How to present CS as awesome to HS students?

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How to present CS as awesome to HS students?

Postby Gadren » Wed Sep 26, 2007 3:46 am UTC

I have a new job at my university, where I'm part of a team of engineers who will go to local high schools and tell them how awesome the School of Engineering is. Now, most of the engineers have fancy chemical or mechanical demonstrations, but one issue with computer science is that it's not as -- is this the right word? -- tactile, or physical. Watching awesome explosions and robotic cars seems more appealing to students than the CS things I can think of. Any ideas? :P

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Postby hynder » Wed Sep 26, 2007 4:06 am UTC

We had something of this nature come to our high school and talk to our chem class. The entire thing was about how engineers are more highly valued and make more money right off the bat. Graphs showing you how much money you can make is motivating to me.

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Postby biolution » Wed Sep 26, 2007 5:43 am UTC

Hmm, trying to remember back to HS and CS....

Some of the things that would have really gotten my attention:
Anything about graph theory and trees. I love that stuff. I think its cause its like connect the dots - dots are awesome.
Explosions and video games are always great.
Linear algebra can be interesting...but I'd zone out quick if I was in HS

Show how easy making something cool is. Video games would be a great context for this. In HS, I just wanted to make video games. But if you showed me 500 lines of strange OpenGL or DirectX programming, I probably would have lost interest quick. Maybe picking a higher level language that can quickly show the code and results would work best.

Some operating systems things are really neat, especially paging, context switching, and disc queuing - I don't know why, they just are to me. Maybe because its some of the glue that keeps software and hardware together.

All in all, the more pictures you show to me, the more likely I would be to look at your school. Show me something cool, then show me how graph theory makes it cool, and suddenly i think you're cool. This is mainly from a software engineer perspective than a computer scientist perspective.

Thats how my HS mind would have probably rationalized it, anyways.

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Postby Benitosimies » Wed Sep 26, 2007 5:44 am UTC

Build a Turing Machine. Show and tell the Turing Machine.

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Postby evilbeanfiend » Wed Sep 26, 2007 10:04 am UTC

get kids to stand in a line - then bubble sort them by name?

edit: maybe precede this with the alien sketch or something to explain why you need to do the sort in such little steps. go on to do a better algorithm if you have time?
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Postby Maurog » Wed Sep 26, 2007 11:18 am UTC

Hmm, I remember our prof showing us the birthday attack probability, that sure surprised some people. With only 23 people in the room, you'll have more than 50% chance that two of them have the same birthday, and with like 35 people it's more than 90% I think. However, like any probability trick, it can fail.
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Postby 4=5 » Thu Sep 27, 2007 3:17 am UTC

show a program that generates cool expolosions :D

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Postby Magitek » Thu Sep 27, 2007 8:24 am UTC

When I was in high school 3 years ago, I was part of a robotics team that built robots out of lego. So when we wanted to advertise the compsci dept to middle schoolers, we brought a bunch of legos down to the middle school and had them build simple robots that could move around on wheels, then we had them program the robots. How did they program it without knowing an ounce of programming? I came up with this card idea:

You take a bunch of index cards, and you write an English statement on one side ("Turn motors on and go forward for ___ Seconds"), then on the other side you write the equivalent code (This was with interactive C, so it would be "fd(1); fd(2); sleep(___);")

We made a bunch of cards for going forward, backward, turning left/right, and stopping.

We had a small course set up where they had to stay within the bounds of the area and traverse a simple set of corridors to get to the exit.

Then you just tell them to arrange their cards in the order they want the robot to do the stuff. They type it up, download it to the robot, then run it. When it doesnt work, for instance going forward for too long, they go back and modify the code. It was amazing how a bunch of middle schoolers with no programming experience could grasp the concepts quickly through this method.

For the high school's open house we would have in the computer lab these packets of 7 or 8 example programs in BASIC. Stuff ranging from hello world to drawing happy faces to calculating interest. The code was already written for each program, all they had to do was type it in, and run it. Then they had the task of modifying it to do something else. (Write "Hello Fred", or calculate tax, or draw a sad face)

And of course there's always the good 'ol videogame trick. Tell them that if they're in CS, they can make cool games for a living.

