Saturday, July 28, 2018

GWC Campus Program TA: My Experience!

This summer, I had the pleasure of being selected to be a teacher’s assistant for the Girls Who Code’s new Campus Program in Atherton, CA. I taught two courses, “iPhone App Development” and “Wearable Technology and Fashion Design”, to girls aged 12-18. It was truly a fantastic and rewarding experience.

The girls working on an offline coding activity.
The first class I taught was the wearable technology class. I had to get up at 5am every day for the Bay Area commute to make it on time for the 9am start, but it was beyond worth it. The provided curriculum was a little bit slow for the first few days, so the lead instructor let me take charge of some activities. I designed and lead several offline coding activities to teach the first time coders fundamental computer science ideas, such as loops, functions, parameters, conditionals, debugging, and the art of writing comments in your code. The students responded really well to these activities. I was super excited to see how passionate the 14 girls in that class really were about learning how to code. The second class was the iPhone development class. These coders were a little bit more experienced, so I once again had the opportunity to lead some coding sessions. I lead awesome and involving activities like code tag (each girl writes one line of code and passes the program to the next girl until we had a fully functional app), code relay (split into two teams and write one line of code at a time -- first team to write working code wins), and writing comments in large chunks of code to describe what was happening. These activities supplemented the given curriculum and activities really well and I’m happy I had the chance to do them.


The technologies used in the program were awesome, especially in the wearable tech class. We used Lilypad Arduino online to write all the code and upload the code onto Lilypads. We attached all the LEDs, speakers, and motion sensors using conductive thread. Using the microcontrollers was amazing, and we even got to discuss the parts of a computer as well as the basic parts of a circuit.
The code was written in C++ and luckily, most of the classes I’ve taken have been in C++, so it was really familiar to me. The iPhone app development class used Xcode and the Swift programming language. I had actually never done iPhone app development before, but GWC provided me with some great training materials and by the time I was teaching the class, I had written 7-8 working apps and helped the girls easily. Problems like learning how to set up constraints on the app’s main storyboard, locate missing semi-colons and logical errors in their code, and help solve problems with solution design, which I was initially nervous about my ability to help solve on the spot, came to me surprisingly easily during the program. I remember one instance, where one girl kept getting the same error, popping up in bright red every time: “THREAD 1 SIGABRT”. She struggled with it for close to an hour before finally calling me over. I didn’t figure it out at first and definitely had to do some googling. But it turned out to be some broken connections between her code and her app’s storyboard. We got it fixed and the app working, and it felt awesome. Being a TA for 15-18 girls at a time was a really mentally and physically involving task, jumping from problem to problem across the room, but it was incredibly rewarding to be even a small part of every girl’s working code.

A group of girls working through a problem together.
The GWC Campus Program is structured in two weeks: the first week is teaching girls through project-based learning and teaching the girls all the possibilities of the tech. We did group and individual projects such as motion sensing shoes and light sensing tshirts in the Wearable Tech class and projects like to-do lists and Instagram “knock-offs” in the iPhone app dev class. In the second week, the girls are split into groups of 4 and pick a project to work on for the entire week, called a “capstone project”. Initially, I was dubious that the girls would be able to solve the community problem they picked with the tech, since they’d only been using it for one week. However, I was really amazed with the solutions they managed to come up with!
In the wearable tech class, one group created a light-up/light-show tshirt to celebrate LGBTQ+ rights, another group created a wristband to remind the wearer to get up every 30 minutes and walk around with a little song, and another group created a necklace to relieve stress. The iPhone app development projects included a national parks planner, a game to teach the user how to sort their trash, an interactive map to teach international music and cultures, and a stress-reliever app. As you can probably tell from my short descriptions, the projects were AMAZING. I was amazed at how productive and professional the girls were in their teams. They divided tasks into engineering director, solution designer, quality control, and scrum master. It was incredible to see the problems they noticed and the solutions they designed with just a week’s experience and a week’s time.

Some of the groups for the capstone projects!

One of my personal biggest takeaways from this program was definitely becoming a better programmer myself. Reading and being on-top of so many errors in different people’s codes at once has made me a million times better at debugging. In short, being a teacher has made me a better student. The program also gave me a great network of other girls in computer science. I’ve been an attendee of the GWC Summer Immersion Program in the past and know how much of a key-player that summer, the TAs, the knowledge, and the other girls were in me deciding to become a computer scientist, and it’s great to be a part of that for other girls as well. I also realized that I love teaching! This is definitely something I want to continue to do in some capacity throughout my career. It was so awesome to hear the girls say that they really enjoyed the activities I created and that I was a key-part of why they enjoyed the program. I’m in touch with them on social media now and we’ve become great friends, too.

All-in-all, it was an unforgettable experience and I recommend people to apply to be a TA. I definitely recommend looking at the curriculum beforehand and maybe try coming up with some other activities you can lead them through. If you’d like me to write another blog-post going into the activities I created in detail for some inspiration, I would love to.

Thanks to GWC for having me as a TA, and thanks to Sacred Heart Schools in Atherton for holding the program. Please check out girls who code at the following link to check out how you can get involved:

‘Til next time,

The girls from the iPhone app development program. I'll really miss them all!

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