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Archive for Computer Science

Dec 06

On November 2, 2013, The Atlee High School Robotics Team and Computer Club collaborated together to host a Pilot “Boy Scout/Girl Scout Badgeathon/Patchathon” for robotics and programming.

The goal of the program is to have boys and girls together to satisfy the same badge or patch requirements:

Badges for Boy Scouts:
1. Robotics – 2011
2. Programming – New 2013
3. Computer Badge to be replaced by Digital Technology in 2014

Patches/Badges for Girl Scouts:
1. Juniors only – Entertainment Technology Badge
2. Brownies only – Computer Expert Badge
3. Allowed to do a “Make Your Own Badge” every year to satisfy the patches/badges about programming and robotics that are no longer in the girl scout program: “Girl Scout badges were recently refreshed to reflect girls’ interests and to focus on 21st century skills.”

The customized patch created reflected combining robotics and programming skills utilizing BirdBrain Technologies, LLC Finch Robots.

Tom Lauwers, Owner of BirdBrain Technologies LLC supported our pilot by providing 50 Finch Robots from the Finch Loan Program BEFORE the Computer Science Education Week December 9-15 scheduled launch of the Hour of Code.

The Hour of Code program is a “one-hour introduction to computer science, designed to demystify ‘code’ and show that anyone can learn the basics to be a maker, a creator, an innovator.”

Robotic Finches cost $99.00 each and can be ordered from the Finch Robot site.

Scouts programmed using Snap! programming with a BirdBrain Robot Server for Windows. Other system environments (Mac, etc.) are available here.

 

 

 

I created a set of Snap! Finch Cards for Scouts of the youngest ages to be able to program:

 

00_BirdBrainRobotServer This gives the directions on uploading the software to have your computer recognize the finch robot.

 

01_ActivateFinchRobot Once the BirdBrainRobotServer software is loaded, this gives directions on how the physically tether your finch robot and launch the Snap! robot programming window. Snap is a programming environment very similar to MIT Scratch.

 

02_StartingStopping The motion commands operate the two wheels (left and right) below the robot finch from a range of 0 to 100 percent power forward. Backwards would range -1 to -100 values.

 

03_BeakColors The LED (Light Emitting Diodes) commands use RGB (Red-Green-Blue) commands from a range from 0 to 100 values.
IMG_0582
The LED is located at the beak.

 

 

 

04_BeepSpeak There is a sound command block to have the computer (not the finch itself) speak your text in a synthesized voice. You can also have the finch robot itself beep in Hertz (Hz) from a range of 20 to 20000 frequency for a designated amount of time in seconds. Note: Discomfort is generated past the 5000 Hz range.

 

05_Temperature The temperature sensor returns the current temperature in Celsius or Fahrenheit.

IMG_0577
The sensor is located centrally above the beak.

 

 

 

 

06_LightSensor The light sensors return the intensity of light for both sensors from a range of complete darkness (0) to total light saturation (100).
IMG_0578
The light sensors are located above what looks like the eyes (obstacle detection systems) for the finch robot.

 

 

 

 

07_Orientation Orientation I believe is determined through something called an accelerometer (which measures tilt and position information on the finch).
IMG_0581
The accelerometer is located in the internal center of the finch robot.

 

The photogallery of the event is pending following final permissions to photograph.

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Oct 19

New! Scratch 2.0 is available in HTML5 format without the need for a download like Scratch 1.4. Just press the create tab.

Scratch 2.0 Preview

Mitch Resnick: TED “Learn to Code, Code to Learn”

Mitch Resnick is the Founder of the Lifelong Kindergarten program at the MIT Media Lab, and one of the creators of Scratch.

Scratch is an inherent programming language that makes it easy for children of all ages to create their own interactive stories, animations, games, music, and art, and share their creations on the web (Intro to Scratch from ScratchEd).

SCRATCH was developed by MIT for very young children to be able to program, but has been ear-marked as an elementary school products that is too simplistic for middle and high school students… but not any more!

The inherent SCRATCH programming interface is actually the key to 21st century education on the highest level of Bloom’s Taxonomy. SCRATCH’s drag-and-drop blocks resemble MIT App Inventor interfaces for creating apps on Android Phones.

