Preparing for Enspiral Dev Academy

This year I am on a journey to learn to code – like really learn to code. I have taken leave from school and have enrolled in the Enspiral Dev Academy.

Just before Christmas I got an email from them about starting the pre Phase 0 prep, so I have started looking into what will be best for me.

I started with learning some basic HTML/CSS when I started teaching unit standards at Level 2 back in 2010. Using tables to do  page layouts (rather ugly and hard to work with), to in 2014 learning more about CSS, elements, divs (with it also being the second year of teaching achievement standards at Level 2!).

In 2014 I had quite a step up in my coding/programming experience. In March I attend the RailsGirls Wellington weekend, which was an explosion of coolness. Due to the requirement at school to teach programming in our Level 2 course, I also completed, in the first semester, the Introduction to Programming (Python) via the University of Canterbury. Made myself a bit sick doing this but completed it and rather happy with how will I did.

Once I started exploring the idea of doing the Dev Academy seriously I started doing some stuff on Codecademy. I preferred doing the HTML/CSS course rather then the ‘Make a website’ option as it made more sense to me doing stuff in order. I also started on the Javascript course. I found it a bit tendency and basic in what the content was but this was maybe due to having a good base already.

I than started having a play with the HTML/CSS Code Avengers course. Again, I started at the beginning and found the interactive layout more suited to me then Codecademy. I like it because it outlines when you start what everything is and where to find help. It gives hints in the tasks and output examples of what you are creating. I found all of these useful when I got stuck at particular points. As I went through the Level 1 course, even though I knew most of the stuff that it covered, there were a few little things that I picked up that I thought would be useful. It also outlined industry standards or expectations.

In December 2014 I attended the Computer Science 4 High Schools conference in Christchurch, run by the Computer Science department at the University of Canterbury, led by Prof Tim Bell. During this I was able to attend a few workshops, one of which was with Mike Walmsley, the creator of Code Avengers. We did some stuff with Game Development in Javascript (which can be used for NCEA Level 1/2/3 programming) and did a fun challenge with JS. I can imagine that the camps they run would be pretty cool. The game development was cool as well, as you could deploy it and send out the link (see previous post on CS4HS).

The other workshop that I attended was run by Tanya Gray from Gather Workshops – jQuery Taster: Enhancing Websites with jQuery. I found this lots of fun. As the information was online I was able to go a bit ahead as there were different levels of experience in the room. I found this really useful. It was a lot to get done in a couple of hours but doable. It was exciting to add some cool stuff to a site – here is my attempt.

With both of these workshops, even though they were great fun because of the interactivity, it would take me a lot of time to create something similar by myself, as I don’t yet feel I have the knowledge OR understanding of how it all works to be able to create something from scratch. This is the gap in my own experience/knowledge that I want to fill.

I have also had a look at CodeSmashers. This is a new start up that is looking to fill a gap in helping people learn to create their own websites. They use HTML/CSS with a bootstrap framework and by the end of a weekend you can come out with a cool looking site. You may not have a complete understanding of how and why it works the way it does but it is a pretty cool start and there is also an online platform for help from the tutors as well as other participants from your course and all the other courses that CodeSmashers have run. It will be exciting to see where they go next.

Another online course I have access to is Yoobee’s HTML AND CSS BEYOND THE BASICS. I have found this useful in thinking about how I want my site to look as the first task is going a mock up. However, they use a lot of videos and don’t have an online coding area. So the tasks you compete in a text editor then you upload what you have done to a forum and get feedback. By the end of it I should have a good looking site and hopefully learnt new stuff.

Now, back to the email from EDA for the pre Phase 0 prep and where to from here. They have recommended a few sites:

I have done both the Try Ruby (which was okay but a bit strange in how it worked) and Try Git (loved this, the way this was layout and worked was great for me!).

So, the question is where should I go to from here? Have I done enough in HTML/CSS? Should I jump into Ruby or JS first? Which resource should I go for? Should I go back to Codecademy or Code Avengers and start some of their courses further along and skip the basic parts?

What online training have you done? Do you have any recommendations or advice?

