Benedictine Tech Web

Technology notes for Benedictine Academy, Elizabeth NJ, and anyone who may profit from them.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

NJIT Prof Devl Teachers Conf -- Trip Report

Today I attended a Curriculum and Professional Development Teachers' Conference at NJIT, sponsored by the Martinson Family Foundation. Thank them both.


As the Technology Director at BA, I chose the Technology literacy track, and was rewarded by two informative (i.e. plenty of information _and_ opinion) talks. The first, on the .NET framework was from Prof Robert Statica, and the second was from Marc Sequeira on Educational Software Design, emphasizing 3-D modeling. Lunch was highlighted by the Math department's Prof Bruce Bukiet "College Overview". The day concluded with Howard Kimmel delivering what could have been a dry Standards talk; it well-modeled the measurement process. The meeting was opened by Fadi Deek, Dean of the school. A highlight of his introduction was the announcement that NJIT offers Education Certification, now in collaboration with Rutgers - Newark.

These notes are for my own "memo for the record", as much as a trip report for the staff at Benedictine.

.NET Framework

Statica opened with the question: "How many here like Microsoft?" Seeing no hands in the air, he was prepared to say "I hate it", explaining hate has little to do with successful use. His first opinion, expressed on teaching Java was, "Don't let your students out without C++ knowledge". Most teachers responded since the AP Computer Science exam is Java-based, that was sufficient reason to teach Java. I'm comfortable with the C++ impetus, as well.

He worked around a architectural view of the .NET environment, with focus directed towards the XML cluster, pointing out the number of languages supported (approaching 30), and all based on the "CLX" family, standing for "Common Language X", where X takes on the values:
  • Interface,
  • Runtime,
  • Specification.
at least. A simple data-flow is sufficient to understand what goes on: A source program, written in C#, Java, Python, ... is compiled by a "language-smart" compiler into intermediate code, of the byte-code variety standardized in Java -- invented in Forth, to my understanding -- and finally loaded by a JIT assembler when the code is first executed. The virtual machine is hardware independent, so the intermediate code is the portable entity, the JIT assemblers are architecture specific.

Statica offered a number of free tools in the family, and concluded with a hacking demonstration, since he's also on the cryptography/security task forces. He "stole" the administrator password in 3 minutes with a "system-on-a -CD" tool he travels with. His advice: "don't trust login/password security".

Browse his website (and append the "/download" path at the appropriate point) to find his current list of tools. For Linux compatibility, look for "mono:" a Linux implementation of .NET framework, and "ROTOR", a C# implementation. His other language recommendation is Visual Basic (.NET) for those who have been teaching VB .6. His CD tool may be found by searching for "Windows SuperWin PE". A fellow student handed me a reference to "Beyond Fear", by Bruce Schneier, when the subject of cryptography came up.

Educational Software Development

This was the most note-packed seminar of the day; Sequeira offered plenty of guidance to teachers regardless of their department. For our needs at BA, cross-curricular work with technology and art, science, and the literal arts can flow from his tools and methods. He recommends developing a program based on first, vector-graphics programs, then to bit-mapped graphics, and finally use of the "game-design" tools which allow multi-media integration. He says a teacher can build a curriculum based on 30-day evaluation copies of tools in this order:
  • Adobe Illustrator
  • Freehand,
  • Photoshop
  • Fireworks
  • Flash, and finally
  • Director or Maya.
A school will want to invest in Torque and Maya, though students may use a Personal Learning Edition of the later. Torque is a game design and development engine and imports Maya and 3D Studio. One can construct tailored multi-media tutorials with Camtasia. He prefers these tools, as they are Cross-platform (not just Windows or Mac).

On questioning, his views and values became clear. You're not teaching your students, "when they stop being entertained". It is possible to "keep them below that threshold" [ of boredom ]. He also answered a question noting a student might "focus on the molecule, and in the process, I learned the tool" as a means of using the technology to teach the science. Learning the tool is the fortuitous consequence.

He endeared himself to his audience, as a campus tech struggled for 20 minutes to connect Sequeira's laptop to the overhead! We could relate to this struggle. One of the students offered what seemed to be the symptom: the laptop video connector was loose, as propping it on the power adapter provided a workable kludge.

Here are random observations, ideas, and values:
  • When designing games, redirect energy away from violence, particularly "first person shooter"
  • Using C, and Open GL, while basic, can be rewarding in a different way,
  • these approaches in art are "for students who are put off by the paper and pencil thing",
  • Action Script 2.0 (with Macromedia Studio MX) is a Computer Science wrap on this,
  • .NET will come in with the X-box,
  • some of my students (college soph, junior) are making money with these tools,
  • see the Yogi Berra museum for a running demonstration of some features,
  • RoboCode and CodeRallies are good tools for "hooking" students,
  • for physics, think of projectile problems, like building a (virtual) catapult,
  • he has experience with 4th-6th graders doing cartography, physics
  • you can be productive with old game engines, like Quark 2
  • Java is good for mobile game development, like your mobile phone!
Lunchtime, the College

Visit Prof Bukiet's web site above to get a brief glimpse at how entertaining he can be!
For example, he presented a six-table puzzle, each table containing 32 digits between 1 and 63. You tell him which tables your digit is in, he can tell you what your number was. e.g. I chose a 37, my number was in the 1st, 3rd, and 6th table. Can you guess what the key is?

Using Standards

Howard Kimmel made applying standards interesting. In a power-point presentation, which had all the earmarks of "listen-to-my-lecture", he easily shifted to model the behavior he was going for: make sure you can measure your indicators.

My synthesis of his talk:
What is a LESSON PLAN?

A translation of a STANDARD(s) into

It is OK to align the text book with the standard; don't be afraid to do that. Make sure your "translation" uses action verbs. A particularly good site for this, which I'd seen before is For example, replace "know" with "state", "understand" with "identify", ... "believe" with "list", etc...

He offered the paper-clip-yardstick example of proportion, and the value of standards. Measure objects with "standard" and "super" paper clips. See if the objects measured have the same proportion. Use whole numbers or allow students to estimate the fractional clips. Compare to the same objects measured with a metric stick.

The highlight was his coffee-can demonstration: ignoring for a moment the slide on the screen, he rolled a 1 lb. coffee can, covered at both ends, slowly down the lab bench. After about 8', the can slowed, stopped and rolled back, slowed, stopped, and rolled in the original direction. This repeated, ever slowly, until the can stopped. This was a demonstration that hands-on doesn't equal interactive and vice versa. The "secret" was on the screen, but even with a Mechanical Engineering degree, I found the explanation challenging.