The Story

The Student Computer Science Initiative started as a project among high school classmates to help their school make CS classes more engaging. Thanks to OpenSource@HackIllinois, we took the opportunity to move our work to a forum where other students, teachers, researchers, and industry professionals could contribute. We have both tools and insights that can bolster CS teaching and learning.

The Game: EcoSystem32

We spent most of the weekend developing a web-based, JavaScript version of a project that one of our teachers created. It's an exciting competition that combines programming, computational science, and ecology. Students program the eating, mating, and general survival habits for two animals (a carnivore and a herbivore) and then pit their code against other players' animals to see whose last the longest. We call the web version "EcoSystem32" because we think that any classes or groups that start using it will never want to delete it.

The Future

The hardest part of this project was converting the existing Java code to JavaScript: the process challenged our model thinking and performance optimization efforts. With EcoSystem32 specifically, we hope that other open source contributors will help improve the code as well as create versions of the game for Python, Ruby, and other languages, that way it can be made relevant to many more students! We know how powerful this game is in captivating students' interest and building critical thinking skills, so we eventually hope to create a language-agnostic version that allows programmers of all backgrounds to come together, learn, compete, and grow.

The Insights

The Open SCSI's code isn't its only asset. We welcome others to read our report on "Next Generation Computer Science Assessments." We believe the report has useful ideas for tackling many issues both students and teachers have brought up concerning tests and projects. The report was written by students after many months of gathering student-to-student feedback through conversations, workshops, and even student-led classes. The ideas represent the kind of experience students want when studying technology. The SCSI hopes that these students' voices are heard by more schools. To ensure that they are understood and palatable, we welcome pull requests not just on our code, but on our insights as well.

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