The Thinkathon was designed as a way of preparing students for their first written programming exam.  Fuelled only by their brain waves and some pizza and juice, with no help from a machine, first year programming students spent three evenings working through nearly 200 questions related to their exam.  The students were struck by how different it is to have to think about problems and programs away from a machine, and how much the event would help them in the exam.  The Thinkathon concept is backed by research findings dating back to the 80s and validated by staff at the School’s Centre for CS Education (CCSE) in their recent CPD work with secondary school teachers.  At the core is the notion that you can’t write creatively until you can read well, which appears to apply as strongly to programming languages as to spoken languages.  Furthermore, the CCSE team were basing the Thinkathon on the Mastery Learning concept, where a learner only moves from one concept to the next when they have fully mastered it.  There’s more to do here though - 200 questions is not enough, and working out the best developmental sequence of questions is an open research topic.

The question packs we used can be found below.