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These George Washington High School students built apps, developed games and programmed robots

Iskandar Madibragimov is eager to talk about his app.

The 11th-grader won first place in the upperclassmen category at George Washington High School’s computer science fair. He made an app with three games: rock paper scissors, tic-tac-toe and a guessing game.

“It was pretty fun making our own projects,” Iskandar told Technical.ly. “I was kind of nervous presenting it, like showing your project to a bunch of new people — they might not get it, they might get it. But it was pretty fun overall and I’d do it again.”

Iskandar plans to take computer science again next year because he wants to major in the subject in college, and eventually work in a related field.

Computer science education matters for young people because it helps them see themselves in a tech-forward future. Yet only about half of the high schools in the School District of Philadelphia offer computer science courses. Somerton’s GWHS is one of them. Based on the packed gym at last week’s fair, you might safely guess the students are engaged with the subject.

George Washington High School student Iskandar Madibragimov points to the game he made. (Courtesy Kamala Kandi)

These high schoolers presented websites, apps and games, and robotics they had created to a panel of judges, including Dr. Jeremy Heymann from Heights Philadelphia, Dr. Chanda Jefferson from the University of Pennsylvania, and four Penn computer science students.

Students of all grade levels presented their projects last Tuesday at the school’s second annual computer science fair, timed with Computer Science Education Week. The fair included a mix of group and individual projects, with 75 projects presented and 320 students participating. Students were split up into two categories, ninth graders and upperclassmen.

What Philly high schoolers are building

Asolatkhon Orzieva won second place in the ninth-grade category. She created an interactive digital display with an ‘80s video game theme about cryptography, encryptions and the Zodiac Killer. She likes computer science because it is based in math and is logical.

Tenth-grader Zineddine Bensalem was part of the second-place team in the sophomore category. His team programmed a self-driving vehicle to complete a planned course and challenged younger students to race them. He finds the subject fun and will probably take computer science again next year because it makes him think in a different way, he said.

Bryan Henriquez was also in the self-driving vehicle group, and found the fair fun because of the friendly competition it inspired. He enjoys computer science because it’s interactive.

“I feel like [computer science] will help me with my future,” Henriquez said. “Especially because we’re coding and I kind of want to [become] an engineer or a coder, and I feel like that will help me become who I want to be.”

Teachers on computer science education

A group of people looking at a poster in a gym.

A student presents at George Washington High School’s 2023 computer science fair. (Courtesy Kamala Kandi)

Chris Rozelle, a computer science teacher at George Washington High School, said he enjoyed watching his students progress from a small idea to a full project that was ready to present to other people.

“With teaching both the upperclassmen and the underclassmen this year, I had the experience of being able to help the underclassmen put together projects that the upperclassmen could see, and vice versa,” Rozelle said. “So it was interesting to see how the upperclassmen thought and conceptualized how to teach things, essentially, to the underclassmen, and the underclassmen to show off to the upperclassmen the different things that they wanted to build.”

The purpose of the fair was to celebrate computer science and create awareness for the subject at the school, he said. He wanted to see teamwork, collaboration, computer science concepts practiced in a real-world context, and friendly competition from his students.

The fair was also a chance to let students know about all the computer science opportunities at the school, said Joyce Omulo, who teaches AP computer science at George Washington. She noted an uptick in the number of students participating this year compared to last, and said she’s looking forward to getting ninth and 10th graders into her higher-level classes.

Guests from Penn and Drexel University were also in attendance to talk to students about how they can continue to pursue the subject through summer programs and internships, Omulo said.

Because how do you convince high schoolers computer science is cool? Ask their peers to evangelize, explain why the subject matters and offer frequent exposure.

A group of people standing in a gymnasium.

At George Washington High School’s 2023 computer science fair. (Courtesy Kamala Kandi)

Sarah Huffman is a 2022-2023 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Lenfest Institute for Journalism.

Companies:
School District of Philadelphia / University of Pennsylvania
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