Friday, July 18, 2014

Reflections on 'Learn to Program With Python'

This past June, I designed and taught an introductory programming course through Girl Develop It! Ottawa called Learn to Program With Python.  It was a two-part course hosted at Shopify and geared toward complete beginners.  I wanted to give a solid foundation in four core programming concepts —  variables, conditionals, iteration, and functions —  using the visual context of Python's turtle module, then reinforce these concepts by building up a simple text adventure game.

You can check out the outline and delve into the detailed contents of the course here.

Overall, I'm pleased with how the two three hour sessions went.  Not only did I think that the material was about right for the length of time, it served as a test run for my arts and social science class.  I am hoping to use Turtle this fall to get my students to learn the same core programming concepts.

One negative aspect was that we had a mix of experience in attendance.  Generally those who weren't beginners would have not benefited from the course as much; I truly wanted to start from the very beginning.  Deciding how to pace the course is difficult when some students already know how to program, and just want to learn Python in particular.  It is impossible to please everyone.  That said, if I prepare myself and the TAs better for this in the future, we should be able to come up with extra challenges and things to try for those with more experience.

The general feedback was positive, and the sense of community both nights was amazing.  Alexandra sums it up well!  I think our next courses will start to delve into the core Girl Develop It tracks, which will please those with more experience.  First we need to figure out what to do about setting ourselves up properly as a foreign Girl Develop It! chapter in Canada.  I hope it doesn't take too long because it's clear there is a need for more opportunities to learn to code!

I would like to leave you with a picture one of the more experienced students Carolyn drew during the course.  She was actually a star student of mine this past year at Carleton, and came this course for a fun way to learn some Python.

The coolest part is that she showed her daughter this picture as the turtle drew it, and the daughter thought it was like magic.  Hopefully Carolyn can turn that excitement and wonder into a desire to learn some programming! :)

Thanks a million to the wonderful TAs who came out to help with this course, and to Kristyn for taking the wonderful photos you see above and in the Meetup event.


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