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Lacombe Composite High hosts a ‘data science hackathon’

Several young Lacombe students had the chance to delve more deeply into the world of ‘data science’ during a groundbreaking day camp held this month.

Several young Lacombe students had the chance to delve more deeply into the world of ‘data science’ during a groundbreaking day camp held this month.

Lacombe Composite High School hosted a ‘data science hackathon’ on July 19 - welcoming around 25 local Grades 5-6 students to the event.

The hackathon aims to help students develop problem-solving and computational thinking skills through interactive drawing with Python and a range of other data science challenges.

For example, one of the challenges saw students ‘draw’ a Pokémon character through coding.

Korey Von Kuster, coordinator of Education Services with Wolf Creek schools, said the event was organized by Callysto, a learning program that brings data science and digital literacy skills to Canadian classrooms.

“What a great day! The kids had so much fun,” he said, adding that the students brought with them a range of skill levels in these areas but watching the continual progression of knowledge through the day was striking.

“We wanted the kids to get some exposure to the world of coding and of data science,” he said.

“We also really wanted to have them try something new, too. They had the chance to practice some skills they will use later on in life, and it was really nice to be a part of it,” he added.

“What I enjoyed the most was seeing the kids problem-solve, and ask the right questions.”

Bobbi Belsek, an educational specialist and Callysto facilitator, said the organization is the educational arm of a non-profit called Cybera.

“Our main goal is to teach data science,” he said. “We teach students how to analyze and build visualization (tools) like pie and bar graphs from (large) data sets, so they can get usable insights that they can then apply to their learning,” he said.

Callysto is also about teaching ‘computational thinking’.

“It’s basically the ability to break down a problem into ‘chunks’, and develop ways to solve that problem,” he said. “So that computational thinking was really the requisite skill that we were trying to teach in our hackathon.”

Challenges, as mentioned, included drawing geometric shapes using computer code.

For Belsek, guiding students through these experiences provides a rich source of inspiration in his role as an educator.

“I love seeing students who, at the beginning of the day, are a little bit disengaged and may not really want to be there, but they go on to have success and become engaged by the time we are halfway through the day,” he said.

”I also really love to see the ability of students to be independently learning these skills, or to have what is being taught to them - like the computational thinking skills - be explained well enough so that they can learn and explore on their own,” he said.

“There was a point in the afternoon where Korey, myself, and my colleague didn’t really need to offer too much help,” he said.

“The students were so engaged, they were getting it! That’s one of the things I really like.”

Von Kuster said he hopes to see more of these kinds of learning opportunities return to Lacombe in the future.

Mark Weber

About the Author: Mark Weber

I've been a part of the Black Press Media family for about a dozen years now, with stints at the Red Deer Express, the Stettler Independent, and now the Lacombe Express.
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