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Middle School

CA teams get with the (computer) program

January 14, 2021

After the first of four contests in the American Computer Science League (ACSL) Programming contest, Cary Academy’s student-led teams rank at the top of the leader boards, having scored 30/30 and 29/30, against some of the best programming teams in the U.S., Canada, Croatia, and Romania.  

The written section of the contest consisted of five questions in 45 minutes involving logic and discrete mathematics that relate to how computers analyze information. The programing section involved reading a program statement and specifications in order to write a program within 72 hours to turn five inputs into five output, following the given rules and requirements. 

The Middle School’s junior team scored 30/30 and the Upper School’s intermediate team scored 29/30. It’s hard to do much better than that!

Advised by Mr. Jon Noland in the Upper School and Mrs. Leslie Williams in the Middle School, the students practiced with both past programs and written questions during student-led club time and on their own in order to prepare for the contest. 

CA’s teams will compete in three more regular-season contests, before the All-Star Contest in May 2021.

Written by Dan Smith, Digital Content Producer and Social Media Manager

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Computer Science Week 2020

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Computer Science for Social Justice

December 17, 2020

It is the most wonderful time of the year. Yes, it is the holiday season, but the month of December is when educators worldwide celebrate Computer Science Education Week!  

Founded in 2009 by the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM), Computer Science Week originated as an effort to convince policymakers to promote computing as a core science and profession. ACM chose the week of December 9th in honor of Grace Hopper’s birthday. (Hopper was the creator of the very first compiler—a computer program that translates code written in one programming language into another—and is credited with coining the word “bug” to mean an error in a program).  

Since 2009, Computer Science Week has grown dramatically, becoming a collaborative worldwide call to promote computer science education broadly. At the heart of the movement is a focus on improving inclusivity in the field—historically dominated by white males—by focusing on introducing women and others from underrepresented groups to computer science.  

According to the College Board, “women who try AP Computer Science in high school are 6 times more likely to major in computer science than those who do not, and Black/African American, Hispanic /[LatinX] students are 7 to 8 times more likely”. Historically, young women represented only 22% of those taking the AP exam while students of of color only represented 13%. For many, the lack of diversity in the field is not from lack of interest but rather a lack of access and awareness.  

And that’s where Computer Science Week and the Hour of Code come in. 

Adopted by Computer Science Week in 2013, the Hour of Code is intended to offer a gentle introduction to computer science through fun, one-hour interactive activities accessible through the Code.org website. Since its introduction, 1,106,972,371 people have tried an Hour of Code activity, of which, “45% of Code.org students are young women, 50% are students from marginalized racial and ethnic groups, and 45% of US students are in high needs schools.” 

While such efforts to increase diversity and access are exciting, they alone are not enough; we must strive for further equity and inclusivity in the field. To that end, this year’s Computer Science Week theme—computer science for social justice—goes beyond issues of diversity to offer deeper consideration of these timely and complex issues.  

Computer science for social justice asks us to consider questions—not only about how computer science can be a positive catalyst for change—but, just as importantly, how it currently perpetuates inequities, including sexism, ableism, and systemic racism.  

Want to be inspired? Checkout the hashtags #CSforGood and #CSforSocialJustice to see how innovators across the globe are tackling some of these thorny issues and harnessing (transforming?) computer science for the social good.  

Some project highlights include: 

  • Investigations into how discrimination is built into artificial intelligence and facial recognition systems,  
  • Critical analysis of how cultural values, including racist beliefs, are encoded into the technologies that we create,  
  • The creation of video games intended to develop empathy and awareness for the daily lived experiences of marginalized groups,  
  • Widespread work to make computing more accessible to those with disabilities,  
  • Apps and software dedicated to reducing users carbon footprints to slow climate change, and 
  • Coordinated efforts to build mentorship networks for underrepresented groups.  

Together, projects like these offer a powerful reminder of the hard work left to be done as we move towards an equitable future, as well as the promise that lies ahead. With all that has gone on in the world this year, there is no better time to talk about access, inequality, and privilege in technology and its role in education and society. I look forward to exploring these issues with our students in the months to come.  

CA’s Computer Science Week is presented by the advanced topics’ computer science class and the Women in Science & Engineering club. As with all things 2020, it looks a bit different this year. While we haven’t been able to offer many of the in-person events that typically characterize the week, we did kick off with a celebratory Hour of Code last week (congratulations to student winner Matthew Schricker ’23, and our faculty winner Charlotte Kelly for completing the most activities).  

