Sunday, July 1, 2012

Random Numbers make Big Hair

Random numbers are one of those core topics in teaching computer science. We experience them all the time, but most folks really don't know anything about how they happen or what they are used for.

Often games are the most obvious way of teaching about random numbers. It is a quick and easy way to introduce the topic. However there is a downside in relying too much on games. Not all students, especially females, are naturally interested in gaming. Traditionally it is perceived to be a very male centered activity and  only using gaming to teach runs the risk of turning off a large chunk of our students.

This month's Wired Magazine had a quick article on how the animators at Pixar created the hair in Brave. It gives and interesting discussion of how geometry and computer science come together in animation. The article is nice and short and would make a good discussion board prompt on random numbers.

I do use games throughout my courses, but I try to balance them with other types of programs. We use a lot of media computation based problems also, and when I do games I try to wither offer a social component or an alternative assignment.

A side note - overall this was one of the better issues for high school kids. Pretty readable overall, and less questionable content than some.

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