Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Review / JavaScript & jQuery: Interactive Front-End Web Development

Have you ever had a book that was so beautiful, it was hard to put down? Did it happen to be a programming book? Breaking out of what is normally expected of a technical volume, Jon Duckett's JavaScript & jQuery: Interactive Front-End Web Development really is that lovely.  But it's not just a pretty face—it makes a good reference, too.

This book is for anyone interested in front-end web development, whether you have programmed before or not.  The only assumption is that you have a basic knowledge of HTML and CSS.

The book begins with a gentle introduction to basic programming concepts related to JavaScript.  Being an object-oriented language used for event-driven web development, these aspects are touched on early.  I am not convinced that the early treatment of some concepts (like objects and classes) will make sense to beginning programmers, but theoretically the early sections can be revisited and the ideas will make more sense over time.

After covering the basics through branching, looping, and functions, the Document Object Model (DOM) and events are introduced.  There are lots of notes about how you probably won't end up using the specific techniques shown once you know jQuery, but that it's important to understand them as a base.  That's something I really like about this book: you get a good sense of not only what's available, but how real developers work.

The second half of the book covers jQuery, Ajax and JSON, APIs, error handling and debugging, and a few other miscellaneous useful topics.  Though this section has conceptual lessons, much of it feels more like a reference.  There are also many cross-references between pages, which ensures you remember to consider everything relevant when you come back later.

So that's the content.  What about the part about being beautiful?

Every glossy page is laid out like a mini poster.  There is always a visual demo or diagram to support the text, and the text is never in one huge block.  Each page's background is colour-coded to its purpose (for example, explanation vs example) and has a large title in the same location that makes flipping through to find what you're looking for a breeze.  Sometimes I like to sit with the book and just admire how nice each page looks.

Overall, I would recommend this book to anyone who is getting started with front-end development or finds having a physical book as reference useful.  If you already know how to program, you can skim through the first bit.  You may find a closer read useful if you haven't used JavaScript much in the past.  The rest of the book gives a great sense of how front-end works, and can be used as a handy reference when you want to accomplish something specific.  I don't think anyone would be disappointed to have this book on their self.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

What Eighth Graders Think About Women and Computer Science

On the last day of the 2015 edition of my week-long mini-course (Computer Science and Games: Just for Girls!), I held a discussion about women in computer science.  Below is a transcription of the notes I made on the white board.  The thoughts, if not the wording, very closely represent what the girls said.

"If it is not appropriate for women, it is not appropriate." (via Wikimedia)

Why do girls avoid computer science?
  • Seems nerdy
  • Stereotypes: man's job
  • Don't want to stick out as only female
  • Impression that you must love video games
  • Accused of being interested to attract guys
  • Stereotypes of femininity
  • Females more pressured to take certain programs of study
  • Pressure from others who don't think certain skills are valuable (e.g. video game development)
  • Too many guys, "I will never fit in"
  • Girls are less confident, partly due to society's messages

Why does it matter?
  • Girls can change an idea or product without destroying or outright rejecting it
  • Girls should have the freedom to choose their career without barriers
  • We are turning girls away from their passion
  • Discrimination is always bad
  • Women should have independence, especially financially
  • We need products designed by us
  • Women can change how women are represented in games

What would make you interested in trying computer science in high school or post-secondary?
  • Stop the stereotypes!!
  • Enforce a better gender balance, or provide all-female options
  • People around us have to stop talking down about CS
  • Give us a chance to try it out! We don't know what it is otherwise!
  • More interesting application in university-level courses (like robotics)
  • More positive attitudes toward college-level options [which typically grant diplomas in Canada, as opposed to universities, which grant degrees]
  • Avoid giving the impression that it's impossibly complicated.
  • More one-on-one time (and other better teaching strategies) to make sure we get a good base in math.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Mini-Course 2015: Survey Results

Another May, another "Computer Science and Games: Just for Girls!" mini-course on the books.  I'm very pleased with how this year went. The course material and games made by the girls are all online, and below I share the results of my usual pre- and post-surveys.

