Lesson 6: Rapid Research - Format Showdown


In this lesson students will conduct a small amount of research to explore a file format either currently in use or from history. Students will conduct research in order to complete a "one-pager" that summarizes their findings. They will also design a computational artifact (video, audio, graphic, etc.) that succinctly summarizes the advantages of their format over other similar ones.

This lesson is intended to be a quick, short version of a performance task in which students rapidly do some research and respond in writing. It might take 2 class days but should not take more. The goal is to develop skills that students will use when they complete the actual Explore PT later in the year.


This lesson concludes Unit 2's investigation of file sizes, formats, metadata, and compression. The activity is designed for students to practice research skills that will be beneficial when completing the Explore PT while also applying the knowledge they have developed across the unit. The "showdown" aspect of the project is designed to both encourage students to think more deeply about the inherent tradeoffs of different file formats and also provide a motivating context in which to perform their research. The computational artifact completed in this project has a direct parallel to the computational artifact students are expected to design for the Explore PT.


Warm Up (5 mins)

Activity (90 mins)

Wrap Up (10-60 mins)

View on Code Studio


Students will be able to:

  • Identify reliable sources of information when doing research
  • Synthesize information taken from multiple online sources
  • Create an artifact (video, image, slide, poster, etc.) to communicate information about a computing topic.



Heads Up! Please make a copy of any documents you plan to share with students.

For the Students

Teaching Guide

Warm Up (5 mins)

Prompt: Imagine I was comparing two different file formats for representing images. All I tell you that one of them is "better" than the other. Based on everything that you've learned in this unit, what might "better" mean? Try to come up with at least three ideas and incorporate vocabulary from the unit.

Discussion Goal

Goal: There's no expectation that students come up with every reason listed. The goal is to get students in the mindset of comparing formats. This discussion should also highlight that there's lots of different ways to consider one format better than the other. This is also why there's so many different formats!

Discuss: Have students quietly write their responses, then share with a neighbor, then discuss with the class. Some potential responses might include:

  • Better compression ratio or better quality image even when compressed
  • Can hold larger or more complex types of information
  • Different kinds of metadata
  • Includes features not found in other formats
  • Used by more people
  • Open, no licensing fees
  • Newer and optimized for modern technology


Today we're going to dig a little deeper into this question by doing a Rapid Research project. Not only are you going to research your own file format, you're going to make the case why yours is the best!

Activity (90 mins)

Rapid Research - Format Showdown

Distribute: Rapid Research - Format Showdown - Activity Guide and Rapid Research - Format Showdown - One-pager Template and review as a class.

Teaching Tip

Differences from the actual Explore PT: The actual Explore Performance Task will be completed over 8 class hours. The fact that this schedule is significantly shorter reflects several differences in this Practice PT.

  • Students are not choosing a computing innovation by the College Board's definition (file formats and protocols do not process data, include program code, etc.)
  • Students are not completing most of the prompts of the Explore PT
  • Research in this project is presumed to be less detailed

Below is a suggested schedule for completing the project.

Day 1 - Choose Format, Research, Begin One-Pager

Review Activity Guide and Rubric:

At the beginning of the project, emphasize the importance of reviewing the one-pager template and rubric. Students may assume that more is required of them than is actually the case.

Choosing Your Format: It is recommended that you place a time limit on this process (e.g. 10 minutes). You may even consider simply assigning formats yourself. They are all essentially equivalent in terms of difficulty. There's minimal difference in terms of "quality" so long as students take a creative angle towards the presentation. All these formats have been used by someone at some point, so their job is to find out why and creatively play up that angle.

Teaching Tip

Reinforce Research Skills from the Previous Lesson: As students saw in the previous lesson, performing research on computing topics is a skill unto itself. Reinforce skills reviewed in the previous lesson as students move to this part of the activity.

Conduct Your Research: This document is intended to serve primarily as a guide to students for identifying online sources of information. The skill students need to develop is identifying useful resources on their own and then synthesizing this information. Being presented with a structured way of doing this means students will have a model for how to complete their research when completing the actual Explore PT.

The "Key Information to Find" highlights specific terminology from the Explore PT that students will benefit from having seen earlier in the course.

Begin One-Pager: Have students begin working on filling in the details of their one-pager as they research.

Day 2 - Complete One-pager and Computational Artifact

Complete One-Pager: Students should continue filling in their one-pagers. Remind students to record their sources of information as they go.

Computational Artifact: Decide if you will encourage students to all create separate kinds of computational artifacts or if they will do them in a unified way. You might have everyone create a slide, a short video (e.g. a 30 second "campaign ad" for their format) etc. Remind students of the requirements for this artifact (noted below):

  • A list of other formats you’d specifically like to target in your computational artifact
  • Three key points you’d like to make in your artifact explaining the benefits of your format

Wrap Up (10-60 mins)

Teaching Tip

Timing Consideration: Having opportuities to share work promotes a communal classroom atmosphere but be thoughtful about time. If you feel you are not pressed for time using a full class period for presentations may be a great way to end the unit, but otherwise you may be looking for a quicker way to share highlights from this project.

Presentation (Optional):

If time allows, students may wish to have an opportunity to share their one-pagers and computational artifacts with one another. Consider other options like creating a “File Formats Hall of Fame” by posting links to all their documents in single shared document. Or even print them out and post them in the room to be reviewed in a gallery walk.

