Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Young Males Dominate Computer Competition

COMPUTERWORLD -- Programmers from China and Russia have dominated an international competition on everything from writing algorithms to designing components. Whether the outcome of this competition is another sign that math and science education in the U.S. needs improvement may spur debate. But the fact remains: Of 70 finalists, 20 were from China, 10 from Russia and two from the U.S.

About 4,200 people participated in the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA)-supported challenge. The NSA has been sponsoring the program for a number of years because of its interest in hiring people with advanced skills.

China's showing in the finals was also helped by the sheer volume of its numbers, 894. India followed at 705, but none of its programmers were finalists. Russia had 380 participants; the United States, 234; Poland, 214; Egypt, 145; and Ukraine, 128, among others. Of the total number of contestants, 93% were male, and 84% were aged between 18 and 24.

MP: Could this suggest that there is "pervasive unexamined gender bias” against women in computer science?


At 6/10/2009 10:18 AM, Blogger Bruce Hall said...

China and Russia... perhaps they have cultural experiences that enable them to have a depth of understanding that women don't have. A greater empathy for algorithms?

At 6/10/2009 11:25 AM, Blogger Andy said...

I found this part interesting:

To give some sense of difficulty, Lydon provided a description of a problem that the contestants were asked to solve:

"With the rise of services such as Facebook and MySpace, the analysis and understanding of such networks is a particularly active area of current computer science research. At an abstract level, these networks consist of nodes (people), connected by links (friendship).

"In this problem, competitors were given the description of two such networks, but with the names of all the nodes removed from each. The networks were each scrambled up before given to the competitors. The task was to determine if the two networks could possibly be from the same group of people.

"The competitors were to unscramble and label the two networks so that if Alice was connected to Bob in one of the two networks, then Alice was also connected to Bob in the other network. This problem is known as the network isomorphism problem, and solving it for large networks is a major unsolved problem in the realm of theoretical computer science."

Lydon said the overall problem is unsolved for larger networks, and what's considered a correct answer for this problem would not be considered large enough for the solution in this case to be groundbreaking.

I am actually working on this problem (more commonly called graph isomorphism). It isn't exactly "unsolved", in that you can solve it fairly fast for many large graphs (millions of vertices). But it would be difficult to implement an algorithm to solve it in a short period of time. It's sort of unfair though, in that being familiar with the problem will give you a huge advantage.

At 6/10/2009 11:26 AM, Blogger QT said...

China is very focused on math education. Chinese girls are also good at math: See 2007 China Girls Math Olympiad.

The chinese also train students on large number calculations where they are timed. Couldn't find a video on this but it's quite amazing to watch.

Girls definitely seem to be less excited by math/computers than boys. Usually, they tend to get more interested in english and art. Decades of aptitude testing at the Johnson O'Connor research centre supports the idea of boys tending to have greater spacial and math ability. There are women who will score high and men who will score very low on these tests but a greater percentage of men score high. One can develop knowledge and competence in even areas of low or mediocre ability but we learn most quickly in areas of high ability.

Research on brain plasticity, however, could completely alter our understanding of aptitudes, learning and the brain.

The future looks fun.

At 6/10/2009 11:41 AM, Blogger fboness said...

Young men do compouters today the way young men once did cars. Is it a coincidence that the auto industry began its long decline when our young men switched their attention away from cars?

At 6/10/2009 12:37 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wondering why American kids are falling behind in math? Well, just look at who is teaching their teachers:

"Everyone here is a constructivist," Gabriel Reich, a genial education professor at Virginia Commonwealth University, told me at a reception sponsored by the John Dewey Society. (Dewey, a pragmatist philosopher who died in 1952 and taught for years at Columbia Teachers College, is regarded, alongside the Swiss cognitive psychologist Jean Piaget, as one of the fathers of progressive education.) Reich was trying to explain to me why it was presumptuous for professional mathematicians (and many parents) to be up in arms about the currently fashionable constructivist idea that instead of explaining to youngsters, say, how to do long division, teachers should let them count, subtract, make an educated guess, or otherwise figure out their own ways to solve division problems. College math professors may complain that young people taught the constructivist way arrive in their classrooms unable to perform the basic operations necessary to move on to calculus, but so what? "Why should we privilege professional mathematicians?" Reich asked. Long division, multiplication--"those are just algorithms, and a calculator can do them faster than we can. Most of the people here at this meeting don't think of themselves as good at math, and they don't think math is creative. [The constructivist approach] is a way to make math creative for many people who never thought of it that way."

