More Bang for Your Byte!
More Bang for Your Byte!
Documentary and Computer Programming


They delight children, scare dogs, and are illegal in most states. What are they? Fireworks of course! Fireworks and their derivatives have been used to celebrate various occasions throughout history in a wide variety of cultures.  So, what are we celebrating? Computer science itself. For this challenge, bring to life the story of someone who made a big breakthrough in the field of computer science with a brief documentary, and punctuate it all with a custom-programmed fireworks display!

STEAM Challenge 

More Bang for Your Byte! 

Submission Due Date: March 27, 2020 

Designed for Middle and High School Students

Table of Contents

  • The Challenge
  • Assumptions and Logistics
  • Process
  • Presentation of Learning
  • Meridian Support Resources
  • Evaluation Rubric
  • Essential Questions
  • Student Proficiencies
  • Curricular Correlations:
    CSTA – 2-AP-12, 3A-AP-13, 3A-AP-14
    NGSS – HS-ETS1-2
    CC MATH– HSF.BF.A.1,
    CC ELA – W3, W4, SL1, SL5, RH9

Range of Activities

  • Primary and Secondary Source Research of a Computer Science Breakthrough
  • Programming of a Computer Graphics Animation
  • Production of a Documentary to Educate and Engage
  • Digital Literacy Skills – Video – Pre-production, Production and Post-production
  • 21st Century Skills: Creativity, Collaboration, Critical Thinking, Presentational Skills

The Challenge

They delight children, scare dogs, and are illegal in most states. What are they? Fireworks of course! Fireworks and their derivatives have been used to celebrate various occasions throughout history in a wide variety of cultures.

Of course, the friendly neighborhood incendiary device is probably not something you want in your schools. You could try drawing a firework display to capture the joy, but it’s not quite the same. Why not draw it, but add a little extra life with computer animation?

So, what are we celebrating? Computer science itself. For this challenge, bring to life the story of someone who made a big breakthrough in the field of computer science with a brief documentary, and punctuate it all with a custom-programmed fireworks display!

Deliverables include:

  • Computer Science Breakthrough Digital Story with Fireworks Display (this is the only Meridian Stories deliverable)
  • Research Outline (at teacher’s discretion)
  • Fireworks Pseudocode (at teacher’s discretion)
  • Documentary Storyboard (at teacher’s discretion)

Assumptions and Logistics

Time Frame– We recommend that this Meridian Stories Competition takes place inside of a three to four-week time frame.

Length– All Meridian Stories submissions should be under 4 minutes in length, unless otherwise specified.

Slate– All media work must begin with a slate that provides:

  1. the title of the piece;
  2. the name of the school submitting;
  3. the wording ‘Permission Granted’ which gives Meridian Stories the right to a) publicly display the submission in question on, as linked from, related to or in support of Meridian Stories digital media; and b) use or reference it for educational purposes only in any all media; and
  4. We strongly recommend that students do not put their last names on the piece either at the start or finish, during the credits. 

Submissions– Keep in mind that each school can only submit three submissions per Competition (so while the entire class can participate in the Challenge, only three can be submitted to Meridian Stories for Mentor review and scoring).

Teacher Reviews– All reviews by the teacher are at the discretion of the teacher and all suggested paper deliverables are due only to the teacher. The only deliverable to Meridian Stories is the media work.

Teacher’s Role and Technology Integrator– While it is helpful to have a Technology Integrator involved, they are not usually necessary: the students already know how to produce the media. And if they don’t, part of their challenge is to figure it out. They will! The teacher’s primary function in these Challenges is to guide the students as they engage with the content.  You don’t need to know editing, sound design, shooting or storyboarding: you just need to know your content area, while assisting them with time management issues.

Digital Rules/Literacy– We strongly recommend that all students follow the rules of Digital Citizenry in their proper usage and/or citation of images, music and text taken from other sources. This recommendation includes producing a citations page at the end of your entry, if applicable. See the Digital Rules area in the Meridian Resources Center section of the site for guidance.

Location– Try not to shoot in a classroom at your school. The classroom, no matter how you dress it up, looks like a classroom and can negatively impact the story you are trying to tell.

Collaboration– We strongly recommend that students work in teams of 3-4: part of the educational value is around building collaborative skill sets. But students may work individually.


