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Pre-Holiday CT Activities

Heading into the holidays and the end-of-semester, I was thinking about activities that have students engage in computational thinking but without involving a lot of work for the teacher and are engaging. These aren't as good as a class party, but hopefully you'll find them helpful.

1. Talk about modeling
I have had students do object-oriented design without programming. One of the great strengths of computer science is modeling real-world phenomena in the computer. That means abstraction. Pick some topic (e.g. pizza) and students have to figure out what the attributes are. My class came up with a list that was roughly: dough/bread base, sauce, cheese, toppings. There was a huge debate about the requirement of cheese, which led us to talk about how different people model things differently: there's a lot of power in being the model-creator. We also talked about how experience leads to us creating the models we do (i.e. value of diversity). We talked about inheritance by modeling "place setting" which was an attribute of "dinner table". You could model weather using Excel - what attributes of weather do they want to model? Temperature? Precipitation? Humidity? Get data from weather.com, put it into Excel, and graph. Or make tables. Use the data to make predictions, using formulas.

2. Take off from the CS Unplugged on image representation
(http://csunplugged.org/image-representation).
Do that activity, which digitizes black and white images. Then give the kids a color palette (I used 8-colors), graph paper, and transparency grids (I had 3 sizes of squares available). Have them pick a picture either that they bring in or from magazines, and have them digitize color pictures. Then they should swap the digitized version and decode someone else's. You can have them decode more than once - once with the same palette, once with a "reverse" or "grayscale" or "sepia" or other palette to see how the computer can do those effects. In my classes, this led to discussions about how computers are really good at some things that people are bad at and vice versa. It also led to discussions about the different algorithms we used to choose which color to label a box, since a single square often had multiple colors. I let them make their own compression algorithms, so we could talk about that. Also the size of the transparency grid led to a discussion of pixels, file size (that was a LOT of little numbers for them to write down!) and how the resulting picture looked.

3. Other activities
The one-day CS Unplugged activities:

http://csunplugged.org/activities

are terrific. They also have extensions linked at the bottom as well. The Mathemaniacs website

http://www.mathmaniacs.org/lessons/index.html

is also really good.

What activities do you use to keep kids' attention at high distraction times?

Michelle Hutton
CSTA Past Chair

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