Educational Media to Advance Computer Science

Expand/Collapse Educational Media to Advance Computer Science


Educational Media to Advance Computer Science (EMACS) is an initiative to develop lesson modules and companion videos for grades 9-12.  The collection includes lesson materials aligned with the Computer Science Principles framework and lesson topics which are relevant for high school students.  The companion videos feature a diverse group of real high school students who experience a problem in their own lives and use computer science to solve it.  The videos provide role models which help to motivate and build confidence in students as they tackle the same activities in their classroom.

  • TrafficJam

    This lesson challenges students to solve congestion and traffic delays in an intersection through modifying traffic signal operation. Students are required to collect traffic data, optimize the timing of a traffic signal via the use of Excel, and then optimize the timing of a grid of traffic lights using a NetLogo simulation.

    Grades: 9-12
  • TrafficJam - Part 1: Intro

    This first segment in the 7-part lesson series, introduces 4 real high school students, (Kaelyn, Emi, Andre and Alex,) as experience traffic delay problems.  They decide to respond to an invitation to work with the city on improving the timing of a traffic signal near their school.

    Grades: 9-12
  • TrafficJam - Part 2: Straight to the Source

    The students visit their city's traffic management center, tour the traffic signal control room and meet with Nick Van Gunst, a traffic engineer who shows them that the city’s traffic light system is controlled by computers.  They learn that a stoplight queue, which is a line of waiting cars, is caused when the cars waiting at a red light don’t get a long enough green light to get through the intersection.

    Grades: 9-12
  • TrafficJam - Part 3: Brainstorm

    The students meet Dave Musicant, a computer science professor and explain that they want to try to reduce the amount of time they spend waiting at red lights at the intersection by their school.  They brainstorm what kinds of data they will need to collect at the intersection.  They decide to time the current traffic light cycle and green/yellow/red phases, count the number of cars that approach the intersection from each direction and how many of them continue straight or turn, and count the number of pedestrians crossing in every direction.

    Grades: 9-12
  • TrafficJam - Part 4: Take the Numbers

    The students go to their intersection to collect data as they had planned.  They measure the amount of time it takes for each of the four traffic lights to complete an entire cycle and how much of that cycle is spent in the red, the yellow and the green phase.  They count the number of cars approaching the intersection from each direction and how many of them turn left, turn right or go straight in 1 hour.  They note that the traffic pattern is affected by the due the freeway to the east of them.  They also count the number of pedestrians crossing the intersection in each direction.

    Grades: 9-12
  • TrafficJam - Part 5: Make a Model

    Kaelyn and Alex bring the data they collected back to Computer Science Professor Dave, who guides them in building a spreadsheet model to calculate the average amount of time a car currently waits at a red light at their intersection.  Then they determine what traffic signal timings will result in an optimal average delay time.   Along the way, the  students figure out that the time for red vs. green lights needs to be balanced across the different directions.  They also discover that while a short wait time is good, making it too short would not give pedestrians enough time to cross the street. 

    Grades: 9-12
  • TrafficJam - Part 6: Run a Simulation

    Emi and Andre meet with Computer Science Professor Dave, who shows them a NetLogo traffic simulation they can use to optimize the timing of 9 intersections.  They start by entering the optimal timing results from Kaleyn and Alex for their intersection in the grid.  Then they adjust a variety of timing parameters for each traffic signal to influence the location and severity of traffic jams.  By looking at the car movement and the output display, which shows on average how long every car in the grid waits at a red light, the students are able to reduce the average wait time and achieve a good traffic flow throughout the neighborhood. 

    Grades: 9-12
  • TrafficJam - Part 7: Mission Accomplished

    After the students send their traffic light timing results to Nick at the traffic management center, they get a message from him that their new timings have been implemented.  They celebrate by watching the traffic flow smoothly at their intersection and reflect on the role computers play in helping to solve complex problems. 

    Grades: 9-12

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