Below is a suggested breakdown for the students’ work.

During Phase I student teams will:

  • Decide on a computer science breakthrough to focus on for the challenge.
    • A good place to start is by researching how some of your favorite technologies came about. How is it that your phone screen can detect your finger’s touch, or that your texts can be sent wirelessly across the airwaves? Examine the tech around you that you take for granted and question its inner workings.
  • Research your chosen breakthrough by analyzing primary sources (where available) and secondary sources.
    • Since many of these events have occurred relatively recently, it can be surprising how many papers, letters, emails, and various other records you can find from the pioneers of modern technology. Examine these primary sources so you are better able to understand how the scientist was feeling as she or he progressed towards discovery.
    • Secondary sources can be good to understand the impact of the technology months or years down the line, another important component of the story you are going to tell and celebrate.
  • Outline your research with a focus on the key points that you want to communicate in this documentary. We recommend aiming for between three and six main story ideas to carry your narrative forward. Include samples of proposed visuals that will assist your narrative.
    • Teacher’s Option: Research Outline– The teacher may require teams to hand in an organized outline of their research, citing primary and secondary sources.
  • Research what it takes to use computer graphics to create a fireworks display and select a programming language to use.
    • For those new to coding, MIT’s Scratch is a graphical coding interface that will get you up and running quickly, with an easy-to-use interface that creates graphical output and a wealth of help online if you get stuck.
    • If you have a programming language or framework with which you’re already familiar, use that instead. Just make sure you can get a visual output. Some possibilities include PyGame for Python, Love2D for Lua, CSS animations in Javascript, or Processing for Java or Python.
      • Teacher’s OptionPseudocode – A common practice in programming is to outline a solution to a program in ‘pseudocode’ before actually programming the implementation. This pseudocode is similar to a real program, with ‘if’ statements and the like, but is closer to plain English and lacks the complex syntax of programming languages. The teacher may require teams to hand in a pseudocode implementation of their fireworks to show planning.

During Phase II student teams will:

  • Brainstorm ways you can tell the story. For instance, consider how you can play with voice – who is telling the story? The featured scientist? An uninvolved onlooker? An arch nemesis? Seemingly straight forward stories can be more engaging when looked at through a new lens.
    • Think about content, too. Are you focused on the breakthrough itself, or the ramifications of the breakthrough on society? The latter could provide an opportunity to work in interviews with teachers or community members. (If you are interviewing, your interviewees may need to sign a Release Form giving you permission to record, edit and post this discussion online. Research generic and simple Release Forms online to find the right language for you.)
    • Even though it’s a story about science, we recommend focusing on the human aspect. It’s often easier to make your viewers care about other humans than computer algorithms. Use this to your advantage.
  • Draft a script and storyboard for your documentary
    • Teacher’s Option: Storyboard – The teacher may require teams to hand in a storyboard, with proposed voice over and/or interview candidates, that details the rough skeleton and narrative arc of their documentary.
  • Create your fireworks show in a manner that fits whatever computer science program you have chosen.
    • While you won’t have finished the documentary yet, you should have a fleshed-out storyboard. Think about how your fireworks display can feed into your story. Maybe your chosen scientist unveiled their invention at the world’s fair, and the fireworks display comes on as the sun sets and they reflect on their work.
    • Keep in mind the advantages of making the fireworks in code. Don’t just do one firework, make it a whole spectacle with changing colors and different patterns. The medium is as limitless as you make it.
    • Make your code modular and general.
      • Modular code doesn’t just function as a whole but is composed of a series of smaller parts that could also function independently. Designing code like this makes it reusable, which is a hallmark of good code. Planning out your approach before you begin is a good way to make your code modular and save time later on.
      • General code is code that works not just for one case, but for many. Rather than make a set of blocks in Scratch that moves an image in a square 10 pixels wide, make a set of blocks that takes a number as an input and then moves an image in a square the size of the number. This allows you to reuse your code, as addressed above.
      • By making your code modular and general, you are taking advantage of the unique opportunities that the medium of programming provides. With other methods, each additional object added to the scene takes equal effort. With programming, you can make a style of firework once and then reuse it. With this in mind, a fireworks display demonstrating modularand generalcode will likely not have many unique fireworks fired once, but rather many of the same fireworks fired repeatedly but in different patterns. The unique element comes not from the individual item, but the composition of many similar items.
    • Remember to draw on math to help make your fireworks. If you know that gravity pulls things down at 9.8m/s/s, then doesn’t it seem sensible to have the particles of your firework fall in a realistic manner? Just make them move down 9.8pixels/s/s. While the translation may not always be this literal, remember to draw on what you know about the physical world when trying to construct simulations of it.
  • Package the fireworks display for inclusion in your documentary.
    • The simplest way to get your fireworks into your documentary is likely to be using your device’s in-built screen recorder and then adding that video to your documentary in post-production.
  • Finalize your documentary script and image research.
  • Pre-produce the video:
    • Scout locations for shooting (if some of this is being shot on location);
    • Create costumes, props and other set pieces, as needed;
    • Prepare the logistics for the actual shooting of the video (including securing the details for interviews, if relevant); and
    • Rehearse the scenes that will comprise the video.

