Hello World

How can we get everyone excited about code?

May 10, 2021 Season 1 Episode 1
Hello World
How can we get everyone excited about code?
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

To kick off our first ever Hello World podcast episode, we thought we would explore what excites us and frustrates us about programming. Learning to code can be a creative, imaginative, immersive and rewarding experience. We discuss the role that programming has as a practical application of computer science concepts, as well as how it brings the subject to life and enables learners to solve meaningful problems that are important to them.

Show notes 

Carrie Anne Philbin:

The algorithm is wrong, I was like no no no that's not how computers work.

Amanda Haughs:

It probably fits into that category of things that do something but maybe don't work. Exactly.

Rowan Mather:

Oh no. It's not about the prize I just love just doing the coding.

Dahlia Poulton-Trask:

Make sure you always have fun and especially you don't want people doing coding and they think it's boring.

James Robinson:

I don't think I could have summed that up much better.

Carrie Anne Philbin:

Welcome to Hello World, a podcast for educators interested in computing and digital making. I'm Carrie Anne Philbin, a computing educator, You-tuber, author and I guess now a podcaster.

James Robinson:

Hi, I'm James Robinson, computing educator and I'm currently working on projects promoting effective pedagogy within our subject. If you'd like to support our show, then please subscribe wherever you get your podcasts and do leave us a five star review.

Carrie Anne Philbin:

Today we're talking about getting everyone excited about code. So James, what excites you about code?Oh

James Robinson:

Oh so much? I've been I've enjoyed coding and programming for such a long time. And I think for me the biggest factor is that creativity. I think I see as it a hugely creative discipline that allows people to solve problems, express ideas, and just really kind of create whatever comes to mind. I think, you know, if you combine some imagination, some code and some persistence, you can get some really fantastic results. And I think in my time training educators through our Picademy program in the past, I've seen some fantastic projects which really exemplify that kind of imagination, code and perseverance kind of idea. So for me, it's it's super exciting. And I've heard you speak many times passionately about coding. What makes you so enthusiastic about this topic?

Carrie Anne Philbin:

I think, like you, creativity is kind of at the heart of it. I think being able to make with technology something that is meaningful to you is just so empowering. That just makes you and everybody else around you super excited. But I think it's more than that. I mean, whether you call it coding or programming, it is the kind of practical application of computer science. You know, it is what I really love. It's kind of mathematics and engineering and problem solving. And, you know, sometimes we hear people talk about this in terms of computational thinking. And really its programming is the practical application of all of that knowledge, all of those concepts, all of those ideas in a in a really tangible way that is so immersive and so rewarding and exciting that it's really difficult to not be excited by it. Do you know what I mean?

James Robinson:

I do absolutely. I completely relate to that sort of experience that's important to you. You kind of touched upon that idea that it's something you care about. And also the thing about it being the sort of the practical part of computer science, it brings it to life, really, doesn't it. It's where things become real and tangible and interesting and engaging.

Carrie Anne Philbin:

And whilst we could talk about why we love coding and programming for hours.

James Robinson:

Oh hours.

Carrie Anne Philbin:

Yeah, I think really we should hear from some other people. So let's get some more perspectives and introduce our first guest, educator, PBS digital innovator, Cue Rock Star and Raspberry Pi Certified Educator Amanda Haughs. Amanda, welcome. And what gets you excited about code?

Amanda Haughs:

Good morning. Oh, my gosh. So much gets me excited about coding now. I um I think you mentioned a lot of those points Carrie Anne. Just talking about making things that are meaningful and being able to be creative are the biggest aspects about coding that excite me. I like being able to make things that work not that doesn't always happen. But I guess when they do work, it's exciting that, wow, I created this thing that didn't exist before and now here it is. And I think that's something that really excites me the most.

James Robinson:

I think your comment about making things that work, I think I mean, you could probably broaden out and say "make things that do something" they may maybe not always work , but I really get a kick from that. They may not always do what you want them to do, but them doing something is really engaging

Carrie Anne Philbin:

James loses hours and hours and hours to trying to get things just to work.

James Robinson:

It's not quite hours and hours Carrie Anne, but yes, a good proportion of time or losing things because I forget to save my code. That's that's the other thing that I've known for. So what's the last program that you that you wrote Amanda?

