I am very grateful for the team from Sapientia University, Romania who have produced and made available a series of demos of sorting algorithms via folk dances.
For several times now I have been using these on my departmental open-day `stand’, where we get potential students and their families visiting us. These videos have been very successful, though the reaction has changed in the last few months, as it seems that more and more high school teachers have also discovered them and have been showing them in school.
Typically we have the kids eager to explain the algorithms to their parents, who quite often (but definitely not always) seem indulgent but puzzled about what their offspring do when they sit in front of their computers for hours and hours. These videos give a great way for geeks to show-off to parents whose eyes would glaze over if they try to show actual lines of code. At this point I usually pipe in to say that at my department we teach CS by emphasizing not programming but the ability to analyze algorithms at an abstract level, in terms of both correctness and efficiency.
Some of the parents who stop by my stall are in fact very algorithm-savvy, and it is great to talk to them too, typically they work in industry and have a few insightful remarks about the use of IT in industry. This last open day, last Saturday, was no exception, very enjoyable. One of the highlights was chatting to a parent who at first said he didn’t understand much about computers or computer science, but who turned out to be a dance teacher. We had a great chat about rhythms and meters in dance and music, and how in fact choreography and music composition is very often a kind of algorithm development, based around mathematical patterns.
All in all, some very interesting conversations. And of course, great to talk to some of the potential students, many of whom are now coming with very varied backgrounds and experiences.