Computer science event brings high school students to UC Berkeley

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On Tuesday morning in a small room in Soda Hall, the air bubbled with excitement. Hands shuffled and flipped cards. Murmurs and stifled shouts hung above the tables as students raced to be the first to sort the decks.

What might have appeared to be a simple card game was in fact a hands-on demonstration of a computer science concept in parallelism that states that when dividing a computer program into more and more parts, each division causes a smaller increase in the program’s speed.

The activity was one of many held on Computer Science Education Day, an event sponsored by the UC Berkeley electrical engineering and computer sciences department to get younger students interested in studying programming at UC Berkeley.

Teachers from across the Bay Area brought their high school and middle school students to UC Berkeley for the event. This year, almost 500 students attended, more than twice the turnout of previous years. Even with this increase, the demand to attend exceeded the number of spots available.

The high school students listened to faculty speak about research and the computer science field, talked to current computer science students about their programming projects and worked on hands-on activities such as programming a mobile application.

“It’s putting CS in the hands of people who need to see this stuff,” said Dan Garcia, senior lecturer in the EECS department and an organizer of the program. “That generation of students is the future. They need to realize that there are tons of opportunities for them. They need to think about computing as a potential field and a potential career choice.”

The event was part of national Computer Science Education Week, which the U.S. House of Representatives designated as a week to recognize the transformative role of computing and the need to bolster computer science education at all ages and levels.

“It’s always a great thing to get kids involved in computer science,” said Tim Matthies, a teacher at Oakdale High School in Oakland. “What better place to go then come up to Berkeley? They get to see what a UC campus is like and then also meet some of the people here.”

The event had no budget, according to Brian Harvey, another computer science lecturer and organizer of the event, and could not transport high school students to UC Berkeley or pay any staff members. All of the professors and students who helped were volunteers. Many of the student volunteers were lab technicians or teaching assistants for the Computer Science 10 class.

Garcia recruited many of the volunteers directly out of this class because they already have experience helping students program and enjoy teaching computer science.

“It’s really fun, especially to see all the different ideas the kids come up with,” said student volunteer Sean Fontes.

Contact Daniel Tutt at [email protected].

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