createCanvas: Interview with Kelly Lougheed, part 1

createCanvas is Processing Foundation’s education podcast, which focuses on teaching at the intersection of art, science, and technology. The podcast is part of our Education Portal, a collection of free education materials that can be used to teach our software in a variety of classroom settings. Rather than endorse a specific curriculum, we’ve engaged with a variety of educators from our community, ranging from K12 teachers, to folks who lead workshops at hackerspaces, to university professors in interdisciplinary departments. We’ve asked them to share their teaching materials, which anyone can use.

createCanvas features monthly in-depth interviews with these innovative educators, so you can get to know their practices and what they bring to the classroom and why. Stay tuned here for transcripts of each interview, as well as to the Education Portal for podcast episodes and teaching materials.

This is Part 1 of our interview with Kelly Lougheed, which can be found on SoundCloud here. Below is the transcript (lightly edited for clarity). Part 2 will be released in June.

A smiling woman with blond hair and glasses is in front of a rainbow pixel background.
Kelly Lougheed is a computer science teacher in Los Angeles, CA, with experience teaching all levels of secondary CS, from Scratch to AP-level Java. Previously, she worked as a web developer and a Latin teacher. Teaching computer science has been the best of both worlds, as well as the subject of the Master’s degree she is currently pursuing. A graduate of an all-girls’ middle and high school, she is particularly interested in girls’ computer-science education and the integration of computer science with art, math, and the humanities. She can be found on Medium, Youtube, and Twitter.

Note: Kelly’s creative-coding curriculum can be accessed on her Medium. Here are two beginner-friendly tutorials that use p5.js: Pong Game and Rainbow Paintbrush.

Saber Khan: Hey everyone. Welcome to createCanvas, a podcast about the Processing education community. I’m your host, Saber Khan, the Education Community Director of Processing Foundation. [intro is the same as above]

Today I’m here with Kelly Lougheed, a computer science teacher in Los Angeles, California. Kelly, do you want to introduce yourself a little bit more?

Kelly Lougheed: Sure. I teach computer science in Los Angeles. I teach both middle and high school. My previous lives include being a web developer and being a Latin teacher. I was originally a Latin teacher, and then when I became a developer I missed teaching, which is how I got into computer science teaching.

SK: I’m glad you mentioned that because that’s a really good reason to talk to your career a little bit, because I think there’s a lot of interesting choices and decisions that I think would be helpful for people to think about. Let’s start with your teaching at an all-girls’ school. And you went to an all-girls’ school? What’s that like, and then what’s that like in relation to a field where women and people who identify as women are underrepresented? What can you tell us about that?

KL: Teaching in an all-girls’ school is great, and it’s especially great for computer science because we don’t have to worry about any of the gender dynamics in the classroom. I can just focus on pedagogy. The students can just focus on coding. That’s a huge advantage.

SK: Then you experienced that as you were going to your high school, which was all-girls’ as well?

KL: Right. I went to an all-girls’ high school, which I loved. I did not take computer science at that school, because they didn’t offer it then. This was the 2000s. When I did take computer science it was at Stanford, because I grew up in Palo Alto, and it was definitely a shock to be one of just a few girls in a room of, like, 50 guys. It was the reverse of what I had always experienced.

SK: Yeah. I think it might be good for people to actually know why a situation like that can be difficult for underrepresented groups. Do you want to talk a little bit more about, maybe not direct from your experience, but what’s known about there being a particular male affinity for showing expertise that can be hindering? I wonder if you have anything to share about that.

KL: Right. At Harvey Mudd [College] they call this macho behavior, which can be exhibited by any gender, but I’ve seen it more in boys. It’s when they like to shout out, “Oh, I’ve learned Java before!” or something like that. Or, “I’ve done C++!” They might mean that they did this for a week at a game design camp, not necessarily that they’ve done data structures in C++ at the college level.

It has the result of making other people in the room who might not have any coding experience feel like they are underprepared or don’t belong, when in fact maybe this is a class geared towards beginners and there’s no expertise required, and everyone really does belong.

SK: Yeah, yeah. Then I think, maybe adding to that, oftentimes that expertise doesn’t really offer support to others. It’s mostly a very self-centered or selfish expertise, or it’s like, “I have the knowledge and I’m going to hoard it, so that you are going to live in scarcity, and I’ll be the source of answers, but not in a way that I’m going to help you grow. We’re not in this together.”

KL: Right.

SK: It’s this competitiveness that ends up excluding others. I think there’s ways to have expertise and even express it that brings people together and says, “Hey, I’m going to be a resource.” It seems like many boys haven’t learned how to channel that energy into something community-minded. I wonder what should be happening at all-boys’ schools or in boys’ education in general.

So, you went to an all-girls’ high school, you took an undergrad course at Stanford. What happened next in your relationship with tech and tech education?

Rainbow writing on black background that says “I [heart] p5.js”

KL: Well, I was pretty turned off from computer science because of that class. It was fine, I passed the class, but I guess I didn’t particularly enjoy, one, constantly being obsessed with problem set answer, trying to figure out the solution. I also didn’t have very many connections in the class. My friends were all from my dorm, outside of the class. I wasn’t super attached to computer science.

After that, I actually majored in Latin in college, which I really enjoyed, and I didn’t return to computer science until I decided to make a career change. I wanted to move back to California, where I grew up. I started a career in web development. That involved me returning to my education, taking lots of computer science classes online, and those were all enjoyable, but I always felt like I missed out on the computer science major in retrospect.

SK: Yeah. The whole time, you’ve been making your own websites, and while you’ve maybe gone in and out of formal CS, the whole time you were doing creative tech projects. Do you want to say what you were making when you were a kid, and what that has given you?

