Tag Archives: CSNYC

Notes from “The Slowest Computer on Earth” activity via @ra & @kahodesu of @eyebeamnyc. #csnyc

I attended an awesome workshop last weekend entitled, The Slowest Computer on Earth, hosted jointly by CSNYC and EyeBeamNYC. As per the event’s description:

Kaho Abe and Ramsey Nasser, media artists and teachers, run the Playable Fashion Afterschool Program for high schoolers in collaboration with Eyebeam in Sunset Park, Brooklyn. With support from CSNYC, Kaho and Ramsey are running a workshop for teachers on a module from their program called “The Slowest Computers on Earth.” Two teams of participants will form into two “computers” competing to execute code as fast and as correctly as possible. These computers use pen and paper for memory, a grid of sponges for a screen, human minds and bodies as processing units, and a simple turing-complete assembly language as their instructions. A stack of printed code will be given to each team to execute, and clock speeds in Hertz will be measured and reported.

This embodied exercise aims to foster a visceral understanding of computation in the abstract. By not involving actual computers, the exercise avoids the distractions of contemporary operating systems and programming languages, and instead focuses on the underlying concepts that are timeless and platform-agnostic. By running this exercise before teaching actual programming, Kaho and Ramsey aim to give students a foothold into reasoning about what the machine is actually doing when it is executing their code. Following the workshop, participants will discuss how an exercise like this can be incorporated into existing computer science curricula.

Kaho (@kahodesu) and Ramsay (@ra) collaboratively developed many modules for teaching creative computing, coding, wearables, game design. Their workshop on Sunday was all about The Slowest Computer on Earth, and it was truly remarkable.

  1. Attendees split into groups of 4 at tables. Each table had a big bucket full of classic kitchen sponges (yellow with a green scrubbing side), a few pads of post-its, and some markers.
  2. We placed 100 sponges yellow side up in a 10×10 grid with no gaps in between.
  3. We  labelled along the top of the grid 0-9 with a number corresponding to each column (this is the x-axis). We also labeled this axis COLUMNS so as not to be confused later.
  4. We also labelled along the side of the grid  0-9 with a number corresponding to each row (this is the y-axis). We also labeled this axis ROWS so as not to be confused later.
  5. We tacked additional larger post-its to the table below our sponge grid. These were labelled a to p in two rows. The top row was for a – h, and the bottom row was for i – p.
  6. We were handed reams of paper bound with two binder clips at the seam like a book. The pages were full of instructions.
  7. As a group, we followed the instructions – this is where the users are “slow computing”. These instructions mimicked loops, calculations, if-then statements, and more.
  8. At some points, we were assigned or we had to calculate different values to the variables a to p. Different commands were to turn over the sponge at a designated (column, row) coordinate. Since we laid them out with the yellow side up, when we turned over a sponge, it’s visibly green due to the scrubby side.
  9. Each group competed to complete the given activity first. We were timed, and these finish times were calculated into MHz (the equivalent speed a computer would take to execute the same program).
Ramsay and Kaho had us run through three separate modules. My group led for much of the day, as we really collaborated well (especially for a group of total strangers). We all made errors, we all had great insights, and we were all patient and kind with each other. The first “program” we executed was a diagonal line. The second was a Minecraft creeper, and the third was a circle — this was the most challenging as the directions were the longest and most convoluted. These examples are available on the amazing site shared by Ramsay and Kaho: http://nas.sr/sponge/
Remarkably, Ramsay and Kaho’s site allows you toMAKE YOUR OWN design and their assembly code will print out a PDF of pages with the instructions to follow!! It’s magical and so awesome that they are freely sharing it. I’m excited to try this as an advisory or phys. ed. or other discipline. It would be great (yet predictable) to do this in a math or computer class, so I’d love to see it integrated into a team building lesson somewhere else in a curricular program.
I told them this would be a great activity for the archives of #CSunplugged
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8th graders designed computer games in @BootstrapWorld during Algebra class with @mattgusto!

I learned about Bootstrap (@BootstrapWorld) from Cindy Gao of CSNYC (The New York City Foundation for Computer Science Education). Cindy locates, organizes, and publicizes awesome meetups and workshops for educators around the city. I attend many CSNYC events, and I always try to bring along other educators.

Back at the very start of the the school year, I approached Dr. Sabrina Goldberg (7th Grade Math) and Matthew Guastavino (8th Grade Math) about attending a two-day bootcamp for teachers to integrate Bootstrap into their curriculum so their students could learn math through coding and game design. As stated on Bootstrap’s website, “Unlike most programming classes, Bootstrap uses Algebra as the vehicle for creating images and animations, and is designed from the ground up to be aligned with Common Core standards for Algebra.

In January, Matt led a Bootstrap unit with his 8th grade Algebra students. They recently shared their games with the community, and Matt told me he and his students really enjoyed the experience. Here’s the game, Lizard Problem, created by Matt’s student, George. I love it when a plan comes together!

Sabrina, Matt, and Cait Bradley (Matt’s student teacher) will be offering a poster session at ISTE in Philadelphia in June. If you’re heading to ISTE, please visit their table and ask them about it:
Game On! Middle School Algebra through Coding and Game Design
Tuesday, June 30 from 10:30 am–12:30 pm.

As per Bootstrap’s website:

Bootstrap is a curricular module for students ages 12-16, which teaches algebraic and geometric concepts through computer programming. At the end of the module, students have a completed workbook filled with word problems, notes and math challenges, as well as a videogame of their own design, which they can share with friends and family. Our mission is to use students’ excitement and confidence around gaming to directly apply algebra to create something cool.

Bootstrap is proud to partner with two leading organizations: Code.org and CSNYC. Code.org and CSNYC allow us to bring our professional development, materials and support to teachers

Bootstrap also builds in a pedagogical approach to solving Word Problems called theDesign Recipe. Students solve word problems to make a rocket fly (linear equations), respond to keypresses (piecewise functions) or explode when it hits a meteor (distance formula). In fact, this same technique has been successfully used at the university level for decades.


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#tbt video of the @RubeGoldberg machine we made at last week’s #CSNYC meetup.

I love the CSNYC Education Meetup group and the amazing learning and networking opportunities organized by Cindy Gao (of the NYC Foundation for Computer Science Education) and Eric Allatta and Sean Stern (both are Computer Science Teacher at the Academy for Software Engineering). Check them out and discover the amazing Professional Learning Network they nurture!

Last week, @CSNYC partnered with the team behind htink and The Makery to have a meetup where everyone got to collaborate on Rube Goldberg machines — the ultimate goal was to pop a balloon with a needle. I was really proud of our contraption, though in the end, we were thwarted by a dull needle and a tough balloon…

Here’s a video from another group demonstrating that the whole point is to fail fast and prototype, prototype, prototype…

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