Category Archives: Education

Code Club Field Report #2



Last week I gave a report on my experience facilitating a code club in Hamilton. Volunteers in the Hamilton tech community are visiting Hamilton elementary schools regularly to teach computer programming. My class is a grade 4/5 split at Mountainview on Barton Street.

During the first week I used an activity called Scratch, and while it went pretty good I got the impression the students would be better served by another tool. I used Lightbot instead this week, and it went fantastic.

My issue with Scratch was that while it’s a great “stepping stone into computer programming”, doing a one hour “build pong with Scratch” workshop doesn’t necessarily teach computational thinking skills. Knowing how to sequence instructions, loops, decisions, abstracting sequences of instructions into functions – these are the fundamentals of computational thinking.

Lightbot did an excellent job in this respect. While we had some issues getting students going on the computers due to some of the machines lacking Flash installations (or at least, the correct version), once we got going it was awesome to watch. Once students got going, any frustrations they had were directed at solving the problem as opposed to using the tool. And about every 5-10 seconds you’d hear an exclamation in the room like, “yes!”, “got it!”, or “Ooooooooh” when someone had figured out a solution to a problem.

Lightbot has students give a bot navigating a grid of squares instructions. The instructions tell the bot to move forward, turn, jump/drop, or light a square. The goal is to light all of the highlighted squares by giving a bot the correct set of instructions. This video explains it better than I can.



The level design of Lightbot is perfect. The very first level has them learning how to use the tool, with a gradual increase in complexity from there. Future levels introduce a problem: the bot can only receive so many instructions, and in these levels the bot doesn’t only have to light all of the squares, it needs to do so efficiently using the least amount of instructions possible.

Further levels introduce the concept of functions – repeatable sets of instructions that can be called from the main set of instructions. At first students use these functions as a sort of “extension”, calling the function at the end of their main list of instructions to execute more instructions. And at first, Lightbot levels allow for these solutions. Which makes sense, it lets students figure out how to use functions. But then future Lightbot levels, using the same constraint that only so many instructions can be included in the main set of instructions, require them to call a function multiple times as a more genuine function that abstracts away some meaningful pattern of instructions.

The “oohs” and “ahhs” that were elicited when students realized they could put a pattern of instructions in the function were awesome. I’m not suggesting I had anything to do with it, the game did all the work, but that was real, foundational learning taking place. Awesome!!

Lightbot is a stroke of edtech design genius. I wish I had thought of it myself. It worked wonders in the code club.


#HamOntForever Digital Literacy Panel Discussion


The #HamOntForever campaign is organizing a panel discussion, see the details below:

When technology moves faster than society, it’s either keep-up, or risk going the way of the floppy disk. Presented in partnership by Hamilton Community Foundation and KITESTRING, join us for a panel on Digital Literacy, our city and how a growing digital divide must be addressed.

The discussion will be moderated by Chris Farias (VP – Creative Development, KITESTRING) with panel participants Mark Chamberlain (President & CEO PV Labs), Terry Cooke (President & CEO Hamilton Community Foundation), Joey Coleman (Journalist and Crowdfunding Pioneer), and Paul Takala (Chief Librarian Hamilton Public Library).

When: January 28th, 2015 from 5–7pm, with the one-hour panel beginning at 5:30pm.

Where: First floor at The Seedworks Building, 126 Catharine Street North, Hamilton.


Online: Streaming at or join the chat on the KITESTRING Facebook Page


WordPress for Beginners workshop this month



When: Wednesday January 21st 2015 at 6:30 PM and Wednesday, January 28, 2015 @ 6:30pm

Where: Mills Hardware @ 95 King St. E. Hamilton, Ontario

Full Details + Registration:

Organizer: Ladies Learning Code (Hamilton Chapter)

Whether you want to start your own blog, or your company website is run on it, WordPress allows you to update and create content easily, while allowing for your own style and customization. You don’t need to be technical to use it, but it can be really powerful if you get your hands dirty and work with the code. In this workshop, we will show you how to install WordPress, what it all means, and of course, how to edit a theme to make it your own.

This workshop has been designed for beginners who are interested in customizing and coding a WordPress theme from scratch. If you are familiar with working with pre-built WordPress themes or templates but want an introduction on how to customize an existing theme or building a theme yourself, you’ve come to the right place! This is also a great starting point for HTML/CSS developers to get their feet wet with developing for WordPress!


Code club pilot project to launch this winter



For the last 3 months the Innovation & Technology committee of the Hamilton Chamber of Commerce has had a new “technology education” subcommittee work on getting pilot code clubs started in Hamilton-area elementary schools. I want to give a quick update as to what’s happened, and outline how you can become involved.


What’s happened

In September the new technology education subcommittee was formed around the idea of getting code clubs into Hamilton-area elementary schools. A code club will consist of a weekly gathering of children interested in coding at an elementary school, with a mentor going through educational material to teach the children how to code using freely available tools. The idea isn’t new – the UK runs a nation-wide network of coding clubs for example.

