Practical Project: Picking a project
So now is time to start thinking about what sort of project you are going to make. This is an important decision as this will drive the rest of this coursework.
Projects that I've marked in the past have included:
- Cricket Player Management System based on a database that keeps track of matches and player scores
- Database of children at a day care centre that deals with the billing for parents
- A computer room booking database that allowed teachers to book rooms for different days and see other teacher's timetables graphically
- A stock control database for a hardware shop that handles re-orders and sales
- A web-based maths revision site that allowed for random papers to be created then automatically marked
- An A-Level Maths revision maze game
- A French revision side scrolling adventure
- Physics projectile modeling tool
- A snake game where it asked you to eat the correct answers to maths questions
- A helicopter flying game that asked you economics questions to get extra fuel
- A computing revision program wrapped around a tetris clone
- A chess game that enforces all the rules of the game and recognises when it's check mate
- Phone based revision game for mathematics
You have probably noticed that there is a lot of talk about databases and data manipulation. An easy way to tackle this project is to build a data processing system, i.e. a stock control system or a revision game, with a database in the back-end to store data. This is a strong sort of project and a way to getting top marks. However, you don't have to do something like this. If your code is complex enough then you don't have to store any data and the parts of the write up that talk about databases, you can skip. You might not be encouraged to make games, but if it is a game with a database or revision system behind it, or showing clever simulations of A-Level standard mathematics then you need to talk to your Computing teacher.
What is Data Processing 
Every system you make must involve data processing. This means taking data and adding, updating, deleting, interpreting and displaying it. This is very easy with a database, but you must get beyond the defaults of add, edit, delete, that something like Access gives you. Think about using complex queries and fancy ways to present your results. It could also be an XML file storing seating plans or student records, editing/deleting/adding questions to a revision game and recording the scores of different users. Whatever you do you must have data processing at the heart of it.
How to pick a Complex problem 
To get top marks the system has to be complex but what does that mean? There are a few things that you need to do and a few more things you need to do to stand a chance to get top marks. Try and plan to do as many of these as possible:
- Use classes and inheritance
- Use for loops and iteration
- Use recursion
- Use procedures and functions
- Use bubble sort / insertion sort / binary search
- Use linked lists / binary trees / stacks / other Abstract Data Types
- Model things such as Mechanics, Physics, Chemistry or produce A-Level standard statistics
- Use a hand built database connection, DDL and complex queries. NOT using wizards
- Don't produce a Database on its own, you'll need calculations to transform data!
Never create something in Access alone, you need to show real coding. Even if Access would be a simpler solution this will not allow you to get marks for a complex project. Always check with your teacher about complexity
Finding a Problem and a User 
You probably have a few ideas running through your head already but you now need to find a user. Users aren't necessarily going to find you so if you are a member of a local sports club, church, drama society etc. try and think how a data processing system could help them out. For example, you could keep track of the members of a choir, which sessions they attended and whether they have paid their subscription. If you know someone who runs a small business could you write a system to keep track of when staff were on duty, how much stock they have, how many sales they make? Is there an area in your school / college that could be improved? Ask your teachers, maybe they still need to write reports manually, maybe they would want a revision tool for their subject, maybe they would like web based system to book out rooms, maybe they want a program writing that could simulate projectile motion to demonstrate something in class. Once you have found your user keep hold of them, they are going to be key to you completing every part of this project.
Workable projects? 
Do the following sound complex enough? If not, how would you make them complex? Remember to check with your teacher about complexity.
|A database of shop sales that allows people to update stock and add new stock items. <click>|
|Probably not complex enough! If this is built around an Access Created database with wizards used to make all the forms and run the update queries it definitely won't be. You might get away with it by building it in mySQL with a web front end, but you should still be looking to include some of the more complex topics such as displaying graphs and statistical data on sales.|
|An online revision site allowing students to log in and sit randomly made maths tests <click>|
|This sounds reasonably complex, if you were planning on scripting the whole thing yourself in ASPX or PHP and not using a package such as Wordpress. You might want to throw in some nice features such as a messaging and mailing system. You might also want to get the program to create dynamic visual displays of the random questions being asked, such as creating triangles of the dimensions being tested.|
|A 2D F1 racing game <click>|
|This sounds very complex, especially if you try and think about collision detection, AI etc. However, who is your user? You need a real life user, could you ask you Physics teacher to come up with a scenario to simulate?|
|A Four in a Row game <click>|
|This sounds very complex with the graphical representation and AI element, but again, who is your user? Could you make this for a primary school?|
|3D shooter <click>|
|Too complex, unless you want to write some code around something like Blender or the Unreal Engine.|
|A photo album database <click>|
|Not complex enough as it is currently written. You could certainly add features like placing it online and allowing for tagging of photos. Make sure you check with your teacher.|
How will you solve the problem? 
Once you have a user and a problem how are you going to solve it? You aren't a multibillion pound IT firm and you probably don't have much more than a years programming experience. You have got to be realistic about how you are going to solve this problem. Here are a couple of questions you need to start thinking about, write down your answers
- What languages do you already know? What languages and skills do you need to learn?
- Is it going to be web, phone or desktop application based?
- Will you use a relational database or flat file data structure, or nothing at all?
- Do you know how to normalise data tables or read from text/XML files?
- Do you have enough time to do what you want to?
- Is it complex enough to get you top marks?
Next Steps 
Write all of this down somewhere, it's going to come in useful for your Analysis!
|What is your idea|
|Is your idea complex enough|
|How will you deliver the complexity?|
|Who is your user|
|What computer languages do you know|
|How long do you have|
|Do you need to use a database or other data store|
|web based / phone app / desktop?|
|What do you need to learn|
|What web sites and books can help you|