My crowd/university funded wearable workshop: the big writeup #wearableWednesday

It’s been around 3 months since I decided to take up Sophie on her request for female STEM ambassadors to help the girlguides learn something about…well..STEM.

I’ve spent that time crowdfunding, emailing and generally going nuts over GEMMAs, LEDs, wires and code. Mostly the first 3, I really only wrote the program on friday…heh…last minute organisation for the win.

Anyway, it went down really well, and the girls seemed inspired and proud of what they’d achieved. As a quick run down of how it went:

Arrived – met sophie, dumped my stuff and planned out how to set up the room. David of electronic fashion (another STEM ambassador) saved the day with enough battery holders for the workshop, and about 7 or so laptops to which I added my own.

The girls gradually filed in whilst this was happening and helped put up enough tables for everyone and lay out lots of chairs. Embarrassing when a 14 year old is stronger than you…

Sophie introduced me to the girls, where I talked about uni and working in Bristol, and we got them all sat down in pairs. After a couple of minutes chatting David pointed out I should probably tell them something to do (it’s really weird for me to lead and I’d not actually planned the speaking part out in my head :P ), so I pulled out the GEMMA of one of my kits and explained what it was, and took them through the first couple of steps on my worksheet. Since some of the girls were slower than others and it was kind of hard to make sure everyone was following, from this point we got them to follow the instructions (with a lot of running around putting out metaphorical fires).

One of the biggest “fires” was that after a couple of minutes, a girl came to me and said “uhm charlotte, what’s a led?” so I called attention and explained it properly. Note to self: never assume kids will understand anything. Not to say that’s their fault, just it’s really difficult to lower the technical-ness of the way I talk about technology. That’s possibly the hardest part, and I made sure whilst talking to girls who were stuck that I asked, particularly the quietest girls who are more likely, I think, to nod and pretend they know what’s going on, “do you get what I’m saying?”. The other trick is to know when to do it for them, and to know when to ask “so, how do we do this?” or “so what do we connect this to?” – sometimes if they’re really stuck, it’s easier to get them through that step and try and get them to learn at the next point, others they know the answer but aren’t sure whether they’re right.

A lot of times the girls would worry they’d done it wrong when they were perfectly fine on 90% of the wiring and coding, just 1 wire was out of place, or they’d know how to fix it but weren’t sure on it and were afraid to try it out without “expert” help – I actually find this with girls my age who I’ve helped previously when they’re struggling to code, and it takes more of “so what do you think we do here” to find out that they’re scared to experiment.

After a while the girls migrated over to the computers once they’d all managed to get the LEDs flashing girlguiding blue from one to the other, and this was where I felt the girls were really inspired. Tips for writing a workshop sketch:

  1. Put the code on the board with a default setting first. That way the kids can see it working and want to make it their own.
  2. Comments and variables are your best friends. It’s far easier to put in all the options for changing colours like “//uint_32 colour[1]={0×441103}; // whatever colour this is” than to explain that they need to change the hex value to a specific other value.
  3. Similarly, I found a switch/case really neat to put in to avoid having to teach algorithms. This way the kids could see you can make the lights flash differently without spending a lot of time on it, and besides that, most of them just wanted to change the colour and brightness since they’re immediately obvious, although 2 girls did make them green and go so fast they looked like lights to take to a rave…

 

I’m curious now what proportion of the boards will be multicoloured, since as I walked round and asked “ok so what do you want to change? the colour? what colour do you want? red, green, blue, orange, yellow, multicolour-” “MULTICOLOURED?! YEAAAH” was usually the response, or else “how about purple?” which I’d not programmed in, but 4 or 5 girls were trying to figure out as a team how to make a new hexadecimal number I’d not put in there, which whilst it wasn’t really intentional to teach them that, I was very happy that they were that into it that it accidentally made them learn something I knew of when I was that age, but didn’t really know how it worked.

With a big group the hard part is some girls will get through it fast, and some kids will get through it slow. Some will be loud, some will be really quiet to the point where they struggle to get across what they want your help with, and that takes a lot of patience – particularly when you have 3 or 4 girls stood round going “please can I have your help”. One of the particularly quiet girls took the most patience to make sure she got what I was saying, but that made me all the more proud when she managed to customise her lights with less and less prodding and suggestion after time.

At the end of the evening I chatted with the guide leaders who were impressed it was my first time and grateful for having done it, and overall I went home with a nice warm fuzzy feeling inside, and well ready for some apple juice.

I look forward to doing all this again, and as a side note, with both genders – in reality a bigger reason than “I want more girls in computer science” (which I always will) was that it was something I saw on the interwebs, and also that it wasn’t during work hours which most kids stuffs seem to be. Hopefully with all the prep work done, it should be easier second time running.

A plug for the folks who took the £5 reward thingy from my crowdfunding thang: Andre, Rob Miles, John Van Rijj and Emma-Ashley Liles who’s sadly an ex-Hulligan :P – Roger Boyle aaand Catherine Blease – you guys are brill and thanks in particular to those of you who shared this around, blogged it and tweeted it.

Extra special thanks to Black Marble who chucked in a huge £118 …

And uhm. There’s 32 names on my list. Time for bed :p When I have/find any photos the leaders took last night I’ll be sure to put in a couple :)

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3 comments

  1. Very proud of you. You are a true champion. It’s wonderful what you have achieved and great that you learnt something too.

    Keep it up and feel free to hit me up for another donation next time.

    Thanks for the write up.

  2. Nice. Well done. Your above descriptions of quiet ones, loud ones, lots of people all needing help at the same time, clear default instructions etc. is exactly what it’s like to teach ICT.
    It’s like tweeting baby chicks in a nest. The loudest chick naturally gets the food, but you have to make sure the quiet ones get fed too. :)

  3. Sounds awesome! You learned one very important thing about presenting in general. You need to know your audience. So, when there is a “what is an led” question, for next time, have something prepared to go over all of the aspects of the circuit, and see if you can get buy in before proceeding to the actual introduction of hardware / code. When I teach my full day course to other employees, I have a notebook of everything that I need to change / include for the next time I teach, which is generally a year or so away, which I make sure to update or at least address next time. You are doing *exactly* the right thing by writing up lessons learned that you learned by teaching. Congratulations, and rock on, you did an awesome job.

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