Saturday, September 16, 2017

Turning Young Inventors into Coders

Shannon Walters @shannonwa and I @techsavvygirl were super excited to connect with the Vermont Code Community at Vermont Code Camp 2017 to share how we encourage young inventors to learn to code in Vermont schools!

Here is the slide deck from our workshop

We were surprised and honored at the attendance in our session at Vermont Code Camp 2017   This certainly made a statement that there was an interest in this topic.

Polling the room, we discovered that some people attended because

  • they were educators
  • they were interested in what's happening in education and supporting education in its role
  • they had children or relatives whom they wanted to influence
  • we had fun stuff to play with in our session

Shannon and I started by  briefly sharing why we felt that physical computing offered a low threshold, high ceiling, wide walls approach to learning to code.  The feedback loop from creating a sequence of code to seeing the results was not only shorter, it was also strongly reinforced with fun blink lights or motion and sound!  How quickly can you celebrate with a high five when learning a new coding language?

We selected three of our favorite tools because they offered an invitation to play, make, invent, and code to a diverse audience.   Examples of what you can make with these tools appeal to artistic creative types as well as logical analytical types,  to both girls and boys, to young and old,   to inventors and tinkerers, and to people who just want to have fun.

We threw a Makey Makey to two young boys seated towards the back of the room and challenged the room to notice how long it would take for them to create a musical instrument.   

They had one up and running in 17 minutes.  

Little Bits  quickly drew participants to engage with the tools we had set up.  Participants  could just grab pieces and start to make- no computer needed.  The fact that you could code them, too, was a surprise to most.   

Shannon's first  challenge was to change the code on her Little Bits creation so that it displayed a new message instead of the “VT Code Camp”  message that Shannon had already set up.  Bonus points if you could change the color, too!

Shannon’s also challenged participants to create a circuit that play a familiar tune. Bonus if you could add a sequence with lights to your tune.

I had one  of my  Birdbrain Hummingbirds  set up on my Raspberry Pi running in a PiTopCeed
with a challenge to modify the code on a dog collar prototype so that the lights blinked when the dog was out at nighttime.   

Meanwhile on a different Hummingbird set up on a Chromebook,  the challenge was to change the motion of the  ears as you approached the partially built cardboard prototype of a puppy dog set up with servo motors and a distance sensor.  

I made a conscious effort to include partial builds to  spark the imagination  and encourage  participants to start thinking of “what next”  in the build rather than ‘what was’ created.   

I’ve recently been setting up incomplete builds as challenges in  school makerspace  as a way to more quickly engage students and teachers in jump in and tinker and  experience the high from completing a coding challenge.  I hope to hook them and convince them to come back and spend more time in the makerspace playing with the possibilities of creating, inventing, and coding.

We ended our session with an invitation to the coding community to support local schools in their efforts to provide more coding opportunities to students.
We suggested checking with their schools to see if they need help during the annual December Hour of Code event. 

Another way to help might be to donate an inexpensive robot to our statewide Robot Rodeo Project - which was designed to help schools extend coding opportunities beyond an hour of code

We also invited the community to to be mentors to Vermont teachers and students who are taking on coding challenges. It does not take long for students to imagine a project that is beyond their current skill set.  With our lack of advanced coding experience, we, as teachers,  could use more resources for our students when they reach and hit a wall.  A second set of eyes that could help a student troubleshoot their code would be a huge support to teachers who are trying to bring more coding into their schools.

The community did not disappoint!  We left with several offers to help!  Even the Press showed up and featured our efforts to bring coding into our schools on WCAX-TV’s evening news as part of their Code Camp coverage.

Thank you, Vermont coding community  for welcoming us and for your willingness to help us create the next generation of innovators.

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