Iowa youth to think like computer scientists at ISU computational competition, April 18

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More than 50 Iowa youth will think like computer scientists when they demonstrate their programming skills April 18 at the annual Computational Thinking Competition sponsored by Iowa State University’s Department of Computer Science.

Individuals and student teams will vie for prizes as they demonstrate their programming projects before judges. Projects are judged on difficulty, creativity, presentation and use of a computational model, which also teaches students basic, logical steps in problem solving.

Student projects in past competitions have included a rocket launch simulator, a virus simulator and a model of white blood cells in the healing process. “Younger students, mostly K-3, tend to develop games and older students tend to model dynamic processes,” Les Miller, professor of computer science, said.

Younger students often create projects using Scratch, a free programming language developed at MIT that allows youth to create their own stories, games and animations. Older students use Java or another higher-level programming language.

Computational thinking is a universal skill that also can be applied to math, science and almost any other academic subject.

Students prepared for the competition by participating in a series of workshops led by ISU Computer Science faculty and students. The workshops, family computing nights in Iowa communities, and computer science training sessions for elementary and middle school teachers are all part of an ISU effort to introduce computer science to Iowa students. A special emphasis is on getting more girls interested in computer science.

The competition takes place at Atanasoff Hall at ISU. The four divisions are kindergarten to third grade, fourth to sixth grade, seventh to ninth grade and 10 to 12th grade. The prize for the winning entry in each category is a laptop computer.

Computer Science is an academic unit in ISU’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.