During Phase III student teams will:

  • Shoot the video.
  • Record the voice-over or narration, as necessary.
  • Edit the video, adding stills and graphics as desired.
  • Post-produce the video, adding music, sound effects, and your fireworks!

Presentation of Learning

Meridian Stories is a proud partner of the non-profit Share Your Learning, which is spearheading the movement of over five million students to publicly share their work as a meaningful part of their educational experience.

The workforce considers Presentational Skills to be a key asset and we encourage you to allow students to practice this skill set as often as possible. These short videos provide a great opportunity for kids to practice their public presentational skills.

According to Share Your Learning, Presentations of Learning (POL) promote…

  • Student Ownership, Responsibility & Engagement. POLs can serve as a powerful rite of passage at the end of [a project]. By reflecting on their growth over time in relation to academic and character goals, grounded in evidence from their work, students are encouraged to take ownership of their learning. Just as an artist wants their portfolio to represent their best work, POLs encourage students to care deeply about the work they will share.
  • Community Pride & Involvement. When peers, teachers and community members come together to engage with student work and provide authentic feedback, they become invested in students’ growth and serve as active contributors to the school community.
  • Equity. POLs ensure that all students are seen and provide insight into what learning experiences students find most meaningful and relevant to their lives.

Meridian Stories’own research indicates this to be a really useful exercise for one additional reason:  Students actually learn from their peers’ presentations – it is useful to hear a perspective that is not just the teacher’s.

It is with this in mind that we you encourage you to plan an event – it could be just an end-of-the-week class or an event where parents, teachers and student peers are invited – to allow the students to showcase their Meridian Stories projects. For more free resources that will support this planning, visit

Meridian Support Resources

Meridian Stories provides two forms of support for the student teams:

1.    Meridian Innovators and Artists – This is a series of three to four-minute videos featuring artists and innovative professionals who offer important advice, specifically for Meridian Stories, in the areas of creativity and production.

2.    Media Resource Collection – These are short documents that offer student teams key tips in the areas of creativity, production, game design and digital citizenry.

Recommended review, as a team, for this Challenge include:

Meridian Innovators and Artists Media Resource Collection
The Importance of Character in Storytelling – Scott Nash

Documentary Films – Sarah Childress

Interviewing Techniques – Tom Pierce

Nonfiction – Margaret Heffernan

“Creating Storyboards, Framing a Shot”

“Creative Brainstorming Techniques”

“Creating a Short Documentary”

“Six Principles of Documentary Film Making”

Evaluation Rubric – More Bang for Your Byte!


Criteria 1-10
Modular Code Code is written in a purposeful manner, with many separate functional components working together towards the end goal
Algorithmic Thinking Fireworks display takes advantage of unique medium presented by programming in order to make complex visuals comprised of many similar component parts
Comprehension of Topic The documentary displays compelling evidence of understanding the importance and impact of chosen scientific breakthrough


Criteria 1-10
Narrative Clarity The documentary has a clear and consistent tone that is well organized, lively, and delivers an engaging narrative
Integration of Content Scientific concepts are integrated into the story and do not detract from, but instead enhance, the pacing of the narrative
Pathos (appeal to emotion) The documentary leverages the human characters driving the story to connect with the viewer


