The University of Arizona

Field Guide


The project is developing an on-line service, the Field Guide, that presents extant scientific theories, thereby helping people discover and apply the scientific principles of computing. It will enable people to find practical information about how computational things work, analogous to the Boy Scout Handbook helping the scout out in the field. The Field Guide will be seeded by the work of this project and will incorporate community involvement in creating useful new entries.

The Field Guide is organized around the scientific theories of computing; these theories yield beautiful and elegant discoveries and insights that can be applied across the entire domain of computing. They are the bases for wonderful stories, experiences, surprising predictions, and experiments.

The architecture of the guide will include four main dimensions.

  • Two orientations. End-user (for casual or involved interaction with users) and Instruction (for LabRat counselors, middle- and high-school teachers, and undergraduate teachers).
  • Three perspectives. Mathematics, Science, and Engineering. The science perspective is currently the least emphasized in computing; it has the most potential for development.
  • Four levels of entry. Beginner (for example, CS Unplugged for middle schoolers), Intermediate (for example, LabRats and curriculum essentials for high schoolers), Advanced (for undergraduates), and Research (for graduate students). Most of the material in the current great principles website is at the advanced and research levels.
  • Seven categories. Principles would be accessed through Denning's' seven categories of the Great Principles framework.
A Field Guide for the Science of Computation
National Science Foundation, CNS-0938948 (CPATH)
October 2009 to September 2012
Peter Denning (PI) and Richard T. Snodgrass (PI)

Jennifer Dempsey, Richard T. Snodgrass, Isabel Kishi, and Allison Titcomb, The Emerging Role of Self-Perception in Student Intentions, SIGCSE 2015. March 2015. (pdf).

Jaime Elizabeth Sauls, Changing Perceptions of Computer Science, undergraduate honors thesis, May 2012, 35 pages. (pdf).

Gavin Joel Simons, Teaching and Visualizing Fitts’ Law, undergraduate honors thesis, December 2011, 18 pages. (pdf)

Drew Mose Mahrt, An Interactive High School Lab for Exploring Cognitive Load Theory, undergraduate honors thesis, 16 pages. (pdf)


Jennifer Dempsey, Richard Snodgrass, Isabel Kishi, and Allison L. Titcomb have had a paper entitled "The Emerging Role of Self-Perceptions in Student Intentions" accepted to the SIGCSE confrence for 2015.

Jaimie Sauls presented her research at the ACM SIGCSE Student Research Competition held March 1-3, 2012 in Raleigh, North Carolina. Jaimie completed her honors thesis on developing an experimental lab for queueing theory.

Jaimie's poster was very popular! (Click on the thumbnail below to see it in all of its glory.) graphic

Jaimie explaining how LoCuS labs can change student perceptions of computer science.

On February 24-25, 2011 Rama Rao Cheepurupalli from Luz Guerrero Early College Academy and Matthew Jonhston from Basis School Tucson participated in the annual CPATH Research Experiences for Teachers (RET) Meeting in Arlington, VA. During this meeting, RET teachers connected with other RET participants from institutions throughout the country to share their experiences. Rama and Matt also took part in a six-week research activity during summer 2010, working with Dr. Richard Snodgrass at University of Arizona to create interactive labs to integrate Computational Thinking (CT) into K-12 classes.

On October 28, 2009, the project was featured in UANews and subsequently in ACM TechNews.


We are currently developing the LoCuS (Laboratory fOr CompUter Science) System, which is instructional software for teaching computer science theories through experiments (that is, laboratory exercises akin to those found in other sciences like biology, chemistry, and physics). A locus (Latin for "place") is a "collection of points which share a property" or "the path through which a point moves to fulfill a given condition." Our goal is for LoCuS to define a new place to emphasize the science of computation as well as a new path for computer science, in the form of labs.

LoCuS is currently under active development and will be made available for public use. We want to make LoCuS available for use in school curricula throughout the country and elsewhere. Hence, we will provide teacher instructional material and ancillary computer programs along with the labs.

Webmaster: Andrey Kvochko