Thursday, May 16, 2013

Second Graders Explore the World of Computer Science

In May 2013, a Duluth Congdon Park Elementary class visited UMD's Computer Science Simulation and Interaction in Virutal Environments Lab (SIVE Lab), operated by Dr. Pete Willemsen. Second graders learned what computer science is like and what we as computer scientists do.

Seven stations provided exposure, engaging experiences, and an education to a variety of computer science related topics. Each station focused on a small and specific subset of computer science ranging from what a computer is, how we represent the alphabet on a computer using binary numbers, how computers can be programmed, Scratch, to how we computers to help scientists.

Volunteers from the CS graduate and undergraduate programs represented a diverse and even mix of cultures and genders. This was purposeful to ensure the 2nd graders interacted with an inclusive and diverse group of students showing a broad spectrum of people (men and women) being computer scientists.

Below is a summary of the stations that we prepared. The second grade class was split into 7 groups of 3-4 students each. Each group spent 12 minutes at each station interacting with the students, equipment, and computers.

Station 1. - What is a computer? - Students learned about the different parts that make up a computer including its memory, long term storage, processing ability, and how it communicates with other computers.

Station 2. - How is a computer built? - Students took a computer apart and put it back together.

Station 3. - How do computers work? - In this exercise, the students learned how computers only use the binary number system (0s and 1s) to make sense of the world. Using the binary representations of the alphabet students spelled their names as a computer would.

Station 4. - LEGO Scratch Programming - Students built LEGO systems that had motors and sensors and programed the motors with software, using the Scratch programming environment. After finishing the assembly of a LEGO kit, students used Scratch to write a program to control the LEGO motor with one of the LEGO sensors. One system, a LEGO alligator, used Scratch to "bite" the person's finger when it gets too close to the alligator's mouth. Hand-outs were supplied showing where students can get Scratch and use it on their own (it's free). There were two LEGO/Scratch stations at the table so pairs of students could work together on one set.

Station 5. - Arduino RGB Light - In this exercise, the students used a very small computer (an Arduino) to construct a small multi-colored RGB LED that could be programmed. They then programed the color of the light with a software program they wrote and changed. This exercise demonstrated the interaction between hardware and software and how colors are represented. Two Arduinos were setup for pairs of students to use.

Station 6. - Sun City, or Gosh, it's hot! - Students used a physical mock-up of a small city to simulate the sun with a bright light. The then determined the hot and cool spots of a city. Volunteers demonstrated how Meteorological Scientists and Engineers use computer simulations to make these observations.

Station 7. - Walk on Mars/Haptic Demo - This was combined demo showing the VR system. The students prepped to be the first astronauts to stand in the Noctis Labrynthis (Night Maze) on Mars. After learning how planetary scientists have collected specific data for the structure of Mars, we explained how scientists use computer science and computer programs to study the red planet virtually. The students each spent several minutes using the virtual reality setup in the lab to stand on Mars and walk around the Noctis Labrynthis. While students waited to, or after they were done seeing the Mars demo, they received a demo of a haptic device to explore how scientists can use robots to help them feel objects that are "in" the computer with the motivation being that if a scientist wanted to feel one of the rocks they saw on Mars, this might be how
they'd do it.

What is a computer

Arduino RGB Light
LEGO Scratch Programming
Sun City
Mars Demo
How is a computer Built?