Mile End Hour of Code

For the past year, I have been increasingly convinced that every kid should learn to code. Since I have daughters and I work at an all-girls’ school, my interest tends to lean toward getting girls interested in programming, but I guess boys can still learn too (before you get your knickers in a knot- I was kidding! Of course, boys should learn too. But not frogs. They would have to invent a flipper friendly keyboard).

Here are some of my talking points on this subject:

  1. Computers are ubiquitous in our life
  2. Yet most of us have no idea how they work
  3. It is going to be increasingly necessary to know how they work even if you are not in a computer science field.
  4. Yet learning how to program is not part of our curriculum
  5. Many of the most interesting, flexible and highly paid jobs are in computer science
  6. Yet the number of women going into this field is lower than it was 20 years ago. Articles such as this one from the NY Times confirms this:

In 1990-91, about 29 percent of bachelor’s degrees awarded in computer and information sciences went to women; 20 years later, it has plunged to 18 percent. Today, just a quarter of all Americans in computer-related occupations are women.  -Catherine Rampell, NY Times article

Now this seems like a laudable goal, right? Except for the fact that I know absolutely nothing about coding. This I am trying to rectify- I have been going through the Code Academy Tutorials (I am in the middle of learning about javascript) and I have been fiddling with building a website. However, my pace is akin to that of plate tectonics. If I wait until I know enough to teach someone else, I will be an octogenarian.

However, I am pretty good at organizing. And, more importantly, I have friends who know how to code. And even more importantly, they are just as keen to get other girls excited about coding as I am.

In conjunction with Tricia Campbell and Maja Frydrychowicz  (both teach computer science at Dawson College) we organized a workshop for teens this last Sunday to coincide with the Computer Science Week Initiative, Hour of Code:

Mary Martha from the Nouveau Palais let us use her lovely restaurant and Eric from the Atwater Library’s Digital Literacy Project supplied the computers.

We began with an offline activity entitled, My Robotic Friends. Here is a good video that describes the activity:

Our 4 participants (hey, we have to start somewhere!) broke up into two teams and wrote their code, while Majabot stayed behind the counter. Both groups worked on the same configuration of cups. What was interesting is that though they ended up with the same result, their code was a little bit different. It was a great introduction to the concepts of algorithms, functions, etc. They were also introduced to the concept of de-bugging when the robot did not do what they expected.

Then we moved on to the computers and Khan Academy’s introduction to javascript:

We skipped the videos, and went straight to the Crazy Face activity. Tricia and Maja gave the girls a few guidelines and instructions and were on hand to help them through any difficulties they were having. but really, it only took a little bit of guidance for them to take off on their own.

Our hackergirls at work!
Our hackergirls at work!

A few of the questions asked were:

1. Say you want to make your own code (not part of a tutorial) where do you put the code?

2.How does the code get on to the web?

3. Can I do more?

Although we only had a few participants (it is a terrible time of the year for kids- exams are coming up and holiday duties abound) the feedback was very positive. They all said they would be interested on having a more regular event in the new year. I think the best kind of model for this would be to have a space where the kids can work on their own projects and have access to mentors when they get stuck as well as a more structured activity for those who don’t quite know yet how they can utilize their new found skills.

Hopefully, this story will have a sequel!

2 thoughts on “Mile End Hour of Code

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