(This post is hopefully the first in a few. Planning on updating about online resources I have used once I have completed the prep phase).

Computer Science 4 High Schools – Beginners Talk

Beginners’ Talk – Tim Bell

Introduction for those who have not attended CS4HS before; we’ll go over what Computer Science is, why it is being taught in high school, and look at the big picture of how to get up to speed for teaching it. If you have attended CS4HS before, the C-block Foyer has room to chat with other teachers.

Made with Code – Erica

Has talked about girls in CS, how they are getting better results then boys in NCEA CS. And of course the shortage and therefore need to get women into CS & tech.

Experienced teachers very important in the teaching of CS in NZ schools!

Activity – THE PARITY MAGIC TRICK – (student guide)


Skills needed by employers

  • logical thinking
  • communication
  • team work
  • critical, independent thinking

Impostor Syndrome

  • 70% people
  • particularly women
  • more success, more is reinforced
  • reluctant to say
  • actually – none of us know all bout CS!

“The greatest tragedy I know of is that so many young people never discover what they really want to do”.  Edna Kerr (quoted by Dale Carnegie)

NCEA Digital Technologies as preparation for studying Computer Science at University

Python – I have survived!

At the beginning of February I enrolled in the University of Canterbury’s first year paper – COCS121, Introduction to Programming (using Python). I decided to take the plunge as in our Year 12 Digital Technology class we are going to be teaching Python in Term 3 and I have never done any programming whatsoever!!

python logo

I decided I needed a course where I would have deadlines that had to be met. If I had just used an online resource like codeacademy, it would have been too easy to not to do it. Also, I like to interact with others and with the UC course we would have a tutor and tutorials plus able to use forums to talk with other students.

Uc Banner

Tim Bell and his Computer Science department at UC are working hard to support digital technologies teachers and they offered this course as an online option for teachers. (UC also paid the cost of the paper!) Twelve started at the beginning of the year and five of us made it to the final (written) exam.

It was really full on and hard work. I had thought it would be maybe 5 hours extra work a week but for me it was probably more like 10 to 15. With having no background in programming I had to find the time to watch all the lectures, do all the labs and complete all the assignments.

I think the only reason I was able to finish the course was all the support I got. From my partner (lifesaver!), from Jack Morgan our online tutor and from Tim Harford – my DT colleague at school and I also connected in with the UC Computer Chicks Club. We had online tutorials two times a week with Jack, who was great, patient and really good at helping me solve problems. Tim was fab, he sat with me most Tuesday mornings before school so I could bounce ideas and questions off him and talk about what was working and what wasn’t in the programs I was writing. I know I would not have been able to finish this course if I didn’t have all of this help.

Positives out of this (besides completing the course and getting a good grade) are that besides the stress I really enjoyed it. It was exciting and interesting being a student again, it has made me think about my teaching and the students in my class. It has made me think about having extrinsic motivations –  deadlines, grades etc – credits. However, it would be interesting if I was a student in an environment where learning was the final goal – not completing a course. In such an environment I may have made a program that I wanted to, rather then ones about words and word counts!

Even though I did enjoy the whole course and was really excited when I got things to work, I think it would have been better if the assessments were interesting. Or perhaps does there need to be a set formula when teaching the basics of programming? And when teaching such a large group? Something to think about and explore, particularly when we are just about to start teaching Y12 students at an all girls’ school.

Another thing that would have been good would have been working collaboratively. However, again with the set up of a first year uni paper, perahps this would be too hard, as assessments are individual so how can you be collaborative? Perhaps this is something that occurs later on in a university setting. I would like to think about how we could make programming collaborative in NCEA but again have the hurdle of assessments needs to be jumped over. Is anyway out there doing collaborative programming with NCEA assessments?

I have now ticked off part of one of my goals – Goal 3: learn Python so can teach effectively and engage students in this learning area – I have done the learning bit! I hope I can do the next part! Who else uses Python in NCEA for the programming / planning standards? How do you go about teaching it?

