In Honour of Computer Science Education Week

Alas, Computer Science Education week always happens during our black-out week so we are not able to schedule an Hour of Code with our students. But the least I can do is give you something entertaining and thought-provoking  to help you procrastinate with your marking…

Here is a 15-minute podcast from Planet Money entitled When Women Stopped Coding, about why the numbers of women dropped so rapidly in the 80s (1984 to be exact).

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Why not try your hand at one of the Hour of Code workshops? I recommend the Khan academy introduction to javascript or the Code Academy  one!

I have also been reading this interactive article that gives a very in-depth but accessible guide to what is meant when we say “Code”. It is long, so I recommend reading it in chunks, but it is also very thorough!


In Honour of Computer Science Education Week: 10 Must Watch TED Talks For All Aspiring Programmers

Some of these you have probably seen, like the Ken Robinson and Salman Khan Ted Talks about education. However, Kathryn Shultz’s on being wrong might have escaped your notice, or the one about how algorithms shape our world. Check it out and get inspired!

Dev Bootcamp is an intense 9-week bootcamp to train software engineers. Located in San Francisco, CA, Chicago, IL and New York City, NY.


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Hour of Code Highlight: Maximize the popularity of Frozen and Code with Anna and Elsa!

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Have some kids who are finished their work? Are they sitting there twiddling their thumbs? Ok, at this time of year, probably not. But still, now that we all have the songs from Frozen in our head due to our fabulous Holiday Concert last night, why not take a second, get into the Winter spirit and learn to Code with Anna and Elsa?

The tutorial is made for beginners, so anyone can do it. For example, this is how you begin:

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Ok. I did it. Ooh- I like how you can view the actual code behind the blocks:

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Ok. There are 20 pieces of the puzzle, so I won’t bore you with each step, but here are a couple of screenshots.Screen Shot 2014-12-11 at 10.31.58 AM

Although this was at a lower level than I should have been doing, I still got momentarily stumped by the need for specific directions. It is like that game we used to play as children, when one person would pretend they were blind and the other had to direct them across the room? The computer is like a blind kid.

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And, as the byline on this blog says- if I can do it, so can you!

(I’m totally going to make my kids do this.)

In Honour of Computer Science Education Week: Stats Can’s Gender differences in science, technology, engineering, mathematics and computer science (STEM) programs at university

From the horse’s mouth. Gender differences in science, technology, engineering, mathematics and computer science (STEM) programs at university is part of the “Insights on Canadian Society” series published by Statistics Canada.It dates from almost exactly a year ago, so pretty recent.

[…]Despite the advances made in recent years,Note4 women remain less likely to choose a career in STEM areas, and more particularly in engineering, mathematics and computer science. This stands in contrast to nearly all other fields of study, where women now represent the vast majority of graduates—especially health and social science programs. Why are women staying away from STEM programs?

Here is the overview:

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Check out the study. The stat that gives me the most pause and I think is indicative of the root problem is the last point – where women who score high in STEM fields are still less likely to choose a STEM program than men who fared less well in the same classes.

Is it an issue of perception?Do young women equate engineering and computer science with anti-social, awkward loners and not with the opportunities to effect change in th world throughout these fields?   Is it because there are not enough role models in young women’s daily lives or in popular culture? Why?

I think it is a mix of many things, not to mention the centuries-old gender bias that has only recently (the last century is recent when talking about our society’s perception of gender) started to be deconstructed.

Either way you look at it, if women are to have a voice in our culture, they should have a hand in building it, whether it be a bridge, a pipeline or a virtual space online.

Celebrate Computer Science Education Week and do an Hour of Code!

The Hour of Code is coming

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The Hour of Code is a global movement reaching tens of millions of students in 180+ countries and over 30 languages. Ages 4 to 104.


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It sucks that Computer Science Education Week happens during our black out week, but that doesn’t mean you can’t explore on your own or take a workshop offered in Montreal!

The Apple store on St. Catherine street is giving short Hour of Code workshops for kids on Thursday after school.  There is also an introduction to Ruby (the language Clay Jannon uses to build his virtual 3D bookstore in Mr. Penumbra!) for girls aged 8-13 and their parents given by the wonderful women at Ladies Learning Code. This is happening tomorrow so if you are interested you should register now!

Don’t have time to attend a workshop? That’s okay! Take one of the amazing tutorials on the Hour of Code website. I highly recommend the Khan academy’s introduction to java script. It is fun, interactive and easy to follow!

Myths About Coding: A Personal Journey

In honour of Computer Science Week I thought I would talk a little about my own personal journey with coding. The decision to try and learn to code was something I had been thinking of for about a year now. It was always in conjunction with what I saw as a growing need for our children to learn how to program ( or at least to understand the basics of coding) and a moral imperative to put my money where my mouth was. But in order to begin, I had to let go of some preconceived notions.

Myth #1: I am not good at math.

