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Dates for Data?

It's high school. It's Valentine's Day. The air is thick with hormones. But just as important as x's and o's are 1's and 0's.

As a part of the CS Principles pilot this year I have struggled to make the curriculum engaging and exciting while still maintaining the rigor of a college level course. The class is built around seven "Big Ideas", and while many are fairly straightforward to teach, like Algorithms (Big Idea IV) or Programming (Big Idea V), Data (Big Idea III) has been a bit of a struggle. It sounds fairly simple at first: Data and information facilitate the creation of knowledge. Of course they do. However, connecting that for teenagers is not so simple, especially when you start looking at the supporting concepts, like Computational manipulation of information requires consideration of representation, storage, security, and transmission.

Enter the Matchmaker.

Every year my Computer Club does a fundraiser called the Matchmaker. For $1, students can buy a list of their top 40 most compatible classmates. We get every student to fill out a questionnaire and then use scientifically tested algorithms to print a list of their top love-matches. In reality the computer club kids write a program that reads in those answers from a file and matches students based on their answers, but "scientifically tested" sounds good in the commercials.

This year we did the Matchmaker out of the CS Principles class, since it is the same group of kids that are in the computer club. We've usually raise $500 - $700. Not shabby considering the only cost is the paper we print on. The bigger benefit, however, was the discussions about data. Looking again at the supporting concept, Computational manipulation of information requires consideration of representation, storage, security, and transmission. It is all there.

The first step every year is to design the questionnaire. We discuss question format and how we will digitize the answers so they can be processed. With over 1400 students in our school this is no small task. Also key is the format of the file. Questions like "should the answers be separated by spaces or tabs" must be decided before any coding starts.

Privacy and security are also issues. One of the biggest problems is making sure we collect enough information to identify students and sell them their matches without using their student ID's, which are connected to lunch accounts and grades. I find that few 17 year olds are deeply concerned about issues of data security, so this has been one of the most valuable parts of the lesson. Nothing motivates kids to secure their information like protecting their lunch account numbers.

Throughout the course we have used a weekly discussion board topic to reflect on what we are learning. These topics surrounding the Matchmaker have been some of the most hotly debated of the year.

After 15 years of doing this fundraiser I know of at least two married couples that were matched by the Matchmaker. Selling the concepts of "Big Data" is just one more long term benefit.

So what interesting ways have you found for teaching Big Data?

Rebecca Dovi
rdovi@hcps.us
CSTA Leadership Cohort Member

Comments

My students have done this as well and brought in about $600! It's a really fun thing to increase the visibility of CS courses.

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