Criteria 1-10
Use of Mixed Visual Media The use of video, stills, animation, graphics, and/or text was creative, visually interesting, and relevant to the topic
Editing The documentary is edited cleanly and effectively, resulting in an engaging viewing experience
Integration of Documentary and Computer Programming The mix of documentary style media production and computer programmed fireworks was smooth and creatively presented

21st CENTURY SKILLS COMMAND (for teachers only)

Criteria 1-10
Collaborative Thinking The group demonstrated flexibility in making compromises and valued the contributions of each group member
Creativity and Innovation The group brainstormed many inventive ideas and was able to evaluate, refine and implement them effectively
Initiative and Self-Direction The group set attainable goals, worked independently and managed their time effectively, demonstrating a disciplined commitment to the project

Essential Questions

  1. What are some key computer science innovations and what is the story behind these moments in the continuing evolution of computer science?
  2. How can one use technical programming skills as a means to realize a creative vision?
  3. How can one design code that is reusable and generalized?
  4. How can one leverage the emotional investment audiences have in characters to engage them in educational topics?
  5. How is information gathered from primary sources different from information gathered from secondary sources?
  6. How has immersion in the creation of original content and the production of digital media—exercising one’s creativity, critical thinking and digital literacy skills—deepened the overall educational experience?
  7. How has working on a team—practicing one’s collaborative skills—changed the learning experience?

Student Proficiencies

  1. The student will research the key facts behind a significant computer science innovation and organize this research into a coherent narrative.
  2. The student will learn how a developed technical skillset can be an instrument to communicate a creative vision.
  3. The student will learn how to design code in a modular way using generalized thinking in order to make more maintainable code that is easier for others to reuse.
  4. The student will learn how to tell character-driven stories to make abstract and technical concepts more approachable.
  5. The student will learn to use primary and secondary sources to analyze how sources close chronologically to an event differ from those more temporally removed.
  6. The student will utilize key 21stcentury skills, with a focus on creativity, critical thinking and digital literacy, in their process of translating scientific content into a new narrative format.
  7. The student will have an increased awareness of the challenges and rewards of team collaboration. Collaboration – the ability to work with others – is considered one of the most important 21stcentury skills to develop in students as they prepare for life after secondary school.

Curricular Correlations (CTA, NGSS and CC)

The More Bang for Your Byte! Challenge addresses a range of curricular objectives that have been articulated by three nationally recognized sources:

  1. The Computer Science Teacher’s Association;
  2. The Next Generation Science Standards;
  3. The Common Core Curricular Standards – Mathematics; and
  4. The Common Core Curricular Standards – English Language Arts & History/Social Studies.

Below please find the standards that are being addressed, either wholly or in part.

Computer Science Teacher’s Association
2-AP-12 Design and iteratively develop programs that combine control structures, including nested loops and compound conditionals
3A-AP-13 Create prototypes that use algorithms to solve computational problems by leveraging prior student knowledge and personal interests.
3A-AP-14 Use lists to simplify solutions, generalizing computational problems instead of repeatedly using simple variables.

Next Generation Science Standards
HS-ETS1-2 Design a solution to a complex real-world problem by breaking it down into smaller, more manageable problems that can be solved through engineering.


Common Core – Mathematics
CCSS.MATH.Content.HSF.BF.A.1 Write a function that describes a relationship between two quantities
CCSS.MATH.CONTENT.HSF.IF.A.1 Understand that a function from one set (called the domain) to another set (called the range) assigns to each element of the domain exactly one element of the range. If f is a function and x is an element of its domain, then f(x) denotes the output of f corresponding to the input x. The graph of f is the graph of the equation y = f(x).

Common Core – English Language Arts & History/Social Studies


Text Types and Purposes

Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, well-chosen details, and well-structured event sequences.


Production and Distribution of Writing

Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.


Comprehension and Collaboration

Initiate and participate effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one- on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grades 8–12 topics, texts, and issues, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.


Presentation of Knowledge and Ideas

Make strategic use of digital media (e.g., textual, graphical, audio, visual, and interactive elements) in presentations to enhance understanding of findings, reasoning, and evidence and to add interest.


Integration of Knowledge and Ideas

Integrate information from diverse sources, both primary and secondary, into a coherent understanding of an idea or event, noting discrepancies among sources.




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