And, happily, while the world may have ended their Computer Science Week celebrations, ours will evolve into something bigger throughout the year; this year’s theme of #CSforSocialJustice is too big and too important for just one week. Stay tuned for future events held by the WISE club and a host of activities on future Flex days. 

The National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT) annual campaign has used the phrase “The idea you don’t have is the voice you haven’t heard. Inclusion changes what’s possible. […]”. With that in mind, I invite everyone to join in the conversation and reach out to me if you would like to be involved in some way. 

Written by Karen McKenzie, Director of Technology and Innovation

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Computer Science Week at CA

December 6, 2018

It’s Computer Science Week at CA! The week is held every year in honor of Admiral Grace Murray Hopper, whose birthday is December 9. Hopper is known for creating one of the first compilers that converted english into machine code, among other things.

This year, the computer science department and the Upper School WISE club (Women in Science and Engineering) are hosting a week full of fun experiences that focus on the four aspects of computational thinking: decomposition, pattern recognition, abstraction, and algorithm design. Both decomposition (the breaking down of a problem into smaller manageable parts) and abstraction (identifying and extracting relevant information to assist in solving a problem) aid in pattern recognition and identifying trends. When used together, these skills lay the foundation for creating an algorithm design or plan of attack for solving or working through a problem.

All week, the library has been abuzz with various opportunities for the Cary Academy community to have fun and explore these concepts. Activities range from brain teasing origami to virtual and augmented reality experiences.

Virtual reality returned this year with different experiences for each day of the week. Users have shot a bow and arrow, helped R2-D2 fix the Millennium Falcon, avoided spaceship fire, or sliced fruit with a Samurai sword. A fan favorite will be chosen for Friday’s experience.

This year also saw the addition of more items and games, including a Microsoft HoloLens Scavenger Hunt in the library. Librarian Brian Pugsley placed holograms all around the first floor of the library for scavengers to discover. Participants who find the most by the end of the week will win a Merge AR Cube, an augmented reality toy that allows you to hold holograms in your hand.

Another new activity this year is a traditional 1000-piece jigsaw puzzle featuring Georges Seurat’s painting A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte (1884–1886). Famous for his innovative methods and techniques, Seurat used logical abstraction and mathematical precision to construct his paintings. He, along with artist Paul Signac, is credited for inventing a painting technique called pointillism, which relies on the viewer’s eye and brain to blur and blend many small dots together into a fuller range of tones that create an image. Pointillism led the way for image rendering and is the foundation for how computer screens work.

WISE strives to promote and support women in science and engineering while creating a collaborative and social academic environment for all. To that end, the week will culminate with a WISE-sponsored event for all Middle School students this Saturday in the Discovery Studio. Students will have the opportunity to participate in a variety of STEM-related activities outside of the classroom, including working with liquid nitrogen alongside an NC State engineering professor, learning statistics from jellyfish, computational thinking games, and virtual reality.

Computer science and the principles of computational thinking are in everything that we do. During Computer Science Week, we strive to provide all types of activities showcasing this fact, many of which do not involve a computer at all. This year, one of the biggest hits with the community has been a hanging balancing puzzle game called Suspend. Another fan favorite, back from last year, is Mindbender Origami.

Personally, Computer Science Week is my department’s favorite week of the year. We’re sad to see it come to an end, but have already started thinking about what next year will bring.

Written by Karen McKenzie, Director of Innovation & Technology

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Computer Science All-Stars

June 1, 2018

The American Computer Science League All-Star Contest was held on May 26 at Barrington HS near Providence, RI. The CA team of Thomas Hoffman (’18), Matthew Modi (’20) and Vincent Wang (’18) finished in 6th place in this international competition, involving team programming and individual written rounds, and battling against top teams from the U.S., Romania, Canada and Croatia. Competition in our division was extremely tight. The team scored 39/40 on the programming round and 26/36 on the especially challenging written round, and were actually just two points behind 1st place!

For their written round performances, Thomas won an Amazon Echo Dot and Vincent, with a perfect score, brought home a Chromebook computer. Matthew, as the only returning underclassman, will likely be our team’s leader for next year.

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