Classic Computer Magazine Archive CREATIVE COMPUTING VOL. 9, NO. 2 / FEBRUARY 1983 / PAGE 132

International computer problem solving contest III. Donald T. Piele.

More over Pac-Man. Make way for the computer problem solvers. It is time once again to announce the Annual International Computer Problem Solving Contest sponsored by the University of Wisconsin-Parkside. This year's contest will be held on Saturday, April 30, 1983. This is how it works. The Structure

We provide the rules and the problems, and you provide the computers and the kids. A teacher from a school, an administrator from a school district, or an adult representing an organization may establish a contest site by submitting the registration form provided below. This person, the local contest director, agrees to abide by the rules of the contest and to conduct the local contest.

Larger groups, such as regional and state-wide computer education organizations, may also register to become contest sites. We especially welcome the opportunity to work with computer education organizations in administering the contest within a state.

Every contest director must appoint a contest duplicator. This person is someone who is not involved in the teaching or coaching of students participating in the contest. The contest duplicator is responsible for making the necessary number of copies of the contest problems and keeping them confidential until the day of the contest. We mail only one copy to each contest site.

Judges, who grade the local contest, are appointed by the contest director. We help out by providing grading guideliness including a complete set of sample solutions. Each local site is responsible for picking its own winners and making any local awards. For example, in our Southeastern Wisconsin contest, we award trophies to the top three finishers in each division. This is done at an awards ceremony held two hours after the programming is over. In the interim, the contestants attend our local computer fair sponsored by the UW-Parkside Computer Club.

Every contest director fills out and returns a summary of local results. If a team correctly solves four or more problems, copies of the programs and sample runs are also sent to us. Our team of judges compares the solutions from these teams and determines the top ten teams in each division.

The first place team in each division receives a traveling trophy engraved with the names of each team member. The other nine teams receive certificates of achievement. The Rules

A team consists of one, two, or three students. All teams are classified by division. The Senior Division is for students in grades 10-12 (maximum age 18); the Junior Division is for grades 7-9 (maximum age 15); and the Elementary Division is for grades 4-6 (maximum age 12).

The contest is a timed event that challenges each team to solve as many problems from a set of five as the can within a two-hour time limit. Any computer system or computer language may be used; however, each team may use only one input device (keyboard/terminal). After the two-hour period, each team is allowed time to list its programs and sample runs to a printer.

The first thing the judges look for in examining a program is whether it runs correctly. If it does not produce the output specified in the problem, then the program receives a zero. If it does run correctly, then it receives 15 points. Additional points, from 1 to 5, are awarded for simplicity, style, and readability. The extra points are often necessary to distinguish between teams with the same number of correct solutions.

We realize that judging simplicity, style, and readability is a very subjective matter and that results may vary widely. Therefore, we examine the programs and make our own judgments of the results submitted for international ranking. We use one judge per problem to help ensure uniform treatment within each problem.

In general, no outside help, such as books or written or stored programs, is allowed during the contest. The only exceptions allowed are a text editor for writing the programs and a reference book or guide to the computer system and the language being used. Our Support

This is the seventh year that we have conducted a programming contest in our area. It began as an experiment at our first annual University of Wisconsin-Parkside Computer Fair in 1977. Since then, we have held the contest locally each year, and two years ago we expanded it to its present international form.

After entering the contest, each contest director receives the following: 1) general information on how to organize the day's activities; 2) the rules; 3) the contest results form; and 4) contest problems and sample solutions from the two previous international contests.

Approximately two weeks before the day of the contest, the contest duplicator receives; 1) a copy of the official problems for all three divisions; 2) sample solutions; and 3) individual and master score cards. This material is duplicated locally and given to the contest director on the day of the contest. Your Support

The size of each local contest varies widely. We have had schools enter with only one team consisting of the one student programming on the school's only microcomputer. This is fine with us. We are delighted to be able to challenge this one student. The only disadvantage with this format is that it precludes meaningful local recognition. We encourage contest directors to look around for other potential teams within the school or school district. A school district is probably the ideal size for a contest site big enough to make it competitive and small enough to be manageable.

The next size up is a statewide contest. Each school or school district can still hold the contest locally, but the results are returned to a state-wide organization to determine the top teams in that state. Any special recognition at this level is up to each state. We would like to get involved.

