Teamwork and Problem Solving

PC4G is an international Programming Challenge for Grade 10 Girls.  The Centre for Education in Mathematics and Computing (CEMC) at the University of Waterloo has been a host site for the last few years.  This was my third year of involvement.  This year’s challenge was held Friday, December 8.  

This year there were 41 girls from a variety of schools around Waterloo and as far away as Chatham-Kent.  The participants arrive having had minimal, if any, exposure to programming.  It was my task to teach them the basics of programming using Alice3 which is a 3D object-oriented programming environment that leads nicely to teaching Java.  Alice3 is similar to environments like Scratch which many of you are no doubt familiar. Alice was groundbreaking and was developed at Carnegie Mellon University prior to Scratch.

Ninety minutes.  That’s the time allotted to teach the basics of programming.  With Alice3 and a keen group of participants, it can be done!

If you are interested in the slide deck I used with the girls, PC4G@UW-2017.

A half hour break followed to let the participants grab some snacks and get up and stretch.

The Programming Challenge consists of 3 progressively more difficult tasks.  Time allotted – 2.5 hours.  Go!

Looking around the room you see smiling faces.  You hear occasional bursts of laughter.  People are moving their hands and upper bodies as they attempt to visualize the actions of their onscreen characters.  This lasted for every minute of the 2 and a half hours!  A testament to Alice3, the challenges created by the organizers, and the participants.

A group of University of Waterloo math professors met in a conference room to “judge” the submissions from the girls.  The primary tool for assessment is to view the animated movies created by the girls’ code.  Lots of smiles and laughter from the professors.  Somehow I think this is not the atmosphere in the room when they are marking Euclid Math Contests!

During the closing comments the girls were reminded that computer programmers don’t always get to write code where a 3D Alice gets to touch coloured mushrooms and change size (part of the challenge!) but the key concepts of “teamwork and problem solving” that they used today are most certainly part of a computer programmer’s day.

Peter McAsh
ECOO, Vice President