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SkillsUSA Programming Competition

2011 January 20
by Hélène Martin

In Washington state, career and technical education instructors are highly encouraged to have students participate in approved leadership activities.  These are provided by various recognized institutions including DECA, Future Farmers of America, Future Business Leaders of America, SkillsUSA and a few others.  In an attempt to figure out whether my students should be part of one of these, I bought the SkillsUSA Computer Programming Championships Technical Standards.  The only free information I was able to find about the SkillsUSA programming competition is a blueprint outlining the standards covered in the competition and a scoring rubric for this year’s competition.  Is no one discussing this competition online?

If you’re thinking of buying the technical standards as a way to glean information about the competition, I would encourage you to save your money.  It’s generic rules (piercings must not pose a safety hazard), the scoring rubric linked above, and a problem statement from last year.  Things I did get from the document:

  • Students must be SkillsUSA members to participate
  • Students must wear official SkillsUSA clothing
  • Students must submit a resume
  • Students will take a “Leadership and Professional Skills Knowledge Test.”  My favorite question from a sample:
    Which of the following is a good behavior to show during an interview?
    a) Chewing gum
    b) Wearing unusual, memorable clothing
    c) Smiling
    d) All of the above
  • There’s no real algorithmic interest to the problems posed
  • GUIs are heavily emphasized

I would be very curious to learn more about who participates in this competition and what their reactions are.  I wonder whether the computer science education community is looking at some of these kinds of organizations as possible partners.  SkillsUSA has a lot of reach and visibility — over 10,000 chapters across the nation — and seems to have partnerships with may state education departments.  Perhaps computer science is too academic to be within the scope of what they cover?  Looking over this document makes me feel out of place in the career and technical education world!  For now, I’ll continue to encourage my students to participate in local programming competitions.

9 Responses leave one →
  1. January 21, 2011

    SkillsUSA does have a programming section in MA but not as far as I can tell in other New England states. And it is small in MA. It just doesn’t seem to “fit” with the way more traditional career/technical events that SkillsUSA runs so well fit.

    • Hélène Martin permalink*
      January 22, 2011

      Thanks for the extra info! Have you attended one of the competitions or do you know anyone who has? Agreed it doesn’t seem to fit and curious to hear evidence to support/refute that.

  2. Kyle Gillette permalink
    January 23, 2011

    I just attended a class yesterday on CTSOs for my CTE certification. Didn’t get any information about which CTSO would be best for computer science or web design/development. But since I have to select one, I would like for it to have a positive benefit for my students.

    Certainly would love to hear about anything good that you find.

    • Hélène Martin permalink*
      January 23, 2011

      I have a friend from another district who has participated in a couple and will hopefully comment later today to provide some insights.

      In our district, we were able to make the case that none were really appropriate and that local competitions and events were a good alternative.

  3. January 23, 2011

    The first two years I taught here in WA I was part of SkillsUSA. The people were really friendly and nice, but the organization didn’t seem to meet the needs of my kids. Most of the competitions were about auto or woods and the only computer related ones were dealing with hardware. After two years of not really being satisfied and not being able to get a lot of kids interested, I looked for different options.

    For the subsequent 4 years I’ve been doing TSA (Technology Students Association) and it’s better. Still not exactly the quite fit, and not quite up to the organizational standards I’d prefer, but again the people are nice. And with this one at least there is a web design competition, a poster and pin design competition, a digital photography comp, and a game programming comp. There’s also a leadership/team-building retreat which they’ve held at Microsoft the past two years which my kids enjoyed, even if it’s mostly just because they’re on MS-campus. The main focus of TSA still isn’t as Computer Sciencey as I wish it was, but it works ok for the programming students and much better for my multimedia students than SkillsUSA did.

    I also organize 2 programming contests a year through PSCSTA, which a very large number of my CS students attend–as Helene mentioned I think this is one of the best opportunities for the students, though I think if we added a “retreat” similar to TSA to our event list it could be even better. I’d have to work through some details in my head and figure out if I can clear some things off my plate, but I think I might try to take it on next year. Our CS students need us!

  4. January 27, 2011

    Another thing.

    I just looked into ACM chapters and realized that there are High School chapters. Maybe it would be wise to just start a HS ACM chapter since this is the club that the students would likely be in if they continued to be in a CS club in college.

    Also it fits in well with PCSTA since it is also affiliated with ACM.

    I mentioned this idea to my current TSA officers and they expressed interest in planning a retreat for the fall themselves (with some guidance from me of course). They attended the TSA retreat this fall and have some ideas on how a retreat could be fun and also build some of the soft skills and problem solving skills that CS students need. I will explore this further with them and see what we can set up.

    My current president also suggested a culminating “State Competition”. I tried to get him to articulate what that might look like. He thought competitions based specifically around programming, of course. Maybe a Scratch challenge, a Scribbler challenge, a Website Design Competition, a Photoshop competition. I thought maybe we could also do a mock-tech interview competition (resumes, prof dress, one-on-one interview required), maybe a written programming language test (multiple choice, identifying different features of languages, environments, etc), and then maybe a team problem solving competition.

    The way TSA works is the state conference is held at a hotel and they have competitions on different days. I need to iron out a lot of logistics in my head, but I think this is something we could combine with the April contest (for 2012) and pull off. Lots of planning, of course. But it could also be a whole lot of fun.

    Obviously no details are set, but any initial thoughts. I’m going to copy this to the PSCSTA planning group email too.

    • Hélène Martin permalink*
      February 5, 2011

      Thanks for all your great insights, Crystal!

      Is there any advantage for high schoolers to joining the ACM? It’s not a state-recognized CTSO so it doesn’t help us meet that requirement. I just recently relinquished my own membership because the perks seemed too few for the price.

  5. April 25, 2011

    Good observations. When I looked at the National SkillsUSA programming competiton in 2004, parts seem dated. The mention of flow chart templates and printer spacing layouts beckoned from an RPG or COBOL programmer. I have not attended a national SkillsUSA programming competiton, however, I have had students win in our state and go on to nationals. The best finish of my students has been a second place at nationals, usually they are in the top ten at nationals.

    At the SkillsUSA Illinois state level, the test focuses on the students being able to solve problems, similar to an ACM competition at the college level. In my opinionn this state competition tends to have outcomes which reflect the strongest logic and syntax programmer. The state contest supervisor has been open to both C++ or Java, which are similar languages college students pursuing computer science can expect to see in college.

    The national standards seemed more open ended, placing an inordinate amount of value on non logic programming such as general knowledge and interviewing skills. While it can be of value, none of the students who go to Nationals should feel any less based on national placements, from their national placement as it seems to be a programming competition which uses programming as a proportionately small amout of the overall ranking. Depending upon the state contest supervisors, it is hopeful they are a collection of the brightest competitors, just does not seem to be the brightest competition.

    • Hélène Martin permalink*
      May 1, 2011

      Thanks so much for these insights. If the state level competition is truly like an ACM competition, then I may actually be interested. I don’t understand why the documents I came across suggested it was more of an object-oriented design challenge.

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