Hope that helps.

P.S., don't steal my ideas to make millions off of them, (unless you give me a cut :wink: )

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Re: How to present CS as awesome to HS students?

Postby mrcheesypants » Thu Sep 27, 2007 6:46 pm UTC

I don't have much to say except magitek you are a fucking educational genius!
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Re: How to present CS as awesome to HS students?

Postby Magitek » Fri Sep 28, 2007 2:55 am UTC

haha, thanks, I guess it's a good thing I want to be a Computer Science teacher.

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Re: How to present CS as awesome to HS students?

Postby sql_lall » Fri Sep 28, 2007 7:38 am UTC

What's your audience?
If it's science students, you might get away with a bit more sciency-stuff.
Otherwise, it's about the spectacle - interactive is always good.
Your students might be media-rised, and expect coders whip up amazing code with hardly any typing, so either you say that's not true {which probably won't win anyone over} or try to have something you can alter during the talk (like the cards mentioned).
However, one thing might be increasing awareness at how much people use IT - e.g. ask Who uses Google / YouTube / Myspace / MSN? Who's played Sing Star? [e.g. then you can show how voice comes in as a wavy line - get volunteers to record different tones, talk about how it's stored, ....]

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Re: How to present CS as awesome to HS students?

Postby gammafunction » Fri Sep 28, 2007 1:49 pm UTC

In my last year of high school, a CS-prof visited my math class and gave a presentation on sorting algorithms. Started by dividing the class into groups of two or three, gave each group a stack of cards, each with a random number printed on it. He asked us to scramble the cards and try to divise a way to sort them back into numerical order, investigate how our algorithm scaled (sorting half the stack vs. the entire stack and such), note down our results, etc. Turned out that almost everyone came up with something similar to bubblesort or insertionsort, giving him an excuse to talk about the efficiency of the algorithms, make a few proofs...very simple and straightforward, but starting out the class with the interactive bit really worked.

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Re: How to present CS as awesome to HS students?

Postby LunarCrisis » Mon Oct 01, 2007 5:45 pm UTC

Livecoding. Preferably one of the variants which shows the source code on screen.

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Re: How to present CS as awesome to HS students?

Postby Yakk » Tue Oct 02, 2007 3:21 pm UTC

Pathing problems can generate some nice geeky images.

In-desk sorting is also rather neat. Have one of those "clickers" that count laps or the like to figure out how long the algorithm takes.

Some graphics could look pretty. You could even explain how a small bit of it works -- you want it to be simple enough that they'll get it.
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Re:

Postby Devilsaur » Sun Oct 07, 2007 9:19 pm UTC

Kids are tech savvy now. Throw around some youtube, web 2.0 stuff, and the latest bleeding edge software. Then explain how they can actually do this.

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Re: How to present CS as awesome to HS students?

Postby ascendingPig » Mon Oct 08, 2007 2:44 am UTC

Definitely show them games.

Chances are the high schoolers won't be writing complex searching algorithms immediately, but games are pretty easy, and if you say, "Within a month you will be able to make a dancing image of me and shoot at me for points," they'll bite.
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Re: How to present CS as awesome to HS students?

Postby aleflamedyud » Tue Oct 09, 2007 7:56 pm UTC

I don't know about the games. Making a "real game" nowadays is such an extraordinarily complex undertaking, and I'm not sure you could impress them with something merely demo-quality.

Here's a really weird idea... give a set of students (X students, we'll say) a terminal of some sort that allows them to adjust a linear parameter up and down. Feed those parameters into an audio-mixing program, and have the class work together to do some DJing.

EDIT: Frist psot.
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Re: How to present CS as awesome to HS students?

Postby dhpe » Thu Oct 11, 2007 9:11 am UTC

Present the rules of Conway's Game of Life and then show a graphical representation of it.

Sort people by their height (or whatever) with e.g. quick or merge sort.

