"Learn to think like a computer scientists by writing a program that will get your friends to hop, jump, crawl, and skip around obstacles to make it through a treacherous maze!"
There are a lot of great things about being a scientist! Not many people get paid to ask questions right? With those perks comes great responsibility - outreach. With all of the advancements in science and technology, scientific literacy is essential to be able to competently participate in our society. As researchers, we can do a lot to boost excitement for and understand of science by doing what every (introverted) scientist loves to do... communicate with the public! Whether you're writing jargon free blog posts about your work, mentoring students from underrepresented background, or participating in a science outreach activity, you are making a difference.
As a budding bioinformatician, one area where I still see a big gender gap is in computer science. With this in mind, I (with the help of two lab-mates, thanks Beth & Nick!) developed a hands on, computer free, activity to teach some of the fundamentals of programming. This year was our third year of running this activity during Middle School Girl's Math and Science Day at Michigan State University, hosted by the Graduate Women in Science (https://kwindorsk10.wixsite.com/girlsmathscienceday).
With the information below I hope you can implement this activity at your school! It was designed to take between 30-60 minutes for middle school aged students, but could be adapted to suit younger or older students by re-designing the puzzles.
The activity is based loosely off LightBot (http://lightbot.com/hour-of-code.html). Where you have a "robot" (i.e. one of the students) who you are helping through a maze by designing a "program" of step-by-step instructions to make it through the maze. Things get tricky when you introduce functions and limit the number of moves.
Find all of the puzzles and the code cards here!
Step 1. Explain the game with puzzle 1
Explain what the code cards do (i.e. move forward, turn left, turn right, jump, push the box, pick up the candy, etc). Then have the girls write a code to solve puzzle one using as many steps as they want. I like having a strip of tape on the cards and taping them to a black/white board (which is nice cause you can highlight the repeating patterns later).
Step 2. Writing functions
They probably figure out the game pretty quickly in step one, and if they had unlimited code cards it would be easy for them to solve any puzzle. But here is where you introduce functions. Discuss how computer programs are good for automating repetitive tasks. Then ask them to look for "repetitive" patterns in their code, and move the repetitive part to a function. Then they can run the code by calling their function when that pattern is needed, drastically reducing the number of code cards needed to guide their friend through the maize.
Step 3. Identifying patterns
Move on to puzzle 2. The goal of puzzle two is to make it from start to finish and pick up 3 candies on the way. There are 3 candies physically close to them and a few more that seem farther away. The trick here is that they don't have enough code cards to get all of the close by candies, but instead have to write a function that allows them to get to the farther away candies.
Step 4. Challenge mode
Puzzle 3 is a lot of fun because there are a few solutions, but they all involve writing functions. The patterns in this puzzle are also less easy to spot, so it's best to do this one after they've completed puzzle 2. If you're working in a 30 minute time frame, I would suggest going through steps 1-2 together, then splitting into two groups, group one does puzzle 2 and group two does puzzle 3. Then at the end the groups can do a show-and-tell explaining what they had to do to the other group, talking about why it was difficult, and how they solved it.
Again, all of the puzzles and code cards are available here. If you have questions about how to implement this at your own science outreach event please leave a comment or find me on twitter @cbazodi. I would also be happy to add new puzzles to the document so if you design something new let me know!
Winning an Oscar, or any film award for that matter, can drastically increase the earning potential of an actor or actress. But how much the award matters depends on how much they are already making. Here are the 2016 Oscar Nominees for best lead and supporting roles, sorted by their net worth. An interesting note about this year's award for Best Leading Actress. Jennifer Lawrence is currently the highest paid actress in the world. If she were to win, she would become the first world’s highest-paid actress wins an Oscar in the same year (holleywoodtake.com)