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Computer science without computers: new outreach methods from old tricks

Research output: Contribution in Book/Report/ProceedingsConference contribution


Publication date2008
Host publication21st Annual Conference of the National Advisory Committee on Computing Qualifications (NACCQ 2008)cil
EditorsSamuel Mann, Mike Lopez
Place of publicationAuckland, NZ
Number of pages7
Original languageEnglish


A disturbing gap is emerging as the demand for qualified computer scientists increases, yet enrolments in CS courses have dropped dramatically since 2000. One of the reasons often given for this is the mismatch between what
school students understand the subject to be, and what it really is. A major project based at Canterbury University is underway for school outreach to communicate to primary-school aged children what sort of ideas computer
scientists work with. To avoid confusing the message with the medium, the programme does not use computers at all, but instead uses activities, games, magic tricks and competitions to show children the kind of thinking that is
expected of a computer scientist.

The project, dubbed “CS Unplugged”, has recently enjoyed widespread adoption internationally, and substantial industry support. It is recommended in the ACM K-12 curriculum, it has influenced the official Korean school curriculum, and has been translated into Korean and Japanese with approximately 10 more
translations in progress. The Unplugged outreach materials are freely available on the web, and new formats and activities are under development. This includes adaptations of the kinaesthetic activities for special needs children (including mobility and vision impairment); integration with other outreach tools such as the Alice language, and videos to help teachers understand how to
use the material. This paper will explore why the programme is generating so much interest, and describe developments and adaptations that are being used for outreach around New Zealand as well as internationally.

Bibliographic note

Best Invited Paper at the NACCQ Conference 2008