One of the local elementary schools invited me to volunteer at their “math night” later this month and I am dreaming up some computer math demos that should be fun.
I’m trying to narrow down to two or three activities. I’m hoping for each activity to have a hands-on thing they can touch and do, mapped to a simulation running on the computer so they can see how computers solve problems.
First one I am pretty excited about. I was able to make a Towers of Hanoi toy thanks to Visio, the Maker Garage laser cutter, and a repurposed bamboo skewer I found in the kitchen. I can make a few more of these and then write some C# to solve this problem and have it running in a debugger so they can step through and see how computers solve a problem. It passed play testing last weekend on an astute 4th grader so I think it is going to work. I was thinking bringing in my old reverse polish notation HP calculator might be a fun thing as well if they get bored of stacks of wood I can teach them to calculate on the stack.
Second idea is one suggested by a friend who is a retired chemical engineer and who brought it to our Hour of Code at the Microsoft Museum in 2014 and was a hit. It combines a pink bouncy ball with Excel and they track the bounce and then chart it in excel with a function to predict where future bounces will be from different heights. I am thinking maybe of going outside of Excel and using some of the other software listed earlier so they can compare different approaches. Would also be neat to have them write a function that predicts how high they need to drop the ball from for it to bounce as high as they are tall. It’s surprisingly entertaining to run this station and fun to see them connecting the dots.
We’ll see how it goes. :)