The Best of Creative Computing Volume 1 (published 1976)

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Reading, Writing, and Computing (learning activity, computer literacy, puzzle)

graphic of page

A new learning activity from Creative Computing....

Reading, Writing, and Computing

Walter Koetke
Lexington High School, Massachusetts

Problems Column Editor: Walter Koetke, Math Dept., Lexington High School,
Lexington, MA 02173. Please send solutions and suggestions for problems directly
to Mr. Koetke.

When Alex was admitted to Hopeful Hospital he knew he was very ill. After a
thorough examination Dr. Frank concluded that Alex had a severe case of
sleepitis, and that the proper treatment was lots of activity and exercise.
Because Hopeful Hospital was very modern and up-to-date, the medical facilities
included a computer to assist in the diagnosis and treatment of unusual
illnesses. Dr. Frank entered Alex's symptoms into the computer, and the computer
concluded that Alex had a severe case of exhaustitis. The computer also
indicated that the proper treatment for exhaustitis was no activity, no exercise
and lots of sleep. Dr. Frank considered his original diagnosis and the computer
diagnosis, then decided to go along with the computer. The doctor prescribed no
activity, no exercise and lots of sleep. Alex died one week after beginning the
prescribed treatment. After his death, a group of doctors re-examined Alex's
records and demonstrated that Alex actually had sleepitis, and that the
prescription of no activity, no exercise and lots of sleep was largely
responsible for his death.

Who should be blamed for Alex's death?

a) The computer - for making an incorrect diagnosis
b) The programmer - because the computer's incorrect diagnosis was probably a
programming error
cl Dr. Frank -for making an incorrect diagnosis
d) Alex - for getting sick in the first place
el No one - we all have to go sometime

lf you answered a or b, or even gave serious consideration to answering a or b,
then your computer literacy is indeed open to question. An elementary school
education is inadequate if students leave without some idea of what computers
can and cannot do. Society's use of computers is so extensive that even school
dropouts are likely to use and certain to be affected by computers. Clearly
then, the need for schools to carefully assess their efforts toward computer
literacy of all students is essential.

If you need some support when you attempt to stir whatever is bogging down the
implementation of computer literacy in your school, town or what-have-you,
consider the following:

Dr. Arthur W. Luehrmann of Dartmouth College presented a paper titled "Should
the Computer Teach the Student, or Vice Versa?" at the AFIPS 1972 Spring Joint
Computer Conference. In this truly classic, penetrating paper Luehrmann raises
questions such as "how much longer will a computer illiterate be considered
educated? How long will he be considered employable and for what jobs . . ."
Luehrmann's article inspired the title of this one - for developing skills in
reading, writing and computing should now be the fundamental objective of

As you are probably aware, the NAEP (National Assessment of Educational
Progress) conducted an extensive program in 1972-73 to determine the nature and
effectiveness of mathematics education in the United States. ln 1977-78, the
NAEP will again assess the state of mathematics education - but something new
will be added.



At that time they will also separately assess the nature and effectiveness of
computer literacy education. How well will the students of your school and your
town reflect a basic knowledge of computer literacy?

Computer literacy can not only be profitable, but it also might record your name
for posterity. Several students at the California Institute of Technology
recently used a Computer to help generate their entries for a sweepstakes type
of contest being run by the McDonald's Corp. The students not only won first
prize, a car - not a pile of hamburgers, but also won a large percentage of all
the other prizes. While McDonald's was objecting and claiming that the students
took unfair advantage of all other contestants, their rival, Burger King, was
presenting CIT with a scholarship in the name of the student who originated the

Since one of the primary purposes of this column is to suggest interesting
problems, let's redirect our attention in that direction. Three of the following
four problems are for those "getting started." Finding examples other than the
very standard ones can be time consuming, particularly for teachers who are
developing entire computer related units. Perhaps these will help.

1. Writing a program that generates or tests for prime numbers is a very good
standard example for those learning to program. Usually, however, it is an end
in itself. This problem is intended to provide an application for a prime
testing algorithm.

Suppose that k people are standing in a circle. After choosing one person to
begin, the people count-off in a clockwise direction around the circle. If a
person counts-off with a prime number he must leave the circle. The winner is
the last person who remains.

Consider one example, say k = 6.

Then the people appear as

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