Yesterday, I had the privilege of traveling to NYC with some of my students to participate in a Microsoft sponsored CS50 Hackathon at The Browning School. My students walked in and immediately spotted Harvard Professor, David Malan, and started whispering to each other, “He’s the one from the videos!” I am not sure they would have been any more excited if they had just spotted Adele. They truly acted like this amazing professor of computer science was a rock star, and I couldn’t have been prouder.
Soon after that, a few of us were interviewed (It isn’t a true CS50 event without cameras and swag!). My students made me proud with their confidence and ease discussing their course on camera. They were so professional!
Professor David Malan started off the Hackathon by handing a bold volunteer a giant yellow phonebook and inviting him to do the now famous CS50 stunt of ripping it in half to find the name “Mike Smith” more efficiently. He then had us work together to count the number of people in the room. We epically failed and he announced that it would certainly not be the only “bug” we found that day.
Professor Malan also shared that he had never coded until he was a sophomore in college, which was why he was so excited to see a room filled with high school students learning computer science. I was reminded of the importance of exposing every student to this discipline so that we don’t miss the future professors due to lack of access.
Since my students had not done much coding yet this term, I expected that they would do the first CS50 problem set, which is in Scratch, but I quickly realized that they felt a little under-stimulated and wanted to be more challenged. I got them set up on the cs50.io IDE and sent them to a walk-through with Zamyla and another young CS50 star without even having read the problem set. After that, my students set about learning C and teaching it to each other using the CS50 online resources. I was struck by how willing they were to put themselves into an uncomfortable situation with no direct instruction from me. All of these students have had experience coding in some other language, but none had ever used Bash or C. They were not at all intimidated and went forward fearlessly. As I wrote in an earlier post, we haven’t coded at all yet this term, and they were eager to get going!
As we left the Hackathon, arms filled with candy, pizza, CS50 sockets, t-shirts, bags, and balloons, I was overwhelmed by the generosity I had just witnessed. Educators from so many institutions were all helping each other’s students, making sure that every student in the room felt supported. Two of my colleagues in the CS50 pilot had come without their own students, and so adopted mine and were helping them get started with C. All of us were sharing our favorite tools for the classroom and our hopes for what we will do next year. I was invited to help plan another Hackathon for next year, and to collaborate online with some of these inspiring teachers.
Last week, I told my students that computer scientists are special because they love to share their knowledge, as evidenced by the prominence of open-source projects. The community of educators who participated in the Hackathon at The Browning School clearly embody this generosity of spirit, and I was inspired and excited to share a day learning and teaching with them.