Young Coders at PyTennessee 2016

Published on Feb. 8, 2016, 6:31 p.m.

On February 6, 2016 I had the pleasure of teaching the Young Coders class at PyTennesse. It was an incredibly fun and rewarding experience, and I'm looking forward to doing this again at some point in the future.

The class

We had ten young coders ranging in ages from 12 to 17, and spent most of Saturday morning quickly plowing through examples of using python as a calculator, exploring data types like integers, floats, strings, and lists. We kicked things off around 8:30am and spent most of the day exploring, python in IDLE.

Nearly every one in the class has seen python at some point--either from an online learning service like Codecademy or from a class at school. This was fairly surprising to me, and it was also encouraging. Every single attendee in this class was excited and eager to learn more. So we quickly plowed through the early informative content, and jumped into functions before lunch.

By lunchtime, we'd just dug into the turtle module, and we spent several minutes after lunch tweaking our drawings. Surprisingly, these students didn't seem too interested in the venerable turtle, so we continued on.

At this point, we started what I think was the highlight of the class. A simple, text-based guessing game, a la: What number am I thinking of. After helping the students through a very simple first version, they quickly thought of ways to improve it. As soon as we ran the code, I was hearing questions like:

These iterations lasted for about an hour, and I think it's amazing how rewarding it can be to create even the simplest of software, when you're invested in the ideas behind it.

Once we wrapped up this game, we jumped into Al Sweigart's set of games from Invent with python. We looked at games that simply move an image around a screen, and others that have more complicated gameplay (Wormy, then Squirrel Eat Squirrel--a Katamari Damacy clone). For the most part, we changed simple settings in these games (FPS, colors, health meters, movement speed, etc), but after a an hour and a half, I could see the momentum fading, so we wrapped up the "official work" at about 2:45pm.

The gear

This year we did something different; rather than raspberry pi's for all of the young coders, we decided to try out Chromebooks running Linux. Thanks to the magic of crouton, all of the students received an Asus 300M Chromebook with instructions on how to boot into Ubuntu, and that's where we did our work.

If you're curious how these were configured, you can check out my guide in the young coders tutorial repo. As with anything, there are some pros & cons of using Chromebooks over the raspberry pi:

Pros

Cons

In no particular order...

Lessons Learned

While I think the session went really well at this years conference, I do think there's some room for improvement. Here are a few things I would do different next time:

I personally found teaching this class to be incredibly rewarding, and I'm thankful to Katie Cunningham and Barbara Shaurette for their work creating the curriculum and for many many iterations of this this class in the past. Their work has made it easy to pick up the tools and run a class. If you're at all interested in doing this, you can certainly pick up the tools and do it too!

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