1. Marie Domingo
  2. Producer / Project Director
  4. Twin Cities Public Television
  1. Richard Hudson
  2. http://informalscience.org/community/users/profile/1520
  3. Director of Science Production
  5. Twin Cities Public Television

Educational Media to Advance Computer Science (E.M.A.C.S.)

NSF Awards: 1339104

2015 (see original presentation & discussion)

Grades 9-12

Traffic Jam was developed through the Educational Media to Advance Computer Science (E.M.A.C.S.) project, a NSF-supported pilot to establish the effectiveness of a media-based instructional model in enhancing high school teachers’ ability to teach core Advanced Placement® Computer Science Principles (AP® CSP) concepts and engaging students and improving their understanding of applications of computer science.

The TrafficJam video is an excerpt from a 15-minute video that teaches computer modeling and simulation through an exploration of traffic infrastructure. The video follows a group of students as they take on the task of improving signal timing at an intersection near their school. They meet with the Minneapolis traffic control agency and with a computer science educator to understand the problem. Then they gather data at the traffic light; model their data in a spreadsheet; and run their findings through a simulation of the traffic in the neighborhood. At the end of the process, they send their findings to the city of Minneapolis, which adjusts the timing of the lights. A pilot study of TrafficJam in four schools indicates that students found the video engaging, the activities relevant and interesting, and that they gain understanding of modeling and simulation from the experience.

The full Traffic Jam video and companion activities are freely available online at PBS LearningMedia:
http://tiny.cc/emacs. E.M.A.C.S. is a collaboration of Twin Cities Public Television (tpt), the Department of Computer Science at Carleton College, and the STEM Education Center at the University of Minnesota.

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Original Discussion from the 2015 Teaching & Learning Video Showcase
  • Icon for: Elizabeth Hassrick

    Elizabeth Hassrick

    May 11, 2015 | 10:46 a.m.

    The students are really front and center in this video! The video really captures how the students were in charge of their own learning and the learning of their team members. Wow! It challenging to capture enthusiasm of older students, as it is expressed in the moment, on film, but this video really does the job! Love ‘the wave’!

  • Icon for: Richard Hudson

    Richard Hudson

    May 11, 2015 | 03:18 p.m.

    At TPT we have developed an approach to emppower young people in our STEM series on PBS (DragonflyTV & SciGirls) and in educational videos like this. Please see the SciGirls clip in this showcase. Our evaluations demonstrate that there is great power in showing authentic STEM experiences by near-peers. Viewers increase both their understanding and their interest in taking part in similar activities.

  • Icon for: Lisa Hogan

    Lisa Hogan

    May 11, 2015 | 08:42 p.m.

    NetLogo was a great choice for modeling and simulating traffic flow. This example of the traffic flow problem seems a perfect match for these students who are living in urban areas. It is relevant to their daily lives. I wonder if the video(s) and activities would engage students who live in less urban areas to help them gain an understanding of modeling and simulation. If you have tried the video(s) and activities with students from less urban areas can you describe their gains in understanding of modeling and simulation?

  • Icon for: Richard Hudson

    Richard Hudson

    May 12, 2015 | 12:51 p.m.

    We tested the video with some rural schools, and found the students found the video engaging and could relate to it. Even where there are few traffic lights, students still find red lights frustrating!

  • Icon for: Lisa Hogan

    Lisa Hogan

    May 13, 2015 | 08:33 p.m.

    Great! I have used the NetLogo traffic simulation with students who live in urban and suburban areas. Along with a high level of engagement they learned to communicate and collaborate with each other as they solved the traffic flow issues.

  • Icon for: Avron Barr

    Avron Barr

    May 12, 2015 | 12:42 p.m.

    Great project and video. I especially liked the central role played by the students in the video. How can you help teachers find, adopt, and adapt this type of learning activity? Will teachers have trouble fitting time-consuming learning activities into the AP curriculum?

  • Icon for: Richard Hudson

    Richard Hudson

    May 12, 2015 | 12:47 p.m.

    Thanks, Avron. This is an excerpt of a pilot. You can see the full version and the companion activities at http://tiny.cc/emacs. We have applied for funding to create new videos of projects that are already taking place in computer science classrooms, and these will include activities already aligned with the AP curriculum. And we’ll promote them across the different networks of CS teachers.

  • Icon for: Kathryn Quigley

    Kathryn Quigley

    Producer and Media Lead
    May 12, 2015 | 05:14 p.m.

    This video is so fun, and well structured – I love the editing style and use of music. Using the student’s voiceover and interview to tell the story really helped me see how engaging this project was for them.

  • Icon for: Richard Hudson

    Richard Hudson

    May 13, 2015 | 12:19 p.m.

    We have found that the solo interviews with all the participants is a critical part of storytelling, because in live-action documentary shooting — especially with STEM content — it is difficult to capture just the the right way of saying things!

  • Icon for: Kathryn Quigley

    Kathryn Quigley

    Producer and Media Lead
    May 13, 2015 | 12:23 p.m.

    I can really see that, that’s a very good tip!

  • Small default profile

    Kathy Kraemer

    May 14, 2015 | 11:04 a.m.

    This is a great example of STEM, service learning and action research. I bet hundreds of people complained about the traffic problem but just didn’t think their voices would make a difference. The students took a risk by investigating and collecting data to make their voices heard. They truly made a difference in their community. Well done!

  • Icon for: Joni Falk

    Joni Falk

    May 14, 2015 | 11:49 a.m.

    Fabulous example of taking a real world issue to inspire kids to learn computer science. The students enthusiasm is contagious. They are so engaged in the project that one gets the sense that they are not even aware how much they are learning in the process. Wish all learning was like that!

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