Young Coders at PyOhio

5 August 2013

This past July, I got a chance to not only do my first smaller regional conference, but also to do Young Coders again!

The numbers

We had 25 kids, from 12 to 17. From what I heard, the class list filled up within half-hour, and the waitlist was three times as long as the available slots. Some students were children of conference attendees, but several came from outside of the Python community altogether.

Sign-up didn’t open until two weeks before the class (I know this was probably killing PyOhio organizers. I know how persistent people can be!). This helped keep the no-show rate down to one student. There were a half-dozen kids outside the door vying for that extra seat, so I’m glad that we had the waitlist on hand to tell who had signed up first!

The setup

We went with the Raspberry Pi set-up again, due to a generous grant. This required getting and setting up 25 Raspberry Pis, which included lugging around monitors, keyboards, mice, and power supplies. If you want to do this yourself, make sure you have a few dollies and some strong backs to help!

We got into the room the day before. It took several hours, and honestly, when they booted us out, I would have gladly taken one more hour to get everything tidied up.

Because of the limited amount of time, we stuck to checking the important stuff:

  • Making sure all the RPis booted
  • Getting the localization right
  • Hooking up monitors, keyboards, and mice
  • Making sure we had enough space for all the students, and enough chairs
  • Making sure every seat had power

I decided to skip networking. One, we didn’t have the Wifi adapters for the RPis, two, we didn’t have cable for the hard connection, and three, I didn’t have Noah on hand.

We had a bunch of people on hand to help, and we needed every single one of them. We barely got everything checked before the University told us we had to get out (in the nicest way possible, though).

The class

The class itself was amazing. The kids were completely attentive, loved to participate, and picked up concepts quickly. I knew that we were going to zoom through slides when they immediately knew start with “Open the bag of bread, then remove to slices” during the PB+J demo.

One amusing hiccup occurred when we realized that the food court in the building was closed for renovations. I called the building help desk in a panic.

“Oh, the tavern is open!”

“The... tavern?”

“Yeah! They can eat there.”

Awesome. Come on kids! Let’s go to the bar!

Happily, the tavern was just a slightly swankier place to get food, and not really a bar. The students could get food, and I wasn’t breaking any state laws by bringing minors into a dive.

Because we finished the slides early, and we raced through the game demos I had, we ended up hacking on the games included on the RPi. The kids had been playing them during breaks, so they already had an idea of what they wanted to do.

We started off simple, changing text, then colors. We then played around with making the games harder or easier by increasing enemies, making the board smaller or larger, or making things move faster or slower. Best part? I suck at these games, so the kids got to watch me die over and over and over.

At the end of the class, I made sure that everyone knew how to disassemble and reassemble their Pis, and that they knew how to log back in. My fabulous volunteers had made a cheat sheet (now in the repo!) and got it printed, so we handed that out as well.

Topics covered

We covered (in the order I’m remembering, not the order taught):

  • Math
  • Strings
  • Booleans
  • Ints and floats
  • Lists
  • Functions
  • Errors
  • Loops
  • Dictionaries
  • Objects (just a tiny bit)
  • Modules (random, datetime, calendar, urllib)

A shadow!

Our goal with Young Coders is not to run me and Barbara into the ground, running around to conferences. We’d prefer it if these could be run by locals, not only to cut down on costs, but so that the students have a local resource to go to when they have questions.

I got such a shadow at PyOhio! Bill Triest, who works at the University, took the time to go over the slides and chat with me about what goes into running a YC class. He also watched the class, so he got to see how much of what Barbara and I talk about looks like in practice.

If you decide you want to do a Young Coder’s class in your area, you should most certainly look into getting a shadow if you have to import a teacher.

Next year

Will I be doing this again? I certainly hope so! Not only did I love doing the class, but the rest of PyOhio was awesome as well. The talks (which, admittedly, I’ve been watching mostly on YouTube) have been superb. There’s a class on Kivy that I’m eying for my next free Sunday, where people were watching from the hallway.


Related tags: kids python


1 Dylan says...

This is fantastic. I really wish I had a mentor or learning opportunity like this when I was in high school. You're making a big difference in many lives. Thanks!!

Posted at 1:44 p.m. on August 5, 2013

2 Rick Otten says...

My daughter really enjoyed the class, thank you so much for putting it together!

Posted at 5:38 a.m. on August 6, 2013

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