On the evening of Tuesday, December 6th, the second half of GDI Ottawa’s Intro to HTML and CSS workshop took place - and as you can see in the pic below, everyone looks absorbed in their code!
As one of the assistants for the workshop, I had a great time and found it to be an interesting experience. If you’re a developer who likes helping people learn, I think you might enjoy assisting with or leading a similar class (see this earlier post.)
Seeing people walk through the process of building a web page from scratch, and troubleshooting when they ran into problems, reminded me of when I first began dabbling with HTML and CSS many years ago. I liked meeting the students - who came into the class with varying levels of prior experience, but were all friendly and curious about code. I credit this to instructor Suzan Hill’s teaching style, which was clear enough for the almost complete beginners in the class, while students looking for more information were able to ask the assistants questions in detail.
For everyone who attended the workshop, I’ve included a few links below to resources you can use to keep sharpening those HTML and CSS skills.
Liz Allen is a computer science student at Carleton University. She tweets about technology and life at @liz_codes
On the afternoon of Saturday, September 10th, with mini cupcakes, teddy grahams, sugary sweets, and warm teapots in hand, we celebrated our first Girl Develop It Ottawa event with 23 attendees in total.
Thanks to everyone that came out. Special shout-outs to all our amazing assistants, Scott Annan for letting us use the Mercury Grove space, and Shanti Teas for offering amazing loose leaf teas for everyone to enjoy! We’re humbled to have such local support and encouragement.
For our first event, instead of doing a long intensive course, we decided to offer a short 3-hour special event. Since Gail already had experience teaching Scratch, we decided that it would be the perfect introduction. Scratch is an easy platform to setup and run, and provides several code samples to play with. The user interface is great for beginners to learn basic programming concepts by clicking and dragging objects, and testing the results right away.
The majority of our students had little to no coding experience aside from exposure to basic HTML, but by the end of the session they were diving right into booleans, variables, if-statements, loops, and action listeners. Learn more about Gail’s Scratch workshop.
We knew it would be vital to create a welcoming environment where students could have fun while learning programming concepts. Gail did such a great job teaching everyone; she’s so naturally enthusiastic and energetic that she made everyone feel comfortable and at ease. After each mini exercise, I was so proud to hear laughter and cheers of excitement when students got their programs running!
Some important lessons learnt:
Find ways to best use the Assistants and get them more involved:
- They are there because they want to help out! Don’t be afraid to ask for help and offer more direction and encouragement.
- This also ties in with the next point…
Pay attention to the layout of the room:
- We tried to best plan and layout the space to maximize learning experience ahead of time, but due to limited resources it became quite the task. For our next events, this is something we will definitely pay more attention to when choosing a space.
- After speaking with Heather Payne from Ladies Learning Code, we agree that ideally it would be great to have students seated around several tables with an assistant seated at each group. This would give them the opportunity to chat among each other and ask questions as they complete each mini exercise.
We have some great ideas for the next workshop already, details to be announced shortly. Hope to see you at our next event!
Girl Develop It: “Want to learn how to code? Have a great idea? Don’t be shy. Develop it.” It’s exactly what the Ottawa community needs: a way to engage professional women in learning technical skills, particularly programming. Ultimately, this might also help bring together the community of women in technology with the women near technology, and maybe blur the line between the two.
Good friend and one of the four original CU-WISE founders Serena Ngai got an Ottawa chapter of Girl Develop It started this past summer, and I couldn’t help but offer my time and support to make it happen. When we met to talk about what we should do for the first class or event, I suggested a free afternoon workshop that would not require too much of a time commitment from participants, yet still give a taste of what programming was like; hopefully participants would be itching for more and look forward to signing up for the more extensive classes to be offered later.
And so our kickoff event was born: Intro to Scratch Programming was held this past Saturday and if you go by the enthusiasm of the participants both during and after the workshop, it was a great success!
I was able to re-purpose the content I had developed for my Introduction to Computers for Arts and Social Sciences course that I teach at Carleton in the summer. I started with a description of what exactly computer science is, emphasizing how it connects with whatever interests you might already have and why it’s useful to learn even now long after school is done for some. Then I went through some basic programming concepts in Scratch: boolean values, if and if/else statements, loops, variables, and Scratch’s special broadcast functionality. Finally, I showed how to make a game by filling a bit of code to an unfinished project and left some time for the audience to play and explore on their own.
Something I really appreciated being able to do in this setting was allow the group to test their understanding and explore Scratch a bit after every main concept I presented. I usually asked them to do something specific but also encouraged them to go beyond that and experiment with other code to see what would happen. This was not possible in my summer course, since not all students had a computer in front of them during lectures. It made a huge difference in terms of audience engagement and their ability to learn: this is absolutely something I recommend that all instructors do for future Girl Develop It classes.
Like I said, I think the workshop was a success, and overall I’m very happy with how it went. As always, there is something to improve for next time, and so here is my list of what I would have liked to do differently:
- I must admit I put my slides together at the last minute since I knew I could reuse material from my summer course. But this made me forget to make a backup PDF copy of the PowerPoint slides like I normally would. When the projector didn’t work on my Windows install, I had to reboot into the Mac side of my laptop and present the slides with messed up formatting.
- I usually like to do a round of introductions among the audience to break the ice and get a feel for where everyone’s coming from, but forgot to do this after we finally got our projector woes sorted out.
- I am glad that I talked about what computer science is, but I usually get to spend more time on this, giving more practical examples. I was worried about time so kept it pretty general. Hopefully the main idea of how widespread CS is and how many areas it connects to came across.
- The game I showed at the end was called Oscartime and was from a first year course taught at Harvard. As soon as I started to go through it, I realized that it was a bit much for a three hour workshop. I was still able to use it to point out the practical use of some of the programming concepts learned earlier, but there were a couple of things that were a bit advanced. Though in a multi-day course I would show this game at some point, I should have shown a simpler example first.
Download the Workshop Slides
You can download my slides in one of two formats:
This post originally appeared on my personal blog, The Female Perspective of Computer Science. You can learn more about me on my portfolio site and contact me from the front page there. You can also find me on Twitter as @gailcarmichael. Please feel free to ask me about Scratch or computer science in general!