Sunday 13 October 2013

The Plagarism Program

Yesterday it was plagiarism and programming  Today a seamless segue to programming and plagiarism. As I've mentioned before, neither of the girls went to school, so we were always in the market for educational resources beyond the four walls of home.  Especially attractive were those which were free. We were, then and forever, deeply indebted to our friend-and-neighbour who for two years organised a Transition Year programme for the mid-teen cohort of home educated youths.  Her daughter was besfrenz with our girls.  That group went all over the island in a maelstrom curriculum: art, the arts, printing, creative writing, film, peace-studies, compost-toilets, the genetics of synaesthesia, group-dynamics, theatre.

Sometime is the middle of that period, we heard about a computer-programming course run by UCD but sponsored by Google, so it was free except for a hape of petrol-tankfuls and bus-fares.  The deal was that one Saturday a month for the academic year, there would be an all-day session in the UCD Computer Science Department largely run by graduate students bristling with enthusiasm.  Between these days there would be assignments and home work and there was an on-line forum for help, queries and problem solving.  That was a pretty good structure for learning.  But as the course ramped up, Dau.I and Dau.II were clearly struggling and I didn't really want to write their ecker for them.  So I was relieved when Besfrenz' father called me up one day and said that his daughter was going cross-eyed over the berluddy programming and asked how were my girls doing.  The mothers had organised all the other formal aspects of the girls' education that year but this was clearly man's work.  So we agreed that on a home-match, away-match rotation the Dads get the three budding programmers together.

That was brilliant.  There are two years between our girls and there is a certain amount of intra-family dynamic so Besfrenz was a key catalyst to the learning dynamic.  It was manifestly synergistic - the sum was far greater than the parts - as it almost always is in any creative enterprise.  You have a partial solution, she has a partial solution and by clanging these together and seeing how they fit and chipping a bit off here and adding a chunk from left-field you see that the whole structure is tottering upright.  If that's plagiarism (as it would be in The Institute) then plagiarism is clearly a Good Thing.

The course started out using Scratch, like we use for the baby-class in CoderDojo. But then shifted gear into Java which is where the girls started to lose the plot.  Java is an insane choice as a vehicle for introductory programming, while Scratch is brilliant.  The UCD mentors had held out the option that you could complete the whole course using Scratch but the implication was that was the wuss-option.  Down up the Mountain, we all agreed that wuss was good. We'd ferry the girls around on a regular basis and once a month they'd go off to Dublin and at the end of the year they'd learned something.  That something may have been nothing to do with programming - I couldn't write a single line of PL/1 or Pascal or C now although I've sat through formal courses in all three.  But the girls will never forget that if you push yourself a bit you can climb Mount Impossible, that an external nudge that can help, that shared ideas are much more valuable than your own ideas.

At the end of the year they got a tour of, and were given their Certs in Google headquarters in the Silicon Docks of Dublin.  So that was pretty cool.  They also got 5 Bologna Agreement credits for any course they take at UCD at any time in the future.  That will make their first year in College a trifle easier, IF they go to college, IF they go to UCD. Dau.II's quip: "No degree is the new degree".

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