One logical organization would be the state chapter of the International Council for Computers in Education (ICCE). To find out whether your state has such an organization or how to start one if it doesn't, contact David Moursund, President, ICCE, Department of Computer and Information Science, University of Oregon, Eugene, OR 97403. (503) 686-4408.

We have also received requests from foreign countries asking for directions on how to organize the contest and recognize the winners within their own countries. One even suggested the possibility of having an international face-off among the top teams from each country.

What worked fine locally, seems to be doing just as well in other

areas of the United States and in many foreign countries.   Last

year we received requests for information from over 400 sources representing more than 3000 students from 44 states and 16 foreign countries. If history repeats itself, we will double in size this year. The Cost

In order to improve the administrative support that we feel is necessary to run this contest properly, we are charging, for the first time, a fee of $4 to each contest site. This fee will cover the coast associated with producing and mailing all of the contest materials; information, previous contest problems and solutions, results, certificates, and trophies. Reflections

Organizing an international computer problem solving contest has been an educational experience. Through the contest results returned to us from schools throughout the United States and several foreign countries, we have been able to "feel the pulse" of the programming arm of computer literacy in pre-college education. Our sensors indicate very clearly that the exercise this arm is receiving through the spread of microcomputers into homes and schools is having dramatic effects.

Since we began the international event two years ago, it has doubled in size each year, as has the number of teams correctly solving four or more problems. Also, the myth that only computer freaks, with one-dimensional personalities and off-beat interests can excel in computer programming is being exploded. The senior division winning team of Spencer Greene and Truman Joe from Klein High School in Spring, TX are perfect counterexamples.

Spencer and Truman became interested in computers in junior high school and started programming extensively in the ninth grade. In addition to computing, both have received many awards in mathematics and science.

For example, Spencer placed high in the University of Texas Interscholastic League's State Academic Meet; in the state and national Junior Engineering Technology Society competition; and in the University of Houston's 1982 engineering mathematics meet; and he also represented Texas as a team member to the 7th annual Atlantic Region Mathematics League Meet held in Washington D.C. He was also active in engineering club activities and served as vice-president of Mu Alpha Theta-Jets.

Truman has also participated in many of the same engineering and mathematics meets. He placed third in the mathematics/computer science division of the Science Engineering Fair of Houston and was offered a $12,000 scholarship for undergraduate work in engineering at the University of Houston. He served as president of the Junior Engineering Technology Society and was a member of the National Honor Society. He plans to pursue a career in medicine or engineering.

The senior division second place team of Jonathan Mark, Ian Taylor, and Washington Taylor from The Cambridge Rindge and Latin School in Cambridge, MA, was equally impressive. Ian Taylor was valedictorian of his senior class and is now at Yale University. Washington Taylor (no relation) was a member of the United States team to the 32rd International Mathematical Olympiad held in Budapest, Hungary.

The team tied for third place and Washington received an individual second place prize. He is now at stanford University. Jonathan went to Harvard. All three were National Merit finalists.

Clearly, the programming arm of computer literacy is moving out of the backroom and becoming an acceptable and, indeed, desirable activity for a large segment of the pre-college population. Students who rank at the top in our contest are well rounded achievers with strong mathematical and scientific backgrounds. If the results of this contest proved anything, it was that in departments of mathematics around the country where computer problem solving is being incorporated into the curriculum, students are developing very strong problem solving skills. Postscript

As usual, the date of the contest, April 30, is a Saturday. In the past this has caused problems for some schools that cannot use their school computers on this day or for whom it is a religious holiday. This year we are announcing an alternative date, Friday, April 29, for those sites that cannot possibly hold the contest on saturday. This is the only alternative date that will be allowed.

Another problem for some teams is the language they are using. Although 99% of the teams in the contest use the Basic language, A few now use pascal. Contest directors from these schools have noted that their teams cannot be competitive in a timed competition because of the extra time needed to compile the programs.

One suggestion for these schools is to look into the Computer Power curriculum materials developed at the University of Tennessee under a grant from the National Science Foundation. This package contains the program called Interpas which is an interpreter for Pascal. This program should give Pascal programmers the same ease of execution enjoyed by those using, Basic. Contact the project director, Michael Moshell, Associated Professor of Computer Science, The University of Tennessee, Knoxville, TN 37916.