Standards Alignment

View full course alignment

Computer Science Principles

1.1 - Creative development can be an essential process for creating computational artifacts.
1.1.1 - Apply a creative development process when creating computational artifacts. [P2]
  • 1.1.1A - A creative process in the development of a computational artifact can include, but is not limited to, employing nontraditional, nonprescribed techniques; the use of novel combinations of artifacts, tools, and techniques; and the exploration of personal cu
  • 1.1.1B - Creating computational artifacts employs an iterative and often exploratory process to translate ideas into tangible form.
1.2 - Computing enables people to use creative development processes to create computational artifacts for creative expression or to solve a problem.
1.2.1 - Create a computational artifact for creative expression. [P2]
  • 1.2.1A - A computational artifact is anything created by a human using a computer and can be, but is not limited to, a program, an image, audio, video, a presentation, or a web page file.
  • 1.2.1B - Creating computational artifacts requires understanding and using software tools and services.
  • 1.2.1C - Computing tools and techniques are used to create computational artifacts and can include, but are not limited to, programming IDEs, spreadsheets, 3D printers, or text editors.
  • 1.2.1D - A creatively developed computational artifact can be created by using nontraditional, nonprescribed computing techniques.
  • 1.2.1E - Creative expressions in a computational artifact can reflect personal expressions of ideas or interests.
1.2.3 - Create a new computational artifact by combining or modifying existing artifacts. [P2]
  • 1.2.3A - Creating computational artifacts can be done by combining and modifying existing artifacts or by creating new artifacts.
  • 1.2.3C - Combining or modifying existing artifacts can show personal expression of ideas.
1.2.4 - Collaborate in the creation of computational artifacts. [P6]
  • 1.2.4A - A collaboratively created computational artifact reflects effort by more than one person.
  • 1.2.4B - Effective collaborative teams consider the use of online collaborative tools.
  • 1.2.4C - Effective collaborative teams practice interpersonal communication, consensus building, conflict resolution, and negotiation.
  • 1.2.4D - Effective collaboration strategies enhance performance.
  • 1.2.4E - Collaboration facilitates the application of multiple perspectives (including sociocultural perspectives) and diverse talents and skills in developing computational artifacts.
  • 1.2.4F - A collaboratively created computational artifact can reflect personal expressions of ideas.
2.1 - A variety of abstractions built upon binary sequences can be used to represent all digital data.
2.1.1 - Describe the variety of abstractions used to represent data. [P3]
  • 2.1.1B - At the lowest level, all digital data are represented by bits.
  • 2.1.1C - At a higher level, bits are grouped to represent abstractions, including but not limited to numbers, characters, and color.
  • 2.1.1D - Number bases, including binary, decimal, and hexadecimal, are used to represent and investigate digital data.
  • 2.1.1E - At one of the lowest levels of abstraction, digital data is represented in binary (base 2) using only combinations of the digits zero and one.
2.1.2 - Explain how binary sequences are used to represent digital data. [P5]
  • 2.1.2F - A sequence of bits may represent different types of data in different contexts.
2.2 - Multiple levels of abstraction are used to write programs or create other computational artifacts
2.2.1 - Develop an abstraction when writing a program or creating other computational artifacts. [P2]
  • 2.2.1A - The process of developing an abstraction involves removing detail and generalizing functionality.
  • 2.2.1B - An abstraction extracts common features from specific examples in order to generalize concepts.
3.2 - Computing facilitates exploration and the discovery of connections in information.
3.2.1 - Extract information from data to discover and explain connections, patterns, or trends. [P1]
  • 3.2.1G - Metadata is data about data.
  • 3.2.1H - Metadata can be descriptive data about an image, a Web page, or other complex objects.
  • 3.2.1I - Metadata can increase the effective use of data or data sets by providing additional information about various aspects of that data.
3.3 - There are trade offs when representing information as digital data.
3.3.1 - Analyze how data representation, storage, security, and transmission of data involve computational manipulation of information. [P4]
  • 3.3.1D - Lossless data compression reduces the number of bits stored or transmitted but allows complete reconstruction of the original data
  • 3.3.1E - Lossy data compression can significantly reduce the number of bits stored or transmitted at the cost of being able to reconstruct only an approximation of the original data.
  • 3.3.1G - Data is stored in many formats depending on its characteristics (e.g., size and intended use)
  • 3.3.1H - The choice of storage media affects both the methods and costs of manipulating the data it contains.
7.3 - Computing has a global affect -- both beneficial and harmful -- on people and society.
7.3.1 - Analyze the beneficial and harmful effects of computing. [P4]
  • 7.3.1F - Open source and licensing of software and content raise legal and ethical concerns.
  • 7.3.1Q - Open source and free software have practical, business, and ethical impacts on widespread access to programs, libraries, and code.
7.5 - An investigative process is aided by effective organization and selection of resources. Appropriate technologies and tools facilitate the accessing of information and enable the ability to evaluate the credibility of sources.
7.5.1 - Access, manage, and attribute information using effective strategies. [P1]
  • 7.5.1C - Plagiarism is a serious offense that occurs when a person presents another's ideas or words as his or her own. Plagiarism may be avoided by accurately acknowledging sources. 7.5.2 Evaluate online and print sources for appropriateness and credibility [P5]
7.5.2 - Evaluate online and print sources for appropriateness and credibility [P5]
  • 7.5.2A - Determining the credibility of a soruce requires considering and evaluating the reputation and credentials of the author(s), publisher(s), site owner(s), and/or sponsor(s).
  • 7.5.2B - Information from a source is considered relevant when it supports an appropriate claim or the purpose of the investigation

CSTA K-12 Computer Science Standards (2017)

AP - Algorithms & Programming
  • 3A-AP-20 - Evaluate licenses that limit or restrict use of computational artifacts when using resources such as libraries.
DA - Data & Analysis
  • 3A-DA-09 - Translate between different bit representations of real-world phenomena, such as characters, numbers, and images.