Computer Science Students Head to Harvard University for CS50 Lecture

Photo: HHS Students at Harvard University CS50 Field Trip

As September came to a close, 40 Hopkinton High School students trekked into Cambridge to hear a lecture by Harvard University’s David Malan. Already familiar with the professor from screening recorded lectures, the opportunity to see him live gave students a glimpse of both the teacher and the university setting.

Dr. Malan created  CS50, an introductory computer science course, offered both on campus to enrolled Harvard students but also open to the world as a massive open online course for anyone interested via edX. It is currently the largest course offered at Harvard, Yale, and on the edX open online course platform.

Two sections of Hopkinton’s Advanced Placement (AP) Computer Science Principles were joined by students from the Mobile App Development and Game Design courses, as well as the Girls Who Code club on the visit Harvard.

The live lecture in the Sanders Theater, located in the High Victorian Gothic Memorial Hall, was quite a change of pace from a typical class at the high school.

“Seeing it live really made the computer science class come to life because we had just seen [Dr. Malan] on video,” sophomore Allison Fu said. “Now I can see him in person and directly engaging with the audience and the students actively participating in the lecture. That really made me enjoy it even more.”

More akin to a televised event, a team of Harvard students recorded the lecture for the open online version of the course. The lecture is already available online.

“It as really an enlightening experience with a ton of information and the lecturer was actually really nice too,” senior Kent Berlin said.

During the lecture, Dr. Malan explored basic data structures in command line arguments. Students watched in the classic theater mixed with current Harvard students enrolled in the course.

“I thought it was really a great opportunity for HHS students to witness the curriculum they will experience but in a college level lecture hall. I hope it shows them just how much they are capable of learning,” said librarian and computer science teacher Kirsten Fournier.

The field trip offered multiple courses a chance to visit Harvard’s campus and gain a glimpse into what it might be like to potentially major in computer science as an undergraduate.

“In our Mobile App Development class, we use MIT App Inventor, where they learn the basic concept of coding but it’s not the line by line experience of a higher level computer programming language,” Mike McFarland said. “It exposed the students to a real-world example of what a computer science degree entails and a look at the level detail involved.”

Alison Fu said, “We are all interested in maybe having a computer science as a major in college. To go on this trip and have a feel of it really feels like and that was one of the main reasons I went on this trip.”

Photo: Harvard University's CS50 Professor David MalanSince CS50 is also one of the AP approved curriculum providers for the high school Computer Science Principles course and exam, Fournier often uses or adapts lessons for use in the high school course. The public CS50 version includes publicly available tools like an integrated development environment (IDE), a debugger, and grading tool.

The course material also integrates easily with GitHub, a popular Internet open source storehouse and hosting service for all kinds of coders.

“The IDE that [CS50 course] provides is where we will be doing all of our programming,” Fournier explained. “Everyone can access it and easily submit their work through GitHub, which allows me to review and comment line by line.”

“[Students] can also see their classmates code and problem sets because not everyone is going to solve a problem the same way,” Fournier said.

“It’s the total package,” Fournier commented about the value of CS50.

For students, the day out provided an experience not possible in a Hopkinton classroom or through video recordings. Students generally enjoyed themselves.

“I thought it was really cool. I love Cambridge and the Boston area. And I thought the lecture was really interesting because I wanted to learn about CS and how its applied in a classroom setting, senior Ben Nigrosh said.

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