No. 54 - Summer School ⫶ Tiny Awards ⫶ Sofia Coppola
The Computer is a Camp
My name is Linda. I write a bi-weekly newsletter about computer science, childhood and culture - and there are 9697 of you listening. If you enjoy this issue, please share it with anyone you think may find it useful.
Every year around the first weeks of June, I get very nostalgic. In 2016, we organised a summer school with Hello Ruby - a two-week day camp for kids to jump into the world of computers and computational thinking, filled with imagination, adventure, and experimentation.
The project was in many ways a failure: too broad in scope, financially unsound, and too demanding for the young crew. Still, every year, I wish I could do something similar again. (But Jemina - I promise I won’t!)
However, I never took down the website we made. I like how projects on the Internet can keep living in these weird ways. And since so many of the photos and resources are only on my hard drive, I decided to publish a few here in case someone gets inspired.
The narrative of the week was built around Blob, a Martian that crashlanded through the roof of Annantalo. The children were tasked with helping the alien return to its home using all kinds of computational thinking skills. Annantalo is a Children and Youth Art Center with many fantastic things going on - it’s a majestic building with a lot of character and creaky wooden floors, great rooms for building construction, and long corridors for running (as a little girl, I did choir there!). Also, all the art supplies one could ever imagine.
There was a welcome pack, camp diary, daily activities, and a final work exhibition. There were three research projects, thirty kids from 6 to 10 years old, and two open evenings. There were also plans to make a handbook and organize this knowledge somehow into a book format. It was a lot!
Reading through the research helped remind me of what was going on in our heads then. Ilpo Rybatzki wrote (and interviewed us after the camp!) his thesis on blending artistic & computational thinking, Paula Karlsson interviewed teachers on their perspectives regarding the change in the national core curriculum and its cross-disciplinary nature, and Milla Kruskopf did an analysis on how the changes on the conceptual understanding of computational thinking during the weeks.
The photos below are primarily from Otso Alasko, Jemina Djupsjöbacka, Jemina Linnama, and all the other team members. And six years from the future - a big thank you to everyone involved, all together 20+ people plus the children.
Helping the alien Blob rebuild his spaceship formed a significant part of the activities - whether it was creating pieces for the room-sized construction, making tiny robot helpers, or building navigation computers. A lot of hot glue and exploring big ideas and topics with our hands. The kids got lectures from visitors who told them about the environment, AI, recycling, etc.
There were a few traditional programming lessons - on Scratch, the remotely controllable robots, and research, but most of the focus was on thinking skills. We also used MakeyMakeys and Robbos, all serving the needs of the story of Blob.
A big hit was an activity where the kids built UV-light flashlights and then wrote and deciphered secret messages for Blob around his spaceship.
I remember especially the friendships formed among participants and organizers, the ice cream breaks, the messy uncertainty of a six-year-old and a ten-year-old believing in the same story, the general horsing around, and the joy of the spaceship finally coming together.
Below is also a little video that was shot during the weeks. Still brings a smile to my face.
In computer science, a linked list is a linear collection of data elements whose order is not given by their physical placement in memory. But here it is a selection of things I’ve been reading lately.
A Tiny Award goes to a website which best embodies the idea of a small, playful and heartfelt web. You have until June 14th to nominate. (And I’m on the tiny, playful and heartfelt jury!)
The computer is a Feeling by Tim Hwang and Omar Rizwan. I’m wild for these kinds of pieces, rethinking what a computer can or should be. Makes me always think of computer scientist Herb Grosch and how for him, in 1959, computers were “as broad as our culture and as deep as interplanetary space”.
Archive by Sofia Coppola. I used to always describe my aesthetic as if Wes Anderson or Sofia Coppola fell in love with computers. So of course my heart lept when I saw this 488-page book, full of real world moodboard, scraps and ephemera of her visual style.
I’m hoping to surface and share stories from all of you and I’d love to see your creations! Here are a few teachers using Ruby in creative, fun and inspiring ways.
A while back my friend Tianyi Pan e-mailed and asked if he could use some of the pictures from his kids class in China. He ran the event and wrote a small writeup. My favorite is the last paragraph.
“The final question was for the value of pi, and as the robot (after politely noting that it’s an irrational and non-recurring series) coolly started to recite the first 100 decimals one by one, I ended my visit to a storm of wild applause. A perfect wrap-up.
Turns out, I still had one thing they hadn’t seen before, after all:
A pure, life-altering experience of wonder.”