Project Computercade - Arizona - 1960
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Project Computercade

John Featherston demonstrates arithmetic to Village Meadows students using IBM computer. Sponsored by the University of Arizona, the Computercade has had excellent reception wherever given.




The mushrooming of large digital computer installations within the last decade has solved a great many computing problems in science and industry, but it has created at least one new problem.

The numerous popular accounts of these machines give glowing and often accurate descriptions of the remarkable tasks performed, though seldom of the method actually used by the machine.

It would be expected that this favorable publicity and public acceptance of these machines would result in an increased interest in applied mathematics as a career on the part of high school and college students. Actually, the effect has been slight and often reversed.

The reason for this becomes clear when considered from the student viewpoint. The student is impressed by accounts of ultra high-speed, complex machine operation, but this often seems a subject far removed from his or her everyday mathematics class.

It could even seem impractical to study methods of solution for single equations when these machines can solve simultaneous systems of many equations in a few seconds. The existence of powerful computers would appear to make the study of basic mathematics obsolete.

It does not require much experience with these machines to realize that the opposite is the case. The real limitation on machine accomplishment is set by the availability of well trained, creative program­mers and system analysts capable of developing new applications.

Competence in this field is not gained as the result of a single course, but comes as the result of a long term interest in and study of applied mathematics. The benefits from an ever increasing use of mathematics five to 10 years hence depends in a large measure on the interests and attitudes of today's high school students.                                                                                           ­

Not only is he or she the potential programmer, but equally im­portant, they are certainly the future businessmen, chemists, bankers, surveyors, clerks - in short, the future users of computing systems.

A Proposed Solution

The solution to the problem is quite simple, at least in principle. The high school student must be shown that

1. The impressive feats of large computers are really the end result of the machines' performance of a series of basic arithmetic steps.

2. These individual steps are exactly those being presented in the students' present mathematics classes.

3. High school math courses followed by university work in applied mathematics can be stepping stones to a rewarding career.

A preliminary study of the problem has shown that a series of demonstration lectures presented at high school class assemblies throughout the state could be most effective if an actual working computer could be demonstrated. The machine would have to be large enough to be representative of modern computers. The actual arithmetic procedures would have to be visible to the audience.

The purpose of the program would be to show the student that modern mathematics is useful, challenging, and above all, understandable.


The Computercade

A 50 minute lecture demonstration entitled "Adventure With Numbers" was prepared featuring actual operation of the IBM type 604 electronic computer. This machine was chosen because it is the most widely used of present computers. It is a medium size high speed machine which has been provided with special features for demonstration purposes:

1. It can be operated at speeds so slow that the lecturer can describe the individual steps of the solution as they occur. One typical problem requires 12 minutes when solved in this manner.

2. The status of each part of the machine is visible to the audience at all times. This is made possible through the use of a special display system which has been developed at the University of Arizona.

3. The machine can then resolve the example problems at normal speed. The above mentioned 12 minute problem is solved in one­half second.

4. The entire equipment is transportable by truck.

The program is supported by the University to further an understanding of the ever increasing importance of modern mathematics and machines, as well as the also increased requirements this places on the student interested in a career in this field.


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A thing done right today means no trouble tomorrow.


From the J.R. Hammond Collection at SMECC


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