Students “Technically” Encouraged to Show Off

“That’s enough video games for today!” is likely something you heard as a child, or have said to your own kids – but sometimes it’s not all about getting enough coins to advance to the next level before bedtime. Parents of the students who were invited to this year’s Computer Science Student Showcase may not have realized that the extra time spent in front of a screen wasn’t just to play video games.

They were dreaming of creating them.

The CS Student Showcase is part of the Computer Science for All (CS4ALL) initiative, which is a 10 year public-private fundraising partnership that aims to expose and create pathways for all students in NYC public schools to learn computer science – to not just be consumers of technology, but also thoughtful creators and problem solvers

The year-end technology event celebrating the work being done by students around New York City who are currently enrolled in either the Software Engineering Program or an AP Computer Science Principals (APCSP) course took place at the Alexandria Center for Life Science – New York City.

The event space was generously provided by Alexandria Real Estate Equities, Inc. above and beyond their commitment as a major funder of CS4ALL, as part of a public-private partnership facilitated by the Fund for Public Schools.

Video games were not the sole focus of the event; schools across the city came together to show off their best work in topics such as computer programming, robotics, electronics, web design, and mobile apps. One hundred and fifty-seven students, representing 17 middle and high schools, were able to explore one another’s work and took the opportunity to trade tips and techniques.

The students occupied several rooms, manning tables that featured their own projects. There were also activity stations which showcased an exciting array of CS related technology and games including: Share Your Code Poetry, where students used shapes and words to simultaneously create code and poetry; Binary Bracelets, where students used a binary decoder key sheet to help create colorful bracelets to be worn; and Paper Circuit, in which students used copper tape to make a circuit.  

One of the rooms featured students who looked forward to showing off computer games that they created. Yi Hui Wu Chen, an 11th grader from John Dewey High School, proudly displayed his memory/concentration game, which flashed a series of patterned colors and smiled widely while watching game players struggle to recreate the color scheme that was on the previous page. Yi Hui was asked if it took a long time to program, to which he smiled sheepishly and replied, “Yes, it took a long time.” 

Jia Lin Zheng, another 11th grade student, also from John Dewey High School, developed something based on the popular Japanese game, Sudoku. She studiously watched people use logic to fill in missing digits and complete the grid. 

Hui Yu (Jessica) Du, a John Dewey High School Computer Science and Mathematics teacher and Lead Facilitator for APCSP, praised the showcase. “These students are working on projects that promote creativity, thought process, and collaboration,” she said. Ms. Du particularly enjoyed that the students had carte blanche when choosing what directions to take their projects in. “The conversations between my students and I started with what they were interested in.” 

Alana Aaron, senior director of computer science programs for NYC’s Department of Education, loved seeing the students connect. “It’s been amazing to watch our schools come together and see the students interacting with one another and showing off their projects, the pride that they have in their work, and talking to them about their experiences in computer science. There are students here who have started projects in Scratch, with robotics, with Snap, and with Python; they’re all impressive and I’m so glad they had the opportunity to represent their schools and show off their work.”

The students also shared Alana’s enthusiasm for collaboration and networking. When asked what his favorite part of the CS4All showcase was, Yi Hui Wu could barely contain his smile. “Watching other people program,” he said. “You can get so many ideas from learning from others.”

Matt Darian