chebe: (Default)
Things have just kept on keeping on.

My work with Niki is just finishing a run on display at a felting exhibition in Farmleigh called Common Ground. I was at the opening on the 25th September, feeling quite out of my depth amongst the very talented craftspeople. But the nibbles were delicious, and I got to see some beautiful pieces.

Kelp piece displayed on a square of clear perspex, with mine and Niki's name visible on a label next to it

Kelp piece on display at Farmleigh
Photo by chebe

The 4th October then saw newer versions of our work on display at RuaRed as part of Digital Week. I was unable to attend, but Niki tells me there was great interest, which is exactly what we're doing all this for! At least she wasn't alone, with plenty of company from toglodytes. (Photos; close-up of the kelp, and newer, larger version of the talking torque.)

Niki demoing the kelp piece

Niki demoing the kelp
Photo by Joseph Carr at Rua Red

Yesterday, 11th October was the UNs International Day of the Girl. Intel had an idea and got in touch with both tog and CoderDojo Girls and #GalileoGirls magic happened. 75 (or so) girls and teens crowded into the usual CoderDojo space, and got to play with some hardware. From getting started with the Galileo board, to then choosing to play with electronics, wearable electronics, or social media programming. It was a long, chaotic day, but fun seemed to be had, which is very important imho.

Some of the CoderDojo mentors early in the morning

Mentors on parade
Photo by Niambhs, source

Next Saturday, 18th October, Niki and I will be running a 'Playful Wearable Electronics' workshop. I'm looking forward to it as it's a slightly different demographic and I'm curious on what aspects they're interested in, and grasp the fastest.

It's also my last commitment for a while, so I'm looking forward to break afterwards. And I totally mean it this time.


2013-Dec-16, Monday 03:34 pm
chebe: (Default)
I was at the hackerspace talking to Julie and Aoife about our plans for workshops/courses in the new year and we digressed into talking about teaching/mentoring methods in our informal group settings. Here's a few things I've picked up along the way;

1. Set expectations at the start. Explicitly state things like; no learning objectives, self-directed/motivated learning, no course-work, not traditional classroom scenario, here to help not to make you learn/work. Ask if attendees have particular thoughts/concerns not mentioned. Because if reality doesn't match peoples expectations they can get confused and/or frustrated/angry. Clearing this up means people can buy-in, or opt-out altogether.

2. Particularly with children, it can be helpful to get the group to create a set of group-behavioural-guide or code-of-conduct. Things like; don't interrupt, listen to others, don't be shy, ask any question no matter how 'small', don't skip breaks, anything the group thinks is important. When created by the group they are also often enforced by the group.

3. Sometimes forcing attendees into groups can help them learn better, especially if they're normally very quiet. I find this is more difficult with adults, but it could be worth exploring further. Don't hesitate to go, you-you-you one group, or maybe one-two-three-one-two-three, now all the ones are one group, twos are another, etc.

4. Give people just enough information to get started, then answer questions as they get to them. (But make sure to give them the roadmap for the session.) This increases active participation, stops info-dumps, and prevents people feeling overwhelmed. I suspect the associative nature of the learning will help people retain the information better as well.

But it's an endlessly fascinating subject, so I'm curious to find out what things you found worked for you? Either as attendee or teacher/mentor. Any tips, suggestions?
chebe: (CoderDojoGirls)
Last Saturday I helped mentor the CoderDojos Girls session, and as December is a busy month, I ended up leading the session. I introduced the girls to Arduino. And a ridiculously good time was had by all.

Between hackerspaces, coderdojos, and the proliferation of conferences and workshops in tech I've ended up thinking a lot about methods of teaching. I've only really experienced the one; the kind where a teacher tries to drag a classroom of over thirty students through a bussel of knowledge hoping some will stick (while simultaneously trying to keep everyone well behaved). Sometimes it works really well, but mostly it just works. (For most people, most of the time. To satisfy that same system's expectations.) Even college, with class sizes varying from eight to a couple-hundred, and a relatively hands-off approach, was a shock despite being much the same, only with more hoops to jump through and more exams to pass.

This new wave* involves learning differently, openly, questioningly, collaboratively. People realise they have an interest in something, and then develop it, consume everything they can on the matter, learning through passion. There aren't teachers, just others with more knowledge who are available to answer questions or provide prompts. There are no exams, only whether a project works or not, no feeling of inadequacey, only opportunities to learn more. It's a shift from forcing people to fit into little boxes, to finding the box that fits the person. And seeing it in action is quite exciting.

Four LEDs with jump leads on a breadboard

Some LEDs on a breadboard
Photo by chebe

So I borrowed a bunch of Arduino Unos, breadboards, and jump leads from the hackerspace, grabbed a selection of LEDs, and showed up bright and early for CoderDojo. Following the suggestion from other mentors I forced them into groups of three, gave each group a board, and showed them just enough about how to get one LED blinking. They ran from there, naturally exploring, adding more LEDs, wanting different patterns (and occassionally more hardware that I didn't have). Only asking questions of the mentors when they got stuck. I had meant to only go for an hour, but before I knew it the two hours were up! And everyone was still absorbed in what they were doing.

Most of the mentors were new to Arduinos as well, so all around everyone was learning. It was a very hands-off approach which, for myself at least, made it more interesting (and provided more exercise jumping from group to group as they came up with questions). I was asked where they could be bought, and there were even a bunch of tweets from some of the coders full of excitement. And that's why we volunteer, I guess, the satisfaction of seeing those busy minds getting fed, of being a part of it.

* This ted talk from Sugata Mitra is very inspiring;


2013-May-11, Saturday 02:47 pm
chebe: (CoderDojoGirls)
CoderDojo, for those unaware, is like a free Saturday computer club for children, set up by various groups (increasingly companies are setting up their own), with an aim of teaching children some form of computer language. The most popular is HTML, CSS, and Javascript. Recently I started helping out with the CoderDojo in DCU (website launching soon). It's just over a year old, and today was my second week.

I got involved because, a woman from work sent around an email, and it's close to my home. That, and three weeks ago they started another class particularly aimed at girls. So from 10am to noon, 30 or so 10-18 year old girls (and their parents/guardians) gather to learn how to write their own webpages. Then from noon until 2pm the mixed beginners class is run, and from 2pm to 4pm is the advanced class. There is a bit of a mix-up with the ticketing system that needs smoothing out (girls tickets, gen tickets), but other than that things seem to be going well.

Why start an all-girls class? After all the material isn't any different. They'd been running the mixed classes for a year, and had about four girls attending. The girls class started with about 35. Why? Perhaps it's about perception? No-one is particularly keen to do things if they feel they won't fit in. So if you tell them yes, this is for you, and there will be others like you, maybe they feel more encouraged to attend?

I help out with the two beginner classes, and after those four hours I'm a bit shattered, and keep missing out on the advanced class who do fun things like animation and node.js. Maybe once I get used to the routine I'll find the extra energy. It's inspiring to see the children getting excited over what they're doing. It's humbling to see the creativity just pour out of them so effortlessly. And it feels good to be able to help them when they get stuck. I'm looking forward to the coolest-project competition.
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