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Computational Thinking

Current Events & History

Tackling a Pandemic: A Computer-Based Maths Approach

How did the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) come up with their multi-phase response to tackle COVID-19? In this post, I investigate how the UK government's original plan against the coronavirus aligns with the four-step computational thinking process. Teachers are welcome to use this post as a free resource.

Please note: where possible, I have taken data from before the DHSC's plan was published.

The Computational Thinking Process

What is the computational thinking process? Simply put, it is a sequence of four steps that you can take in order to solve a problem. The aim is not just to obtain a solution, but to ensure that the right choices were made, the right tools were used and the right outcomes were achieved along the way. The steps are as follows: you define explicitly the problem you wish to solve, abstract it to a computational form, compute an answer, then interpret the result:

Best of Blog

Finally We May Have a Path to the Fundamental Theory of Physics… and It’s Beautiful

I Never Expected This

It’s unexpected, surprising---and for me incredibly exciting. To be fair, at some level I've been working towards this for nearly 50 years. But it’s just in the last few months that it’s finally come together. And it’s much more wonderful, and beautiful, than I’d ever imagined.

In many ways it's the ultimate question in natural science: How does our universe work? Is there a fundamental theory? An incredible amount has been figured out about physics over the past few hundred years. But even with everything that's been done---and it's very impressive---we still, after all this time, don't have a truly fundamental theory of physics.

Back when I used do theoretical physics for a living, I must admit I didn't think much about trying to find a fundamental theory; I was more concerned about what we could figure out based on the theories we had. And somehow I think I imagined that if there was a fundamental theory, it would inevitably be very complicated.

Best of Blog

Bring the Classroom Home with Free Projects, Computational Explorations and Other Resources

Communities the world over are bracing themselves for impact from the novel coronavirus COVID-19. Many school districts in particular have already suspended sessions for several weeks to come—and understandably, parents and educators feel anxious about navigating at-home learning (among the variety of other concerns brought about by a pandemic!).

Professionally, a large part of what I do at Wolfram involves working with educators, students and organizations, and empowering them with the technology to think computationally. I know of several parents with older kids who are now at home, enrolled in schools that are not completely prepared to provide online instruction. While the internet is awash with curricula, it can be a challenging task to assess the quality, relevance and usefulness of each course, given the amount of what is out there.

For decades now at Wolfram, we’ve been committed to the creation of cutting-edge technology and resources for classrooms. Let’s take a look at our wealth of free online resources for quality education while at home.
Education & Academic

Hitting All the Marks: Exploring New Bounds for Sparse Rulers and a Wolfram Language Proof

The sparse ruler problem has been famously worked on by Paul Erdős, Marcel J. E. Golay, John Leech, Alfréd Rényi, László Rédei and Solomon W. Golomb, among many others. The problem is this: what is the smallest subset of so that the unsigned pairwise differences of give all values from 1 to ? One way to look at this is to imagine a blank yardstick. At what positions on the yardstick would you add 10 marks, so that you can measure any number of inches up to 36?

Another simple example is of size 3, which has differences , and . The sets of size 2 have only one difference. The minimal subset is not unique; the differences of also give .

Part of what makes the sparse ruler problem so compelling is its embodiment in an object inside every schoolchild's desk—and its enduring appeal lies in its deceptive simplicity. Read on to see precisely just how complicated rulers, marks and recipes can be.

Best of Blog

Invasion of the Stink Bugs: 20 Years of Marmorated Mayhem in One Map

Who has not encountered a stink bug? Perhaps the better question is not if, but when. I remember well my first interactions with stink bugs—partly because of their pungent, cilantro-like odor, but also because in my native Catalan language they are called Bernat pudent ("stinky Bernat") and Bernat is my twin brother's name.

So when I encountered the stink bug again when visiting Champaign, Illinois, for the 2019 Wolfram Technology Conference, it brought up a lot of fond childhood memories. This time, however, two things had changed: the frequency of encounters with the stink bug seemed exponentially greater, and I now had the Wolfram Language to more fully (and computationally) satisfy my curiosity about this reviled insect and its growing impact on our ecosystem. So to get a better picture of the arrival and spread of this invasive bug across the US, I used available observation data and the Wolfram Language to make a map of sightings over the past two decades.

Education & Academic

From an Hour of Code to a Lifetime of Coding with the Wolfram Language

Happy Hour of Code! There’s no better reason to start learning or continue honing your programming skills than the Hour of Code, an annual celebration of computer science during Computer Science Education Week. While we like to think that every hour is a great hour to code, we look forward to the Hour of Code event as an opportunity to come together and share some of our best Wolfram Language resources for students. Since its 2013 launch, the Hour of Code has been an immense success, introducing valuable programming skills to millions of students. So with this year’s Hour already underway, let’s take a look at the ways you can get started!

Announcements & Events

Duking It Out in the Wolfram Language: A Breakdown of the 2019 Livecoding Championship

Two weeks ago, I had the pleasure of returning as a commentator for the fourth annual Livecoding Championship, a special event held during the 2019 Wolfram Technology Conference. We had such an incredible turnout this year, with 27 total participants and 14 earning at least one point! Conference attendees and Wolfram staff competed for the title of Livecoding Champion, with seven questions (plus one tiebreaker!) challenging their speed, agility and knowledge of the Wolfram Language. It was a high-spirited battle for first place, and while I had prepared “answer key” solutions in advance, I always look forward to the creativity and cleverness that competitors demonstrate in their wide range of approaches to each question.

By popular request, in addition to revisiting the questions, I’ll walk you through how competitors reached their solutions and earned their points, as a kind of “study guide” for next year’s aspiring champions. So hold on to your keyboards—we’re going in!

Computation & Analysis

Building a Lattice Boltzmann–Based Wind Tunnel with the Wolfram Language

My student days learning fluid dynamics were all about studying complicated equations and various methods of simplifying and manipulating these equations to get some kind of a result. Unfortunately, this left very little to the imagination when it came to getting an intuitive feel for how a fluid would behave in different situations. When I took my first experimental fluid dynamics course, I got to see how one would use different visualization techniques to understand qualitatively the behavior of the flow. These visualizations gave me a way of creatively looking at a flow, and, as an added bonus, they looked stunning. All these experiments and visualizations were being carried out inside a wind tunnel.