Now that I have had the time to process and reflect on the course (and get over illness following the course!) I can see that taking on this learning was a mammoth task while teaching full time! I recently joined a group on Google+ called Code Club for Teachers and was looking at the activities that people were completing and posted a question “How do you all find the time?”. I had a think about this yesterday and decided that I used up all my spare time (and energy) for the whole year in the first half of this year completing COCS 121! So, I’m going to take a breather for the rest of the year and not run head first into doing extra things – even if they look like lots of fun and could be useful!

So, what do you think about the questions I have formulated in this post – does there need to be set formula when teaching the basics of programming? Does it make it easier when teaching a large group? Can we introduce collaborative work in NCEA with programming? Are you getting students to work collaboratively? Are you teaching Python? How are you teaching it? Or are you are teaching another programming language? If so, what language and how is it going?

Github, html, css – starting out!

Early this year I was introduced to Github at the RailsGirlsWgtn Weekend back in March. Over the weekend there was the chance to create your own Ruby on Rails app, using Github and other sites to get it working. I must admit it was all a bit of a mystery to me and I doubt I could go back and recreate any of it, including the command lines to get stuff onto Github.

Since then I have learnt quite a bit more about programming (see posts about Python) and have developed my knowledge of HTML / CSS. For our Y12 Digital Technology class this year we have done quite a bit of website stuff and I have learnt more about using divs for layouts and cool sytling in CSS and my skills and confidence have improved.

Not long ago I came across Alyx Gillett’s website, which I think has a really cool and simple layout and design. So I started to look into creating one for myself. I looked at what hers is made in, which is Looks cool but you have to pay after a free 14 day trial and it gives a bunch of stuff but nothing I think I need at the moment. And the  i had a brainwave, as I am a DT teacher wouldn’t it be cool if I made my own site completely from scratch. So I started have a play around with some ideas, look at some sites that had layouts I liked. This one provides the HTML & CSS – I started playing around with the Two column fixed width example and the One column fixed width layout.


After playing for a bit I got busy with other things until just the last few days. I decided I wanted to have a crack again and also thought it was about time I started a wee project of my own. I thought creating my own site and getting it up online would be a good place to start plus it is a chance for me to really embed my own learning and think about how I can improve my own teaching of HTML & CSS.

So, after doing some Google searches about using Github and discovering Github for Windows and Mac, and learning about being able to use gh-pages to host a static website I pushed my wee site out into cyberspace. Using Github for Windows/Mac is so much easier then using the command lines – although I am sure it will be useful to know those sometime in the future.

Here is my site – Still very much a work in progress and a learning tool for me.


Here I am on Github – Useful stuff from RailGirlsWgtn Github page.

Next few steps with my site will be planning out what I want and also in November I am doing a 2 day HTML course at Yoobee, so hoping to learn some cool stuff there. It will be good to learn properly after a few years of picking things up here and there!

I have also rediscovered Sublime Text text editor. I like it as it just seems nicer then Notepad++ and can put on Windows and Mac!


How did you learn about HTML/CSS, webdesign? Got any goto sites that you think are essential? Either that you use now or learnt heaps from? What site do you recommend for me to keep developing my HTML/CSS? What site is good to start learning about Javascript?

Byte Me! New tech / computer club at school

All of this year I have been wanting to start a computer club at school. I teach at an all girls’ school and feel that it is important that there is a space for those girls who are computer geeks! Or at least interested in learning more about everything digital.

So, I finally got around to making a poster and advertising it. Had the first session last week where about 15 girls turned up (plus a few more who emailed as they couldn’t make it). This session was a brainstorm session of ideas of what they wanted to do in the club, names for the club (they come up with Byte Me -which I think is great! Our Moodle site at school is called WGC4me) and how they could contribute to the club. They had heaps of ideas from websites, making games, programming, to guest speakers they would like to get in.

I thought it would be a good idea to start with something interesting but reasonably basic, so the next session is going to be creating a website with HTML. Now the cool thing with this is that as we are a Google Apps school, not only can you use Google Drive to host websites, there is also an app in the Chrome Store called Neutron Drive, where you can edit your html files and save and your site which is updated straight away! You can also share these files with others!

