High-school programming aces converge at York


Above: One of the teams hard at work during the ECOO competition

Teams from several Ontario high schools recently competed in the finals of the Educational Computing Organization of Ontario Programming Competition held at York. Peter Cribb, senior lecturer in York’s Department of Computer Science and host organizer of the competition, sent the following article about the event to YFile. For information about the semi-final competition, also held at York, read the April 15 YFile.


Above: Winners of the ECCO competition from Vaughan Road Academy, left to right: Sean Lamers, Richard Peng, Dimitrios Simitas and teacher Paul Gilleland

How would you write a computer program to determine if the shape formed by an arrangement of characters is symmetric, or if four words can be arranged to create a simple rectangular crossword? How do you write a computer program to determine the longest chain that can be created with a set of (simplified) dominoes, or a program to arrange a given a set of nine numbers to form a triangle so that the four numbers on each side add to the same value? Moreover, what does it take to do these four tasks under the pressure of competition and within three hours?

That’s what faced teams from over 20 high schools across Ontario competing in the finals of the Educational Computing Organization of Ontario (ECOO) Programming Competition hosted at York University on Saturday, May 1.

Right: Second-place team from Sir Frederick Banting Secondary School, left to right: Aida Kashigar, Aidin Kashigar, Dan Brotherston, Andrew Haji and teacher Jaye Herbert  

Richard Peng, Sean Lamers and Dimitrios Simitas (with moral support from absent teammate Lev Naiman) of Vaughan Road Academy in Toronto can tell you what it takes. They came out on top of a closely fought final that saw teams from London’s Sir Frederick Banting Secondary School and Kitchener Collegiate Institute coming in a close second and third.

These three teams successfully completed all four programming challenges within the three-hour time limit, writing programs that were required to produce an answer in less than 30 seconds.

Right: Third-place team from Kitchener Collegiate Institute, left to right: Scott Huber, Bill Tong, Simon Parent and Mike Butler

Now for an answer to the question, What does it take? Having a creative combination of mental capabilities that include understanding how to represent the problem (after all a computer cannot visually inspect a shape for symmetry or physically lay out a chain of dominoes); using the representation to determine an algorithm (a systematic means of manipulating or analyzing the data) that solves the problem; translating this algorithm into a computer language (i.e. the computer program); and testing the solution. And, finally, it takes a special kind of creativity that rivals that of the composer or musician, the writer or poet, the scientist or engineer.

Click here to see a full gallery of photos of the event.