In addition to her demanding responsibility as a computer science professor and researcher, Miryung Kim is also a mother of her 4 year old daughter, Sophia. As a female professor in a male dominant field, Kim knew that she wanted to teach her daughter about computer science early on — “before she starts to associate CS as a “boy” thing, and before she even realizes that I am one of few female professors in my field,” she emphasized. With this in mind, Kim designed a new early CS education curriculum to engage 4-6 year olds in basic concepts of computer science, without teaching them how to program using a computer. Over this past summer, Kim put her curriculum to work by holding a week long “Mommy Computer Science Camp” for her daughter and her friends, teaching them core computer science concepts such as binary search trees, map-reduce, stack and queue, binary numbers, TCP/IP and BGP protocols using hands-on games and puzzles.
“Sophia knows I am a computer scientist and a professor at UCLA, but does not quite understand what I do with computers — Actually, she usually gets annoyed when I am typing something on my computer, since she is competing against my computer to get full attention from Mommy,” Kim said when asked about why Mommy CS Camp was important to her. “While I am super passionate about my job and working with my graduate students, I could not find an easy way to explain to my 4 year old daughter about why I am passionate about computer science and what I do.”
Naturally, though, teaching computer science concepts is hardly an easy feat, especially to such a young audience.
“The real challenge for me is that my daughter can count up to 20s, but sometimes needs some help – and barely knows her ABCs,” Kim said. “So, I spent some time thinking about the CS curriculum approachable to 4 year olds – how would I teach Sophia about binary numbers, logic gates, the satisfiability problem, data structures such as a binary search tree, stack and queue, networking concepts such as TCP/IP and BGP routing, programming language constructs, program execution and dynamic traces, etc. without using any mathematics?”
Ultimately, Kim’s solution was to relate the abstract concepts of computer science to more relatable, tangible objects, like colorful tapes or building blocks. For instance, Kim used attachable counting cubes in order to represent the idea of binary numbers, stackable boxes to represent data that could be pushed or popped off the stack, and owls and trees to represent nodes in binary search trees. The nature of these lessons often allowed them to dual as both a learning experience and a creative arts and crafts project, which helped the children relate to these computer science concepts more easily.
Read more about Kim’s efforts to make computer science more accessible to children at her Mommy CS Camp Blog.