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The City Journals

CTEC students learn computer science to find ways to help others

Feb 11, 2020 01:08PM ● By Julie Slama

The one-year CTEC computer science program is a college-level introduction class where students in Canyons School District can earn four high school credits while learning to identify and solve problems. (Julie Slama/City Journals)

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

The 15th annual Master the Mainframe competition has ended. At Canyons Education Technical Center (CTEC), students are awaiting the winner announcements.

“It’s a college-level contest where students navigate and problem-solve on the main frame,” CTEC Computer Science and Programming Teacher Cody Henrichsen said. “Each challenge becomes more complex, so they build upon what they learn.”

Henrichsen had students in his CTEC classes participate, with nine students earning their digital badge at level two and two students — seniors Greg Eisert of Hillcrest High and Kaitlyn Lowe of Brighton High — completing all three parts, where they could receive a $2,750 travel stipend if they are the top two individuals from the region and a $1,000 educational scholarship if they are the top three globally.

For each student who completed part one, Master the Mainframe donates funds to help feed two children in need per day through ShareTheMeal, an app to fight global hunger through the United Nations World Food Program.

“With Master the Mainframe, students learn the best way possible to analyze data sets to generate a report that will ultimately help someone do something,” Henrichsen said. “It’s a lot of time, a lot of work and very little instruction, but they learn how to manipulate and use data.”

Master the Mainframe is just one of the ways Henrichsen engages students in computer science and programming. 

In class, students created apps using Java language.

“They’re fun apps they work on, to learn how to do fun, silly things, such as change colors. It’s a way to introduce students to organize ideas and thoughts,” he said.

These apps also teach students how to problem-solve and build their skills, strategies and processes, he said. The tools they learn can address problems and offer solutions.

“They learn how abstraction works with computer programming, the ability to change information by changing the input,” he said. “It’s understanding relationships, swiping to make it more or less abstract.”

The one-year CTEC program is a college-level introduction class that teaches students about data representation, abstraction, recursion, programming and more. Students receive four high school credits and are able to design, implement and execute computer programs while learning web, console, mobile and database development, skills that will be marketable after high school, Henrichsen said.

“It’s a direct career experience,” he said. “We use computer science and programming to do cool things. We’re able to create apps, problem-solve, interpret databases and program to reduce the work we do. Computer science and programming is identifying and solving problems to save time and energy.”

For example, in radiology, results of cancer screens are seen faster and more in-depth with the help of computer programming over the traditional approach, he said. 

“We approach it mathematically,” he said. “We’re not eliminating humans, but bringing more abilities to the field.”

Computer programming has a strong career outlook, Henrichsen said.

“Silicon Slopes is always looking for problem-solvers. They have a need for more students in the field,” he said.

In fact, Utah tech companies and industry leaders recently invested to provide $4 million for a Computer Science Field of Interest fund that will help schools and school districts support after-school programs, summer initiatives and field trips related to coding.

Henrichsen said he foresees many opportunities for his students who pursue the career, including a $70k starting salary, but he also is concentrating on establishing partnerships with businesses to have students solve real problems for them now.

One partnership is with the Salt Lake County Library, where he hopes students can make it easier for patrons to get their materials that are placed on hold.

Henrichsen’s students also take part in other competitions, such as the Congressional App Challenge, where students produce apps that address problems locally, nationally and globally. 

In 2018, Corner Canyon High students Zachary Denna, Kaylie Hollander, Caroline Jarman and Jenna Mills, who were enrolled in CTEC’s program, won Utah’s third congressional district’s app contest with their Secrets of Barcodes app.

There are more upcoming challenges such as Hack 4 Good and the annual National Day of Civic Hacking.

“It’s a do-good competition for computer science,” he said. “It basically is where we use data and are able to solve problems to help people, which is what computer science is all about.”