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Serious fun in Computer
Science
Paul Curzon & Peter McOwan
There is a crisis…
 UK wide Computer Science applications
have been falling by around 10% a year for
several years
Why?
 It’s geeky, uninteresting, too easy, too
mathematical, too hard, just for boys, and
who wants a career on a help desk
anyway…
 …but its none of those!
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All hope is gone?!?
1200
1000
800
QM UL
Computer
Science
Applications
600
400
200
0
2002
2003
2004
2005
2006
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2007
What are we doing?
All the standard stuff + …
Putting the FUN back into the subject
Focus on selling the subject NOT QMUL
So that our passion for the subject and our
enthusiasm comes across.
 Driven by the way we teach
 Combination of “Live Shows” and cs4fn
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Finding Ways to Bridge the
School-University Gap
 We need ways to convince people the subject is
exciting…base it on our passion
 We need to show people what the subject is
about…
 Show what subjects they will study at University,
(hard when they know nothing about it)
 …and that it is not just school “ICT”
 All based around core idea of “its fun”
 Combination of “Live Shows” and cs4fn
 Special area of cs4fn called the “Fundamentals”
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cs4fn: Computer Science for Fun
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A free magazine and webzine
On Computer Science Research (not just ours)
Launched June 2005
For “kids” of all ages (focus 14ish +)
Support: EPSRC, ARM, Microsoft, Intel,
BCS, FutureLab, Equalitec, …
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cs4fn: A Research Webzine
 Not just a magazine,
not just a website
 Distributed free to
3000+ schools and
individuals who ask
 Given as a freebie at
schools talks and
exhibitions
 ~75 000 visits/month
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Research to Kids?
The latest magazine issue includes write-ups of
research seminars on
 Prof Jon Crowcroft’s work on DTNs
 Prof Yvonne Rogers work on Ubicomp
Also
 Bristol Mediascapes
 Swarm computing
 Fran Allen and female computer Professionals
It also covers some really serious CS
 Theory: P=NP?
 Practice: CS research into keeping babies alive
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What do Teachers / Kids say?
 “…fantastic - will do wonders for making Computer
Science more accessible for my 6th formers"
 “absolutely brilliant … just what we need to turn more
kids on to computer science”
 “fantastic initiative!…wish I’d found out about it
earlier”
 “brilliant magazine…!”
 “Your magazine really rockz.”
 “Your website is fantastic.”
 “Cool Site.”
 “This magazine…It's simply awesome”.
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cs4fn: Fundamentals
 When I changed from
Maths to Computer Science
I had no idea what I was
letting myself in for
 Fundamentals fixes that
 Fun, irreverent, introduction
to core CS topics using
interactive cs4fn material
 Based on live show material
www.cs4fn.org/fundamentals/
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Projects
 Fundamentals uses real student project
profiles to give an overview of where it all
could lead.
 …real people, who went on to get real jobs.
 …showing the results of what you can do is
a good way to get girls interested in such a
“techie” subject.
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Shows:
Old rope and toilet roll…
The Elf computer
 We don’t touch computers that much in our talks…I never
do teaching programming
 …a Blue Peter / Terry Pratchett approach to CS
 It emphasizes computation not computers
 Helps overcome confusion with IT as no IT in sight
 It’s much more fun …
 Tangibles (ie toilet roll) get over the invisibility problem of
abstract computation
 One of the most popular ie rated “useful” things I do in
lectures
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Programming: Lecture 1…
I have a piece of paper that is more intelligent
than anyone in this room …
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What is it about?
 That is all a computer program is.
 Leads to discussion of algorithms, why we
need programming languages and Artificial
Intelligence
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The Computer Science
Magic Show
 To introduce logic
and proof we have
a computer
magician.
 Also do a three
hour magic show
with real tricks
 After each trick the
challenge:
– How was it done
– What is the CS link?
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Could you write a book if you had
locked-in syndrome?
 Jean-Dominique Bauby
did… “one of the
greatest books of the
century”
 Describing what his life
was like with locked-in
syndrome
 How did he do it?
 How might he have done it
if he’d known some
computer science?
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RED
RED + RED
2
Card#1
1
Card#2
SNAP
Neuron!
2
BLACK+ BLACK
BLACK
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Human design versus
AI Evolution
Survival of the fittest
www.sodarace.net
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Human Error SpaceInvaders
 My research area is
formal methods and HCI
 SpaceInvaders is a Kids
version of the expts we
are running to investigate
the causes of human
error
 Research based on it
won a best research
paper award
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Bridging the Gap
 By tackling serious topics in a fun way we are able
to make the subject accessible, getting at some
very deep computer science
 If the readers of cs4fn do decide to do Computer
Science they will be prepared
 They will know a lot about the topics of study
without realizing it
 If they do another subject they will have still learnt
lots of useful stuff
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Computer Science is
naturally fun
 CS is full of games and puzzles used for real fun
–
–
–
–
–
Patience is just a sort algorithm game,
Cross references are encryption,
Sudoku is logical proof,
Chinese Rings is Gray code and Interface design
P=NP is an equation about puzzles
 Even Dr Seuss wrote a book for 5-year olds on a
core computer science topic: recursion!
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cs4fn is glue
 It gives a tangible vehicle for pulling together
a whole range of different initiatives
 Each then can feed off and reinforce the
others
– Talks, Workshops, Exhibitions
– Widening Participation, Accessibility
– Topic Portals supporting modules
– Actual research
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cs4fn : Join the fun
 If CS excites you why not join in the fun?
 Sponsor us, write, donate images, tell us your stories,
encourage us to write up your keynotes,…
– Following academics from Bristol, Swansea, Herts, Reading,
Cambridge, UCL, Sheffield, Glasgow, OU, Edinburgh…
 We are also looking to build a network of regional champions
who partner us on cs4fn, using it in their own outreach
– With Dundee, Edinburgh, Bristol, North Carolina, Sienna College…
 The EPSRC grant is explicitly about turning cs4fn into a
national campaign and funds the base cost of the magazine individual universities pay run on costs (<20p per copy)
 Share the ways you make CS fun
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My aim is to do this UK-wide
1200
1000
800
QM UL
Computer
Science
Applications
600
400
200
0
2002
2003
2004
2005
2006
2007
…and have fun at the same time
Please help me, help you.
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Questions?
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Serious Fun in Computer Science