Dr. Rhett Allain is an educator, author, and blogger who’s fascinated by physics. In his books and on his blog for Wired he explores the wacky calculations behind cool things, real and imaginary. From the physics of Stephen Curry’s Jump Shot to the Center of Mass of Thor’s Hammer, Allain consistently amuses an interests himself and his readers with great insights into the physics around us and in our culture, and he often uses code to make the calculations.
In this interview, Allain talks about how he learned to code and how he’s using it to enrich himself, his readers, and his students.
You can find other interviews we’ve done with educational innovators here.
Elliott: How do you use code in a Physics classroom?
Rhett: For my introductory physics courses and labs, I now have the students make at least one numerical calculation (it doesn’t have to be in Python). The calculation should find the motion of an object with non-constant forces. Here’s a post I wrote with more details (including student complaints): http://www.wired.com/2014/02/isnt-physics-computer-science/
Dan Aldred is an exceptional teacher, even amongst the already great bunch we have the pleasure of working with every day at Trinket. In addition to teaching sophmores (Year 10s, as they say over in the UK), Dan puts all of his educational material online at canyoucompute.co.uk, tecoed.co.uk and cambridgetech.co.uk. In this interview, Dan talks about how he got into coding, his love of Python, and the importance of the online network of teachers he’s connected to.
You can read more of our interviews of educational innovators here.
Elliott: How did you first learn to code?
Dan: As a child I had an Atari ST and created a simple password diary that required a password to enter and read the entries. You could add new entries and then lock them away from prying eyes. I enjoyed the thinking side, thinking how I could create the diary, what features would it have and how I would use the code. There was no internet so the only reference I had was the user guide that came with the computer. I used to try out various codes to see what would happen or use the ‘help’ function to list all the possible commands and then give test them out.
Code Club is one of the most innovative coding education organizations active today. It uses teacher-led, volunteer-helped, project-based club activities to get kids across the UK hands on with real code after school. Rik Cross has been the Head of Education for Code club for nearly a year and is tasked with creating and revising Code Club’s curriculum to keep it fresh and relevant for the Club’s young participants.
In this interview, Rik talks about how he approaches designing lessons in Web Development, Scratch, and Python for the club. He’s also embedded his favorite Scratch project and his favorite HTML Trinket, so this interview should be as fun and engaging as Code Club’s projects are!
This is part of a series of interviews we’re doing of educational innovators. You can find other interviews in the series here.
Elliott: First of all, tell us a little bit about CodeClub. When did it get started, when did you join, and how is it growing?
Rik: Code Club is a network of free volunteer-led after-school coding clubs for children aged 9-11. Code Club was started in 2012, to help address the skills gap that teachers were facing due to the introduction of the new Computing curriculum in England. We match teachers up with volunteers who have some knowledge or interest in programming, and together they guide and support children as they learn to program by working through the projects in our curriculum.
I’ve been with Code Club for about a year, and have seen Code Club grow a lot in a very short space of time. We reached 2,500 clubs in the UK this month, and we aim to have even more children learning to program through Code Clubs by the end of 2016!
Elliott: What is your role at CodeClub? How does what you do fit into its mission of spreading coding literacy throughout the UK?
Rik: I’m the Head of Education at Code Club, and my main role is to oversee and develop our curriculum. My aim is to teach computational thinking and programming skills through fun, engaging projects. This way, children can see that programming is incredibly empowering, and can become active producers rather than passive consumers of technology.
Our projects are suitable for children of a range of abilities, and each project includes a number of ‘challenges’, which give children a chance to apply the skills they’ve learnt in a creative way.
I also think that it’s really important that children can see the relevance of programming away from the field of Computer Science, and so we put emphasis on the variety of ‘things’ that children can make with code, rather than focusing too much on the programming concepts themselves. We have lots of cross-curricular projects in areas such as art, music, animation and storytelling, with lots more to come.
Most recently, I’ve been developing our existing HTML & CSS curriculum, and one development is the use of Trinket to allow children to create web pages online. Trinket allows children in our clubs to easily build web pages without installing any software, or encountering any of the restrictions sometimes associated with programming on a locked-down school network. Trinket also allows children to share their creations, which gives them an audience for their work, and helps them to see the relevance and importance of the things they’re creating.
My favourite projects teach programming concepts whilst allowing children to be creative, experiment, and even take risks and make mistakes along the way. We certainly try to make sure that Code Club projects have these qualities.
My particular favourites are the Scratch ChatBot project and the HTML & CSS ‘Tell a Story’ project.
The ChatBot project teaches selection (if and if…else statements) through making an interactive talking robot. Children create a robot that asks the user questions, and uses selection to decide on an appropriate response or action. Once children have learnt the concept of selection, they are free to create their own robot with it’s own unique personality.
Click the green flag to start a basic chat with the Robot:
The ‘Tell a Story’ project teaches children about HTML tags, through writing a story in a comic book style. Children learn how to use tags to create content, and then use this knowledge to publish their own story.
