WARREN, NJ – Forty-seven students, some as young as 4thgrade, and some from as far away as East Brunswick Township and Middlesex Borough in Middlesex County, and Bethlehem Township in Hunterdon County, participated in the 2020 HillsHacks hackathon on Sunday, Feb. 23, at Watchung Hills Regional High School (WHRHS).

Coordinating the event for the second year were WHRHS Seniors Jagdeep Bhatia and Mayur Sharma. These WHRHS Computer Science (CS) leaders were assisted by a cadre of WHRHS CS students, who greeted and registered participants. They also assisted in directing participants to classrooms for workshop sessions and to the South Auditorium and Atrium for speaking programs and lunch and dinner breaks. 

These and other WHRHS CS students acted as leaders in the session workshops, themselves. They shared with participants their expertise in various computer science languages. They showed participants where to find pertinent web sites on the internet to delve into various subjects, from Artificial Intelligence, introduction to Java, and video game design to Music in Coding, to name just a few.

Sign Up for North Plainfield/Green Brook/Watchung Newsletter
Our newsletter delivers the local news that you can trust.

They also sponsored CS discussions about the very real need to attract more and more girls and women into Computer Science. Of particular interest is tackling the notion of helping girls navigate through their middle school years when many girls feel the social pressure that embracing CS will label them as “nerdy” and “very uncool” in their peer groups.

The WHRHS CS students also shared helpful hints they have found about how to employ resources found on the internet and how to broaden their ability to use computer tools to tackle and solve more problems both now and in the future.

Support Advisors and Guest Speakers

Faculty and volunteers supporting the 2020 HillsHacks hackathon were: Supervisor of Mathematics and Business Dan Twisler; Director of Curriculum and Instruction Mary Ellen Phelan; and community volunteer and former teacher of the Gifted and Talented Program at Watchung Public Schools, Elaine Chesebro.

There was also a panel of speakers who started the day sharing their expertise and their personal stories about how they got into computer science, how they have learned and practiced the use of various computer science languages, and how they became more comfortable at mastering and using new computer science skills.

The speakers included: 

Mathematics and Business Supervisor Twisler, and WHRHS Computer Science Teacher Daniel Lamson.

Also, 2012 WHRHS graduate Matthew Carbone, who is a graduate of the University of Rochester, with interests both in Chemistry and Physics. He now is an advanced doctoral candidate at Columbia University in Chemistry Physics. He said he uses daily the CS knowledge he developed along the way while in graduate school. CS is now vitally important as he digs deeper into his field while pursuing his advanced degrees.

Also on the panel was 2018 WHRHS graduate Jared Pincus, who has completed his second year as a CS student at Stevens Institute of Technology, Hoboken.

And WHRHS Senior and co-organizer of this year’s Hills Hackathon, Mayur Sharma, sat in on the speaker’s panel, sharing what he has already learned.

Sharma’s fellow coordinator, Jagdeep Bhatia, introduced the panel, but then was called away from the speaker’s program to see to last minute details for the balance of the day-long event. 

Among the issues tackled by Bhatia, Sharma and their student CS HillsHacks team included: Registering participants; lining up as many as 16 workshops spread out in four sessions each in four classrooms and the faculty, students and guest speakers to lead the workshops; and offering two meals, a lunch of sandwiches, soups and salads, and an early dinner of pizza.

All that was then followed by an end-of-conference assembly dedicated to hearing and judging presentations of what became 11 different demonstrations of how computer science skills could be used to solve mythical problems. The presentations were also designed to nurture break-throughs among fellow participants and to stimulate new thinking about how computer science might be employed as a prime tool to solve problems.

Those presentations were part of a friendly contest, where three judges from among the guest speakers, Mr. Twisler, Mr. Lamson, and alum Jordan Pincus, determined who should winfirst, second and third prizes. In the end, those prizes were awarded to: 

First Place, titled, “Anticrastinate,” presented by two WHRHS Juniors, Sanjay Kethineni of Green Brook Township, and Frank Liu of Warren Township

Second Place, titled “Disquintext,” presented by participant Alec Doyle, a Junior at Ridge High School, Bernards Township; and 

Third Place, titled, “Door Security, presented by a trio of 4th, 5th, and 6th Graders. They are: Charan Alampally, 6th grade at Grades 6-8 William Annin Middle School, Bernards Township; Robin Kudeti, 5th grade at grades K-5 Chattick Elementary School, East Brunswick Township; and Krishna Singh, 4th grade, at grades K-5 Mount Horeb School, Warren Township.

Speakers’ Comments

Many of the questions posed to the guest speakers boiled down to what are the two or three most important building blocks upon which students can build a solid and broadening knowledge and skill base in Computer Science. 

