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Programming Challenge 4 Girls (PC4G) Event in New Zealand

By Margot Phillipps

In November this year, a series of challenges using Alice was held at 4 venues around New Zealand. The events were staggered as the days were planned so that a visiting speaker could attend each event. The venues varied enormously in the demographic they reached. The second venue was Manukau Institute. Manukau city is the largest Polynesian city in the world (as it is the major center for Polynesian migration to New Zealand.) The third venue, Gisborne, is a center with a very high Maori population. (New Zealand's indigenous people)

Each school was allowed to bring two teams of two girls in year 10 (grade 9 in most countries) to participate in the challenge. Each school was required to have a teacher accompany the teams.

The day(s) were planned so that the girls and their teachers had some tuition and practice in Alice (14 of the 20 teachers hadn't used Alice before) and then after some refreshments the girls sat the challenge while the teachers had a workshop.

Dr. Chris Stephenson, Executive Director of CSTA held the workshop for teachers, which reinforced for them not only the importance of CS Education but also let them know that the challenges of a reasonable curriculum and assessment, qualified teacher, and uptake by students are not just issues in New Zealand.

In the challenge, all of the teams were given the problem statement that included a number of set tasks (story-boards provided). Once a team mastered those tasks, the girls were encouraged to "add value" with their own ideas for an extension to the story. For good marks in this section they had to story-board (ie: design) it first.

At the end of the 3 hour challenge and teacher's workshop, lunch was served, and each of the hosting sites then provided a 45 minute presentation or activity for the girls and the teachers while the judging team marked the contest entries. The judging criteria had already been set and tested, so judging was relatively straight-forward. This allowed the judges to rapidly group the results into gold, silver, bronze and participation categories.

The final event of the day was the awards ceremony. The gold, silver and bronze category winners received medals and the top team's teacher received an Alice textbook.

Student evaluations showed 79% of girls saying that they would take a subject like this in senior high school if it was available. Unfortunately at present the offering of a CS courses in senior high school in New Zealand is limited. The research that the organisers read suggested that girls enjoy contests and competing but they prefer team work. This was supported by 97% of the respondents saying they enjoyed the teamwork.

Although the challenge reached both important "CS minorities" (girls and minority cultures), future challenges will need to be sensitive to the story lines set for the challenge. This year was a dog-obedience class and as one teacher remarked "Girls from our school wouldn't know dogs got trained".

The organisers have tried to make it as simple as possible for a school to offer to be a site and have devised a "cookbook" of what needs to be done and when for running the challenge. The practice material, the challenge and the mark sheets are all provided by the committee (all volunteers). The hope is that each year the challenge will grow in the number of sites and thus the number of girls being exposed to programming. Our hope is that this experience will convince the girls that computer science isn't nerdy, it is intellectually interesting and most of all fun.

Margot Phillipps
CSTA International Director

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