Developing Students' Computational Skills

Thursday 1:30pm-4:00pm Student Union: Santa Ana A and B
Afternoon Mini Workshop


Frederik J Simons, Princeton University
In this mini-workshop we will explore how to bring scientific computing into the undergraduate Geosciences curriculum: as part of a course, as a stand-alone course, and across the four-year curriculum. We explore strategies to find allies among our colleagues within and between departments, to make sure that Geosciences graduates are computationally literate and familiar with at least one programming language. We discuss examples and strategies for teaching, learning and problem solving, mechanisms for grading, online learning and peer-to-peer mentoring, and for keeping up motivation in a student body that might not self-identify as computer-literate to begin with. Concrete examples using MATLAB/Octave will be brought into the discussion. Contributions using PYTHON and other languages are very much welcomed.


  • What is en effective teaching strategy to infuse computational skills into a course taught by a Geosciences faculty member, in a Geosciences Department, for a Geosciences undergraduate student? Assuming the answer is not: "send them to a Computer Science class", we will discuss approaches to bring computation into "regular" courses, teaching programming "via the back door" , along with Geoscientific problem solving.
  • How to get started? We discuss the success of MATLAB's OnRamp in bringing students up to speed before the first class, and the role of video modules to promote out-of-the-classroom learning.
  • We bring in data in from a very early stage (i.e., Lecture 1). Even a simple rock picture, a time series of weather data, a repeated sequence of GPS positions can serve to drive home the point that Geoscience involves the analysis of digital data, and that such analysis is most effectively done using dedicated programming.
  • What are effective evaluation tools to gauge student performance? We discuss strategies based on MATLAB's LiveScript, and the role of Cody Coursework .
  • How to grow students' confidence beyond simple scripting into full-fledged programming that will carry over into their other Geoscience classes.

Tentative Program

1:30 Welcome & Introductions

1:45 Presentation by Workshop Leader & Discussion

Frederik Simons You Tube videos shown in the workshop

Loren Shore's blog


2:30 Mini-presentations by commissioned volunteers. Bring a data set, and a teaching activity!

zip file of an activity from Frederik made with MATLAB 2016

3:00 Get to work. Design an effective LiveScript for in-class use. Design an effective question bank for Cody Coursework.

3:30 Wrap up and synthesis, condensation of talking points

End of Workshop Evaluation

4:00 Adjourn