I am helping design a CS-related activity for a Let's Talk Science competition, which promotes STEM amongst high school students. In the competition, teams of six students will move from station to station, trying to complete each as quickly as possible.
One station might give the team a metre stick, then ask them to measure the height of a building. (This can be solved by using similar triangles to estimate the building's height.) Time penalties are added to the team's completion time depending on how close their answer was.
My constraints are thus:
- Most students won't have CS/programming knowledge
- Challenge should not require a computer
- Idea should challenge teams of six students for 15-20 minutes
- Challenge must have clear answer that can be objectively scored (not judged)
One reasonably good challenge presents a sentence encoded with a Caesar cipher, then asks the students to decode it. The person running the station give a short explanation of what a Caesar cipher is, then leave the teams to decode the text. Time penalties are awarded based on correctness -- each incorrect character adds a 30-second penalty.
The Caesar cipher idea has been used often in the past, however, and I'm trying to develop something novel. I have been through the various activities on CS Unplugged, but none appealed to me -- the exercises I saw were generally aimed at illustration and not suitable for competition, were too simple, or required too much explanation of background knowledge.
Do you have any ideas on what would make a fun CS-related challenge for teams of six high school students?