Severus-Snape-rip-severus-snape-13701628-2560-1707 Now I was one of those shy kids who didn’t understand math right off the bat. Unfortunately, early on in my scholastic career I met with a math teacher from the Severus Snape School of Instruction by Intimidation and my brain shut down to anything that was designated math. This was in fourth grade, so yeah. I have some catching up to do.

Unfortunately many girls (and probably boys) have convinced themselves that they are simply bad at math. Here is a great article from the Atlantic that talks about the “Fallacy of inborn ability”. Here is a quote:

“I’m just not a math person.”

We hear it all the time. And we’ve had enough. Because we believe that the idea of “math people” is the most self-destructive idea in America today. The truth is, you probably are a math person, and by thinking otherwise, you are possibly hamstringing your own career. Worse, you may be helping to perpetuate a pernicious myth that is harming underprivileged children—the myth of inborn genetic math ability.-Miles Kimball and Noah Smith

Now in my very late thirties, I am realizing just how much I have shot myself in the foot by believing this. It took a university course entitled “Math for elementary teachers” with an awesome teacher who could explain things to me in a way where I actually understood for me to realize that I could actually “do” math. It was a revelation! I am also shyly interested in science and the more philosophical side of math (ideas of different geometries and such) but always felt like I really had no business thinking about those high-falutin’ ideas  because I could not possibly understand that theory behind them.

If I do anything in life, it will be to try and dispel this kind of thinking in my own daughters as well as any young person.

Myth #2: I am not a math person therefore I could not possibly code

Who says you have to be good at math to code? From my very shallow forays into the vast sea of programming, it seems more like learning a language than math.

Yeah I know. Math is also a language. But I wish someone had mentioned to that me earlier in my life. If I could have viewed it as such, it might have been less scary for me, as the flip side of the “bad at math” coin is that I feel I am pretty good with language.

I have been taking about 15 minutes a day to learn to code. (I like the 15 minute thing- it means that I do a little everyday and it isn’t so daunting).

So far I have earned the following badges in Codeacademy:

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Hmmm. I do love me a good badge!

I have gone through the basics of HTML and CSS and have started learning the basics of javascript.

Although Code Academy is a great start, it doesn’t allow you to play around very much. Ever practical, I wanted to see how I could put my new skills to good use. I am in the middle of building a practice website for the upcoming Battle of the Books.

Here is a screen shot of my website:

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Here is a screenshot of the code for my homepage:

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As you can see, I am very proud of myself.

Myth #3: Programmers or coders are socially awkward, chubby males who live in their parents’ basement.

I read this great NY Times article (which I think I might have posted already) that made this interesting point:

Public narratives about a career make a difference. The most common career aspiration named on Girls Who Code applications is forensic science. Like Allen, few if any of the girls have ever met anyone in that field, but they’ve all watched “CSI,” “Bones” or some other show in which a cool chick with great hair in a lab coat gets to use her scientific know-how to solve a crime. This so-called “CSI” effect has been credited for helping turn forensic science from a primarily male occupation into a primarily female one.

Where are all the cool hacker chicks with great hair and funky outfits? They are working for Google. Or Ubisoft. Or Facebook. But they certainly aren’t on TV, which means there is no one out there to represent women in the profession.

I just had a meeting with two cool, young hacker girls (one works for Google, the other teaches computer science). They were telling me that the concept of working in your little anti-social bubble couldn’t be more wrong. In fact, it is one of the professions where leveraging the knowledge and support of their peers is not only encouraged but essential. They are in constant contact with their team mates but also with the people working on different aspects of a larger project. Think about Google and its vast online omnipotence. Then think about how many little worker ants it takes to make the Google kingdom run.

Now that I think about it, my profession, librarianship, is way closer to the coder stereotype. For instance, I can spend a whole day not talking to anyone if there are no classes in the library (which suits my personality if not enabling certain anti-social tendencies).

Myth #4: There is no creative aspect to coding.

After the Hour of Code event I wrote about, I asked my daughter if the idea of what programming is synced up with her experience. She shook her head vigorously. “I thought coding was a lot more boring,” she said. “That it was all numbers.” Since Sunday, she has found Codeacademy on her own and is going through the HTML tutorial. She has already used her HTML language skills to peek inside the code behind her tumblr account and find a part of the code that makes it look like it is snowing on her page. We looked at the code she pasted more closely and were able to decipher where the person who built it was calling a javascript sheet. She was so happy that she could actually figure out what was going on!

If coding is a language, then once you learn it you can manipulate it to tell any story you want. You can make a website. You can make an interactive game. You can make 3D renditions of actual spaces or an app that connects volunteers to charitable organizations. The possibilities are endless!

I heard a woman argue on the CBC show Spark that Coding should be taught as a liberal art. This would definitely help to dispel the myth that coding is only for the highly unimaginative, left-brained dominated folk.

From a self-image (fallacy of innate ability or, in most cases, innate inability) to a profession image problem, the above myths are going to have to be blasted out of the water if we really want to get the attention of our young people.