The birthday attack is quite surprising and fun as mentioned already.

Explain the process of viewing a web page from typing the URI to rendering the image -- on some decent level of abstraction. Do some packet routing with some students playing IP datagrams and other students playing routers.

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Re: How to present CS as awesome to HS students?

Postby aleflamedyud » Thu Oct 11, 2007 3:52 pm UTC

OK, the cellular automata will definitely hit.
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Re: How to present CS as awesome to HS students?

Postby aneeshm » Thu Oct 11, 2007 5:41 pm UTC

One minute of a live demo of Beryl is worth fifty years of evangelising.

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Re: How to present CS as awesome to HS students?

Postby Aleks » Fri Oct 12, 2007 3:54 am UTC

I agree with the Beryl comment. I remember when I showed that to some of my friends who were still in high school, they couldn't believe what they were seeing. Needless to say, though, I don't think "computer science is cool!" came to mind.

Gadren wrote:I have a new job at my university, where I'm part of a team of engineers who will go to local high schools and tell them how awesome the School of Engineering is. Now, most of the engineers have fancy chemical or mechanical demonstrations, but one issue with computer science is that it's not as -- is this the right word? -- tactile, or physical. Watching awesome explosions and robotic cars seems more appealing to students than the CS things I can think of. Any ideas? :P

Games. Games. And more games. HS students don't give a hoot about algorithms and other advanced computational subjects. It also depends on how you're introducing the students to computer science. Is it an auditorium with lots of kids, or is it more personal, like a classroom? Aim for the classroom, if possible. If there is something that hasn't changed since the dawn of time, its that people still love to hear stories. Whats more is that people also get inspired by said stories. Simply share some of the exciting stuff you've done one on one, while the students are doing the activities you prepared for them. It's very different when someone from the field talks to you about the wonderful career path they have chosen for themselves, than it is for students to just play around with that wonderful career path's end products.

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Re: How to present CS as awesome to HS students?

Postby aleflamedyud » Fri Oct 12, 2007 4:44 am UTC

Except that working in games sucks and we really don't need more hoards of naive young people providing EA with slave labor.

Also, making a game is years of hard work by many different teams, only one or two of which are the design team that decides cool things like the presence or absence of a portal gun. Would HS students still take interest if they found out how games actually get made?
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Re: How to present CS as awesome to HS students?

Postby notzeb » Fri Oct 12, 2007 7:56 pm UTC

Show them Linley's Dungeon Crawl. Explain that even middle schoolers can write fun, challenging games in the space of an afternoon without even using ncurses.

If they need graphics to get excited, well, there's this overpopulation problem...
Zµ«V­jÕ«ZµjÖ­Zµ«VµjÕ­ZµkV­ZÕ«VµjÖ­Zµ«V­jÕ«ZµjÖ­ZÕ«VµjÕ­ZµkV­ZÕ«VµjÖ­Zµ«V­jÕ«ZµjÖ­ZÕ«VµjÕ­ZµkV­ZÕ«ZµjÖ­Zµ«V­jÕ«ZµjÖ­ZÕ«VµjÕ­Z

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Re: How to present CS as awesome to HS students?

Postby aleflamedyud » Sat Oct 13, 2007 3:52 pm UTC

Better: show them the Flash version of Portal.
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Re: How to present CS as awesome to HS students?

Postby Hexadecimator » Sat Oct 13, 2007 10:09 pm UTC

A cool demo would be to teach them to program a calculator. These days almost everyone has a Ti-83, and very few people know how to use it to its full potential. Everyone hates quadratics, so show them how to write a program to run the quadratic formula, then teach them to write one that factors quadratics.
I would include my quadratic factorer, but it's 34 lines and embarasingly buggy.

If they're in physics, write a vector addition program. If they're in algebra I, write a prime factorization program or one that simplifies square roots. If they're in algebra II, write one that outputs the specified row of pascal's triangle. Or just ask what they're doing in the class and write a useful little utility.
Emphasize that with a CS degree (or even just general knowledge of CS), they can do this kind of thing with their computers just as easily. Maybe even whip out something cool with AutoHotkey or MS Word macros.