The subcommittee has had a few discussions about these code clubs and what they should look like, one discussion was done with about a dozen teachers from the HWDSB and HWCDSB who were interested in the concept. The idea isn’t to make the code club feel like a classroom, but instead like a communal extracurricular activity akin to a sport or hobby, where after some initial help getting the children started with the tools, they are free to create things that interest them individually (e.g. games, art, animation, stories, etc.). Online tools such as Scratch and Khan Academy allow students to fairly easily build projects, save them, work on them at home later, and show their parents and friends what they’ve done.

IEC Hamilton and specifically subcommittee chair Cesare DiDonato (@CesareDiDonato) have been critical to making the connections with the HWDSB and HWCDSB and facilitating this process. We now have about 14 schools across the two boards (and a few other independent schools) interested in hosting a code club. We are now in the process of finding additional mentors and assigning mentors to these clubs.


Getting involved

In order for this to work, we’re going to need to more mentors to volunteer. The expectation for mentors is that they are either a post-secondary student or industry professional who is interested in running a weekly coding club at an elementary school.


– Clubs will be run for 1-2 hours a week, during the daytime, most likely during or around a lunch hour (i.e. not after school).

– Each code club will be started up and run by one mentor. Mentors will be matched to a classroom based on mutual availability and put in touch with a teacher. The grade range could be anywhere from grades 5-8.

– Mentors will initially attend the code club weekly for 4-6 weeks in a row in order to get the students up and running creating projects (i.e. showing them how to use the tool, explaining how different concepts like animation, looping, logic work within the tool).

– After this initial start-up period mentors should not need to attend the code club weekly, but instead at a reduced rate (e.g. monthly) to help keep the code club going (e.g. by showing them something new, checking in on what they’ve been working on, etc.). The concept is for the club to begin to operate semi-independently after the initial start-up period, with students creating projects on their own.

– The vast majority of teachers prefer that mentors use Scratch, at least to start with. But mentors will be free to show the students additional tools (e.g. Khan Academy), as long as they do so in coordination with the teacher.

– The subcommittee will provide the mentors with a “suggested curriculum” of what topics to go through each week using Scratch (e.g. Week 1 – Introduce the tool and how it works using one of x,y,z fun examples, Week 2 – Introduce looping using a,b,c fun examples, etc.).

– The boards are working on launching online forum tools that will allow mentors to communicate with teachers and answer student questions.

– Code clubs are expected to start-up in February-March. Ideally they will run through until June, with discussion about how to continue and expand the program into the next school term.

– The technology education subcommittee will continue to meet monthly as the code clubs launch, to discuss the progress of the clubs and how to proceed after the startup period.

– Mentors will be required to complete a police background check, the turnaround time is about a month and the cost is about $36 including taxes.

We’re trying something new here, which means the details aren’t set in stone and the bugs haven’t been worked out. So for example it may be that some clubs do not proceed after the start-up period and others do proceed through to June. That’s something we’ll be figuring out by trying it out. This pilot process is meant to identify what works and what doesn’t, so we can scale this project next year and into the future.

If you’re interested in becoming a mentor, contact Cesare DiDonato to get the process started:

Cesare DiDonato

After you have contacted Cesare to get that process started, you can contact me about the material that will be delivered in the classroom:

Kevin Browne



If you haven’t seen it before, Scratch is worth a quick poke around. It’s a tool developed by MIT researchers to teach children programming concepts.




The new online version of the tool allows students to do everything in the browser, which is excellent for portability, share-ability, accessibility, and continuation of the work outside the classroom (i.e. home). The tool allows students to create animations, games, tell stories, etc – a diverse enough array of activities to provide for different interests. There is also a ton of online help for the tool to assist with in-class learning and help with self-learning – tutorials, videos, examples, etc.


Looking ahead

The subcommittee has talked about other ideas – for example running an “industry day” at McMaster Innovation Park aimed at motivating children to enter the field, with talks by professionals in different areas, where perhaps the students bring what projects they have been working on to show off to one another. The more mentors that engage in this process the more viable ideas like these become.

Another big topic of discussion was improving the official school curriculum. Right now the amount of software development education made available to students varies from school to school in Ontario, with the resources of the school and the background knowledge of the teachers being constraints. Obviously long term it’s critical to have more material integrated into the standard curriculum itself, but in the meantime extracurricular activities can help fill the gap. And to be honest, software development is a passion and a community as much as it is an academic discipline, so extra curricular activities may be as important or more important to getting more kids into coding.

Other discussions have been related to getting Hour of Code started in Hamilton for next year, or getting clubs started in high school.

These discussions are important, but we’re now at the point of moving forward with a pilot project. As a community builds around this subcommittee we can begin to tackle more problems, but it takes time to get things to the implementation stage.

