Janine Murray (@JAVAJ9) recently inquired about in-person coding classes for kids during a quick twitter exchange. Inspiring children to become digital innovators and providing them with the tools to get there is a wonderful objective given the ample, high paying jobs that are available to those with such skills and the importance of digital literacy in an era where some believe the next industrial revolution is coding.
At an institutional level, McMaster does have outreach programs (CAS, Science) , the Venture Engineering Camp (of which I am a proud alumni!), and Let’s Talk Science. The Bay Area Science & Engineering Fair is another great local example of encouraging and rewarding children with an interest in STEM fields.
A very interesting regional example of inspiring children to become tomorrow’s digital innovators is the Youth Hack Jam taking place in Toronto this coming Saturday. The event isn’t centered around a strict agenda (perhaps a good thing for children…) but instead will be split up into different stations with volunteer instructors and assistants to teach children “how to use the tool, and then to support them as they think creatively and use the tool to ‘change the world'”. Station tools include Mozilla’s Hackasaurus and MIT’s Scratch, another station will be centered around paper and pencil app prototyping. Parents can bring their children to this event to have them participate in the different activities.
I think this event is a wonderful idea with high potential for many reasons. The more free flowing “station” structure of the event should keep things social and dynamic, which should be more engaging and kid-friendly. The fact that each station focuses on something different recognizes that digital literacy isn’t just one thing, and should better accomodate the varied interests of different children. Some of these activities, such as Scratch, allow for easy follow-through in the sense that a child that learns Scratch can continue to develop programs and foster that interest when they go home from the event. I believe that in comparison to other STEM topics such as chemistry or physics more children would find these activities relevant to their daily life – in that everyday they use apps, they play video games and they surf the web. Children may find the ability to create and shape those digital aspects of their life empowering, and that feeling may encourage them to keep learning to increase that ability.
An event like this also seems reasonably lightweight in terms of cost in that it utilizes volunteer instructors, indoor public space and freely available learning tools (and 96% of Canadian households now own a computer, so laptops should not be in too short a supply). Practically however even seemingly “lightweight” events in cost can still be time consuming to organize and promote. But if the event turns out to be reasonably lightweight in practice, such an event model could possibly “go viral” and be done somewhat sporadically wherever their is a sufficient supply of volunteers and demand from parents and children. When overloaded parents with hectic schedules are given opportunities like this, with a low time commitment required of them and no cost attached, it makes it easier for them to encourage and support their child’s interest in technology. I think when this encouragement is received from a parent and outside of the child’s time in the classroom in particular, it can have a profound effect on that child’s life. More than anything else, this event sounds fun.
I would love to see grassroots organized “Hack Jam” events like this taking place in Hamilton! As I write this article, it looks like I’m not the only one either. Between my professional commitments and events I already organize as a hobby I am too busy to organize such an event any time soon. But I would encourage anyone interested and able to do so to take up organizing such events as a hobby and run with it. This article on organizing a grassroots tech event in Hamilton may be of some help, but I have some more suggestions and ideas written below, assuming that the requirements for such an event are: station activities, indoor space, volunteer instructors, and publicity.
A bunch of these ideas are taken from the Toronto Hack Jam page but I’ll just repeat them here…
Alice – “Alice is an innovative 3D programming environment that makes it easy to create an animation for telling a story, playing an interactive game, or a video to share on the web.”
Playing MadLibs with Python: Building Your First Game – “Ever wanted to build your own computer game? Here’s your chance! Even if you are a total beginner, you will be able to complete this challenge. You’ll be taken through the process of building a MadLib game, step-by-step.”
Computer Science Unplugged – â€śCS Unplugged is a collection of free learning activities that teach Computer Science through engaging games and puzzles that use cards, string, crayons and lots of running around.â€ť The important thing with CS Unplugged activities is that none of them actually require a computer! Check out their activity list, concepts like binary numbers and sorting algorithms can be taught using pre-designed activities. Each one of these activities is a potential station!
Hackasaurus – “By making it easy for youth to tinker and mess around with the building blocks that make up the web, Hackasaurus helps tweens move from digital consumers to active producers, seeing the web as something they can actively shape, remix and make better.” It is well supported and made with Hack Jams in mind, check out these resources.
Hackety Hack – â€śHackety Hack will teach you the absolute basics of programming from the ground up. No previous programming experience is needed! With Hackety Hack, youâ€™ll learn the Ruby programming language. Ruby is used for all kinds of programs, including desktop applications and websites.â€ť Well supported with lessons like this available.
Paper user interface prototyping – “involves creating rough, even hand-sketched, drawings of an interface to use as prototypes, or models, of a design” i.e. have children design the look and feel of apps by drawing paper mockups.
Scratch – “Scratch is a programming language that makes it easy to create your own interactive stories, animations, games, music, and art — and share your creations on the web. ” Check out Getting Started with Scratch, Scratch videos and other resources to see how simple it can be.
- Solicit for volunteers from the community on stage at the next DemoCamp, or at StartupDrinks
- Solicit for volunteers as part of the EventBrite registration page and general marketing push for the event
- Elementary and High School teachers
- Grade 11-12 High School students
- University, College professors
- University, College students
Anyone organizing such an event would of course be welcome to put it in the calendar, post a blog about it or send a description of the event to firstname.lastname@example.org to have it put in the newsletter.
If Hamilton is going to become a city where digital innovators make the world a better place to live, that shift should benefit everyone and those new opportunities should be made accessible to everybody. Codeyear meetups for beginners and advanced programmers to learn how to code are a great idea, as is a technology group for supporting women in technology. I think local grassroots organized “Hack Jams” for youth would be another great idea, and that organizing them would make a great hobby!
Anyone with a Facebook or Twitter account is able to comment on this article below, if you have any thoughts or suggestions!