Thursday, August 9, 2012

Who is the target audience?

I have seen the questions of "Who is the target audience for these fairy tales?" and "How can they teach computer science?" come up a few times. Most recently, this was asked by an reviewer of the book.

To be honest, these are questions that I asked myself many times when I was starting.

Below I outline some of the thought process behind the stories, the book, and how they can be used.

Computational Fairy Tales is not a textbook:
I contemplated using the stories to frame a full introductory textbook. But there are a lot of good textbooks out there already. Honestly, I have always seen these stories as supplementing a class or standard textbook. The stories are designed to motivate topics, provide context, and (hopefully) generate interest. The best parallel that I can draw is that each story is meant to serve the same role as an illustration in a textbook; it provides a different way of viewing the problem.

Motivating computational thinking:
The goal of Computational Fairy Tales is not to provide comprehensive coverage of each topic, but rather to provide a high level overview of the breadth and excitement of computer science. Ideally the stories inspire that reaction of "That's interesting…" or "I had not thought about it that way…", followed by a desire to learn more. In rare cases, there might even be laughing involved.

Using Computational Fairy Tales in a class:
Last week, I had the pleasure of talking to a group of high school teachers at CS4HS about Computational Fairy Tales and how they could be used in classes. I proposed using the stories as motivation during the discussion of the material:
  1. Introduce the concept.
  2. Use the story to motivate it or put a new spin on it.
  3. Go into more details, possibly involving real code or formal proofs.
  4. Assign copious amounts of homework on the topic.
A few of the teachers suggested swapping 1 and 2, assigning the stories to be read the night before as homework. I have seen some of the stories used this way in courses already.

Suggestions? Comments?
I am very interested in learning more about how people use these stories or would like to use them. Please feel free to contact me with questions, suggestions, requests, or comments.