Amanda Haughs:

It probably fits into that category of things that do something but maybe don't work exactly the way I want them to yet. Most of the things I probably make right now are for school and with my students. So little projects. We've made math games in scratch recently that's been fun, and we were playing with the light sensor on the micro bit recently and we kind of took that and linked it in with the Mars rover landing. And we tried to prototype little rovers that now would have a headlight that was light sensitive. So that was fun. At home I haven't had a lot of time for personal projects recently, but I've been playing with the thermal camera recently with the Raspberry Pi and trying to trying to learn more about that so.

Carrie Anne Philbin:

I mean, are the projects that you've just spoken about, the ones that you've done with your students, are they linked to certain topic areas that you're studying at the moment with them? Or are they, do they come from the students own imaginations and excitement kind of outside of that in a more informal space?

Amanda Haughs:

I think, yeah, both so this year I work with second graders, so the math games have been centered around a couple of ideas. One, just our observations about what particular math skills our classmates needed some support in. And so I pulled a small group of students who had mastered the math skill already, but now could maybe create something for their classmates to use to help them practice a bit more. So there was a little bit of design thinking work embedded in that as well. And we were thinking about our audience and creating for a specific group.

Carrie Anne Philbin:

I was going to say it's not a way in which you get your students excited about kind of mathematics using code, or is it a way that you get them excited about coding through the lens of their mathematics lessons?

Amanda Haughs:

Both I would say I think that coding has definitely brought another perspective into mathematics and what you can do with mathematics for a lot of my kids. That's another area that I'm passionate about in general, is changing the way mathematics instruction looks. I'm trying to get away from sort of that old school model of just rote learning and drill and kill and those sorts of things and get kids excited about how do we apply math and coding is a big piece of that.

James Robinson:

I've not heard the expression drill and kill before, it's a new one on me. So you're clearly I mean, we can hear it when you do describe the activities that you're doing with the kids. You're clearly very passionate about computing and programming specifically. Is that something that's always been the case have you always had that interest or is that something that has evolved over time?

Amanda Haughs:

No, that was not always the case. So I think in that respect, I maybe I'm a good example of someone that had no experience with programming, was never exposed at school. There were no courses when I was in school around coding. My family were not programmers. I mean, I had zero exposure. So it was something I kind of fell into and fell in love with.

Carrie Anne Philbin:

And was it sort of scratch or what was it that pulled you in? How did you fall into it?

Amanda Haughs:

You know, I was thinking I had to think back. What was the first thing I tried? It was it was a while ago. I was teaching fifth grade at the time. And somewhere I had read about or seen something about app inventor. Thinking back, I realized, oh, my gosh, it was MIT app inventor. And I thought, oh, I bet I have some kids that would love to try this. And so I played around and thought it was really fun. You know what, thinking back, I realized I did a tiny bit of web design in college. Right. That was my one like quarter-long class. And I thought, OK, this is this is cool. Maybe I want to get back into this. And I started like...

Carrie Anne Philbin:

You made some animated GIFs and you embedded them into your website.

Amanda Haughs:

It was a horrendous looking website, too, but it was fun learning at least a little bit at the time. So, yeah, it was MIT app inventor though that I that got me back into that and putting together a little lunch coding club with some fifth graders and then it just kind of expanded from there.

James Robinson:

And so it started in the informal space where you were kind of testing things out with the learners, right?

Amanda Haughs:

Yeah. And you know, and I definitely preface the club with the understanding that Miss Haughs is not an expert by any means. I don't know what I'm doing, but you can come and play with me at lunch if you want. And they were all about it. It just went really well.

Carrie Anne Philbin:

And do you really enjoy that kind of experience of learning alongside your students kind of solving problems together? Does that help you become more excited and they become excited with you?

Amanda Haughs:

I think so. I think that and I think probably a lot of educators it's one characteristic that makes you an educator is that idea, we just like learning things, too. So for me, I have no problem jumping in and saying, you know, this looks really neat and I don't know how to do it so let's figure it out together. And of course, for the kids there's this feeling of empowerment like, oh, I'm going to figure this out and I'm going to teach the teacher now. And that definitely brings a bit more excitement to what we're doing.

