5 tips for getting the most out of the NCSS Challenge

The 2017 NCSS Challenge is fast-approaching, and we’ve been getting lots of questions on how best to prepare. We thought we’d share a couple of tips so you can make sure your students will be ready to go when the competition kicks off on July 31st.

Sneak preview of NCSS Challenge 2017!

Hold on, what is the NCSS Challenge?

The NCSS Challenge is a friendly 5 week competition run by the University of Sydney. It’s open to all students — from absolute beginners to advanced coders — and we teach students how to code as they go along. With live tutoring support on offer and thousands of students to compete with, it’s a great way to get students excited about programming!

Ready to get involved?

1. Get your students signed up

The first step is to sign up your class!

Many teachers also use the NCSS Challenge for their own professional development, and we offer free teacher subscriptions to all verified teachers.

2. Brush up on your coding skills (beginner-friendly!)

Last year, Grok co-founder Dr. Nicky Ringland ran some online teacher training sessions to familiarise teachers with the Challenge content. The videos of these sessions are now freely available online.

The videos take you through the concepts covered in the Beginners stream of the Challenge. They’re designed to let you work through the content at your own pace, so even if you’re completely new to coding you’ll be able to get a few weeks head start on your students!

Check out the first video in the series here:

3. Do a practice run with your students

Challenge questions are released at the beginning of each week, so you won’t be able to see this year’s material until the Challenge starts on July 31st. If you’re keen to get your students started and familiar with the platform before the competition starts, here are a few suggestions for resources to use…

Short activities

Our free short activities are designed to take just an hour or two, and so are a great option to your students to get started. There are both Blockly and Python activities available. We suggest students taking part in the Newbies stream try the Blockly activities and students in other streams try the Python activities.
The Newbies and Beginners streams of the Challenge both include Turtle problems, so we recommend students try out one of the short Turtle activities before the Challenge — some students struggle a little with the angles and maths needed for these problems!

Introduction to Programming (Blockly or Python)

We have Introduction to Programming courses in both Blockly and Python, which cover the same concepts as the Newbies and Beginners streams of the NCSS Challenge. If you’ve signed your students up with all-access subscriptions, they’ll have access to both courses to work through beforehand. Otherwise, the first two modules of both courses are available for free.

4. Prepare your classroom!

Print out some Python cheat sheets for when your students need a little reminder!

5. Decide how you’ll run Challenge

Different schools participate in the Challenge in different ways — some teachers include it as part of the curriculum, going through the notes in class and either working on the problems together with students or simply letting students solve them independently. Other teachers use the Challenge as a self-guided learning activity, and let students use the notes, forums and tutor messaging systems to learn at their own pace. Some schools do the Challenge as part of a computing club, and many students also compete independently.

There’s no right answer, and you know best what will work for your students!

We’ll leave you with a quick interview with champion teacher Malyn Mawby about how she uses the NCSS Challenge with her students:

Email us at info@groklearning.com if you have any questions, and don’t forget to ❤ and share if you found this useful!