createCanvas: Interview with Kelly Lougheed, part 2
For the first season of createCanvas, our education podcast which began in October 2019, we interviewed Aankit Patel, Sharon de la Cruz, Dan Shiffman, and Kelly Lougheed, each in two parts. In September 2020, we will kick off Season Two! Stay tuned!
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.
This is Part 2 of our interview with Kelly Lougheed, which can be found on SoundCloud here. Below is the transcript (lightly edited for clarity). Part 1 was released in May and can be found here on SoundCloud and as a transcript here on Medium.
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]
This is the second part of our conversation with Kelly Lougheed, a computer science teacher in Los Angeles. Here we talk about creative applications of coding in the classroom and professional development and pedagogy for educators teaching coding. You can find the first part of this episode and all the other episodes on the createCanvas SoundCloud and wherever you download podcasts. By the way, the interviews are part of a new feature in our website processingfoundation.org called the education portal. The portal will have education material and resources available for free.
Kelly, you’ve made a lot of tutorials and shared them out. What prompted that? What do you get out of that? Is there one you want people to jump into as a gateway to get to see the work you’re doing, and put it up on the Processing Foundation Ed Portal so that people can take a look? Let’s start with what prompted you to make these tutorials and then we can get to the other parts.
Kelly Lougheed: I wrote my first Medium articles because, for Hour of Code at one of my schools, we were going to do it in advisory. An advisory only had 15 students, and it was only me who knew how to code in p5. We wanted to use p5 for Hour of Code. So to sort of put myself in all the rooms, I published a tutorial on Medium — it was based on a CC Fest LA session about making your own Instagram-style filter of your image. That was how one of my early coding tutorials went up.
I just kept writing them because I always want to — especially with people who have limited coding experience — I want to share my knowledge and get other people into it. My favorite audience is beginners, people without much experience. So I try to make my tutorials as accessible as possible. I’m not sure, I probably forget to define function sometimes, but yeah, I just like sharing my knowledge and putting it out there.
SK: Yeah. So let’s talk about how you try to be accessible in a tutorial, let’s say the Instagram filter one. What steps have you taken to make the tutorial accessible to beginners?
KL: Whenever I’m writing I try to act like I’m talking to someone who doesn’t know much about computer science. At this point in my career, I have my canned way that I define loops and functions, so I’ll try to throw those in. I’ll also try to remember to include details about, this is the button you press to run the code, it should appear in your canvas on the right-hand side. Notes about how to use the editor itself.
SK: Stuff that people either shorthand or skip explaining, you’re taking an extra minute or two to be like, “this foundational idea.” They came to make the Instagram filter, they didn’t come to learn about functions, but once they’re in the middle of it, they need to have a working definition of what a function is, so they can troubleshoot or have a sense of where the program’s headed. Sometimes I think we skip the taking-a-quick-second to be like, “a function is a block of code that you can call anytime,” that kind of thing. And you, say, putting that in should help beginners find their place, especially as they get bigger questions. What’s the response been to putting these out there? Have you gotten feedback? Have people used it? What’s that been like?
KL: It’s pretty positive. I guess part of why I kept doing it was that people would somehow find them (I mean, I also tweet them), but people would find them and comment and seemed to appreciate them. That was nice. When I taught larger classes at my previous school — I had a class of 24 — I would sometimes have my own tutorials as extra things you can do if you finish early, which was nice. And then the kids get excited because they’re like, I coded this magic eight ball, which is neat.
SK: I’ve used your tutorials in my classroom and I testify to how accessible they are, because it’s very rare. I’ve been like, here’s the tutorial, follow it, try it out. Getting a student to read everything is really hard —
SK: — but if they read it, I think they’re in the right place. Sometimes that’s how I know if they’ve read it or not. Or they get into a copy-pasta mess, where they copied more than they should have.
KL: Yeah, I’ve seen that happen. [laughs]
SK: You mentioned CC Fest, something that we’ve done together. Do you want to tell the listeners what it is, and how you got involved, and what you get out of it?
