Building Up STEAM

userpic=mad-scientistToday was that one day a year when I take off from work and go help the emerging generation by serving as a judge at the California State Science Fair. This year, yet again, I was the judge for the Junior (6-8 grade) Math and Software Panel. A few observations:

  • For the first year in a long time: not a single project calculating π, and not a single “Monty Hall Problem”. We still, though, got two projects related to sports.
  • Perhaps mirroring society, we’re getting more and more projects where the emphasis is on the software, not the math.
  • Perhaps mirroring society yet again, we’re getting more and more software projects where the students role is integrating pre-existing pieces, as opposed to developing code from scratch.
  • So what were the hot trends this year: use of Arduino boards, Lego Mindstorm, and programming in Python, Java, and Excel.
  • This year I was much more annoyed by the crowding and interruptions of the interviews, and how the special category judges always seem to be talking to the person I needed to talk to next. Boos to the ScienCenter person who interrupted an interview to tell me I couldn’t sit my closed, sealed iced-tea on the table; I had to balance it with everything else I was carrying.

A few comments on the projects themselves:

What else did we have this year? Someone building an elevator in Minecraft. Two projects trying to program video games for the blind. Two projects dealing with autonomous cars (one navigating the maze, the other merging). One attempting to do text compression and storing the frequency library in the cloud. A fellow who programmed a calculator and got it into the Google store.  Those were the ones that stuck in my mind.

In any case, quite an interesting day. Always fun.