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Bill Gates

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Jeff Blagdon

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The charitable work of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation was the focus of the Microsoft founder’s recent 60 Minutes interview with Charlie Rose, but the longtime richest man in the world got emotional when the conversation turned to friend and rival Steve Jobs. When asked what the pair talked about during their final meeting at the Jobs home in May of 2011, Gates welled up, saying, “what we’d learned, families… anything.” He later went on to say that he and the Apple founder "practically grew up together."

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TEDTalks

It took a life-threatening condition to jolt chemistry teacher Ramsey Musallam out of ten years of “pseudo-teaching” to understand the true role of the educator: to cultivate curiosity. In a fun and personal talk, Musallam gives 3 rules to spark imagination and learning, and get students excited about how the world works.

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TEDTalks

Until recently, many teachers only got one word of feedback a year: “satisfactory.” And with no feedback, no coaching, there’s just no way to improve. Bill Gates suggests that even great teachers can get better with smart feedback -- and lays out a program from his foundation to bring it to every classroom.

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Code.org recently made a splash with its high-profile supporters — everyone from Bill Gates to Snoop Dogg have offered up their support for Code.org’s premise: that everyone should learn to code.

While Code.org’s goals are admirable, the movie above spends near zero time talking about what might be the most important part of the equation: computer science teachers.

The Code.org website has info for interested teachers, but the emphasis is still clearly on enticing students to want to learn to code. That’s great, but what about CS teachers?

To prepare for an upcoming talk at the annual Python conference, Pycon, Mozilla data architect and PostgreSQL contributor Selena Deckelmann recently started talking with actual High School CS teachers and has some surprising, if depressing, take aways about what we can do to help kids learn to code. Deckelmann’s survey is admittedly informal and rather small, but it’s a start.

Deckelmann reports that “reading comprehension is the biggest barrier to completion of AP Computer Science” and that “continued existence” is the biggest battle for a computer science teacher every year.

Deckelmann cites a 2010 report that found “the number of secondary schools offering introductory computer science courses dropped 17 percent from 2005 to 2009 and the number offering Advanced Placement (AP) computer science courses dropped 35 percent in that time period.”

More encouraging is that students at one high school learned three languages in three years (C++, Java and Python).

It’s also interesting to note that Deckelmann says “the CS teachers I’ve met want to share their lessons — with me and with other teachers,” and that “the CS teachers I’ve met don’t know other CS teachers.” That sounds like an opportunity for some kind of social site if anyone is interested — just be sure to talk to some actual teachers before you start building.

If you’re planning to be at Pycon this weekend be sure to check out Deckelmann’s talk “What teachers really need from us.”

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An anonymous reader writes "This year's Consumer Electronics Show has shown off more interconnected devices than I would know what to do with. Not only are existing devices I use getting modern, Internet-connected interfaces (cars, ovens, and security systems, for example), but companies are now putting out addons for smartphones that replace existing ones (blood pressure and glucose monitors, for instance. An article at the NY Times points out that the smartphone is quickly becoming life's remote control — a portal through with you'll soon be able to control far more of your electric devices than you might expect (or care to). 'For several years, technology companies have promised the dream of the connected home, the connected body and the connected car. Those connections have proved illusory. But in the last year app-powered accessories have provided the mechanism to actually make the connections. That is partly because smartphones have become the device people never put down. But it is also because wireless sensors have become smaller, cheaper and ubiquitous.'"

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Barence writes "When it comes to programming, the classroom is moving online. A new wave of start-ups has burst onto the scene over the last year, bringing interactive lessons and gamification techniques to the subject to make coding trendy again. From Codecademy — and its incredibly successful Code Year initiative — to Khan Academy, Code School and Udacity, online learning is now sophisticated and high-tech — but is it good enough to replace the classroom? 'We are the first five or six chapters in a book,' says Code School's Gregg Pollack in this exploration of online code classes, but with the number of sites and lessons growing by the week that might not be the case for long."

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