Kicking off July 27the Challenge is a fun and interactive online coding competition designed for students and teachers. Running over five weeks, and hosted by Grok Learning and the Australian Computing Academy (ACA), the competition is tailored to every stage of programming knowledge with four levels available: Newbies, Beginners, Intermediate and Advanced.

The Challenge allows students to earn points and compete with their peers and other schools around the world, in a bid to climb the leader board to become the ‘master coder’.

With school budgets likely to be stretched during the uncertainty of the COVID-19 period, a 33% discount off regular pricing now applies.

Associate Professor James Curran, the Academic Director of the Australian Computing Academy (ACA), Director of the National Computer Science School (NCSS), and co-founder of Grok Learning, believes that one positive outcome of COVID-19 has been to show the value and effectiveness of online learning over the past few months.

“It is our strong hope that educators continue along this trajectory so that young Australians become effective online learners within a blended education model that becomes the ‘new normal’,” Curran said.

“Initiatives such as the NCSS Challenge help educators not only become confident teachers of coding in an online learning environment, but also help their students become work-force ready. Whether you want to fight climate change, make a blockbuster movie or unlock the secrets of the Universe, a solid understanding of coding is vital.”

The NCSS Challenge is unique in that it allows students and teachers to learn and code as they go, with new problems and coding concepts to solve and teach each week. These are supported with step-by-step instructions and notes.

Students build coding skills that are aligned to the Australian Curriculum: Digital Technologies and sharpen their problem-solving skills.

The Challenge is supported by a wide range of industry and Government sponsors, including Freelancer, Wisetech Global, Atlassian, CBA, ASD, Data61, Google, and Dolby.

Many sponsors have offered online support as expert tutors, such as Tim Neal, Senior Director of Engineering and General Manager Dolby Australia. Neal believes that participating in the Challenge helps students to build fluency in digital technologies.

“What we love about the NCSS Challenge is the inclusive nature of the activities, the reach that has been established over the past 20 years, and the strong link back to Australia’s Digital Technologies curriculum,” Neal said.

Kelly Stewart, Software Engineer at Google, is also an online tutor and a NCSS Challenge alumni.

“My experience of the NCSS Challenge was that it taught me how to think through hard problems without giving up. This is a skill that all of us need regardless of what we do.”

The initiative has been designed to help teachers deliver key elements of the AC:DT curriculum for Years 5-10, and also complete up to 50 hours of professional development through the Challenge’s five streams.

“Last year, 83% of teachers said that the Challenge helped them meet the requirements of the Digital Technologies curriculum, as well as allowing students to solve real-world programming problems,” Curran noted.

Malyn Mawby, ex-software designer and head of personalised learning at Roseville College, is keen to dispel the typical misconception that students need to be technical or mathematical to do the Challenge.

“Technology is ultimately about people. A software designer doesn’t just make stuff – the work impacts the lives of other people. Whether you are in marketing, in HR or whatever, in the workforce of the future you need to be able to discover new ways to solve real-world problems and find new market segments. This is computational thinking distilled: it’s about problem-solving. That’s why the NCSS Challenge is so relevant and important and why my students do it every year.”

The NCSS Challenge team has incorporated teacher feedback, offering several new features:

  • Running the NCSS Challenge twice a year to provide teachers with more flexibility.
  • Rebooting the Intermediate stream to be more aligned to the Years 9 and 10 curricula.
  • A live Classroom View for teachers to see students working through problems in real time.
  • Teachers can access the tutor interface and chat remotely with students while seeing their screen. This allows teachers to support students who may be struggling.
  • Paired problems to give students the opportunity to practice and cement new skills.
  • Interactive slides for the Newbies and Beginners streams, featuring step-by-step instructions, which direct students to constantly run and edit the code examples.
  • Narration in the Newbies stream so that students don’t have to ‘read to learn’.

To participate in the NCSS Challenge in July, register to create a student account on Grok Learning and assign specific Challenge streams (Newbie, Beginners, Intermediate, Advanced) to each student. To learn more about the NCSS Challenge and to get your students involved, visit the website and follow the Challenge on socials.