?
First teach what you are most passionate about. That shows and makes a world of difference. Second is sharing that passion with students. They will love and respect you for it and you will love them back. That is the way education works. The third is to build a network of peers who are supportive and who can help you grow as a professional. The Internet is great for that if you do it right. At all costs, avoid the burn-outs and the people for whom teaching is just a paycheck.
What educational “trend” do you think is helping students? Is there a trend that is getting in the way of learning?
The constant trend towards standardized testing is killing learning. Education can’t be just about the test. Education has to be about a greater meaning for knowledge.
If you could give one educational tool to every child in the world, what would it be? Why?
I’d give them a smart phone. They can access the Internet everywhere, they can read e-books anytime, they can keep their schedules with them, and it lets them communicate in any way and with any one they want.
Teachers will be competing for one of the 12 Partners in Learning Global Forum Educators Awards. To attend the Global Forum, each teacher has already been chosen as a winner from among the 200,000 teachers who will compete in national and regional events.
Celebrate the best of worldwide education!
The Global Forum is the flagship event – a veritable Olympics for teaching and learning – for Partners in Learning, a key element of Microsoft’s recently announced YouthSpark initiative, in which we’ve committed to reach more than 300 million young people over the next several years. Partners in Learning helps educators and school leaders connect, collaborate, create and share so students can realize their greatest potential. It celebrates the world’s most innovative educators and school leaders for bringing technology to life in the classroom and impacting millions of students.
About Alfred Thompson
- Birthplace: Long Island, New York
- Current residence: New Hampshire
- Education: BS in Systems, MS in Computer Science
- Website I check every day: nbcnews.com
- Person who inspires me most: My Dad.
- Favorite childhood memory: Visiting the baseball hall of fame with my Dad and my brother.
- Next travel destination (work or pleasure): Denver, Colorado for meetings.
- When was the last time you laughed? Why? Every day. Love is just too interesting not to laugh at something every day.
- Favorite book: Whatever I am reading at the time.
- Favorite music: Light Rock
- Your favorite quote or motto: Anyone can learn from their own mistakes; smart people learn from other people’s mistakes.