The Green Light

In 1976, when I was a school student in Grade 8, we had a wonderful science teacher who had a part-time job at night running the mainframes at Macquarie University. He managed to obtain an old Fortran punchcard machine that he brought to school and taught us to program with, and every day he would take our punched cards to the university with him and run our simulations late at night (Remember how much money computer time used to cost back then?)

As a science project, our whole class walked up the nearest busy traffic light near the school and we counted cars as they went through all the various possible turn options at the intersection. We took all this raw data back to school, punched it onto the Fortran cards to adjust the timing of the lights to make them more efficient. Each day our teacher would come back to class with reams and reams of dot-matrix computer printouts showing graphs of the traffic flow numbers. We would get our groups’ printout, analyse it, work out ways to improve it, and then go back to the punchcard machine to revise our timings and create a new batch of cards. This process was repeated lots of times until we had a perfectly adjusted timing light sequence.

Was this part of the standard science curriculum for Grade 8 in 1976? I doubt it. But as you can see, I remember it like it was yesterday and it was one of the best experiences of my school days. It was “hard fun”, it was an authentic, real-world task. And with the level of thinking and programming and learning involved, it was probably way above the normal expectations of Grade 8 students.

Maybe that’s why I liked it so much…

CC BY-SA 4.0 The Green Light by Chris Betcher is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.