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First NHS Puzzle Day Offers Computational Inspirations

Published: October 22, 2017

Eliza Hallabeck

Newtown High School students worked in groups in two rooms on October 13 to solve “puzzles,” as part of a CS50x Puzzle Day inspired lesson. Each group had a packet of challenges or puzzles to solve, and pizza was available for all to eat.

According to NHS computer science teacher Kristin Violette, the event was inspired by the CS50x Puzzle Day held at Yale University and Harvard University. Part of her lessons at NHS dovetail from CS50, an introduction to computer science course, material from both universities, and each year the Puzzle Day has been growing. Challenges from the 2017 CS50x Puzzle Day are available online for use.

Students in Mike Ornaf’s Computer Repair Enterprise (Newtek) class and Ms Violette’s AP Computer Science Principles class both participated in the NHS Puzzle Day. With both classes gathered together, Ms Violette said students were being challenged to solve as many of the eight problems in the packet as they could before the period ended. Roughly 35 students participated.

The first problem challenged students to “not pass go” on a Monopoly-style board. A combination of dice rolls were provided, and the students had to figure out a six-letter word from the given information.

Ms Violette told the students the event was NHS’s first Puzzle Day, “and hopefully it will be epic.” If students got stuck on some of the puzzles, Ms Violette created hints to guide them toward the answer. Each puzzle had a one word answer, and students had to work to fill in the letters of the word.

“Good luck,” she said before the students broke into groups.

As students began to solve the problems, Ms Violette said she first learned about the CS50x Puzzle Day last year, and she thought it would be a good event for the NHS computer science students. Ms Violette said she hopes students learn from practicing computational thinking. The puzzles, she said, offer a gateway to thinking computationally.

After five minutes, one group of students said they had figured out the first letter in a word for one answer.

“Wait, ‘t’ is less than or equal to four?” one student asked in his group. Another student in another group said, “Okay, now we figure what ‘c’ is.”

Mr Ornaf said he hopes the students learn problem solving skills from the lesson. He also said teaching the students collaboration was a “really great feature of this.”

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