Thursday, March 05, 2015

5 weeks of VCE Algorithmics

All holidays, I was anticipating the start of the Algorithmics class. In my last post, I mentioned that we were 7 in the class but now we're 8. What happened was that two students went to the NCSS Summer School and fell in love with computer science. One of them was already enrolled and the other decided to join. Now, the number of year elevens has increased to 5, joining 2 year twelves and me.

Each week, the students complete a series of exercises. They are at different stages in their transition to "algorithmic thinking" but they're all making progress. We have solved puzzles and learnt about queues and stacks. More on these later.

So, what has it been like teaching this course? The briefest statement I can make is: "It's a lot of hard work but totally worth it!"

The hard work stems from the fact that the course is new and has no set text. We need to read the study design and turn it into a series of tasks for the students. Remember that many of these concepts are traditionally left till the 2nd or 3rd year of a computer science course, yet we're teaching them to high school students. The main source of help has been an online forum where we teachers share resources and the weekly video conferences we have with the university staff who have written the course. There is also a website that is gradually being populated with notes and media files.

Here's an example of the puzzles we have solved so far. A staple of courses like this one is Depth First Search. It is a way of exploring alternative paths in a network graph until one path is found to the desired "destination". This is readily applicable to finding our way out of mazes. Take this maze for example:




This is clearly not my handwriting. The maze was drawn by my highly intelligent chicken.

As you can see, we have used co-ordinates to identify each cell. The following is a representation of the maze where the cells are represented as nodes and the edges (links) between each pair of nodes means that they are adjacent (we can move from one cell to the next). The nodes in blue represent the path from the entrance of our maze, cell A1, to the exit, cell E5.

A data model of the maze above with the path being shown as a series of blue nodes

If you have implemented DFS before, you may be overly impressed that year eleven and twelve students were capable of implementing it. It is true that my students are impressive but, this early on, I gave them a program to modify.


All in all, the course is proceeding well. We're all working hard and we're finding the content interesting. As the students told me in a survey this subject is "challenging in a good way".

1 comments:

Ziad Baroudi

said...

I just realised that the solution in the image above comes from a Breadth First Search which we actually implemented by way of comparison.