ASMSA teams top Governor’s All-State Coding Competition

3 weeks ago

Teams from the Arkansas School for Mathematics, Sciences and the Arts took the top two spots at the first Governor’s All-State Coding Competition.

The team of Jackson Gregory of Hot Springs, Carson Cato of Bryant and Brandon Cox of Bryant won first place in the competition held May 4 at the EAST Initiative in Little Rock. Each team member earned a $2,000 scholarship.

Martin Boerwinkle of El Dorado, Brock Davis of Hot Springs and Joe Sartini of Benton teamed together to win second place in the competition. Each member of the second-place team received a $1,000 scholarship.

ASMSA will also receive a $20,000 award to be used for technology for producing the winning team.

Sixteen teams from Conway High School, Hamburg High School, Star City High School, Eureka Springs High School, Lead Hill High School, Manila High School, Paragould High School, Bentonville High School, Springdale Har-Ber High School, Arkansas High School in Texarkana, Nevada High School, Little Rock Central High School and North Little Rock High School competed in the final. The state contest was sponsored by Verizon, which contributed $40,000 to the Arkansas Chamber of Commerce for the competition. Verizon announced it will make a $50,000 gift to sponsor next year’s competition.

Seventy-five teams from across the state competed in eight regional competitions to try to advance to the state finals. ASMSA garnered the top two spots in the Dawson Education Service Cooperative region competition in Arkadelphia on Nov. 7.

The three-hour competition consisted of a set of five programming questions. The programming challenges were similar to challenges in other programming competitions. Each team had only one computer to work with.

“The students have been practicing for this competition for the last two years,” said Nick Seward, the teams’ adviser and a computer science instructor at ASMSA. “I am sure they have logged thousands of hours coding/programming/problem solving.

“The winning team left the three-hour competition with one hour left on the clock.  Worried that they left something undone, I quickly quizzed them to find out if they documented, checked edge cases, reread requirements, etc. They had done all of that.  It warmed my heart to know that they have been listening to me for the last two years.  I also had a little pang of sadness to know "my work here is done."

Members of the winning team said they felt very good about their approach to the five challenges. Each challenge had an individual point value — 5, 10, 15 and two 30-point challenges. While normally teams may begin with the easier challenge, the winning team worked the problems in reverse.

One of the 30-point challenges required a program to find prime numbers out of a given set. It was similar to an assignment the students had in a computer science class at ASMSA. Using the code they were already familiar with, they were able to quickly move on to the next challenge, providing their team an advantage.

“Some of the other teams may not have as much coding experience as we have,” said Jackson Gregory. “They would have to sit and think about their algorithm first and then write it. We just had to tweak ours to fit the challenge.”

Team members also figured out a good team rotation, they said. The team had only one computer on which to work. That meant one person would be on the computer writing code while the other two worked on solving a different challenge.

 “Someone could be coding the solution on the computer while two others worked out an idea and algorithm on paper,” Carson Cato said

By dividing and rotating the tasks, it resulted in the team finishing tasks more quickly. It also led them to score 64 out of a possible 90 points for the competition, team members said. It was almost double the score of the second place team.

Each team member said the number of computer science courses available at ASMSA naturally gave them an edge over many of the other teams where computer science options may be limited. They had each been exposed to the skills required in the challenges through their coursework, Brandon Cox said.

ASMSA Director Corey Alderdice echoed the team’s sentiments about the importance of having the opportunity to study computer science.

“ASMSA is one of a limited number of high schools in the U.S. that require all students to complete a unit of computer science as part of its graduation requirements,” Alderdice said. “In addition to introductory explorations in computer science, we're excited to offer a dozen advanced courses in the subject that help students develop their talents and explore career pathways in coding.

“Opportunities in computer science and coding have always been one of the standout components of ASMSA's residential program. Through the school's Coding Arkansas' Future initiative, we are working to providing dynamic experiences to students and teachers in classrooms across the state.  We're proud not only of our two teams that took top honors in the challenge but also the partner districts represented among the sixteen teams.”
 
Besides the ASMSA teams, four other schools participating in the state finals were connected to ASMSA. The Manila, Nevada and Eureka Springs school districts participated in ASMSA’s Coding Arkansas’ Future initiative. Faculty members and students from each of those school were members of a cohort in ASMSA’s Essentials of Computer Programming Plus course. Faculty members received professional development from ASMSA’s computer science education specialist Daniel Moix, and Moix interacted with the teachers and students throughout the school year in the program.

Pam Beach, the coach for the Paragould team, participated in a summer workshop led by Moix. Upon learning that she would be leading a team to compete in the Governor’s Coding Challenge, he offered to help the team.

“I am very grateful for ASMSA computer science specialist Daniel Moix's assistance and leadership,” Beach said. “In his summer session, he simultaneously prepared me for the practice of teaching computer science and for the certification exam. He remained available throughout the school year as needed, and he reached out to me with an offer of assistance as soon as he learned that my students would be participating in the first Governor's Coding Challenge. The teachers and children of Arkansas are lucky to have a resource like ASMSA and its expert teachers.”

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