Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Python and Pi Helped Make Go Code Girl 2014 A Great Success

On the last two Saturdays of March, a group of high school girls came to both Carleton University and the University of Ottawa to learn about computer science and try their hand at coding.  This was our second annual Go Code Girl event, and thanks to Python's turtle module and the Raspberry Pi, it was even better than last year's!

Last year, we based our one-day workshop on Processing (postmortem here).  When my colleague from Ottawa U, Nathalie Vallières, suggested we try using the Raspberry Pi for our two-day workshop this year, I was both excited and scared.  Excited because I'd always wanted to try out the Pi, but scared because any time you introduce hardware, things can (and will) go wrong.

Biting the bullet, our School of Computer Science ordered some Pis to go with the set that Ottawa U already had. We decided to teach Python using the turtle module on the first day of the workshop at Ottawa U since Python seems to be the most popular language for the Pi.  We would then focus on the Pis themselves on the second day of the workshop at Carleton. In the end, both days ended up going very well.

On the first day, after introducing what computer science was all about, we started drawing with our new turtle friend.  Students typed in a minimal program in IDLE and ran it to see the magic happen.  From there, we introduced basic programming concepts one by one, leaving time in between to try some challenges or just experiment.  First came repetition, then variables, and finally booleans and if statements.

On day 2, we had the girls set up the Pis in the computer lab we normally run tutorials in (having a projector in there was really nice).  The monitors there had HDMI inputs; perfect for the Pis.  The keyboards and mice were easy to "steal" for the Pis as well.  The only problem we ran into was the power outlets mounted on the desks: sometimes, the Pis didn't seem to like the level of power coming from them.  So some girls just plugged the USB cable powering the device directly into the monitor.  Smart.

We started with a lesson on using the command line.  I was worried this would be dull for them, but starting with a pictorial representation of how they could feel like "movie-style hackers" with the command line probably helped.  They loved doing things manually at the prompt and seeing the results in the GUI file browser! I was shocked but thrilled.

After playing with the command line, I walked them through a few of the steps needed to make a text adventure game.  To be honest, I wish we had more time for that.  But they seemed to enjoy it anyway.  Once again, we encouraged them to play and experiment, so if they wanted to play with Scratch or look around on the Pi instead, that was ok too.

All in all, I'm very happy with the formula we came up with this year.  If you'd like to see the slides and other resources I posted for the girls, check them out on my website.  If you've ever done a workshop similar to this, I'd love to hear about it in the comments.


Unknown said...

I also just learning python at the University

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