Tuesday, February 5, 2013

High school students compete in computer programming contest on campus

by Alison Haywood, News Editor

Everyone knows there are plenty of opportunities for athletic students to compete in high school, but what opportunities are there for more academically-minded students who also want to compete?
This was what professor of computer science and computer engineering Kenneth Blaha had in mind when he organized the Pacific Lutheran University High School Programming Contest, which took place in the Morken Center for Learning and Technology Saturday.
High school participants in the advanced division compete to solve computer programming problems in the last ten minutes of the High School Programming Contest in Morken Saturday Feb. 2 at 2:20 p.m.
“It [the contest] gives them a chance to compete just like you would compete in any other sport,” Blaha said of the high school students who participated. “And then they’re winning a trophy, just like you would if it was any sport.”
Blaha modeled this high school contest after the International Collegiate Programming Contest for college students put on by the Association of Computing Machines, or ACM. Similar high school level contests take place across the nation at different times, including two per year at the University of Washington. PLU’s contest is unique in that it uses the same software as used in the ICPC: PC^2.
Blaha got the idea to hold a contest at PLU from the Puget Sound Computer Science Teachers’ Association’s website. He organized the first High School Programming Contest at PLU three years ago. The first year had only 35 participants mostly from local high schools, and this year there were 58 participants from all over Western Washington. Blaha says it’s possible they will have participants from all over Washington State next year.
“Part of the purpose of this is to try to advertise the computer science program at PLU,” Blaha said. “When we first started this program, a lot of the [high] schools … had no idea that we had a computer science department here. And that’s starting to change.”
Juniors Maddy and Kerri from Holy Names Academy in Seattle participated at their computer science teacher’s suggestion. They formed the team hello world, drawing their name from the first programming they learned on Java.
“It’s a good way to just practice our programming skills,” Kerri said. She said she decided to participate because she likes programming.
Other teams participated for different reasons. “I’m in it to win it because it’s extra credit,” junior Aaliyah from Cleveland High School in Seattle said. She is in AP Computer Science at her high school and part of the team A$APCS.
Nineteen teams participated in the novice division of the contest, and five teams in the advanced. Each team consisted of between one and three participants from the same school. Although the contest is open to all K-12 students, most of the participants were high school juniors or seniors this year. According to Blaha, junior high students have participated in the past.
Two of the novice teams solved all of the problems. The team ); DROP TABLE TeamNames;-- from Roosevelt High School won first place in the advanced division. They were given a perpetual trophy to display in their school for the remainder of the school year.
Members of the top three teams in each division earned gold, silver or bronze medals.
Organizations sponsored the event, providing raffle prizes that any participant could win regardless of how they did in the contest. Microsoft donated six X-Box games and Microsoft Office Suite software, McNeel & Associates donated Rhino 5 software, Garfield donated PLU clothing and a $30 gift certificate, and Intel donated swag such as light-up pens. The Department of Computer Science and Computer Engineering provided the grand prize for the drawing: a Samsung Galaxy 3 tablet.