You are not type-type-typing code, you are creating visual structures for complex computer science functions that you can transfer the understanding into other programming languages.

Basic Ideas of Scratch:

ScratchEd was created for Educators to be able to learn how to use Scratch.

 

 

Getting started with Scratch:

NOTE as of May 2013:  You currently CANNOT use Scratch 2.0 for LEGO WeDo. Please download Scratch 1.4.

Quote from Mitch Resnick 05/10/2013:

“Thanks for your message.

We definitely plan to support LEGO WeDo with Scratch 2.0, but it probably won’t be available for a few months. We plan to support WeDo as part of a more general “extensions” mechanism, which will allow people to download packages of “custom blocks” for specific external devices (like WeDo) or web services.
When the new features are available, we’ll announce them on the Scratch and ScratchEd websites.

M….”

Robots are mechanical mobile devices with software programming and sensors, and SCRATCH and LEGO WeDos provide both!

A discussion you can have with your students is what makes a robot:

  • Sensors
  • Movement
  • Energy
  • Intelligence

Directly plug in the LEGO WeDo USB to the computer with pre-loaded free SCRATCH, and the drag-and-drop robotics components will automatically appear in SCRATCH. If you have a motor raising and lowering, you need to put an interface on the screen to explain what is happening, and if the interface is interactive, we are hitting the core-level of robotics understanding that originally was going over student’s heads with LEGO Mindstorm NXTs because the software-hardware-interaction was not immediate. The robotic LEGO WeDo components that work in SCRATCH are a Distance Sensor, The Tilt Sensor, and a Rotating Motor.

My Blog Post about Scratch-ing the LEGO WeDo

The combination of elementary SCRATCH and elementary LEGO WeDo can tap the interest of all students from the elementary all the way to the high school level.

UPDATE: Presenting SCRATCHing to the 21st Century at the DEN VirtCon 2012 with a special DEN VirtCon Scratch Gallery

SCRATCHing to the 21st Century Presentation Slide

May 09

NOTE as of May 2013:

New! Scratch 2.0 is available in HTML5 format without the need for a download like Scratch 1.4. Just press the create tab.

You currently CANNOT use Scratch 2.0 for LEGO WeDo. Please download Scratch 1.4.

Quote from Mitch Resnick 05/10/2013:

“Thanks for your message.

We definitely plan to support LEGO WeDo with Scratch 2.0, but it probably won’t be available for a few months. We plan to support WeDo as part of a more general “extensions” mechanism, which will allow people to download packages of “custom blocks” for specific external devices (like WeDo) or web services.
When the new features are available, we’ll announce them on the Scratch and ScratchEd websites.

M….”

I have been Scratch-ing with LEGO WeDo kits, and my high school level students absolutely love it!
The LEGO® Education WeDo™ robotics kit is normally ear-marked as an elementary school product, and Scratch was developed by MIT for young children to be able to program, but the combination of the two has tapped the interest of my elementary school daughter, my middle school son, and my Computer Science students at the high school level.
Link: http://info.scratch.mit.edu/WeDo

LEGO WeDo USB

LEGO WeDo USB and the ScratchEd Screen

The LEGO WeDo construction kit runs about $130.00, and Scratch Software from MIT is free (download Scratch 1.4). LEGO Software is available for younger students, but Scratch programming has inherent drag-and-drop blocks that resemble MIT App Inventor interfaces for Android Phones that my advanced students have been using. Directly plug in the LEGO WeDo USB to the computer with pre-loaded free Scratch drag-and-drop the robotics components will automatically appear in Scratch.
If you have a motor raising and lowering, you need to put an interface on the screen to explain what is happening, and if the interface is interactive, we are hitting the core-level of robotics understanding that we originally were going over student’s heads with NXTs because the software-hardware-interaction was not immediate.
An example program I created is called updownduck where a physical LEGO Duck is raised and lowered by clicking the words UP and DOWN on the screen. Scratch provides emulators where you can see the screen-programming in action (letters will change colors when you click them), but without the robotic LEGO WeDo motor and duck attached tethered to your computer, the program will not make sense to someone interacting with the screen (I have received comments saying that the program does not work from the sharing-Scratch community).

An example program using LEGO WeDo with Scratch called updownduck.

But when you download the Source Code and view it within Scratch, you can understand the purpose of the programming.

