le Dimanche 4 Décembre 2022
le Mercredi 26 février 2020 19:29 Autres - Others

These students like to make their own programs

Ces jeunes programmeurs apprennent en détail comment les ordinateurs pensent et ce qui fait agir et réagir les robots, grâce à un cours optionnel de programmation informatique au Rockland District High School. Les compétences qu'ils acquièrent leur donneront une longueur d'avance sur les carrières de programmation informatique pour le gouvernement ou les grandes entreprises, ou pourraient les aider à lancer leur propre carrière dans la conception de jeux vidéo et dans d'autres domaines. — photo Gregg Chamberlain
Ces jeunes programmeurs apprennent en détail comment les ordinateurs pensent et ce qui fait agir et réagir les robots, grâce à un cours optionnel de programmation informatique au Rockland District High School. Les compétences qu'ils acquièrent leur donneront une longueur d'avance sur les carrières de programmation informatique pour le gouvernement ou les grandes entreprises, ou pourraient les aider à lancer leur propre carrière dans la conception de jeux vidéo et dans d'autres domaines.
photo Gregg Chamberlain
These students are learning how to make robots think.

Chris Harrison, a computer science studies teacher at Rockland District High School, wanted to offer students at the school, who were into computers, something a little more challenging for them. So he took one of the elective courses on computer programming, which is part of the Ontario education ministry curriculum, and “jazzed it up” a bit.

“I’m putting a bit of a spin on the course curriculum, so it becomes more hands-on robotics,” said Harrison. “The goal is that students will actually see that ‘When I program this code, then this happens’, and then that helps lead them into higher-level programming.”

Students taking the elective course learn how to do basic logic programming commands. Then, they’re encouraged to use their basic programming skills and play with them to see what happens, and if they can replicate what they’ve done or what one of their fellow students has done.

This allows them to develop the kind of programming skills typical at the university, government, and corporate levels. But, Harrison noted, they master their basics first and go on from there.

“It is hard for them to be able to program at this higher level if they don’t have their basics,” he said, noting that the key to encouraging students to master basic programming is to give them a chance to be creative.

“I have this collection of about 20 simple robots,” he said. “So I told all the students, ‘Pick out your favourite and do something absolutely amazing.’”

Something amazing

The students taking Harrison’s elective accepted the challenge. First they worked on getting their robots just to move. From there they advanced to exploring programming details like working with microbits, which are credit card-sized apps that the students themselves can program with their own code to see what results.

One student, on his own, developed a simple reaction timer, similar to some game devices where the user has a limited amount of time to perform a particular action. The reaction timer indicates how fast the user’s reflexes are.

Harrison plans to bring in guest speakers to meet and talk to students about higher-level programming skills, which could also help prepare interested individuals to pursue careers in programming. He already has a commitment from The Communications Security Establishment (CES), Canada’s electronic security service, to include RDHS as part of a community outreach program, which the CES operates to help encourage more students, at the secondary and post-secondary levels, to consider a career with the service.

CES staff will come out to RDHS for a 10-day period, to show students how to run particular programming modules or how to program a Raspberry Pi, which is a very small mini-computer that is used for doing cyber security checks and other tasks.

Several students in the program also took part in an international “hackathon”, an annual computer program competition sponsored by Carnegie-Mellon University in the United States. Participants around the world work from their own computers, whether at home or at school, in what Harrison described as “a massive computer game of Capture the Flag”, which involves hunting down and finding codes hidden on the competition website. Finding the hidden codes earns points for the competitors.

“The game helps students to think outside of the box,” said Harrison, adding that some of his students enjoyed the competition so much they started work on creating their own Capture the Flag programming challenge.

“The goal of this course is to help create students who are critical thinkers,” said Harrison. “They learn that any problem they hit in life can be broken down into simple steps and solved.”

Students enjoy the challenge

“I’ve wanted to learn for a while how to make my own video games,” said Liam Dawson, a Grade 10 student. “So I took this course so I can learn the (basic) programming and, eventually, down the line, make my own programs.”

Taylor Edwards, a Grade 12 student, was involved in the first semester of the computer programming course and is ready for the next one.

“I thought it would be a neat experience,” he said. “When I started doing it, it was enjoyable. Mr. Harrison makes it fun and he gives us all the support we need to prosper and get things done.”

“I never really thought programming would be something I’d enjoy,” said Rileigh St-Pierre. “But I haven’t regretted taking this program at all. I do see it as something that can help me with what I want to do in the future.”

The students taking Harrison’s elective accepted the challenge. First they worked on getting their robots just to move. From there they advanced to exploring programming details like working with microbits, which are credit card-sized apps that the students themselves can program with their own code to see what results.