KL: Sure. My dad was a software engineer, so that’s how I was into [computers]. I was on a computer at a very early age, and online as well. When I was in elementary school, I’d be making these websites about Harry Potter (Harry Potter RPGs [role-playing games] were very common at the time) . I made my own, using message boards, and nobody else was on it. That’s the kind of stuff I was making in elementary school.

Then in middle school I got into making personal websites, a phase that has not ended since. I really used them to show my photography, air quotes, which is very low quality. I also wrote poetry that was rhyming. That all went up on my website. My favorite part was making the layouts for the website. You’d use Photoshop and brushes. It was the time where websites were fixed width, like this layout is going to be 600 by 800 pixels. That kind of style. And yeah, I just loved making layouts. I was always updating it constantly. I am similar as an adult, still updating my personal website and its layout.

SK: That’s great. Maybe that’s a good segue to the classes you’re teaching and what you’re having those students do and make. How do you marry that creative impulse to the need to learn some basic fundamental CS concepts and skills? What are you doing in your classes?

KL: Last year I taught four different classes. Two were middle-school art classes, and two were more traditional high-school computer-science classes. In middle school, the seventh grade was Web and App Design, and the eighth grade was Computer Graphics and Virtual Reality. The seventh grade class, in particular, I was able to be like, “Well, I liked doing all this stuff when I was in seventh grade, so I’m going to have my students learn how to make websites, picking colors and fonts.”

Those classes are art classes. The seventh grade is pass/fail. The thought there is not really — like we do a little JavaScript, but my thought is not to become JavaScript programmers. It’s more to let them have fun, create things that they’re proud of. The code that they learn is kind of incidental. I’m just hoping to give them a positive experience, so that they associate coding and computer science with fun, art-type activities.

In my upper-school classes, in my Advanced Computer Science class, we started out the first semester, they programmed in C. It’s not super creative, and they’re writing pretty serious algorithms. Then, because that class sort of follows AP Computer Science Principles, when it got into computer graphics and internet programming, I was able to bring in p5.js, HTML, CSS, JavaScript.

In particular, p5 was great for teaching about graphics and how they’re all made up of pixels, and looping through each pixel and manipulating colors. Then they also did some pretty serious JavaScript, but HTML, CSS, JavaScript that also has a visual output, which the students really enjoy. For every project, the code was pretty serious, but they’d also be like, “Oh, I have to pick the right gradient background and the best font that goes with it.” That was really great.

SK: Yeah. It seems like creative coding offers a way to bring an art mentality or an art perspective into CS material. The two middle-school classes are art classes in the art department, let’s say. What does art education have to offer creative coding, computer science, and the education world in general that might be different than what formal CS currently does?

KL: I can give a design framework, I guess, to give a little bit of structuring guidance for what the kids are doing with web design. In that seventh-grade class, we do talk about best practices with fonts and colors, like you don’t want to have that many colors. Ideally it’s all shades of one color. You don’t want more than two fonts, maybe just one font. We also talk about white space too, and how different website designs can make the user feel. I guess where I’m going with that is, instead of having it be a free-for-all, giving a framework to the creativity we’re letting the kids have.

SK: Yeah. That makes a lot of sense in that, like you said, they’re not problem sets like traditional CS courses. It’s open-ended, what’s possible. In that area, you do have to offer the students support to get to a particular vision that they have. There’s not going to be a map, the right answer. Oftentimes they’re going to have to judge if they’re on the right track, which can be intimidating but also freeing, hopefully. And maybe that will sustain them longer too? Like in your life, you said making websites kept you sort of intact and gave you a creative outlet.

It seems like a lot of our hopes in the creative coding world is, maybe they will not become coders, but they’ll have this very personal relationship with technology that will keep them engaged and keep them making stuff, and keep them in dialogue with tech. These creative coding projects can in some ways feel very open-ended because there’s no clear solution. It’s not a, “Use the formula and get the answer and let’s check your work.” It’s like, “Make something that references something or remixes something.”

How do you offer students advice, feedback, assessments, so that they can get better and you have a sense of how they’re doing?

KL: For assessment in the middle-school classes, I tended to grade in mostly two categories, which are scope and correctness. Scope is like, Did they meet all their requirements, just basic requirements? Did your website have three pages? If we spent three days on this project, does your work represent three days of work, or just maybe half a day of work? The correctness is like, Does your code run? Do you have any noticeable bugs?

That sort of erases me grading their creativity or design, because that can be a personal thing, but it’s definitely something I want to develop, because these are performance tasks. I feel like the fairest grading for our performance task is a little more clear than that. If I’m going to spend time talking about design, colors, themes, fonts, maybe I do want to hold students accountable towards demonstrating that they created their website with an awareness of the design principles.

SK: Maybe it’s too soon, but what might that entail? How do they, for example, show that they have considered color schemes? Do you have any rough ideas as to how to bring some of these things in?

KL: I guess the most obvious way to tell would be, does their website follow the rules of what we did in class. Are there five different fonts or just one or two? Is there a color palette with shades and maybe the theme color, or is it just totally crazy, like, “I don’t know why you did this psychedelic thing”? The reason that I hesitate to go there is that maybe kids want to break the rule for whatever their vision is.

SK: Thank you for joining createCanvas. Once again, I’m your host, Saber Khan. createCanvas is produced by Processing Foundation and supported by the Knight Foundation. Our editor is Devin Curry. Special thanks to the Processing Foundation board and staff. You’ll be able to find many of the things discussed here today in the show notes. Before you go, please visit processingfoundation.org and check out the Education Portal for free and accessible educational materials. Processing Foundation is on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. You’ll find this and future episodes on our Medium channel as well.

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The Processing Foundation promotes software literacy within the visual arts, and visual literacy within technology-related fields. Our publication posts articles about and by members of our community.

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