Computer Science, classrooms and conferencing: CS4HS2019

The School of Engineering and Computer Science (ECS) opened its doors to over seventy teachers from around the North Island this week, with the annual Computer Science for High Schools (CS4HS) conference running from Monday through Wednesday.

Lecturer gives a talk to a room of teachers
Raqi Syed captivates the group with stories of her experiences in experimental animation.

CS4HS is sponsored by Victoria University of Wellington, run by the ECS Outreach team, and is free for participants. It acts as a networking hub for high school teachers passionate about ICT education, who have three days to share best practice, classroom experiences, and even a few laughs. The conference sessions are varied in topic and format: some are based around the NCEA curriculum, assisting teachers in planning around the standards and analysing their experiences. Others provide new practical skills, removing barriers for teachers who want to integrate the latest technologies into their teaching.

This year’s keynotes and sessions covered topics as wide ranging as Mixed and Augmented Reality; indigenous game design; e-textiles; Code Avengers; VEX robotics; drone racing; and music technology. VUW PhD student Martin Eno gave an introduction to digital music making, which he said “sparked a great discussion with teachers about how they could see it being applied in their school. Enabling any student to be creative is the goal of my work and research, so I’m happy to support any teacher to do that”. Teachers also had the opportunity to tour the ECS facilities and laboratories, and to experiment with computer graphics and software engineering equipment such as the Virtual Driving Simulator, HTC Vive, Magic Leap and AR Sandbox.

Keynote speaker Raqi Syed, Senior Lecturer and MDT Programme Director for the University’s School of Design, spoke about some of her experiences as a budding feature animator at a California high school, and went on to outline how creative teaching practice is partially to thank for her career as a Senior Technical Director with Weta Digital. “Conferences like CS4HS are great platforms for us, as lecturers, to meet and interact with high-school teachers,” says Raqi. “It helps us understand their perspectives as often these inform our curriculum at the university level. Moreover, we can’t wait till students come to the university to promote diversity. We need to help build it into creative pathways at the earliest stage possible in an artist's education through outreach and engagement,” she said.

The conference’s emphasis on creativity and the diversity of its subject material are at least partially due to the ethos of organiser Pravin Vaz, the Outreach Coordinator for ECS. Pravin worked as a teacher before coming to ECS, and has been delighted to see the conference, as a cornerstone in the School’s wider outreach programme, progress and develop over the years. “We have a fantastic team of students and professional staff in place for this event and it’s only becoming better and better,” he notes. “It’s tremendously exciting to see such passion about bringing cutting edge technologies into our teaching.”

Robert Bain, a conference participant with 30 years of teaching experience, said, “It’s been a great experience being at this edition of the CS4HS conference. This is, in fact, the sixth CS4HS conference that I am attending because I see these conferences as a great opportunity to stay relevant to my profession. The conversations have been really enriching and the sessions always offer insights into how we can better engage students in the classroom. I look to learn at least one new thing in each session and I must say, every CS4HS conference that I’ve attended has exceeded my expectations.”