James Robinson:

How do you share your excitement with your students beyond what you've already talked about?

Amanda Haughs:

I like to talk about the things I'm doing personally too, with them. And because I now am genuinely excited about trying to learn to code and trying to make things, I guess it naturally is easy for me to come in and say, hey, guys, look at what I tried this weekend. And it was an epic failure, but it was so fun and I'm going to keep trying to figure it out. And so I think when your students see you excited about something and they see the things that you're trying and the things that you're learning, that just sort of naturally rubs off on to them. And so even if they weren't interested before, they'll at least give it a try at that point.

James Robinson:

Yes. Something about being unashamedly passionate about something like my students would be very much. "All right sir we get it. You like programming, stop telling anecdotes". I think I probably went a bit too far the other direction, but yeah, I think I think just it can be quite touching. Enthusiasm, enthusiasm is infectious, I think.

Carrie Anne Philbin:

And I think, you know, a question I have and I think people listening to this podcast would want to know as well as how do you share that excitement beyond your classroom and your teaching to kind of other teachers, other educators who are perhaps around you kind of look and go, "oh, you're doing something interesting, but I'm a little bit frightened of doing that". But they want to tap into the same excitement, kind of what tips would you give to those people, how have you gone about that?

Amanda Haughs:

Right. Well, I think my own team is a good example of that, currently. None of them have had any experience, really, and my current second-grade partners came from middle school English and came from different backgrounds. And so I think that just being unafraid to try something and fail in front of your colleagues is one way to definitely help them feel a little more comfortable to try something new. When they see the excitement in the students, it's easier to say, hey, maybe we try this with your students next. And we've gotten really creative about it, too, because I know some things that get in the way sometimes or that fear that I don't know enough to help the kids if I try it by myself. Right. So we've done things like, well, let's just switch classes for the day then. So how about you take my kids and you do something with them that you know more about and I'll do a little programming lesson with your kids and kind of get them going. So then there's not that fear that starting from ground zero, how am I going to help them if I don't know what I'm doing? We've also, I've been really lucky too just to be asked to do little training sessions around the district and to coach other people and and getting the kids involved in that helps as well. I think just having them come be the coaches and be the support system makes other educators sometimes feel a little more comfortable getting going.

James Robinson:

I think that's really important. What you were saying there about seeing the impact on the students, I think any any educator, whilst they might have anxiety about delivering themselves, the moment they can see the impact that that enthusiasm has on the students, I think that's really going to help them overcome some of their own kind of fear or concerns.

Amanda Haughs:

Absolutely. And I think you have to be willing to open up your classroom for them to see that, too, because we can often become very siloed in our own classrooms. And so finding ways to open up your room to people to see what's happening is going to be important, too

Carrie Anne Philbin:

Terrifying, but rewarding. We're clearly a bunch of excitable educators. But how important is excitement and energy to our young people? Well, Rowan Mather is a computing student from Cambridge in England, currently finishing her qualification in A-level computing. She's a passionate student of computing and yet still finds time to run the society at college. So Rowan what gets you excited about code?

Rowan Mather:

Hello, thank you for having me. What I really love is just solving puzzles, and any way to possibly solve puzzles is so exciting to me. On the side of college, like Extra-Curricular, I really love the National Cypher Challenge and the Harvard csx50 challenges, I really love those.

Carrie Anne Philbin:

So do you go out in, like, source challenges to get involved in?

Rowan Mather:

Oh, yeah. one hundred percent.

Carrie Anne Philbin:

You're just like, what's the next big problem that I can solve? Or are you drawn and motivated by prestige getting a prize?

Rowan Mather:

Oh, no, it's not about the prize. I just love doing the coding.

James Robinson:

And what was the last program that you wrote either for fun or for college? What has sort of really kind of kept you motivated recently in programming?

Rowan Mather:

So in terms of sort of things that I've done just for fun, I haven't had a lot of time in a while. Cause I've been working on my computer science NEA, which is coursework. So for that I was making a health that for a condition called ME, which is quite similar to Long Covid, quite interestingly. So it's being talked about a bit more now. And I made that. That's for Android. So, yeah, before that.

Carrie Anne Philbin:

And what does it do?

