By CARLYN CHATFIELD
Special to the Rice News
Almost 200 Greater Houston middle and high school students attended the first Computer Science Fair hosted by the Rice University School Mathematics Project (RUSMP) April 18.
According to RUSMP Executive Director Richard Parr, the event helped bridge the gap between demand for computer science workers and local student interest in computer science programs, a goal aligned with Rice’s Vision for the Second Century, Second Decade, which encourages engagement with the community.
“The Rice University School Mathematics Project has been a Code.org regional partner since 2016,” said Parr. “In addition to providing professional development to help develop teachers’ computer science instructional skills, one of RUSMP’s charges as a regional partner is to be an advocate for computer science education by hosting events for K-12 teachers and students, such as this fair.”
By providing hands-on activities and the opportunity for high school students to present projects and middle school students to vote on their favorites, events such as the fair help develop secondary school students’ enthusiasm for computer science education and careers.
The high school projects included computer and mobile games, robots that could move and manipulate objects and clothing accentuated with light-emitting diodes (LEDs) programmed to enhance the design or fabric details. One piece of jewelry even changed colors and patterns in response to the sounds around it.
The LED apparel enhancements were designed by ninth-graders at Houston’s Young Women’s College Preparatory Academy who were learning to program using Arduino. Upperclassmen at the same school demonstrated their Robotics Club project, a robot that could lift and stack cones.
The cone-stacking designers included an 11th-grader as well as two 12th-graders who have already been accepted for admission by Texas A&M University and the University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA). Janet Santacruz, who is headed to A&M, is open to exploring other areas of engineering. Brittany McRae Alvarado said she really loves robotics and hopes to incorporate robotics in her studies at UTSA.
Across the room, nine students from South Early College High School encouraged middle-school students to play the games they developed in their Advanced Placement computer science class.
Kristopher Hoskin and Isaiah Stubblefield demonstrated two versions of ColorSleuth, a mobile game based on a grid of colored squares. When one of the squares changes color, the player clicks on it to earn points.
Hoskin and Stubblefield designed games with various levels of complexity. In Hoskin’s version, the player can usually identify a pattern selection, which helps build confidence. In Stubblefield’s game, the patterns evolve quickly and more randomly, challenging the player to develop more nimble thinking and responses.
The fair also included a keynote speech by Illya Hicks, a Rice professor of computational and applied mathematics. Molly Reilly, a senior at Rice studying computer science, and Mayu Tobin-Miyaji, a senior studying computer science and cognitive sciences, also made presentations.
“Even though the fair was scheduled during the last week of spring classes, I didn’t mind,” Tobin-Miyaji said. “It seemed like a nice way to show representation of students like me in computer science.”
Other exhibits were provided by Texas Instruments Inc., Technology Education and Literacy in Schools, Makers of STEAM and Team Cherrypick, a winner at the recent George R. Brown Engineering Design Showcase for its program to capture and organize highlights from live volleyball games.
“Since 1987, RUSMP has been promoting Rice University’s excellence beyond the hedges in pre-kindergarten to (grade) 12 education by providing support to pre-college institutions across the state,” Parr said. “RUSMP continues to be the primary catalyst of sustained, progressive change in education in Houston-area schools and across Texas, offering numerous programs for leaders, teachers and students.”
Carlyn Chatfield is an alumni relations specialist in Rice’s Computer Science Department.