Make it matter for students by connecting computer science to other fields, such as medicine, the humanities, and media. By showing how computer science concepts and skills are used in other fields, you can engage students who may not have considered computer science as a major or career.

Some suggestions

Use interdisciplinary problems. Assign homeworks, labs, and projects that have students apply what they are learning to interesting problems in other fields. The EngageCSEdu collection has lots of examples!

Draw on the expertise of colleagues from other fields. Worried that you can’t make the interdisciplinary connections yourself? Ask around for colleagues who do computational work in their fields. Then have them come talk to your students or collaborate with them on some assignments.

Introduce students to cross-disciplinary computing fields. Highlight the contributions made by other disciplines to new interdisciplinary fields in computing. These are often referred to as 'x-informatics' (e.g., bioinformatics) and 'computational y' (e.g., computational linguistics).

Examples from the collection

Impressionism and Implicit Functions (Looping 2D Space)

This is the sixth lab in a course on computational art (CS1) using Processing ( In this lab, students write a program that creates an image using an implicit representation of geometry that is drawn using shapes to emulate paint strokes.

In this lab, students will:

  1. Practice using a loop control structure to create an image made of strokes based on implicit lines.
  2. Practice using implicit lines and implicit circles, and the distances from these equations, to create a scene or object.
  3. Create new stroke styles using patterns of points, lines, and ellipses that model the textures seen in many impressionist paintings.
  4. Practice translating mathematical functions into code. 
Engagement Excellence

Computational Creativity Exercise (CCE): Storytelling

In this assignment students work as a team to develop chapters of a story where the first and last sentence of the chapter is prescribed. Students first work independently developing their own chapter and then work collaboratively to identify and resolve logical inconsistencies in the chapters in order to produce a final coherent story.  This exercise will allow students to practice problem decomposition, abstraction, and evaluation, and also debugging and testing.

This exercise was developed as part of the NSF-funded Computational Creativity project at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Engagement Excellence


Meme Magic: Project in Sprints

Meme Magic is a series of six assignments intended to provide progressive exposure to programming in Java using a popular and recent concept: Memes. Memes utilize an image conveying a concept or feeling with a caption provided by the Meme author. The series of assignments, designed as sprints in the context of a larger project, begin with the design and scaffolding of Java classes needed to write a program to produce text-based Memes and end with a fully-functional graphical user interface. For a detailed list of learning goals, please see the Learning Goals section. In the first sprint, students depict the overall project structure of a text-based meme application using Unified Markup Language (UML) and write method stubs in Java. In each of the next two sprints, students implement half of the specified functionality and integrate those components to a fully working application. Students are asked to add Comparators to sort memes to their application in sprint 4 and to unit test all of their code using JUnit in sprint 5. In the final sprint, students extend the functionality once more to a graphical user interface to experience event-driven programming.

Decision Trees for Text Classification in CS2

In CS2 courses centering programming with recursion and data structures, binary trees can be used to represent hierarchical relationships between data. Drawing on a machine learning context, this assignment presents an application of binary trees toward text classification that demonstrates how the design of programming abstractions shapes social outcomes. By the end of this assignment, students will not only be able to define methods that recursively construct, traverse, and modify binary trees, but also begin to engage with ethical questions around the design and use of sociotechnical text classification systems.

Analyzing Airbnb data

This CS1 assignment asks students to use lists, dictionaries, tuples,
and basic programming concepts in Python to analyze Airbnb data.
Students are then asked to make a connection to the real world by
finding articles about regulating Airbnb and reflecting on how data
analysis might be relevant to those conversations.  The difficulty of
the assignment can be varied by changing the assumptions that students
are allowed to make about the input files.

Olympics Lab

In this lab students compute the acceleration of a short track speed skater per lap. This is a lab for early in a semester of CS 1. It requires the use of 1) standard input/output, 2) variables and simple arithmetic expressions, 3) selection statements, and 4) loops.

Learning objectives:
* Compiling, linking, executing a program
* Developing an algorithm
* Testing a program
* Using the C++ syntax and programming constructs of standard I/O, variables and arithmetic expressions, selection statements, and loops

Fitness Tracking Lab

In this lab, students track their own fitness activities for a week. They submit this data which becomes some of the test data for the lab. Based on the students' activities, the program computes the number of equivalent miles each student has walked and the total number of miles walked by everyone together. Output is sorted from most miles walked to least miles walked. 