Rowan Mather:

Well it's for tracking, people with ME have trouble sort of managing their life, in terms of how much sleep they get, what they eat, how much activity they do. So that means that they can get really tired very easily. So it just helps you keep track of what you've done that day and sort of plot it on a graph for you.

Carrie Anne Philbin:

Do you know someone who has that condition? Is that what drew you to wanting to find a way to help them track the day in, day out?

Rowan Mather:

Yeah, well, it's because of my mum actually, She has that condition. So you have to have an end use of your coursework, someone that you're making it specifically for, It can be a client or whatever. But I have that personal connection, so I was like that's what I'm going to do.

Carrie Anne Philbin:

Some handy testing that you could do locally.

Amanda Haughs:

Yeah, indeed. Yeah. That makes it really easy to see what people would want and what you can improve on. You just go and ask your Mum.

James Robinson:

It's really interesting, I think that personal connection to a project, I think there's a relationship there between that and the excitement, I think it drives and passion and energy behind the project. So it's not just a thing that you've got to do, but it's a thing that you want to do as well. So do you think that's an important part of that you bring to programing is sort of passionate energy for a particular project?

Rowan Mather:

Absolutely. I completely agree. Yeah. It's really helpful to have someone you're like making it for and they have a problem, whatever it is that needs solving, and they can tell you exactly what they want and it just makes it a bit more human. You're not just doing something if you're working all the time on a computer, then having something to go and show someone and see what they like and what they dislike about is it's really helpful.

Carrie Anne Philbin:

When did you first become interested in coding and programming?

Rowan Mather:

So I started, as lots of people do at primary school with scratch, I really like scratch, It's really cute. So I did a little bit then. But in terms of sort of past block coding, I did some in year seven and I started teaching myself some python I came across. From there I did a lot of teaching myself, a lot of Googling and just sort of playing, making like text adventures and things. Then I started finding lots of competitions on the Internet and doing those.

Carrie Anne Philbin:

And did that passion come from someone inspirational? Was there a teacher who first introduced you to Scratch or was it something you found on your own outside of school?

Rowan Mather:

So I don't think I had one specific person that inspired me as such. I found quite a lot of like YouTubers and author's online, that were quite ofen mathematical and computer things like Numberphile and Computerfile. And then in terms of like teachers, teachers have been really important for giving me opportunities, extracurricular stuff, encouraging me to do things like running the Computer Science Society. And at secondary school. I had the teacher that got me into game making. So that was cool.

James Robinson:

And how important do you think it is Rowan for students and young people to have the enthusiasm and energy, the role that teachers play in terms of fostering that enthusiasm? How important would you say that is to see your learning?

Rowan Mather:

I think it's really important, yeah, it's crucial. I think if you have a teacher that really loves what they do, what they do, really passionate about what they do, then it comes through and you just enjoy the learning so much more. And also, just like a student personal enthusiasm is really important. That's quite a lot. When you're when you're first learning to code, there's quite a lot of hurdles that you have to get over. A sort of shift in way of thinking about a problem. So if you have enthusiasm, then you can you can come at that confidently and get over those hurdles easily.

Carrie Anne Philbin:

So I think you've touched on something that's really important, which is especially in programming, is how often you fail. Does that make sense, like how often you try and write a piece of code, whether that's in blocks or in text. And it doesn't do the thing that you were planning for it to do the first time you run that code. You talk about enthusiasm being really important to get over those hurdles. But how did you continue with programs when when they didn't work? Did you reach out to peers? Did you talk to teachers? Like how did you how did you get past those hurdles?

Rowan Mather:

Yeah, I mean, the amount of time that I spent just not understanding why something doesn't work. Definitely every one that does programming spends so much time just like Googling a problem. And going "I don't understand". But I think support from from friends, from teachers is super helpful. If you just give it to someone else and be like, I can't understand why this section doesn't work, And you look at it and spot something. Me and my best friend look at each others work all the time.

Carrie Anne Philbin:

And sometimes I think our Audience, particularly educators, they're always really struggling with finding extra time to do things right? And I think one of the big fear factors for teachers in bringing programming and coding into their classroom is that fear of, oh, no, my young people are going to stumble with their programs and probably at different points in a lesson. And I don't have enough time to give every single student that kind of individual attention. So do you have any kind of tips or ways in which you would help find a solution to your problem that didn't involve asking a teacher?