KL: Sure. CC Fest is a free event in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New York, where there are workshops on coding with p5 (and I think other things sometimes too). There’re sessions for all levels — so total beginners, all the way through advanced, like, are you ready for a challenge. I just saw it on Twitter and I signed up in 2017, and it was definitely worth my time. It was really fun.
SK: Great. You’ve both been an attendee and you’ve also led sessions. What have you learned with giving a session to a group that you don’t really know at all, and a group that can be students and teachers? What has doing tutorials in an environment [been] like that versus in your classroom? What can you say about that?
KL: The kind of tutorials or workshops at CC Fest are a little more hands-on. In a classroom you teach students this one little thing, and then they spend the rest of the time doing a lab or activity where they build on their preexisting knowledge using that one new thing. But for CC Fest you have to front-load a lot of stuff, and be like, go along with me. But I also try to incorporate little mini challenges. Like, okay, now try changing the colors, play with this number, play with that number. How does it change? to still get the same playtime to the attendees.
SK: So you plan them until you pause for five minutes, and give them a chance to get back on the road to the thing they’re making.
SK: That’s a really interesting, important idea of not letting the end-goal be the only time that they get to make their own creative choices. Let’s talk a little bit about the materials you’ve made. We’re going to present one of them on the website. Which one do you think people should check out? Why? What are they going to learn, do you think?
KL: Let’s see, that’s a tough question. I guess it depends what you’re interested in.
SK: You can offer a few, you don’t have to pick one.
KL: Okay. My CC Fest session last year was the rainbow paintbrush tutorial: making a paintbrush that paints rainbow on a canvas. Which I think is pretty accessible, even if you don’t have that much experience, I think it’s accessible. There’s also lots of creative freedom with colors — it talks about HSL colors, which is something that I didn’t learn about till later. I think mostly people are familiar with hexadecimal and RGB, but HSL is great for rainbows.
I’m also proud of one that is about natural language processing and Python, that analyzes Wuthering Heights using the Python Natural Language Toolkit, which as a literature person I really enjoyed writing.
SK: That’s a great one too, yeah. I guess there’s the creative coding that’s about art and fairly obvious, especially on platforms like p5; and then there’s the ones much more steeped in the science world, but which also have lots of creative potential, like natural language processing or data analysis on words and word frequencies. There’re so many things you can do with creative coding.
Let’s say someone’s not into making two-dimensional art: what do you suggest they do? Let’s say there’s a student who’s really into a book and you’re trying to get them interested in coding: what do you do to bring people who aren’t immediately excited by the possibilities of art-based creative coding? What other things do you suggest to them so that they can find their own place in coding?
SK: Do you have to offer them up or generally the students are fairly happy with —
KL: Generally I find that most students are really into the visual stuff and they might prefer that, but there is the occasional student who’s like, “no, I don’t like design. I want some challenges. I like writing text-based code.”
SK: Yeah, that’s sort of funny that the table has been overturned a little bit, where they are the traditional CS student. It seems like they would thrive in a traditional CS classroom, which would offer lots of algorithm puzzles to solve, and now they find themselves in this creative-coding world, which has taken over large parts of K-12, where it’s much rarer to have stuff for them.
SK: It’s more like, “make art that makes you happy.” No, I want to solve puzzles. And you’re like, well, we don’t have any for you.
KL: I have had luck with puzzles as a stretch activity. Like, if you did these problems that are more creative, and then, here’s a challenge problem. That’s been a success.
SK: Do you have one that you can remember right now?
KL: I usually take them off freecodecamp.org. A lot of the stuff I took last year was regarding arrays. Yeah. I can’t remember them last year, but sort of —
SK: Like, re-sort an array?
KL: Yeah. And stuff with sets, that are a little more mathy.
