[Beowulf] about clusters in high schools

H.Vidal, Jr. hvidal at tesseract-tech.com
Mon Jan 30 17:57:35 EST 2006

Karl Podesta wrote:
> Hi, 
> Sounds like a place most tech people wouldn't have minded attending :-)

Yes, I really wish I had this kind of high school when I was a kid.

> It also sounds like they would have staff capable of coping with a HPC
> system, which is important - although students could get involved in 
> setup & maintenance, it would still take up time, and you have to ask 
> yourself whether this time tradeoff is worth it for both staff & students. 

Indeed, the first reaction from faculty was "we don't know about this,
but we agree it's important, somebody has to show us how......"

> Time might be better spent on foundations (such as ordinary coding of 
> scientific phenomena on single computers), so that students have a good
> grounding to appreciate HPC when they come to deal with scientific problems
> that demand that power... ?

An excellent point. As I have always said, there is no point in owning a 
calculator with lots of fancy functions unless you know enough math
and classes of problems to make use of such tools.

Nevertheless, one of the issues you find in this kind of school as that 
so much
computer-related tech is conveyed in the abstract, with little application.
'Here are the kinds of problems you will see someday' when the kids are
really already on track to tackle at least some of these problems.

So the sexiness factor comes into play. If you get kids interested in HPC
as a hands-on discipline, when they are already exposed to these kinds of
problems, connections will be made in their heads and, with proper guidance,
they will have the kinds of 'aha' moments that will inspire future leaders
in the discipline. Or so goes the theory.


> Karl
> On Thu, Jan 26, 2006 at 10:25:42PM -0500, H.Vidal, Jr. wrote:
>>My son attends a Science and Tech focused high school here in beautiful
>>New Jersey. This is a pretty neat place for a high school, about 70%
>>of the faculty has their PhD Kids take about 2-4 semesters of physics
>>and chemistry, there are lots of computers, they teach Scheme as well
>>as C++, Java, etc. Freshmen get the option of taking things like Number
>>Theory. Interesting place.
>>However, I have a thought. There is, to my knowledge, essentially
>>zero exposure to high-performance computing at this school. And I
>>think this is a mistake.
>>My thinking is this. I have observed that in materials science,
>>in medical imaging, in genetics, even in theoretical mathematical
>>studies, these days you see a lot of applied high-performance
>>computing. I get the impression (back me up here if it's otherwise)
>>that skills in high-performance computing have a fair amount
>>of value, and are growing in terms of overall industry demand.
>>Yet smart kids really have very little exposure to these classes of
>>problems, even if there are exposed to the problems themselves.
>>These kids can take a class in genomics, and they even learn about
>>some classes of problems in genomics or proteomics where you
>>need to run large mathematical problems to get 'concrete results'
>>towards practical studies or applications in the problem domain, but
>>they are kept far from actual hands-on or low (or even high)
>>level theory in terms of actual implementations or even
>>engineering considerations WRT HPC.
>>Yet they have *rooms* full of computers doing nothing, fully
>>networked. (there's always lots of rooms of unused computers
>>in places like these, I have found, because they basically keep
>>upgrading to new hardware every year or two. Each summer,
>>the hallways are nearly impassable due to stacks and stacks
>>(not kidding) of computers to be thrown out or recycled).
>>So I have convinced the faculty at this school that HPC
>>is enough of a valuable study, even a strategic interest, that
>>sharp kids like these really should be educated in the ins and outs
>>of high performance computing. In general, HPC; in particular, our
>>good friends, the Beowulf clusters.
>>I would like to get real feedback from students, engineers and
>>scientists on this list about this broad idea: is it useful to expose
>>young engineer and scientists-to-be to HPC at the high school
>>level, in generaly, but especially if these kids are on track
>>to be the next generation of users of this tech? If so, what is a decent
>>route to take when it comes to this as a HS level scholastic pursuit?
>>So there you go, I have thrown out the first chip. Any takers to place
>>a comment or two?
>>Thanks in advance for your collective wisdom and help.
>>H. Vidal, Jr.
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