Elliott: How do you test the projects and get feedback from your volunteers and club participants?
Rik: I have my own Code Club each week, and my club love testing out new project ideas. Some of the ideas don’t become Code Club projects, but many do. Some of the ideas for projects have even come from children telling me about the things they’d like to make, such as the Create Your Own World Scratch RPG project.
These new projects are then shared with a small group of volunteers who have helpfully agreed to test out new projects. Anyone who would like to get involved with testing out new projects can email email@example.com.
At this stage, the project is then added to our website and is made open-source on our GitHub page. Our curriculum would not be of the quality it is without the input and support we get from our amazing community. We always welcome any suggestions for improvement, and many of our projects undergo small amendments from talented volunteers and teachers from around the world.
For those wishing to have their say on new projects, there is also a project feedback survey at the top of each new project. Alternatively, you can email firstname.lastname@example.org with your feedback.
Elliott: What was the path that led you to CodeClub?
Rik: Before working for Code Club I spent 10 years as a secondary ICT and Computing teacher. I have a Computing background, and with the introduction of the new Computing curriculum in the UK I found myself more and more involved in teaching both children and other teachers the fundamentals of computational thinking and programming. I really identified with what Code Club were trying to achieve, and I guess the natural progression for me was to help as many children as possible to see the power that learning to program can give.
Elliott: What’s next for the CodeClub curriculum? Any plans that you can share?
Rik: We have lots of ideas, but want to focus on developing the things that our Code Clubs want. Code Club volunteers and club members will soon receive a survey asking them how they’d like to see our curriculum grow. However, from speaking to volunteers we have had requests for projects on music-making, Minecraft mods, physical computing and lots more!
Elliott: Where should our readers go if they’d like to learn more about CodeClub, see more of the projects and curriculum you’ve made, or get in contact with you?
Rik: Anyone wanting to learn more about Code Club or get involved in running a club can visit our website. Our volunteers come from a wide range of technical and non-technical backgrounds, and our website includes all the information needed to get started, including comprehensive volunteer training for those new to programming or working with children.
Signing on to all your favorite edtech tools and platforms can be a pain. It’s a known problem but one that we often have to endure in both classrooms and workplaces alike. At Trinket we know this issue first-hand and have been quietly adding different ways for teachers and students to login and access their trinkets without needing to remember yet another password. We’ve supported signing in with Google for a while now and through an exciting collaboration with the Howard County Public School System (check out some cool examples from Oakland Mills Middle School), we enabled single sign on through Clever a couple of months ago. Today we’re excited to also announce integration with Edmodo including the availability to access Trinket through the Edmodo Store. We hope that single sign on with Google, Edmodo, and Clever makes it a little easier to get everyone signed in and coding quickly.
If you have another favorite system you use on a daily basis that you’d like to see us integrate with just let us know by sending a message to email@example.com!
Haven’t heard of Clever but interested in learning more? Fill out this form or get in touch and we’ll help you out.
P.S. Did you know you can add your own images to HTML trinkets? It’s true! You no longer need to worry about finding a place to host images when creating web pages with trinket. Try it out below!
Designer Veronica Jimenez is the awesome person who translated our Hour of Python activity into Spanish, which you can see here. In this interview, she discusses how she came to her career, the experience of translating our site, and the challenges of learning to code in a second (or third!) language like she did.
You can find other interviews in our interview series here.
How did you get involved with the tech industry? What are you doing now?
I’ve always been interested in photography. I wanted to use my creativity to create something people could use in their daily lives. This is why design became something I needed to do.
You did an amazing job translating for us. Can you talk a little about how you came to be multi-lingual and how it’s influenced your career?
I’m originally from Mexico, so Spanish is my native language. I learned English while traveling through Europe and also took some French classes for a couple of years. I’ve actually found English being my second language made it harder to break into the tech industry.
We were all excited to hear that groups in Puerto Rico have been using your course to introduce students to Python. What other resources, if any, would you suggest for Spanish speaking students?
I feel there should be better resources in Spanish. When I was learning I didn’t have much luck finding articles or even books. One of my favorite front-end playgrounds is Codepen. I’ve also taken a couple of courses from Treehouse.
What advice would you give teachers or students considering making a code a part of their classroom experience?
I think you have to know the weaknesses and strengths of the group you are teaching, people have different ways of learning. For me when I learned HTML I had to take it twice, because it was the first time I had taken code and didn’t have any idea how the web really worked. It felt so strange to me.
Are there any groups or resources you’ve found particularly helpful that you’d recommend to others looking to follow in your footsteps in the tech industry?
Going to meet ups is one great resource to meet people who are in similar situations. I’d also recommend being open, patient and working hard towards your goals.
That’s it for this interview. Want more? Check out the archives of our other interviews here.
As a final treat, and in celebration of Trinket’s new support for images that Brian announced yesterday, here’s a trinket of Veronica’s Tina that you can control using your arrow keys! Enjoy!