There are no wrong answers in constructivist theory, so Reich, pursuing his mathematical theme, had a tough sell the next day when he presented a paper to his fellow educators arguing that the principles of constructivism should be modified a bit in teaching arithmetic. "I know some constructivists might take issue with what I'm saying," was his delicate way of telling his audience that when a student says two and two equals five, there might be a problem, if only with the child's non-constructivist parents who might have "right-answer" concerns. Reich was suggesting that the youngster's incorrect (or "incorrect") answer be "vetted by the class" to see if it "works." That way, he explained, "the students are learning to act as members of a mathematical community--they are becoming mathematicians."

It might strike an outsider to the world of ed schools as absurd to spend multiple minutes of precious math-class time having other students "vet" answers to problems that a teacher could explain quickly using simple objects. But a sense of disconnect between the pedagogic theory taught to ed-school students (nowadays called "preservice teachers") and their lived classroom experience after graduation pervaded the AERA sessions.

Weekly Standard

At 6/10/2009 1:38 PM, Blogger QT said...

Thanks, Anon., for posting this article. The secret to enjoying math seems to be good teaching. Many teachers at the primary level find themselves teaching math without even receiving a proper grounding in the subject. You can't progress to higher math skills without a strong grounding in basic math.

There are organizations like Jump Math, a non-profit organization working to improve mathematics education which offer great resources for parents and an excellent opportunity for volunteers to make a real difference in kids' lives. There are also lots of resources available through the internet.

At 6/10/2009 3:28 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

MP: Could this suggest that there is "pervasive unexamined gender bias” against women in computer science?

This issue is under constant examination, I assure you. Nowhere more so than across town at Kettering.


At 6/10/2009 4:31 PM, Blogger ExtremeHobo said...

Its not that women are discriminated against, its that they have no interest on average. I have tinkered with computers since I was as young as I can remember, purely because I found it interesting. I have never once met a girl with that kind of interest in computers (find a pretty one and Ill throw a ring on her finger).

At 6/11/2009 1:46 AM, Blogger Robert Miller said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 6/11/2009 1:52 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

No mention of what tint the competitors are.
The west frowns on whites winning so maybe this is the way things will be.

At 6/11/2009 7:01 AM, Blogger Jean-Paul said...

If you want to learn something interesting about gender differences, you should take a look at the PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment by OECD) report. Page 123 should retain your attention.

Ever heard that men don't communicate as well as women? Or that women are less attracted by math?

True or urban legends? PISA gives a hint.

At 6/12/2009 5:32 PM, Anonymous Cheech (in) Marin said...

The problem is certainly solvable, but it's not known whether it is solvable in polynomial time.

Does the computer get polynomial overtime pay?

At 6/13/2009 1:24 AM, Blogger OBloodyHell said...

> Could this suggest that there is "pervasive unexamined gender bias” against women in computer science?

Actually, it suggests, like the math and science scores, a widespread sexual difference in brain function. Education may be able to overcome that, but it's not likely to be more than a few percentage points of difference in any of those areas.

No, that does NOT apply to any specific female. So don't waste time refuting it with anecdotal evidence, either personal or historical. The only way to disprove it would be statistics.

At 6/13/2009 1:27 AM, Blogger OBloodyHell said...

> Is it a coincidence that the auto industry began its long decline when our young men switched their attention away from cars?

LOL, yes.

Given that the foreign makers have been eating the "long decline" guys' lunch for decades, it's clearly got more to do with fat men and their expectations of easy rewards than anything to do with young guys and cars.


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