This is not the first time that people have tried to get code clubs started in Hamilton-area schools. The process is difficult for bureaucratic and other reasons, but we have finally cleared enough hurdles to get these clubs started. We’ll hopefully make this process more streamlined in the future, for example by getting the police background checks covered by someone, by more clearly outlining the curriculum, sign-up forms, etc. But for this pilot project we’re going to need some willing people with a “can do” attitude to help us get these clubs off the ground.

I’m personally looking forward to running a code club in the new year, and I’ll be blogging about the experience as much as I can (in a general privacy-respecting sense) to let people know how it goes. I’m so excited!


Learn about Unity 3D this Tuesday


When: Tuesday, December 16, 2014 from 6:30pm to 8:30pm

Where: Applivy HQ @ 901 King Street West, Unit B, Hamilton, Ontario


Learn about Unity 3d game development environment and get your hands wet in this wonderful microworkshop by Nael.


– Bring your own laptop.
– Unity 4.6 or higher installed

Nael Jazar is a McMaster Mech. Eng graduate and gamedev with a particular interest in developing with Unity. He is always open to new collaborative opportunities with the local game development industry and DOTA 2 challenges so feel free to email him!


HamOntForever digital literacy crowdfunding campaign


A team of Hamiltonians has launched a crowdfunding campaign to establish a fund that can be used to create grants for local charities to work on digital literacy. Campaign donations will be matched by the Hamilton Community Foundation, and those who donate will have a chance to contribute to an “online time capsule” (e.g. pictures, videos) that will be opened in 2030.

Indiegogo Campaign:




Check out the details below:

Our Idea

In #HamOnt, we have a strong, vibrant online community. People in Hamilton use the internet and digital tools to enhance their personal and professional lives in lots of different ways. But not everyone is able to participate.

We want everyone – regardless of age, education, or income – to have the access and knowledge they need to participate online. #HamOntForever helps make that happen.

The campaign’s goal is to empower Hamilton’s passionate online community to turn social media into social action. Donations to the #HamOntForever Fund will be used to create grants that local charities can use to help improve the digital literacy of Hamiltonians. That means more Hamiltonians will have the skills and resources they need to be part of the online conversation and marketplace.

Our online time capsule makes the #HamOntForever campaign even cooler. As a donor, you get to contribute something to the capsule. Depending on your donation level, you can include a hashtag, tweet, post, or even a video. Leave a message or wish for future Hamiltonians. All those messages will be tucked away for 15 years. Then, at the Hamilton Community Foundation’s anniversary celebrations in the year 2030, the time capsule will be opened.

As part of the Hamilton Community Foundation’s commitment to the campaign’s success, they will match every dollar donated (up to $10,000). Your donation will help people in Hamilton even more!




Behind the Code : LastWave

Behind the Code we talk about open source software, discuss challenges in developing, or in contributing to the code. celebrates a community member’s technical or business accomplishment and offers the opportunity for insightful discussion into the challenges in achieving it.

Date: 6:00pm – 7:30pm, Tuesday, November 25th
Presenter: Niko Savas (McMaster Software Engineering)
Demo: LastWave
Technologies: JavaScript, SVG, API
Format: 10-15 minute presentation, 20-30 minute discussion
Location: Applivy HQ (Westdale), 901 King Street W, Unit B

Applivy’s mission is to bring highschool, university students and Hamilton professionals together in a mixed learning environment. Topics include coding, technology, business, liberty, startups, and more.

Special Appucations workshop for parents and educators

Editor’s Note: The below was originally posted on


Special Appucations is super excited to announce that we will be conducting a series of workshops for parents and educators who have, or work with children with autism, and/or special needs. The first workshop we will be presenting is “Street Smarts: Keeping your child with special needs safe!

Woman hugging a child

In this 2 hour interactive, and pragmatic workshop you will learn:

  • how to teach your child what to do if lost
  • how to know if your child is ready to learn this important skill
  • strategies that you can use to go and practice this skill
  • considerations for individualizing how to teach this skill to your unique child

This workshop will be led by Sarah Kupferschmidt, MA, BCBA. Sarah has conducted a variety of workshops, is a professor, parent coach, and co-founder of Special Appucations. Her mission is to empower parents and educators with practical tools to teach his/her child with special needs skills that will improve his/her quality of life.


If you would like to learn more about clinically proven strategies that can be used to teach your child what to do if they are lost rsvp for this workshop at

Where: McMaster Innovation Park, 175 Longwood Road South, Hamilton, Ontario.

When: November 19, 2014 7:00 PM – 9:00 PM

Cost: $25.00

Sign up to our newsletter for updates on future workshops and get in touch if there is a topic you would like to see us cover! We hope to see you on November 19, 2014!


Sarah Kupferschmidt, MA, BCBA

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