Several weeks of debating and planning following Young Rewired State finally came to fruition on the 16th of October, with our first Prewired event.
Thirty eight kidsyoung people arrived between 9:30 and 10 on that Wednesday morning (it was half term week in Scotland, so we weren't pulling them out of school), grabbed some kindly donated Google swag, made name badges with stickers and felt-tipped pens, and sat down for two and a half hours of lightly guided learning.
They were between the ages of three and eighteen, although the three to six year olds were more there to be tagging along with older siblings or University staff. It's obviously impossible to divide attendees up by age and decide what to work with them on, as older definitely does not mean more experienced. We had decided on no lower bound for the age limit, and no lower bound for experience either, figuring that the only real requirement is enthusiasm about programming. There was a huge mix of interests and abilities, and we let them decide for themselves which topics would be worth listening to.
We also had about fifteen students, University staff or industry professionals along as mentors.
After a few minutes of welcomes, where most of the room were willing to introduce themselves and tell us what they wanted to learn ("Python", "Scratch" and "more about programming in general" were popular ones) we kicked off with three five minute introductions: to HTML and CSS (beginner), to HTML5 Geolocation (intermediate) and to Python's Natural Language Toolkit (advanced). They then had the chance to spend 40 minutes in a hands-on session for whichever of these they chose. The groups were very evenly spread, and despite a few hiccups with Python installations on Windows and Chrome not playing nice with geolocation (worked through thanks largely to the mentors) most people got some code up and running and appropriately hacked about with by the end.
We took a break for juice, crisps, chocolate and fruit, plus a bit of hardware tinkering. We'd borrowed a Nodecopter, but hadn't managed to get it charged in time so it wasn't in the air, but there were still plenty of people interested in looking at the code to control it. We also had a demo of a robot arm, which could be controlled by an Android app connected to a Python server, which had been written over the summer by one of our mentors.
Next up were three more lightning talks: introduction to Scratch (beginner), doing cool things with Redstone Circuits in Minecraft (intermediate) and introduction to PyGame (intermediate-advanced). The following hands-on session for Scratch was under-attended, possibly ousted by the allure of Minecraft, but the PyGame session had over a third of the group and made some great progress, which was awesome.
We finished a little late, but still managed to have time for a quick demo of a football playing robot from the nearby robotics lab, and a few attendees who took their time dragging themselves away from their screens.
I'm told that overall it was a success. I was concerned because I was generally called upon when something was going wrong, so my perspectively was weighted towards the negative. But it wasn't too chaotic, none of the kidsattendees played up, and as far as we could tell they were doing something in some way productive at all times.
A lot of them had had little to no programming experience before that morning, and I really hope they were able to take away something positive and, most importantly, feel encouraged to try things out by themselves at home. Plenty, too, had enough experience that they were calling out to correct the speakers, and helping their peers to get things working. It's a huge challenge to find enough activities to engage so many different levels of experience and interest, and I don't think we did a bad job.
Our next Prewired event will be on the 30th of October, and we're running them bi-weekly on Wednesday evenings from now on. They will be henceforth less structured. Our primary aim is to help young people to realise that with programming (and related areas) they can create anything, express themselves, and change the world. We don't wish to enforce a curriculum, but encourage them to explore areas they are interested in, learn how to teach themselves and figure out how to make what they want, and most of all to persuade them not to be afraid to experiment - to hack - and to just keep trying if it doesn't work first time. To get them excited before they become jaded and before this society's stereotypes have a chance to impact on them.
You can find out more about Prewired at prewired.org, and join the mailing list there too.
Photos and feedback
Here are some of the photos from the day:
If you took some that you'd like us to add, then please send them to email@example.com!
Similarly, send any feedback you have about the event to us that way, as well.
I'll update this post (as well as the website) with resources from the speakers and mentors as I get hold of them.
I touched my toes in yoga today. It happened in the heat of power yoga, and I didn't think I'd be able to do it cold. But I can! That's my goal for the end of the year met then..
(This may sound trivial, but I have short hamstrings, and anything that involves bending in the middle and straightening my legs at the same time I find extremely difficult. This the main thing I'm aiming to overcome with yoga).
Another first from today was binding without help in a spinal twist. I managed to do this again at home an hour later, too.
And I've noticed that going into Chatarunga between sets of postures has become a reprieve, a chance to catch my breath and rest for a second. Chatarunga is essentially holding yourself in the middle of a pressup, and when I started this class that was not something I could do, or ever though it might be a good idea to do; with the fast pace of the class, it was easy to collapse down onto my chest and skip over it. But over the past few weeks as I've got used to how the class progresses I've slipped into doing the Chatarunga properly - or as properly as I can without having time to stop and think about it - and not having trouble at all. I just tested that theory at home, and held myself in it for a good ten seconds.
I haven't seen such fast progress in any of the other yoga I've done. This class is exciting me, and filling me with hope.
It's taking a toll on my wrists though. By the end of the semester, they'll be strong :)
I haven't blogged about yoga yet, but now seems like as good a time as any to start.
I started yoga-ing towards the end of 2012, with on-and-off classes at the Commonwealth Pool, then joined two beginner classes (with very different teaching styles) in January that ran for a semester as part of Edinburgh Council's Adult Education Programme. I was hooked, and since the start of this semester I've been doing four classes a week:
Monday is Vinyasa 'power' yoga, one of the classes held by the University's Yoga Society. It's fast, sweaty and intense, and I'd never have been able to handle it - or enjoy it - as a complete beginner.
Tuesday is a really relaxed beginner class running this term through the University Chaplaincy, mainly for relaxation. Great for the final hour of the 24 hour recovery from Monday's class.
Wednesday and Thursday are post-beginner Adult Education Programme classes, in Cameron House Centre and Nelson Hall respectively, with one of the teachers from my first semester of regular classes before the summer.
But what I really wanted to say, is that today I got myself into a full backbend unassisted (the last two weeks I've had help) and got substantially closer to reaching my toes with a straight back than I ever have before.
(I definitely have shorter hamstrings than is normal, and my main aim with yoga is improving on that).