This is a lab for late in the semester of a CS 1 course. It requires students to use text files and an array of structures.

Learning objectives:

  • Compiling, linking, executing a program
  • Developing an algorithm
  • Testing a program
  • Using the C++ syntax and programming constructs of standard I/O, variables and arithmetic expressions, selection statements, structures, arrays

Prerequisite knowledge: Students must have already been exposed to standard I/O, variables, arithmetic statements, selection statements, loops, functions, arrays, structures, and text files.

The lab could be easily modified to use a class instead of a structure and an array of objects.

Air Quality Index Calculator

In this project, students make a calculator that determines the Air Quality Index (AQI) given user-input sensor data. All calculations follow methods published by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and give students practice handling user input, rounding/truncating, calculating the max and min, and must handle a a simple calculation that requires either a look-up table or conditionals. This assignment can be given early in the semester to help students gain experience and proficiency with loops, calculating max/min, using conditionals and boolean expressions. 

It can also be used--with some modifications--at many points in the curriculum to explore more complex data structures (2d arrays or dicts), to practice function decomposition, or even object-oriented programming. I have successfully used the assignment twice in one semester, letting students return to the assignment later to see how much simpler the solution becomes when they are able to use functions and complex data structures. See the "redux" files attached here.

Engagement Excellence

Wallpaper Tessellation Creator

In this assignment, students will create geometric tilings in Python. Students work to draw tessellations whose specifications are provided, and have the opportunity to design their own. Students practice problem decomposition to build logic that draws a single element, a row of elements and finally a plane tiled with rows.

This assignment is essentially Robert Muller's "Problem Set 2: Tessellation" assignment, available in the EngageCSedu repository. We scaffold that material and add additional resources: (i) background materials are provided to help students with the geometry of the four mandatory elements to be tiled (squares, rings, hexagons, octagons); (ii) the assignment flow starts with simple shapes before moving to complex ones; (iii) a template is provided that gives function specifications, scaffolding the decomposition; (iv) test cases are given that allow students to check the correctness of their individual functions as they build them; and (iv) a potential grading rubric is provided.

CPE123 (CS1) Syllabus

This course is one version of Cal Poly's CPE123, an introductory course targeting incoming freshmen. All sections of CPE123 have the goal of engaging students in "demonstrating the relevance of computing to the world around them" by challenging "students with creative, constructivist challenges that are relevant to their own lives.” It assumes no prior experience in computer science.

In this version of CPE123, computational art is used as a means for exploring beginning computer programming, logic and math. The course uses Processing, an open source programming language and IDE built on the Java programming language.

“The hidden agenda of the class is to make you fall in love with the ability to translate thoughts into reality—also known as computer science.” - J. Clements

[Unlike other collection items, syllabi are not peer reviewed.]

Computational Creativity Exercise (CCE): Marble Maze I

In this assignment students work as a team to build, using only specified materials, a structure through which a marble will travel,  Students first work independently developing their own segment of the structure and then work collaboratively to construct a final structure. Students are required to video tape the execution of a marble traveling through the structure lasting at least n seconds. This exercise will allow students to practice problem decomposition, abstraction, generalization, and evaluation, and also debugging and testing.

This exercise was developed as part of the NSF-funded Computational Creativity project at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Dynamic Word Clouds

This project, the 4th unit in a year-long high school introductory programming course, teaches students how to write programs that draw text objects in an individually designed word cloud. It uses the programming language, Processing (, which is a simplified form of Java.

In the 1st section of the project, students learn these new text methods, and are introduced to the for-each loop. They learn how to isolate transformation operations [ translate() / rotate() ] - that are used to render each word - from having side-effects on subsequently drawn words by book-ending drawing commands between pushMatrix() and popMatrix() calls. In the 2nd section, students derive and implement the mathematics involved in animating the word cloud.

The Word Cloud program intertwines these new concepts with the major programming concepts revisited from the first 3 units: variables, conditional statements, Boolean expressions, arrays, classes, iteration and movement.

Summary of the objectives of this assignment:

Engagement Excellence
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