SK: It makes sense to offer that because I think potentially the complexity of the art base, they’ve sort of reached a point where they’re ready to take on more mathy stuff, where you could represent it visually too. But generally it’s done purely on the abstract algorithmic level with no physical output. Maybe they’re signaling by being done with the visual stuff that they’re ready to take on more complex stuff that could go back to being visual again. Math doesn’t exist about geometry, it’s about solving physical representational puzzles.
You’ve also been doing lots of summer training as a summer camp instructor. Do you want to talk a little bit about what you learned about pedagogy related to teaching this stuff? What can you say about how we should be teaching creative coding, and what’s not known just by picking up a book, but you kind of have to practice it to know or get trained to know?
KL: My biggest takeaway from teaching summer camp has been the importance of pair programming: that students have a more enjoyable experience, and therefore are maybe more likely to stay with computer science, if there is a social element to it. With pair programming, there are two people programming on one computer. One’s the driver typing all the code, one’s the navigator, who’s telling the driver what to type. I did this in my classroom all last year, and most of my students loved it. They found it very enjoyable. In my seventh-grade class, the students were more skeptical about it, which I wonder is related to being that age with all the social drama that comes with being a seventh grader.
As a teacher, I feel like it really makes a difference in the classroom. It feels different when everyone’s programming silently alone on their computer, versus when people are talking, and friendships are being formed. The really important thing with pair programming is that students realize, when they’re challenged by this problem and their partner is also challenged, they realize they’re not alone in being challenged or finding it hard.
SK: I think the thing that it could help with a lot is — there’s this moment where you introduce the concept, you say, “hey, we’re going to make something.” You start the live coding, maybe you finish it, maybe you don’t. But there’s the, “oh, I got the bug problem,” like, “hey, hold on, I need help right there.” And I think there are many different ways to engage with that as a teacher. There’s the, “just wait, keep going, we’ll come back to it.” There’s the, “let me help you right now.” Which, if it’s quick, it’s maybe not too detrimental to classroom culture, but often that’s when you may lose everyone else, or they may get lost or they may get distracted. Ultimately I think the goal of that moment is to, and some teachers do this well, which is like, talk through what the bug is so they can be like, “first of all, where should you be looking?” Those kinds of things.
I guess what I’m trying to say is pair programming and how it works with debugging —
SK: — is going to be a very rich area, where if you just focus on debugging, you can go really, really far because that’s going to be the number one thing. You may understand everything conceptually, you may have the code but it doesn’t run, and it becomes a complete mystery. And if you can talk through and look together and rely on each other, and not have the answers immediately presented to you but sustain yourself through it, it seems like pair programming really highlights those skills and offers a little bit more than — there’s this teacher technique of “ask three before me,” which is basically, “don’t bother me until….” [laughter] Whereas pair programming formalizes and offers some more support. Because there’s always this tendency where I see students ask [each other], and other kids are not interested. They’re like, “I don’t know,” they didn’t even hear the question, they just want to be left alone. Just like the teacher does.
What is that kid supposed to get out of “three before me,” when a sustained pair relationship could be so much richer? Especially if they’re practicing similar kinds of, like, “we learned that we should probably look here first, and then we should do that.” I would love to see those types of conversation happening more in my classroom and pair programming seems to offer a nice formalization of it.
KL: Yeah, definitely.
SK: It’s culturally understood.
Okay, maybe we’ll pause here. Are there any final thoughts that you want to share with the Processing community, or anything to young educators or people jumping into teaching or learning creative coding?
KL: I guess as far as Processing goes, I want to say I’ve never had a student react negatively to p5 or Processing. Everyone’s happy when you start doing it. I highly recommend doing it in the classroom. As for teaching computer science, I know in the computer science teacher community, and I see this on Facebook, I see this if you’re teaching summer camp, a lot of teachers are new to it, intimidated by the subject. I just want to say, stick with it, it’s for everyone. We really need more computer science teachers.
SK: That’s great. That’s a really positive message to end on. And if people want to find you, how should they look you up online?
SK: Great. kellylougheed.com. Thank you so much, Kelly. And we’re excited to have your stuff up on the Processing Foundation website.
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.