Wolfram Language Summer School Oxford 2015
The first Wolfram Language Summer School Oxford—AKA Ecole d’été ‘Informathiques’ (click here for the French version of this blog post)—took place June 22 to July 3 at Wolfram’s European headquarters just outside the historic English university city.
Twenty-nine French students and three teachers traveled across the English Channel to attend the school, which drew scholars from the Créteil and the Nice and Versailles academies, as well as the Lycée d’Altitude de Briançon. The summer school was a result of the partnership between Wolfram, the three academies, and the INRIA Mediterranean Research Center.
Most of the students were among the best achievers at this year’s regional Mathematics Olympiads in France, and five of the Briançon scholars were supported by the MATh.en.JEANS program.
Wolfram lent the students the top floor of its offices for the duration of the school, and on day one they discovered the power and possibility of Mathematica for scientific calculation. They spent day two getting familiar with the tool through practical exercises, learning basic syntax, how to program in it, and how to use the comprehensive online help resources.
The rest of the course focused on a scientific journey through particular themes in mathematics and computer science. These took place in groups of two or three students, under supervision by experts.
On the mathematical front, the students were asked to learn new concepts, understand them via practical experimentation, and then illustrate them by producing interactive teaching applications. Two-dimensional parametric curves and fractal geometric structures were among the interesting projects the students came up with.
Where computer science was concerned, students created algorithms and understood them through implementation, making them work with practical applications. Some worked on classical methods of constraint programming (such as filtering, global search, and backtracking) to solve Sudoku puzzles, while others worked on coding/decoding text or steganography techniques that allow one image to be hidden inside another.
Other groups tried out a few tricks with classic board games like Connect Four, Oware, and Hex (the late John Nash was one of its inventors), targeting machine management of the games, automation of play, and developing/implementing strategies.
Another group set about solving mathematical challenges on the Project Euler website, and conquered more than 15 of them.
The students also attended technical presentations given by Wolfram developers who discussed their daily work and projects. Alec Titterton showed the learners the Computer-Based Math (CBM) educational system, Gerli Jõgeva described how CBM lessons are made, and Abdul Dakkak spoke about image technology. Anthony Zupnik gave additional talks on cloud computing and machine learning.
There was plenty of time for fun and culture after each day’s learning was done. We took several trips to Oxford, which included a visit to university sites like Balliol College and the Bridge of Sighs, the Oxford University Museum of Natural History, and the Pitt Rivers Museum. And speaking of rivers, the students also tried a spot of punting—a traditional Oxford pastime—on the Cherwell. There was also an excursion to the historic little town of Woodstock and nearby Blenheim Palace, former residence of Winston Churchill.
Soundbites from the students’ return home with their certificates included such lines as “a super experience,” “an exciting course,” and “too short a stay.” As for the education, the warmth of the group, and the kindness of their host families, everyone had only good things to say!
The Wolfram Language Summer School Oxford was an outstanding success, and we’re already hoping to repeat it in years to come!