Computer science has been the fastest growing area of study and Advanced Placement testing at Verona High School for the past decade. In 2009, only four students took AP Computer Science A, now VHS is ranked #1 in the state among non-magnet high schools for its per-capita participation in AP comp sci, a program that now includes AP Computer Science Principles as well.
The principles class grew out of CS50, Harvard University’s freshman comp sci course and last year VHS students traveled to Harvard’s CS50 Fair, where they met Harvard students presenting the results of their semester’s work. Yale University has also adopted CS50, and last Wednesday, VHS teachers Rich Wertz and Danielle Mutovic took 46 VHS students to Yale’s CS50 Fair, where they saw their schoolwork in a whole new light.
“I saw algorithms that I definitely could have replicated two years ago and will probably be able to replicate next year when I take Comp Sci A,” said Elijah Baker, a junior who has already taken Comp Sci Principles. “For example, the code that calculated a schedule that will prepare you for running a race even if you’ve never done it before.”
His enthusiasm was seconded by fellow junior Jerry Strippoli. “I thought it was cool how they’ve known how to code for about as long as we have, but their projects were somewhat more complex than what we know how to do,” he said. “However, there were certain projects that I felt we could possibly do as a class, and on the flip side of that there were people who mixed different coding languages to make their final project.”
Almost half of VHS’ comp sci students are now female, and they were well represented on the trip as well. “I enjoyed the CS50 Fair because it showed us projects that were not done by professionals or people majoring in computer science, but done by people who were just learning coding,” said Clara Frizzi, a junior. “It was interesting because it showed us as students that we too can make seemingly complicated projects with our early knowledge of programming.”
“Seeing students at Yale using a lot of the same coding skills that we’ve learned in class to create amazing–and silly–projects brings the real world into the APCS classroom,” said Jessica Sidrak, who is also part of the Class of 2020. “Also, it was just amusing to listen to people tell us about how many all-nighters they had to pull to get the project done for the CS50 Fair.”
“We also met a CS celebrity–the guy from Puzzle Night,” Sidrak added. “We literally geeked out. It was so funny.”
Verona’s students got a campus tour after the fair that included Hopper College, which Yale named for Rear Adm. Grace Murray Hopper, a computer pioneer and naval officer who became a role model for generations of female computer scientists.
(That wasn’t the only high point of the trip. The VHS contingent ran into Chris Looney, a member of Verona’s 2008 state championship football team who is now in his third year at Yale Law School. “It was great to see Chris,” Wertz said, “and an honor to introduce such a fantastic role model to the group.”)
For sophomore Dylan Bakst the trip was an opportunity to see what could be. “The CS50 Fair was a very interesting fair that opened up my eyes to the fact that coding, even done simply, should be used to create simple, effective, and useful things that people need in their everyday life,” he said. “Overall, very fun and eye opening trip, not just about code, but perhaps even a select few of our futures. Maybe, even my own.”
On Monday, January 7, Mutovic and Wertz will be holding “Computer Science Night” at VHS, a presentation geared to parents of students currently in grades 8 through 11 who will be attending VHS next year and will be choosing courses in the coming months. “Our goal at this presentation is to give students and parents an idea of what the computer science department has to offer,” says Wertz, “so students can make informed decisions when choosing next year’s courses.” All Verona Public School parents are welcome to attend.