Well this past Friday, May 24th was the 5th annual High School Computer Science day at the University of Manitoba (see the link here), and it was the largest and best organized yet. This year brought 23 of my grade 12, 11, and 10 students. The event itself had over 100 students from Manitoba high schools and their Computer Science teachers. It was the lead professor for the event that pointed out to me that I brought more students this year, than we had in total from all the schools the first year this event occurred. The day consists of university tours of the Computer Science department in the Engineering building, including looking at graduate work in the autonomous agents lab, bioinfomatics, human-computer interaction, and a tour of the universities super-computer center. As well, the students are given a presentation about the Computer Science co-op program and several undergraduate and masters students shared their experiences with the students. After a free lunch and a “swag” bag for the kids, the afternoon consists of two competitions or an opportunity to learn in some workshops. The workshops give the students who are not competing a chance to learn elementary Java programming, or more advanced Java programming in a university computer lab. The competition side had two components. First, a programming competition (the original purpose of the first high school day) where students are given 6 programming problems to solve. The students work in teams of 3 using one computer and try to solve as many problems as possible as fast a possible. Sturgeon Heights has a
Sturgeon Heights – Winner of the 2013 Computer Science Fair
proud tradition of winning all but one of these competitions since the first annual event. This year, however was a “building” year and my teams of mostly grade 11 students represented well but did not win this year and the top prize went to River East Collegiate. However, the other competition this year, was the first annual Computer Science fair. Analogous to a traditional Science fair, the students show off programming projects they have been working on during the school year and are judged by masters students and scored. Sturgeon Heights grade 12 student Kris Rivet proudly won the first annual Computer Science fair with his project and a nice trophy for our school (see picture). Many of my other students also did very well and represented the school very well in the fair. It was a fantastic day for me to bond with my students and share memories of my experiences. As well, during the tours, one of the masters student giving the kids presentations like in the robotics lab was a former graduate of my Computer Science program and a student from the first graduating class of Sturgeon Heights after amalgamation. Thanks also goes out to two undergraduate students from the department who have selflessly volunteered their own time over the last two months to come in during lunch and all afternoon to the school to help out, train, and prepare students for this day. Former student graduate of my Computer Science program Zach Havens first contacted me and through conversation volunteered to come in. In a further conversation I had with him about my desire to bring more girls into Computer Science (see my previous post about this here), he suggested that he had a fellow undergraduate Computer Science student who could come in and act as a mentor for the girls. Third year Computer Science student Vanessa Reimer also selflessly volunteered her time to help out kids in a school she didn’t even previously attend. It was over the weekend that I received a truly touching thank you letter from her, where she outlined that she is now become a mentor on the She++ website (see the link here) to encourage females to enter Computer Science due to her work with my female students. This day was a wonderful day for the students to enjoy and for me to feel truly proud of the highest caliber of Computer Science students I have at my school. Now, back to work Monday and we try to win both competitions next year!
It’s been quite an exciting last few weeks in my Computer Science class, and a few more exciting weeks to come. It all started a little over a month ago when I received an email from someone who said that he wanted to invite me and my students to a professional developer’s conference. The conference was a prairie wide conference for Computer Scientists, professional software developers, and programmers known as prairie dev con. As I read further, he outlined how he was a St. James graduate and was investigating programs at the high schools online and found mine! I was honoured, but curious so I “creeped” his links and found his blog and the post about high school Computer Science here. I was concerned as the post seemed negative at first, but then got very complimentary to my program. After a few weeks, he came in to the school and we met and had a great exchange about the importance of Computer Science education and the tech community here in Winnipeg. He would later come in a few weeks after that to talk to my students and get them excited about the conference. Well, today was the day – 16 of my grade 11 and grade 12 students attended the all day conference and did a great job respectfully representing our school.
Prairie Dev Con 2013
One of the kids snapped a pic here. The kids found some of the workshop a little over their heads (as did I) but still enjoyed the experience and picked up some interesting information about a variety of topics. I myself was happy to see that some of the basic core concepts I teach are still part of the professional community. On a personal note, it was wonderful to see that twice during the day I had two different professionals who were attending the conference come up to me, and I recognized them as former students of my program (back in the Silver Heights days). This was nice to have former students connecting with current students and letting my current students see the potential options their pursuit of my subject area could take them in. And, speaking of former students, something else really interesting has occurred in the last month. Back in February, I got an email from a former student of my program who was now in third year Computer Science at the U of M and wanted to come by for a visit. I am always glad to see alumni and get together to catch up, so he came by and we started chatting. He mentioned the Computer Science day programming contest at the U of M that he won the year he was in my program and asked if the kids were ready to compete in this year’s contest. I answered yes, and then he made an offer to come in on his spare time and ‘train’ the kids to do well in the contest. I happily accepted his offer and through email correspondence I later posed another conundrum to him. I told him my goal of encouraging girls to pursue their interests in Computer Science (see this previous post on this) and he volunteered to bring a fellow female third year U of M student (who is not even an alumni of Sturgeon Heights) in to specifically train my girl programmers. For the last month or so, since the finished their university exams, these two university Computer Science students have been volunteering their time several times a week, for several hours of the day, to spend time with my Computer Science students and classes helping, training, and offering mentorship to my students. For this, my students and myself are very grateful for this selfless act of giving back and encouraging the pursuit of Computer Science education. So now that the conference is over, I will spend the next few days debriefing with the students and then continuing to prepare for the upcoming U of M Computer Science day at the end of the month. Stay tuned for an update on this event and the exciting month we have had in my Computer Science program.