A student perspective on the NCSS Challenge

Nicola O'Brien
Jul 7 · 3 min read

The NCSS Challenge is an online coding competition which runs 4 times per year and is open to school students from around the world. The July round teaches the Python programming language.

Thinking of joining the NCSS challenge this July? Hear from Lily who’s a seasoned NCSS veteran about why she loves the competition and how it’s helped her put options on the table for her future!

How many times have you done the NCSS Challenge?
I did it twice — once in Primary and once in High School. The NCSS Challenge is actually included as part of our Technology subject.

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Even though it was compulsory at your school, were you encouraged to do things like the NCSS Challenge?
My mum works in IT and studied Maths at Uni, so she always encouraged me to do coding.

Would you consider doing another NCSS Challenge?
I would consider doing another Challenge, but it would have to be in my own time.

Some people might say that coding is a ‘boy thing’. What would you say to that?
Well, I go to a girls’ school, so everyone does coding there. But in any case, a girl can do whatever a boy can — probably better!

What would you say to other girls who aren’t sure about doing the Challenge?
I would say give it a try! Why not? You might find that you can do it, and like it.

What did you like about the NCSS Challenge and what didn’t grab you as much?
It was really fun… but it’s also frustrating when you get stuck on a problem that you can’t solve. The teachers know how to help you and when you figure it out and solve the problem you do get a sense of achievement. It’s also motivating to solve the Challenge because you get high marks in your assessment.

Would you say you’re a technical person?
I wouldn’t say that. I’m actually into a lot of things: I love history, music and coding — so I’m a bit of an all-rounder.

So would you be considering a career in tech?
I’m not really sure yet. My mum always tells me the “money’s in STEM”, but I do think that whatever I end up doing, having learned coding will set me up for whatever degree or job I choose.

What kind of skills did you learn from the NCSS Challenge?
I think the main one is problem-solving. Obviously this is most relevant for maths, but I also think it applies to all subjects — even History, which is more discussion based and where there isn’t a clear-cut ‘right’ answer. It helps you to think through different ideas and support your point of view. I also did sewing as a subject. You wouldn’t think that sewing has much to do with problem-solving or maths skills. But you need to measure, count, make sure that your patterns match. All of these elements need some problem-solving skills.

How do you apply problem-solving to wider issues apart from school subjects?
I find myself thinking about how the world could be a better place. I think about Government systems, or how education and the curriculum could be improved.

And what would you do differently in terms of the curriculum?
Well my year was the first year at our school to do coding as part of the curriculum. It should have been taught much earlier — just like Maths and English. I think that in general I would introduce more choice, more flexibility in the subjects we are offered. For example, Sewing was a compulsory subject. I didn’t like it or understand why it should be mandatory. Students have such a range of interests — whether it’s music, design, coding… school should be a place where students get to try many different things, so they can work out where their talents lie.

And finally, what was your most memorable moment out of the two Challenges you did?
In Year 6, I remember that in the ‘Newbie Stream’ you get a lot of green ticks as you go through the steps successfully. When you finally solve the Challenge there is a confetti animation! I thought that was really cool.

To get your students or children involved in the NCSS Challenge click here to find out how.

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