Throughout the 2016-2017 school year, UC Berkeley STEAM coordinated with the Fremont Main Library to host free and public workshops dedicated to introducing code as a creative practice. Beginning in November, students of all ages and skill levels discovered concepts from fractals to web animation in the library’s Van Doorn Computer Lab.
Each workshop was divided into a conversation around the workshop focus and a coding session. These introductions were meant to spark curiosity and ground their skill-building with knowledge, whether it was about the anatomy of a website or the logical skeleton of games. Kids delighted in dialogues about how programming transformed the animation industry or how neuropsychology could explain viral phenomena like the blue-black, white-gold #dress.
During the coding portion of each workshop, twenty students partnered up and pair programmed, following along with the instructor’s live coding. Interspersed between the different concepts of each workshop were debugging sessions when the instructor and more advanced students helped those who had fallen behind.
Introductions through Snap!
In 2016, the workshops utilized the graphic programming interface of Snap! Students learned how to stack together visual programs of blocks and generate flows of logic. On the interface’s stage, they created projects like minimalist Mario games and recursive spirals of Pokemon.
Dabbling in Front-End
After students became comfortable with visualizing their code, the direction of the workshops adapted to teach how students could use code to create visuals. During the spring, the workshops migrated from Snap! to online developing environments, allowing students to directly wrangle with HTML and CSS. Within a few hours, students were introduced to new syntaxes, transforming what they once knew as alligator signs and backslashes into hypertext tags and attributes. With new vocabulary like keyframes and classes under their belt, they manipulated bits to program front-end illusions like rotating Earths, waving Pikachus, and color-changing trees.
A welcome surprise at the end of each workshop was the number of derivative ideas displayed in their final work. Some students demonstrated their inventive flair with programs that mimicked games of Ping-Pong. Others were entranced by their happy accidents, such as infinite loops that produced patterns of eternally bouncing meme images or hypnotizing vortices illusions.
Pictured: Vivian Liu (background), during a Web Animation Workshop
The results and general diaspora of coding education has been inspiring, but all too often it begins with print statements and arithmetic and culminates in projects that maximize accuracy or other simple metrics. This introduction doesn’t click with everyone and it doesn’t reflect the open-source nature of programming and its eternal invitation to play. That is why UC Berkeley STEAM designed this alternative introductory curriculum, which will now be piloted at the East Bay School for Boys in May and June 2017 with more instructors, an Arduino focus, and support from campus makerspaces.
The hope with these future ambitions is to reinsert the tangible back into these crafty albeit virtual workshops. For now, however the present progress of these students has been inspiring, as they have expressed the message that these workshops were meant to convey: that code can be a canvas for one’s imagination.
Special thanks to Chien-Chun Chang at Fremont Main Library for assistance with the workshops logistics.