Source Code for updownduck in Scratch.

The ScratchEd website also has Introductory Tutorials on how to use each WeDo Component:
Scratch Screen and LEGO Customized WeDo
Scratch Screen and LEGO Customized WeDo

Distance Sensor + Hub

Distance Sensor + Sprite

Motor + Scratch

These intro projects give easy-to-follow LEGO directions within the Scratch window.

My favorite section is the WeDo Starter Projects that provide downloadable Scratch files to utilize the Distance Sensor, The Tilt Sensor, and the Motor. We modified the motor project to lift a platform of LEGO Men provided from the WeDo kit. Our challenge was to create a way to make sure the platform stops at a safe level without knocking off the LEGO men.

Complex projects were created at the MIT Lab and you can download the Scratch Files:

  • Submarine Rescue – interactive adventure
  • Balancing Robot – I wish they would post the LEGO designs so we can build the same bot
  • King Duck vs. Fatman Protagonist -interactive balancing and storytelling
  • Caterpillar Love Story – AWESOME storytelling
  • Skiing Moose Ferris Wheel – I wish they would post the LEGO designs for the arm-swinging moose

Many of these projects require teachers or upper-level students to build the components, but once built the storytelling capabilities are incredible.

The robotic LEGO WeDo components that work in Scratch are a Distance Sensor, The Tilt Sensor, and a rotating Motor. The new Science Standards of Learning in Virginia indicate students must have an understanding of probeware, sensor, and accumulate data. The LEGO WeDo components also give numerical indicators on the Scratch Screen of distances and tilt values that can be transferred into authentic data. When the distance sensor shows a value of 2, students can measure with a ruler the distance and chart the values. When the tilt sensor shows a value of 3, students can determine how many degrees equal a value of 3.

NEW! (June 2013) There is now a LEGO WeDo Resource Set for more authentic examples of engineering (ferris wheel, crane, cars, and intelligent houses) versus the traditional LEGO Education WeDo Contruction Set (alligators, birds, and monkeys) for younger children.

UPDATE: (May 2013) This Project has won a RichTech STEM Educator Award!

 

 

 

 

 

 

(Sept 2012) This Project has won a Governor of Virginia COVITS Award!

Innovative Use of Technology in Education

Winner: Atlee High School
For: Scratch and LEGO WeDo for High School

ABOVE: Presenting SCRATCHing to the 21st Century at the DEN VirtCon 2012 with a special DEN VirtCon Scratch Gallery

SCRATCHing to the 21st Century Presentation Slide

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Feb 15

Forensic Computer Science (or Computer Forensics) looks at digital information like other forensic investigations “with the aim of identifying, preserving, recovering, analyzing and presenting facts and opinions about the information

“Forensic Computer Science and Hacking are basically the SAME, except when you discuss the question of Custody.”
- Michael Ruiz, VCU

Digital information is literally, virtually nothing… Binary switches of electrical pulses. It’s because these patterns have copies and backups everywhere, anything you post online will remain.

“Remember the old saying what happens in Vegas stays on Twitter forever.” -R. Rushton Paul Jr.

Even if you delete? That’s where Forensic Computer Science comes into play to produce the information, whether you agree, or not. On Wednesday, February 15, 2012 leaders in the Forensic Computer Science Industry from the Richmond, VA area gathered together to discuss some of the industry’s latest trends at Tuffy Stone’s Q Barbeque Glen Allen, VA restaurant from TLC’s ‘BBQ Pitmasters’ Cool Smoke team.

Update: On Tuesday, February 28, 2012 leaders in the Forensic Computer Science Industry from the Richmond, VA area gathered together to discuss some of the industry’s latest trends at Tuffy Stone’s Q Barbeque Glen Allen, VA for Phase II.

Phase TWO of the Computer Forensic Science Session at the Q.

