Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Parallel Processing And Data Analysis And Chocolate

We’re working on a new course for next year. It’s based to some extent from the Exploring Computer Science course but with some modifications to fit our school and time frame. In short we have a lot to cover in a short period of time. This means that I want to mix some topics. Or rather have some learning exercises that let us talk about a couple of things. So I think we may count M&Ms.

My wife has been doing Excel projects with her middle school students around things like counting the number of chocolate chips in different brands of cookies for a while. Recently she did an exercise where she used M&Ms and that gave me the idea. I don’t want one child to count all the M&Ms in a big bag because that would take too long. My thought is that we can talk about the difference between single threaded work and parallel processing. We’ll split up the M&Ms and have each student sort and count their pile. They will put the results “in the cloud” perhaps using some cloud app. Then we will analyze the results using Excel or some other spreadsheet. We’ll do the whole totals thing, create some charts, and discuss why different colors are more frequent than others (if as I believe they are.)

So we’ll get data for a spreadsheet project, talk about parallelism and use “the cloud” which is becoming so important for students to know about. Three birds - one project. Oh and kids get candy which seem to motivate them. I just have to make sure the teachers who have them in following periods don’t find out I am sending them kids hopped up on chocolate.

What do you think? What would you add? Or is this a bad idea?

dougpete said...

I've done the same project only using Skittles. I find that they don't melt and are less messy.

I like the idea of the analysis of the colours. It could spark a great conversation about conspiracy theories.

I suppose that if you have multiple packages of the product you could weigh them and count the actual numbers in each package to look at central tendency.

All in all, it is a fun activity and will be a nice hands-on break from other activities.

Gail Carmichael said...