Pre-Course Survey Results

I have the girls fill these in the very first day before we start into any course material.  Some of them did see the video I showed during orientation, which might affect their answers. 18 students filled in the pre-course surveys.  Here are some of the results.

"What made you decide to take this course?"
  • I thought it might be interesting, trying something new.
  • I like video games and I wanted to find out how to make them.
  • it seemed interesting and I enjoy the idea of creating a virtual game
  • Both my parents have jobs involving computers, and I wanted a course that would be hands on.
  • I think It might have been the words "vidio games" In the title, If It was there.
  • The description looked interesting. I was just curious. I anticipated fun activities.
  • I like computers and gameing.
  • My mom chose for me.
  • My dad is a software developper, and I thought it would be interesting.
  • Because I am interested in expanding my knowledge on computer science and how games are made.
  • I wanted to try something different and this course sounded pretty interesting.
  • There was no other good one to choose & my friend chose it.
  • My parents recommended it for me as they have a friend who works with computer science stuff and he has a successful career.
  • It looked interesting and it was just for girls.
  • I decided to take this course because even though i'm not very good with technology, I was always interested in coding and computers. I like to learn new things and it could be good for a job.
  • I like playing video games with my older brother and love the idea of making my own.
  • I thought it would be fun to know a little more about the technology that we use every day.  At school and at home, we use computers a lot so I thought it would be nice to know how to use them more.
  • I'm interested in trying new things and I spend a lot of time on the computer.
"I am confident that I understand what the field of computer science is."
  • Agree: 1
  • Neutral/don't know: 12
  • Disagree: 4
  • Strongly disagree: 1
 "I would consider computer science as a good career for women in general." 
  • Strongly agree: 5
  • Agree: 10
  • Neutral/don't know: 2
  • Disagree: 1
"I would consider computer science as a good career for me."
  • Strongly agree: 1
  • Agree: 7
  • Neutral/don't know: 9
  • Disagree: 1
"I signed up for this course because I was curious about some of the computer science topics (including usability, graphics, or artificial intelligence)."
  •  Strongly agree: 7
  • Agree: 6
  • Neutral/don't know: 4
  • Disagree: 1
"I have previous experience programming."
  •  Strongly agree: 1
  • Agree: 1
  • Neutral/don't know: 3
  • Disagree: 9
  • Strongly disagree: 4

Post-Course Survey Results

Here are some of the results from the survey I gave at the end of the course.  One student injured herself the previous day, so only 17 students filled in this one.

"Would you have signed up for the course if it wasn't just for girls?"
  • Yes: 10
  • No: 7
"Are you glad the course was just for girls?"
  • Yes: 8
  • No: 2
  • I'm happy as long as I'm not the only girl: 7
"I enjoyed learning about what computer science is really all about."
  •  Strongly agree: 9
  • Agree: 8
"It was cool to see how many different areas of study can be connected to computer science."
  • Strongly agree: 4
  • Agree: 11
  • Neutral/don't know: 2
 "I would consider computer science a good career for me."
  •  Strongly agree: 5
  • Agree: 6
  • Neutral/don't know: 6
(What a great improvement over the pre-course responses!)

"I am more likely to try computer science in high school or university after taking this course, or this course has confirmed my desire to do so."
  • Strongly agree: 8
  • Agree: 6
  • Neutral/don't know: 3
(WOW!! :D)

"I liked having a variety of practising computer scientists to help out with the course."
  • Strongly agree: 8
  • Agree: 9


I'm very pleased with these results.  You can check out data from previous years (see list at the bottom of this page), but I think this year's course has had the most positive outcomes.  It could be this particular group of girls, the changes I made to the course (like being in the lab all day and cutting more lecturing), or maybe, just maybe, we are finally starting to see the attitudes of the next generation changing.  Let's hope it's the last one, because it's about time we crack this "women in CS" problem once and for all.