Our journey towards making “boring” Computer Science “interesting”

Computer Science, the most boring interesting subject

Mummy, Computer Science is the most boring subject in school” my then 9 years old daughter mentioned casually one day.

I was taken aback by her utterance. She is academically inclined and usually does well in subjects requiring logical thinking. For her not to like Computer Science didn’t quite seem right. I assumed it to be a phase and didn’t delve too much into it.

Few weeks later, when her school test results came back her scores in Computer Science were very low. While I am not one of the Tiger moms who pushes her kids to excel in every possible field, but this irked me. Being a Computer Science student myself I couldn’t understand how one can love subjects like Mathematics and show no interest in Computer Science.

Theory, without Practical

I just had to get to the bottom of this mystery. I started looking through her books, notes, assignments and question papers. The curriculum consisted of theoretical details on things like parts of the computer. Even applications like Microsoft Word or Scratch were explained in a very theoretical and mundane manner.

What was missing were projects which could help her learn and practice the concepts and feel a sense of accomplishment. It was theory minus the practical. My daughter doesn’t like cramming and gets put off if there are too many details to be remembered. Given Computer Science was being taught this way, it started to make sense to me why she didn’t like it.

When schools closed in April, my husband and I brainstormed on how we could get her more interested in Computers. We came to conclude that the theory being taught had to be augmented with practical hands-on experimentation.

We also realized that a very good place to start would be Scratch, an amazingly beautiful and well design platform developed by MIT Media Labs to introduce kids to programming. It has easy to understand programming blocks that fit together like Lego blocks. We felt that we could utilize the natural appeal and the large online community of Scratch and get my daughter to do stuff that she would like, e.g. simple animations, games and so on.

We started giving her some projects from a book, and suddenly her interest started to increase. We gave her a target of 1 project a day and could see that she was enthusiastic in completing that every day.

A regular program

That is when we started envisaging a regular program in a flipped class model where we got kids to learn on their own with just enough guidance so that kids could give a shape to their own creative ideas in ways they like. We charted out a rough outline and decided to do a pilot in my apartment.

We asked in our WhatsApp group for kids who were interested in learning Scratch programming. To our surprise, we received interest from 25 kids. That was the start of our journey of teaching Scratch to kids and trying to build interest in programming among kids.

Every day, we would find a video/tutorial for an activity and share it on the WhatsApp group for kids to solve. The activities started from simple animations and evolved into more complicated games as the days progressed. Kids would share their code by the end of the day, and we would mark them based on pre-defined criteria. We even had a leaderboard to give a sense of healthy competition.

Kids were hooked – A fun way to learn scratch

The kids were hooked. We received 18-20 submissions daily. The kids would look at the tutorial, code the activity, search on Google to enhance the activity for bonus points and submit. They would then look at each other’s codes, give feedback and try to learn. The leaderboard was the most eagerly awaited event of the day and we had to sometimes provide justifications for our scoring.

Our daughter’s attitude, meanwhile, changed from being indifferent to passionately doing her own activity and helping her friends. The program lasted for 4 weeks and the kids completed ~15 activities each. Some kids were slow to start, but got hooked on as the program progressed. The concepts we covered in our experience-based learning journey were – programming logic, loops, variables, broadcast, cloning, lists, layers and functions.

To be honest we were taken aback by the enthusiastic response we received from the kids and parents. One of the kids said, “I have learnt Scratch in school, but this was way more fun”. Another remarked, “I had no idea we could do so much on Scratch”. I think the experience driven learning, timely feedback, collaborative environment and healthy competition were the key ingredients that made this experiment a success.

Smitten by the Heavenly Bug

What started as a simple tea-time conversation about my daughter’s computer science scores is today a well-formulated but ever-evolving platform that we offer to anybody, anywhere in the world who may be interested to learn programming in a fun way.

We conduct a class to cover a simple concept and then ask kids to build projects based on that concept. The best projects are showcased in a ‘Heavenly’ studio that other take inspiration from. Happy to note that in this short time, we have got nearly 90 kids smitten by the ‘Heavenly’ project bug, pun intended, who have been amazing us and others with their amazingly creative projects. And we have parents calling up saying their kids were super charged up to make sure their next project is heavenly.

In the meantime, my daughter, from being indifferent to bordering on rejecting the subject, is actively involved in debugging codes submitted by students. She is taking ideas from other students and applying her own thoughts to make better projects, thinking about how we could illustrate some concepts better and so on, in short, a fully involved member of our ‘core’ team.

Programming is a skill that would be indispensable in the world that they are growing up in. We are hoping this small attempt would help other kids become more passionate about programming and self-learning.

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