Saturday, October 31, 2015

The "Epic" that was VCE Algorithmics, 2015

In two days, the first batch of VCE Algorithmics students will sit their final exam. While I am nervous about the content of the exam, I am already proud of what my students have learnt and achieved over the year. As the delivery of the course gives way to the nervous waiting we're all experiencing this weekend, I thought it important to reflect on the last 12 months.

VCE Algorithmics (HESS) is a "Higher Education Scored Study", the only one in the Victorian Certificate of Education. It is a very ambitious introduction to computer science and carries significant university credits at Melbourne and Monash. The study design reads like a computer science course in "the Analysis and Design of Algorithms". Every university has its equivalent of such a course, usually in the second year of a CS degree!

Nine schools took the plunge this year. I am proud of my school being the only all-girls' institution among the 9. There were no textbooks written especially for this subject. There was a website with notes and video lectures but it was far from complete and the modules on the site were often published after we had taught the content. There were virtually no sample tasks or worksheets except what we came up with.

Some of us teachers shared our resources and benefited from each other's work. The university lecturers who were supporting us would convene a weekly Google Hangout to answer our questions and to clarify elements of the study design. A bond formed between some of us and, whenever we met in workshops, it was a little like a family reunion. We complained about the amount of work we were doing and we shared our joys and our pride in our students who were taking the challenge in their stride.

It is truly awe inspiring to think that students in years 11 and 12, whose prior schooling provides no preparation, can outline a proof by contradiction that the halting problem is undecidable, meaning that no computer program could be written that examines all other computer programs and determines whether they will finish running or remain stuck in an infinite loop.

Teaching Algorithmics has awakened my love for learning such concepts. Given that, sadly, we will not run a class in 2016 due to the lack of numbers, I have decided to take the year off and study mathematics and computer science. This will not be the first time but it will be a different experience from my first degree. This time, I will be learning for the sheer enjoyment of it! It's a middle age crisis of sorts :-)

At the end of a long year, one of my students uttered the most rewarding words that I could have heard as a teacher. The words were not "thank you" and she was not even addressing me. She was speaking to a class mate, referring to their common solution to a revision exercise:
"We have come a long way this year." 
I could retire a contented teacher!


Geraldine Mckenna


Congratulations Ziad, an amazing achievement for you and the brave girls who took it on. Best wishes to all for Monday.

Ziad Baroudi


Thank you, Ges. Let's hope the examination result rewards their hard work.

Kelly Bunning


How exciting to be the only Girl's school participating. Well done on all the encouraging,cajoling and enthusiasm that went in to completing this year.