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Communications of the ACM

Broadening participation

Reaching a Broader Population of Students through 'Unplugged' Activities


illustration from CS Unplugged website

An illustration from one of the downloadable activities on the CS Unplugged website (www.csunplugged.org).

Credit: CS Unplugged

The first decade of this century saw growth in outreach to raise awareness of computing and the possibility of a career in computing. Some of these efforts were "unplugged," not requiring a computer, but providing an easy, fast way to present key principles of computer science to a broad audience. This column highlights Computer Science Unplugged (CS Unplugged; www.csunplugged.org), activities that are easy to present, require few materials, encourage collaborative work, and do not depend on hardware, compilers, browsers, and Internet connections. They work well when access to computers is limited or nonexistent.

CS Unplugged was developed at the University of Christchurch in New Zealand by Timothy Bell, Ian H. Witten, and Mike Fellows, and adapted for classroom use by Robyn Adams and Jane McKenzie.2 Activities include basic concepts such as computer data storage, how computers compress information and detect errors, and algorithms for solving common computational problems (searching, sorting, finding minimal spanning trees, using finite automata to model systems). Kids do not simulate a computer (not a particularly interesting endeavor) but learn problem-solving skills that expose fundamental computer science concepts.1 CS Unplugged activities promote group work, problem-solving skills, and creativity.


 

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