Rowan Mather:

Yeah, I think like I was saying, I think if you have students in the class that sort of finish a task or something early, then quite often just talking to to another student is really helpful. And that's been a bit of a shame and lockdown that we haven't had so much of an opportunity to do that. Quite often when I was doing computer science, I would go around and help other people and other people in my class would do the same thing. So I think if a teacher doesn't directly have enough time, then sort of identifying students that would work together well and pairing them off is really helpful.

James Robinson:

And I was going to ask about I mean, I think we've we've spoken about this a little bit earlier on in our conversations with Amanda and before. But for me, when I when I experienced those challenges, I think all of the things that keeps me going often is knowing that at the end of that, when things work, there is this kind of mini moment of of pride and sort of silent elation that, you know, you kind of feel that I did that I fixed that problem I solved that. And do you, can you relate to that? You get the same feeling when you when you solve those problems and overcome those hurdles.

Rowan Mather:

Oh, definitely. I remember when I was doing my NEA, there was one problem that I'd been trying to work on for like five hours, and I finally fixed it and I actually jumped up and down. I was so excited. And so that moment when you finally get something to work is it is just elation. It's so good. So it's the sort of poring over it for five hours becomes worth it.

James Robinson:

Well, it's been an absolute pleasure to talk to you. Thank you so much for joining us today. And and good luck with your NEA and qualification and for the future.

Rowan Mather:

Thank you. Thank you for having me.

Carrie Anne Philbin:

So we thought we'd ask our community, "what excites you about code"? We did this via Twitter and we had some great responses. So Cat Lamin who is a Google certified educator, trainer from Twickenham in England told us, I love how learning to code gives children the opportunity to understand how creativity and computing go hand in hand. It is the opportunity for young people to explore, create and apply learning to both virtual and physical systems and have tangible results at the end of it all. So again, James, another teacher sort of echoing this idea about creativity and that kind of openness, that exploration that we've talked about a lot already today with our guests.

James Robinson:

Yeah, and I think another point that's echoed here is from Alan O'Donahue who's a computational tinkerer from Exa Foundation. I think he talks about that constant state of flow where you forget to eat and no longer feel tired. And I remember Rowan mentioning just now when we were chatting about spending five hours working on her code. And I can relate to that like five hours of obsessive working and forgetting to do other things. That really, really resonates with me.

Carrie Anne Philbin:

Well, funnily enough, Amy Welsh, who is a National Center hub leader and facilitator in England, mentions that kind of light bulb moment as well. In her response she's put "when teaching, some of the best moments are when you see the light bulb moment in a student that has persevered with their code". And they also go on to say "the creativity and ingenuity that people show when developing a solution. No one believes you when you say it is a creative subject". And I think I think that has been echoed so many times today that computer science and the practical application of that computer science knowledge through programming really is such a creative, inspiring pursuit. You can solve problems that are meaningful to you and it's worth finding different pedagogies to help bring, bring this excitement into educational spaces, whether they are formal or informal.

James Robinson:

Yeah, and I think this just to end, I think one last comment, I think from Spencer Organ, who's a head of computer science at the Kesh academy, I think he sums it up quite nicely as well. "Programming feels like a fresh journey of learning and discovery. It's a constant sort of discovery. Each new project adds more skills and knowledge to his to his repertoire. So I think that really kind of sums up the the journey that programming can take you on as well.

Carrie Anne Philbin:

Well, if you have a question for us or a comment about our discussion today. Then you can email us at [email protected] or you can contact us on Twitter. via @HelloWorld_Edu. So, James, what did we learn?

James Robinson:

Well, I learned or I had confirmed this idea that programming is creative, something that I've always believed. I feel that computer programming is a very creative discipline and it's so lovely to hear that echoed by all the people that we've heard from, both in person and via Twitter, I think really confirms that view point for me. How about you Carrie Anne?

Carrie Anne Philbin:

Well, I've learned that, you know, spending five hours poring over my code is worth it.

James Robinson:

Absolutely.

Introduction
Interview with Amanda Haughs
Interview with Rowan Mather
Community Comments
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