Thinking Out Loud



Drink More Ovaltine

Originally uploaded by emotionaltoothpaste

I’d like my students, especially at KS3 and KS4, to have more opportunities to explore Computing as a discipline (this should not be news to anyone who has rea this blog before), but I don’t have time to run a club.

One idea that’s quite popular is to run a small competition, so here is me thinking out loud about it:

It needs to be quite simple. I applied to have a crack at the British Informatics Society’s Informatics Olympiad late last year which promised to be a fascinating computing competition backed by Lionhead Studios. It turned out to involve a 3 hour exam and was quite complex.

The competition needs to be easy to get into. It needs to present a student with something they think they have a reasonable chance of succeeding at. I don’t want to pitch it too low, but pitching too high will simply leave me with no competitors.

The competition should be language independent. I know some Y10s who have taught themselves VB, some Y8s who have taught themselves Java, etc. while it’s true that once you understand the basic principles, transferring them to a new syntax is usually fairly straightforward for simple programs, it’s another barrier.

I need to be able to see what is genuinely the students’ work and what is the work of parents, forums or plain copying and pasting. Comments will help but I might need to go so far as to interview each entrant! (Or at least a shortlist).

Students don’t like being given a blank piece of paper (often). giving them a skeleton to hang things on makes getting going much easier.

Here’s my main idea right now – I write a simple cipher program that shifts the characters 3 spaces to encode and -3 spaces to decode. Make sure it uses a loop (for the menu), an if statement (for the menu) and methods/functions/procedures to do the work. I write it in Python, Java and VB (6? .net?) with a few comments and provide lots of links to tutorials (codingbat, codeacademy, etc…).

The students have a short list of suggested improvements, but they are encouraged to expand as they see fit. Some example extensions might be to let the user choose the number of shifts, to use a more complicated algorithm, or even generate a cipher using a passcode.

I’m no cryptography expert so I’m not looking for SSL or PGP standard stuff, but I think that a keen Y8 pupil ought to be able to do something with it…

And winners would receive a Raspberry Pi (I could find £50 in the budget for a KS3 and a KS4 winner…).

Thoughts?

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