On 9 Sept 2019, 78 students from local secondary schools, ITEs, polytechnics and junior colleges participated in the Ace of Coders 2019 Finals Live Event. Held at NUS UTown on the first day of the September school holidays, the event was organised by the NUS Institute for the Application of Learning Sciences and Educational Technology (ALSET) and sponsored by Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA).
During the live event, 39 teams of students engaged in pair-programming where they cooperated with their teammate around a single computer. For many students, this was their first pair-programming experience. Teams were grouped into the Junior Category and the Senior Category based on grade level. For the two-hour coding session, teams wrote code that guided their team’s agents through the obstacles and challenges of a CodeCombat multiplayer arena created by ALSET. In a multiplayer arena, teams program agents to operate independently in a game world independently of the programmers. To do so, teams converted their strategies into functions, methods and commands the CodeCombat platform and their agents could interpret. None of the teams had encountered the arena before.
Throughout the coding period, teammates discussed with one another as one student would write code while his/her teammates observed, strategized, provided feedback and asked questions. Team members also frequently encouraged one another with high-fives, celebratory smiles and controlled cheers to keep their momentum going. Working together, time passed quickly and the end of the coding period loomed. Teams scrambled as ALSET staff announced the waning minutes and alerted teams to submit their code.
After the coding session and a well-earned lunch break, teams made their way to Auditorium 2 where the knockout rounds were presented on the oversized projection screen. For the next two hours, students watched the agents they had so painstakingly coded execute their strategies against agents programmed by other teams’. Some matches ran for the maximum length of 2 minutes. Others matched were over much quicker. All of them were compelling to watch.
Witnessing the matches unfold one after another, the audience of students, teachers and parents were additionally entertained by the witty commentary provided by emcees from ALSET who pointed out the nuances of strategies adopted by different teams and made light-hearted observations when teams' strategies went awry. There were especially loud cheers and applause for close matches and surprise comeback victories which kept the audience guessing till the very end.
Besides the match screening, the afternoon program featured a couple of interludes. In one interlude, Associate Professor Chris Boesch gave the audience a pep talk sharing his vision of Ace of Coders and how students benefit from participating in the event. In another interlude, the semi-finalist teams came on stage to share with the audience about their learning during the event and communicated their team’s strategy. For the final set of matches, the respective teams flanked the sides of the stage while their agents performed for the last time.
As the tournament came to its conclusion, West Spring Team A emerged as the champions for the Junior Category with a balanced strategy between resource acquisition and offense. NUS High School Team A emerged as the champions for Senior Category by optimising the control of key units like their Hero character. For the grand finale, the Junior Champions were matched with the Senior Champions in what many thought was an unfair matchup. Of course, the Junior champions won showing age is not necessarily the best indicator of the best strategy!
The final matches signalled the end of what had been a six-week-long event. Back in July, ALSET opened the Ace of Coders 2019 Qualification Phase. During the qualification phase, ALSET made coding activities available to all 13 to 20-year-old students through its Achievements application. Completing the coding activities helped students qualify to represent their school in live event. The activities were designed to help students learn to write Python code and control their agents in ways that would be useful in the multiplayer arena. A total of 1,283 students from 33 educational institutions took part in the qualification phase of AOC 2019.
At the closing of AOC2019, students and teachers gave ALSET positive feedback about the event and expressed their anticipation for next year's tournament as they headed towards the exit. Some teams and families even stayed behind to take commemorative photos beside the banner provided by IMDA.
We at ALSET are very grateful to all the teachers, students and family members for their interest and support, without which AOC2019 would not have been such a success. We would also like to thank IMDA for their continued sponsorship of the event.
About the Author:
Shun works at the ALSET Translation Research Unit as a Research Assistant. Besides writing code in the day, he likes attending meetups and taking long walks.