Screen Shot 2014-05-17 at 8.55.06 pm

Screen Shot 2014-05-17 at 8.56.29 pm

You can easily change the URL that Google Drive creates at the moment but there are some work arounds I found searching on Google. However, with just getting students started I think this is going to be really cool, straight away they can have a site that they can share with others!

I am also using Neutron Drive to create and host the Byte Me website. It is going to be very basic to start with as I want the development of it to be a collaborative project that students in the club take on. Exciting!

So, what do you think? Any comments?

Also, are you a woman in the IT / digital industry that would be keen to be a guest speaker? Are you someone who could run a session in something?



Learning Ruby – Rails Girls Wellington

railsgirls logo

Today I spent my day at a Rails Girls Wellington event. The aim of the two day workshop is…

 We aim to take a range of skill levels and form smaller working groups based on experience.

The day started with coffee and mingling and then an introduction from the two fantastic organisers – Merrin Macleod (@merxplat) and Kelly Cheesman (@kellective). It was interesting hearing Kelly talk about how her interest in technology started at high school with a program called Tech Angels.

We moved onto having a chat with the person next to us and I chatted with Nat (@NatDudley) from Vend in Auckland. Great conversation about how important it is to get more women and girls into coding and about Gather Workshops – more investigation needed (@nzgather).

It was then time to hear from Charlie Ablett (@charlieabettnz) with the heading of her talk being ” Software is the closest thing we have to magic”. She discussed what she sees as that three main reasons that women don’t continue with computer science / programming:

  1. programming is done by yourself and therefore not very interesting
  2. working on programs that are boring, trivial and simple – so computer science is boring
  3. it is not creative

Having started a first year programming paper via the University of Canterbury at the beginning of this term, I would agree with this with what I have experienced so far, although I am very very new to it all.

However, Charlie made it clear that programming is not actually like that when you get out there into industry.Paraphrasing  – “It is not true that you program by yourself, it is collaborative and social, whether in the same physical space or not. It is all about solving problems and coming up with the best solution for a problem. This is a very creativity process as there can be lots of solutions for a problem but not all of them good solutions. Being able to express your creativity in programming can be limited when starting out but as you learn more you can express yourself and do amazing things.”

Charlie ended with saying that programming is about consistently growing and learning. That you can make changes in the physical world by writing software and turn thoughts into real world change.

We then moved on to trying out Ruby by using Try Ruby – Then a talk from Amy Palamountain (@ammeep) about GitHub – Code.GitHub & Animated Gifs. Great start talking about how code is just really text and how would you manage a wall of text adn 50 people on your team etc. Excellent introduction to GitHub with cool demo and interactive as participants were invited to add the the Animal Party (plus free stuff too!).


We then got into doing some Ruby on Rails by following the guide railsat This was good, slightly frustrating as I seemed to keep hitting hurdles but there were plenty of great coaches to help me out. My progress was also slow as I networked with a few people, which was great and brings me onto some questions.

One conversation I had we talked about Python and Ruby and how Ruby is used more in industry and Python is more used within scientific areas. This got me wondering about whether there are teachers in NZ teaching Ruby in schools. Or are we mostly teaching Python because there are a lot of good resources available.

So, my questions:

  1. are you or do you know of anyone who is teaching Ruby in high schools?
  2. would Ruby be a better programming language to teach in high schools?
    • would it be easy? would it be more interesting for girls? (I am already finding what I have done to do more interesting as I am making something that I can see / use on a webpage straight away)
  3. anyone interested in exploring developing resources for Year 11 / 12 / 13?
  4. who is interested in coming into school (local Wellington school, all girls’) and talking about how they got into the industry and the work they do now?

Would love to hear your thoughts!


Creating a positive ‘Geek Girl’ environment

Great post by Merrin Macleod on The Geek Girl Survival Guide. Useful for me personally but also useful for me in helping me to get started on creating an environment at school (planning on starting a computer / coding club) that will be supportive and encouraging in prompting ‘geeky’ things for girls.

Have you started a club? Have any pointers for me?