Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Bringing Computer Science to Let's Talk Science

One of my major goals when I joined Let's Talk Science was to bring more computer science activities to the program. They already had a lot of awesome stuff for natural sciences from biology to chemistry, and I had been adding physics activities as well. But because most volunteers weren't computer scientists (and by most, I think I may be the only one, or was last year at least), there aren't really any computer science kits.

Thanks to CS Unplugged, it has been easy to find high-quality activities. What has been less easy is convincing teachers that they can do computer science activities in classes other than computer science. After all, all fields need to manage and analyze data, and that's where CS shines!

Luckily, a teacher at the high school I am partnered with agreed to give it a try. She taught a communications class, so it seemed like an appropriate fit. In the end I went to two of her classes with some CU-WISE colleagues. After showing a video to get a feel for what computer science is, we did the binary numbers and cryptographic protocols. It was amazing to see the students grasp these otherwise difficult concepts with the hands on activities. The teacher loved it and was enthusiastic to spread the word!

In addition to finally making a breakthrough and bringing CS to classrooms, I have adapted the sorting activity from CS Unplugged for a science newsletter given to underprivileged aboriginal children, resulting in How Computers Put Things in Order. While I couldn't get feedback about this from the children when it was published last year, the Let's Talk Science coordinators seemed to like it.

I think there is still work to be done, but I feel I am well on my way to achieving my goal! And if you happen to know a teacher in the Ottawa area (high school or elementary) you think would enjoy some hands on computer science activities, send them to me!


Thiago Ramos dos Santos said...

Hi. As a computer scientist, I enjoyed very much reading your paper "How Computers Put Things in Order". I found it very easy and well explained. Congratulations for the good work. Thiago

Gail Carmichael said...

Thanks Thiago! I'm happy to hear that. :)

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