Cracking the Code: Shads get creative using coding to solve problems
As the Shads entered the lecture room, their faces a mix of trepidation, curiosity and excitement, they weren’t sure what to expect. They knew that they would be learning about coding but knew little else. Would it be a lecture? Computer work? It was anyone’s guess. Little did they know they’d be leaving the room three hours later buzzing from the thrill of what they were able to accomplish in such a short time.
In week 2, Shads across Canada participated in a workshop led by Texas Instruments (TI) where they were challenged to solve problems using coding! No experience was needed, but the Shads were able to lean on their prior math knowledge to get started. They began with the basics, learning how to use commands to create short programs in Python that could calculate the angles of different shapes. They did this using specialized handheld devices from TI that resembled oversized calculators, following closely the templates provided by the workshop instructors. At Shad Waterloo and Shad Laurier, the instructors were Paul Alves and Chris Atkinson, both of whom have been running these workshops with Shads for years.
“Shad students are the best to work with,” says Chris, a math teacher from Ottawa. “They’re super engaged and creative, and we have a lot of fun trying different things and experimenting with different ideas. You can see their excitement build with every success, it’s great to watch.”
Once they had the basics down, the Shads moved on to more complex coding, attaching their TI devices to an Innovator Hub that produced light and sound. They started with coding traffic lights, writing a simple program that told the hub to repeat a red, yellow, green cycle, followed by more complex light patterns. Then things got musical! At first, they coded for simple melodies like “Mary Had a Little Lamb”, but soon moved on to figuring out how they could make unique music beats. In no time, some Shads had figured out how to code parts of Beethoven’s concerto!
Remy, a UWaterloo Shad from Victoria, British Columbia, was blown away by how quickly she was able to solve more complex problems using coding, marveling at her ability to use knowledge she didn’t realize she had. “I didn’t know what to expect when I came in, but it was so fun and intuitive! I definitely want to join the robotics team after this, I know a lot more than I thought I did.”
Remy’s experience is partly why the instructor, Paul, believes this workshop is so important for the Shads. “It demystifies coding. Many of the students come in and are really intimidated at the prospect of coding, but they really engage and soon realize their own capabilities. This new confidence opens the door to so many opportunities.”
The last exercise of the workshop involved the Shads using more complex codes that would direct a small rover to move. The little motorized vehicle was fitted with a marker that allowed it to draw lines and shapes as it moved, eventually drawing a house based on coding input by the Shads.
Even those with coding experience were surprised and delighted by the novelty of the rover experience. “It was amazing to apply my coding skills in a different setting, using a different interface,” said Armaan, a Shad Laurier student from Mississauga. “It was incredible to see how transferrable my skills were!”
Heather, from Halifax, Nova Scotia, who had never coded before and had reservations at the outset of the workshop, felt a huge sense of accomplishment when her rover finished the last line on the house drawing. “My brother has always been into coding, but I never really understood it. Now I get it! It’s so much fun, this made it so much more accessible.”
The rover may have been the last exercise, but that didn’t stop the Shads from coming up with challenges of their own. After successfully learning to code for the rover, Sepehr from West Vancouver and Anika from Pickering, set about figuring out how to code their rover to run an obstacle course from one side of the room to the other. After measuring the length of the room, they quickly coded a program that would have their rover turn at intervals along that measured route, setting up cups and water bottles along the path for the rover to turn through. To raucous cheers from their peers, the rover managed to get passed two cups along the course before the Shads ran out of time and the workshop ended.
As the Shads filed out of the room on their way to lunch, the morning’s excitement still evident, they continued to chatter about what they had just learned. “That was so neat, I hope we do another workshop like that at some point.” No doubt these Shads see more coding in their future!