The coding team at the Arkansas School for Mathematics, Sciences, and the Arts is gearing up to compete in the Sixth Annual All-State Coding Competition, as one of 17 teams to be named finalists by Gov. Asa Hutchinson.
The team, which consists of David Clark, Josh Stallings and Robert Boerwinkle, will compete on April 30 at the University of Central Arkansas in Conway, led by their sponsor ASMSA computer instructor, Nicholas Seward.
ASMSA qualified for the state event after going up against over 150 other teams in the regional competition on Feb. 25.
“It was, of course, very good,” Boerwinkle, a junior from El Dorado, said about how it felt to advance. “We made a couple mistakes, and I’m just glad that our mistakes didn’t come back to bite us.”
Hutchinson said he is proud of the “valuable tradition” Arkansas has been able to establish through having the event, and that the participant level has grown over the years.
“I am extremely impressed with the talent level of the student participants, and I look forward to meeting the 17 All-State teams in person on April 30,” he said in a news release.
Seward said his team meets weekly to practice and prepare for the event. While he is proud of the strides the team has made, he said they are still evolving.
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“I think they still have some room to grow before All-State,” he said. “Programming can be very singular, and sometimes when you have these groups, you can get a lot of ego. It’s hard to come to solutions when everybody’s competing for their solution, but that doesn’t exist as far as I can see here. So, it’s like the perfect ingredients for an all-star team here.”
ASMSA won state twice during the early years of the competition, and hopes to reclaim the title this year over defending champions, the Don Tyson School of Innovation, in Springdale.
Seward noted while ASMSA has done very well, there are some “phenomenal” programs across the state. Even the smaller, Class 2A school, Gentry, brought home second place last year at state.
“Arkansas’s killing it at computer science right now,” he said.
The team said its biggest challenge will be having only one computer to use, without internet access.
“For regionals, we would all bring our computers, and we’re given these problems and we say, ‘Hey, if you can do this one, I’ll do this one,'” Clark, a senior from Harrison, said. “When we go to state, it’s just one computer.”
He said they will have to utilize a “divide and conquer” approach, while meticulously coordinating their efforts.
“At state, one person would be writing their solution while the two others are writing out on paper whatever we have, like a marker board, what they want their solution to be,” he said.
“And that is way more difficult because if something doesn’t work, you realize your logic is wrong, you don’t know how the scope would work — the computer won’t tell us until we’re there, and it takes even more time to figure it out. So that is what I am mainly worried about.”
Stallings, a senior from Little Rock, said lack of internet is another big factor.
“If you forget like the slightest amount of documentation, it could stump you,” he said.
“Because, at All-Region, you could just Google it and be like, ‘Oh I’m just missing a period,’ you know, or brackets. But you don’t have that at All-State.
“We have to have paper printouts of everything we need. So if we rely too heavily on documentation, we’re going to be sorting through paper the whole time,” Stallings said.
Clark noted while each of them can make their own software and download whatever documentation they need, it is a much slower process and they have to delegate tasks and use what they have.
As for preparation, Stallings said it comes down to one simple solution — practice.
“Practicing over and over again is probably what will always prepare us the most, because we have access to past year problems and if we just practice those, we’ll get used to the way of thinking and writing it out won’t be as hard, hopefully,” he said.
“Since like sixth grade, we’ve been doing math, we’ve been writing algorithms, we know how to code — a lot of us have been doing it before high school,” Clark said.
“A lot of us taught ourselves. But it’s the one computer. We’re used to one environment and that environment is being when we make assignments, we turn it in. Or it’s just for ourselves and we look at it. We’ve never had to share it to someone and make sure they understand or never have they made it in an environment that isn’t ours,” he said.
Each member of the first-place team will receive a $2,000 deposit into a 529 College Savings Plan, while the second place members receive $1,000 and third place $500. In addition, the schools will receive $10,000, $6,000, and $4,000, respectively, to support their computer science programs.
Other schools competing include Arkansas High School in Texarkana, Bentonville High School, Bentonville West High School, Cabot High School, Conway High School, Fayetteville High School, Haas Hall Academy in Fayetteville, Haas Hall Academy in Rogers, Har-Ber High School in Springdale, Hot Springs World Class High School, Lisa Academy West High School in Little Rock, Little Rock Central High School, Mountain Home High School, Rogers High School and Star City High School.