Keynote Talk: Teaching computational thinking through (small) datasets

Speaker: Madhavan Mukund, Director Chennai Mathematical Institute, Chennai and currently NCERT chair of school maths curriculum for classes 6-12

Traditionally, introductory courses in programming are targeted at students interested in science. Many of the motivating examples have a mathematical flavour — finding primes, computing gcd, … — which do not resonate with students from other disciplines.

Today, every domain is awash with data and hence has a need to extract useful insights from this data. This provides an excellent vehicle to introduce computational thinking to students from diverse backgrounds at all levels.

We describe an approach to teaching computational thinking using small datasets physically realised on cards. Each card holds one data record — for example, a school mark sheet or a shopping bill. Students answer computational questions by working through the cards by hand. For instance, they could scan mark sheets to award prizes or analyse shopping bills to identify loyal customers.

The process of physically reading through cards to answer computational questions naturally exposes students to ideas such as iteration, filtering and the need to keep track of intermediate quantities. They also get a direct feel for the difference in complexity between alternate solutions.