May 28

CD-ROM discs, DVD discs, and Blu-ray Discs look the same to the naked eye, but are drastically different when you compare the discs at the sub-microscopic level and explore the laser technologies that read their optical information. When it comes to Optical Storage, there are 3 general types:
CD-ROMs (read-only-memory) are commercial grade discs and use a metallic data layer. This layer is created using a molding machine that stamps pits (depressions) and lands (flat surfaces) into a polycarbonate substrate base. The metal layer is then applied to the base, creating the data layer. CDs are generally used for data and file storage.
DVD-ROMs (read-only-memory) are commercial grade discs and also use a metallic data layer. This layer is created using a molding machine that stamps smaller pits (depressions) and lands (flat surfaces) than CD-ROMs. DVDs are of the same dimensions as compact discs (CDs), but store more than six times as much data. DVDs are mainly used for video and data storage.
Blu-ray Disc (BD), sometimes called “Blu-ray,” is an optical disc storage medium designed to supersede the standard DVD format. Its main uses are for storing high-definition video, PlayStation 3 video games, and other data, with up to 25 GB per single layered, and 50 GB per dual layered disc. The disc has the same physical dimensions as standard DVDs and CDs. 

Light Waves Light is made up of a stream of particles called photons. However, light also behaves like a wave.
The wavelength of light is the distance from the crest or trough of one wave to the crest or trough of the next wave.

Lasers A laser is a device that produces a powerful beam of light. Laser light is different than white light. White light is made up of many different wavelengths. Laser light is made up of only one wavelength. As a result, laser light is only one color. Unlike the light waves in white light that spread out, the waves in laser light are all in step .
This chart shows that the range of wavelengths for each color in the visible spectrum is different. Another thing to note is that the wavelengths for laser light are in Nanometers.
Nanometers are a billionth of a meter. Optical Media is read by lasers being reflected off the pits or bumps of the Disc, creating a digital signal. A wonderful resource for kids talking about Nanotechnology is the Nanooze! page.
When the reflected signal laser bends away from the sensor the digital signal is OFF (0). 

Optical Media is read by lasers being reflected off the pits or bumps of the Disc, creating a digital signal.
When the reflected signal hits the optical pickup (sensor), the digital signal is ON (1).
Each wavelength offers one piece of data to a reflected light in an on/off binary 1/0 type of data.

Red has the widest range and the longest wavelengths. The laser diodes used in CD players and CD-R/-RW burners are infrared lasers with a wavelength of 780 nm.

A different red laser diode produces the beam needed for the smaller pit sizes of DVDs. In order to decrease pit sizes further to pack more information on a disc, engineers have to move beyond red lasers into the Blue-violet laser range for Blu-ray. This is why Blu-rays cannot be viewed with the same technology as CDs and regular DVDs.

Each wavelength offers one piece of data to a reflected light in an on/off binary 1/0 type of data. So the smaller the pit sizes means an increased frequency or an increased amount of pieces of information available on a disc. 

Optical Media use the information from lasers reflected in the pits in order to retrieve data. The incredibly small dimensions of the pits make the spiral track on Optical media extremely long. If you could lift the data track off a CD and stretch it out into a straight line, it would be 0.5 microns wide and almost 3.5 miles (5 km) long!
The fundamental job of the Optical Media player is to focus the laser on the track of pits (or bumps since it’s coming from the opposite side). The pits/bumps reflect light differently than the “lands” (the rest of the aluminum layer), and the opto-electronic sensor detects that change in reflectivity. The electronics in the drive interpret the changes in reflectivity in order to read the bits that make up the bytes.

The smaller the distance between tracks or the pits, the smaller the wavelength of light required. Likewise the smaller the pit, the smaller the wavelength of light required. 

The combination of pit sizes, distance between tracks, and wavelength of lasers is why Blu-rays cannot be viewed with the same technology as CDs and regular DVDs.

Jul 24

In Wired Magazine July 2008 issue, in an article called “The Darkest Knight” Christopher Nolan wanted to latest Batman sequel a realistic feel with as little digital effects as possible. So far the movie is shattering box office records.
So is less digital technology better is some cases?
As a Computer Programming teacher, life is good having your own computer lab, until it’s standardized testing time when the students test online and you are kicked out of your labs for a few weeks.
Here was the challenge: How do you teach about digital technology and computers without having access to a computer?
Welcome to Computer Science Unplugged, a FREE resource for Computer Teachers K-12 with activities to teach how computers work without access to computers.
Below is a Binary Numbers Activity Unplugged.
Update: The reason why I think most people enjoy the Music Video “Here It Goes Again” by OK Go is because of it’s unplugged nature.