Pangat : Finding CS Parallels in Non-Computing Environments

A letter from one Fred Murphy published in Communications of the ACM in June 2015 excited me as a teacher as it explained how computer science can be learned even in a cafeteria. I have cited this article numerous times to my students explaining them that resources should never keep you from learning. Word Pangat originates from Sanskrit term Pankti meaning line. In India, Pangat is preferred way to serve food where people sit on the floor forming a line with their plates on floor. Food is served by volunteers who carry different food items in containers. There is a Wikipedia article on it (although it reflects only Sikh perspective, Pangat is common across all communities and regions in India). Pangat volunteers would have mastered some basic principles which can be easily correlated with commonly used principles in Computer Science. Here are a few of them.

  1. Priority Scheduling : When multiple volunteers serve food at different speeds, the slower one gives way to the faster. For example, a volunteer serving rice will naturally be slower than one serving chutney so it gets priority.
  2. De-fragmentation : Items have to be rearranged time to time as volunteers sometimes misplace an item on the plate or items are spread in the plate.
  3. Flags : A person denies more food being served in the plat when she feels that she is full.
  4. Garbage Collection : Pangats generally by virtue require that you eat what you take and clean your own plate.

We find computer science theories, metaphors and parallels can be found in non-computing environments if observe closely. CS Unplugged is a collection of free learning activities that teach Computer Science through engaging games and puzzles that use cards, string, crayons and lots of running around. References :

  1. Reaching a Broader Population of Students through ‘Unplugged’ Activities, Thomas J. Cortina, Communications of the ACM