Wow, looking back on some of the programs on my calc reveals what happens when you don't comment. My sqrt simplifier is 38 lines and utterly incomprehensible. Though this is partially due to all Ti variables being a single letter and the lack of tabbing.


Edit: Write a quick program that outputs an AHK script to autocorrect everything in wikipedia's list of common misspellings. Autocorrecting typos is always awesome.
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Re: How to present CS as awesome to HS students?

Postby Kudos » Tue Oct 16, 2007 8:14 pm UTC

Our demos mostly involve games that are written by the students as class projects. And lego robots. Your audience is pretty much students who are already interested in computers.

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Re:

Postby Shrewtality » Wed Oct 17, 2007 5:40 pm UTC

hynder wrote: Graphs showing you how much money you can make is motivating to me.


This is what hooked me into the major. So far I'm liking it a lot ignoring the fact that I will theoretically be making big bucks post-graduation. :P
One sad thing about computer science is what some schools consider as computer science. For instance the 'highest level' computer-like class in my high school was basically working with Microsoft Office applications. So even the simplest "Hello, World" program could 'wow' some high school students in that context.
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Re: How to present CS as awesome to HS students?

Postby mekon » Thu Oct 18, 2007 2:26 am UTC

Ignore everyone. All are wrong.

The correct answer is hack something. Computer science/engineering/etc is the art of figuring out solutions to problems in the most pragmatic of ways, in the realm of programming and so forth. Hacking is the same thing, but with mal-intent. Do what my CS teacher did. Tell them not to do x, and then proceed to carry out x to show them how badass you are.

Also, lots of robots. Big robots.
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Re: How to present CS as awesome to HS students?

Postby mekon » Thu Oct 18, 2007 2:34 am UTC

Also, I just want to vouch for high schoolers. They're not as stupid as you think. At least not the demographic you are (hopefully) planning to recruit. I had a project junior year that was pretty intense for a 'pansy-ass high school computer science' project. CLI interface contact database which had to be able to store and sort contacts, give each one their unique index number and all that jazz, and be able to present them to you in various ways. Mainly in order by first-name, last-name, the reverse of both, area code, type of contact (business, family, friend, etc) company (if business) and a few other things that I'd think I remember because it was such a huge project, but don't because I was cracked out of my mind doing it. Cracked out on sweet sweet caffeine pills soap drinks and gum.

And that was junior year! f00z!

This year I've yet to take any interesting classes, except for math. But it's irrelevant math, at least for what I hope to do, and I'd be better off learning physics, which I opted out of signing up for because I had to choose between a 4 semester math class (the one I'm in) or a 2 semester physics class. And I figured there'd be a lot more useful math out there for me to learn, and I was wrong.

Long windedededed.

Point being, high school programmers aren't quite as easily entertained as you'd think. At least not in my area.

Hence my previous imperative to hack things.
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Re: How to present CS as awesome to HS students?

Postby Gravitas Shortfall » Thu Oct 18, 2007 3:41 am UTC

aleflamedyud wrote:OK, the cellular automata will definitely hit.

I remember when I was in I high school, I would sometimes play Conway's game of life in my notebook during physics lectures; when I learned that it was turing complete, that just blew my mind. Of course I was a bit of geek (and proud of it!), so the average student might be a bit more interested with some cool rakes and breeders rather than any mathematical properties.
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Re: How to present CS as awesome to HS students?

Postby Nath » Thu Oct 18, 2007 9:40 pm UTC

mekon wrote:This year I've yet to take any interesting classes, except for math. But it's irrelevant math, at least for what I hope to do...

Is there such a thing? What do you hope to do?

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Re: How to present CS as awesome to HS students?

Postby amalcon » Fri Oct 19, 2007 2:48 am UTC

Depending on how much time you have, build a plugin for something they already use, while they watch. You might be able to get by with just demonstrating different versions, but you may want to actually code the some bits right in front of them.. This lets you show something genuinely cool and useful, without having to actually build the framework for that cool thing.

