Machine translation (MT) draws from several different disciplines, making it a complex subject to teach. There are excellent pedagogical texts, but problems in MT and current algorithms for solving them are best learned by doing. As a centerpiece of our MT course, we devised a series of open-ended challenges for students in which the goal was to improve performance on carefully constrained instances of four key MT tasks: alignment, decoding, evaluation, and reranking. Students brought a diverse set of techniques to the problems, including some novel solutions which performed remarkably well. A surprising and exciting outcome was that student solutions or their combinations fared competitively on some tasks, demonstrating that even newcomers to the field can help improve the state-of-the-art on hard NLP problems while simultaneously learning a great deal. The problems, baseline code, and results are freely available.

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