Several of the speakers, who were also on the speaker’s panel at last year’s HilsHacks, reiterated the notion that the best way to build skill levels in CS is to start learning one CS language, and early and often in the learning process, finding every possible application to use the new CS language to solve problems. Those problems may be small and large, and for imaginary or real tasks. The idea is to just become more familiar with how it works, and for what it can be used. Use it early on these relatively easy tasks, so they are familiar enough with it when called upon to use it on bigger and tougher tasks.

This year, the questions shaded more toward what other basic learning and computational skills are good to work on in middle school and high school as preliminary to CS learning at the college level and beyond

Many of the speakers said, any work that students concentrated on during Middle School and High School in basic mathematics and algebra will come in handy. Similarly, developing a facility for solving linear equations, as well as developing a solid knowledge and understanding of calculus, would also pay off later in CS learning. The common denominator for many of the speakers was also: Students should develop an understanding of Logic, particularly as it is used in problem solving. 

The speakers also added that middle and high school students shouldn’t worry so much that they are falling behind on proficiency on advanced Math skills. Many students do not progress to advanced math learning until they are in college. 

Lastly, as with the speakers last year, this year’s speakers encouraged HillsHack participants to become comfortable working as a team and in an idea-sharing collective. Students should get in the habit of finding a fellow student who is also interested in CS, and bounce ideas off them. Often students canshare what they know and find out what they don’t know yet. That is the kind of team-sharing that CS professionals in the work force use every day.


 

WHRHS CAPTIONS 2020 Hills Hackathon

 

WHRHS PHOTOS Presentation Winners

Forty-seven students, some as young as 4th grade, and some from as far away as far away as East Brunswick Township and Middlesex Borough in Middlesex County, and Bethlehem Township in Hunterdon County, participated in the 2020 HillsHacks Hackathon on Sunday, Feb. 23, at Watchung Hills Regional High School (WHRHS). The Hackathon concluded with an assembly dedicated to hearing and judging presentations of 11 different demonstrations of how computer science skills could be used to solve problems. 2020 HillsHacks Student Organizers Jagdeep Bhatia, left, and Mayur Sharma, right, congratulated, from left, Second Place, presentation titled, “Disquinetext,” by participant Alec Doyle, a Junior at Ridge High School, Bernards Township; First Place, “Anticrastinate,”presented by two WHRHS Juniors, Sanjay Kethineni of Green Brook Township, and Frank Liu of Warren Township; and ThirdPlace, “Door Security,” presented by a trio of 4th, 5th, and 6thGraders. They are: Charan Alampally, 6th grade at Grades 6-8 William Annin Middle School, Bernards Township; RohinKudeti, 5th grade at grades K-5 Chattick Elementary School, East Brunswick Township; and Krishna Singh, 4th grade, at grades K-5 Mount Horeb School, Warren Township.

 

WHRHS PHOTOS Mariam Contractor Ronald Leung Arjun Singh

A cadre of WHRHS Computer Science (CS) students greeted and registered participants at the WHRHS 2020 HillsHacks. They also assisted in directing participants to classrooms for workshop sessions and to the South Auditorium and Atrium for speaking programs and lunch and dinner breaks. Among the WHRHS CS students are, from left are: Sophomore Mariam Contractor of Watchung; Freshman Ronald Leung of Warren Township, and Sophomore Arjun Singh of Warren Township.

 

 

WHRHS PHOTOS Helping In Class

WHRHS CS students acted as leaders in the session workshopsat the 2020 HillsHacks. They shared with participants their expertise in various computer science languages. Helping participants understand an application are, Sophomores Bryan Sangguan of Warren Township, standing left, and Jay Fu of Warren Township, standing right.

 

 

WHRHS PHOTOS Arjun In Class

At the 2020 HillsHacks, WHRHS CS students also shared helpful hints they have found about how to employ resources found on the internet and how to broaden their ability to use computer tools to tackle and solve more problems both now and in the future. In one workshop, Sophomore Arjun Singh captured the attention of HillsHacks participants.

 

WHRHS PHOTOS Speakers

The WHRHS 2020 HillsHacks was kicked off by a panel of speakers at different levels of professional and academic expertise in Computer Science (CS). The speakers addressed questions from participants about CS. Seated, from left, are: WHRHS Computer Science Teacher Daniel Lamson; 2018 WHRHS graduate Jared Pincus, who has completed his second year at a CS student at Stevens Institute of Technology, Hoboken; 2012 WHRHS graduate Matthew Carbone, who is a graduate of the University of Rochester, with interests both in Chemistry and Physics, now an advanced doctoral candidate at Columbia University; HillsHacks Student Coordinator, WHRHS Senior Mayur Sharma; and WHRHS Mathematics and Business Supervisor Dan Twisler. Standing is HillsHacks Student Coordinator, WHRHS Senior Jagdeep Bhatia.

 

WHRHS PHOTOS Jay Fu

Helping to register participants at the WHRHS 2020 HillsHackswas WHRHS Sophomore Jay Fu.