Just do something simple, like a Gaim plugin for "three-way calling", or a Firefox plugin to highlight specific words in a page, or a "Look up in Wikipedia" right click option. The real trick is going to be showing the incremental development of the feature. Show something come out of nothing.

Also, be better than me at picking features high school students think are cool.

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Re: How to present CS as awesome to HS students?

Postby aleflamedyud » Fri Oct 19, 2007 6:07 am UTC

mekon wrote:Ignore everyone. All are wrong.

The correct answer is hack something. Computer science/engineering/etc is the art of figuring out solutions to problems in the most pragmatic of ways, in the realm of programming and so forth. Hacking is the same thing, but with mal-intent. Do what my CS teacher did. Tell them not to do x, and then proceed to carry out x to show them how badass you are.

Also, lots of robots. Big robots.

Call it cracking, please. Real hackers have claimed the word "to hack" for decades.
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Re: How to present CS as awesome to HS students?

Postby Amicitia » Fri Oct 19, 2007 10:42 am UTC

Tell them if they can't get into a top business/medical school, there's always CS.
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Re: How to present CS as awesome to HS students?

Postby Jimmed » Mon Oct 22, 2007 2:03 pm UTC

I can certainly tell you how not to win them over.

When I was just about my A-levels, we were given a series of talks by different departments in our school, to help us decide what we were going to pick as our subjects. The CS teacher at our school did a crap-awful presentation about logic, where he went through a series of proofs, one of which was an attempt to disprove the existance of God. I can't think of the exact argument he used, but it was poor.

With regard to what people have said previously, I think the thing that will appeal most to your target audience is showing them what you can use a computer to do, relevant to what they are studying, by programming something fairly simple. I also quite like the idea of cracking something though, perhaps using WireShark to sniff the school network; I would have liked to see that.

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Re: How to present CS as awesome to HS students?

Postby headprogrammingczar » Mon Oct 22, 2007 6:00 pm UTC

Procedural generation works better than flashy explosions. Show them that you can create rules that govern the appearance of objects, and show them a procedural person, or something along those lines. If you really need a flashy spectacle after that, show them .kkrieger. Be sure to bring floppy disks with the game loaded on them. If they would be competent computer scientists, they will appreciate that a professional FPS can be stored so efficiently. Other than that, what the others said.
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Re: How to present CS as awesome to HS students?

Postby Indon » Wed Oct 24, 2007 7:31 pm UTC

Hmm, personally, I think I'd go with a game-theory slanted approach.

Show them a game that's been solved (I hear Checkers recently qualifies). Find a program that can play a perfect game. Watch the students try to break it. Say, "You can make that."
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Re: How to present CS as awesome to HS students?

Postby EdgarJPublius » Wed Oct 24, 2007 9:20 pm UTC

checkers has only been solved after a certain number of moves (five iirc), so you could only make a program that was unbeatable after that number of moves (not that it's going to be beaten before those moves are up I suppose) but HS students taking CS are probably never going to get that far.

I liked the stone game we used in my class (three rows of x, y and z column lengths (I want to say four, five and six) you can take one two or three stones from a column, if you take the last stone you lose) which was easy enough to solve that the teacher had us write a program that couldn't be beaten without having to give us the game solution at the end of the year, that was fun.
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Re: How to present CS as awesome to HS students?

Postby RockoTDF » Thu Oct 25, 2007 5:54 pm UTC

I think the robotics thing is the safest bet because it is hands on. Games can be kind of misleading in that very few of them would end up in that field. It might be prudent to explain that "game design" is CS but that CS is not game design. I also think the Ti-83 idea is clever because it gives them something to take away from the session that they will remember and continue to use.
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Re: How to present CS as awesome to HS students?

Postby LoopQuantumGravity » Fri Oct 26, 2007 6:15 am UTC

Build a Lego adder or you could go all the way and show them a Lego difference engine. It's pretty cool to see physically how a computer works! Even if real computers use fancy transistors instead of Legos...
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