A huge round of applause to our Champions, Leah, Ziv and Aahan, for winning 1st Place at CodeXtremeApps (CXA) 2019 Junior Category, triumphing 30 other teams — We couldn’t be more proud!
Aahan and Leah on stage (Not in photo: Ziv)
“I feel ecstatic winning the top prize in this competition. The training from my classes at Coding Lab has prepared me well for the competition. It has guided me on how to solve the problems creatively.” said Ziv, still in awe from the results. The 12-year old was appointed as the group’s team leader due to his impressive performance shown at his weekly classes at Coding Lab. He has been attending Coding Lab classes for more than a year now, and consistently worked hard to refine and improve his code, which put him in good stead for the competition.
“He’s really good at coding.” quotes his tutor. “The games he creates in class are really exciting.”
But of course, teamwork makes the dream work. Without the combined strengths of all three teammates — the team would have not been as formidable.
“I feel like the training I got in my classes at Coding Lab helped me a lot in the CXA competition and feel very happy, privileged and grateful to have taken part,” said Leah. Leah often brings fresh and exciting concepts to the table for discussion.
Leah presenting their winning project
Last but not least, their winning project could not have been as polished without Aahan, who has been attending Coding Lab classes since the tender age of 7, and would skip going to birthday parties just so he could attend coding class every week without fail, which he has done for the past 2 years. The team’s youngest member contributed his knowledge gained from our Young Computer Scientists classes and was a critical part of the team.
It’s so rewarding seeing how far they’ve come since joining our introductory courses, all 3 started from our Scratch 1 course and progressed through our curriculum roadmap with regular classes; consistent practice makes perfect!— these students have displayed immense potential with quick progression and regular practice through our courses of varying difficulty. Keep it up, young talents!
Group photo with other Junior Category contestants
Singapore’s largest tech fair, Digital Wonderland, is back again but bigger and better, and Coding Lab is exhilarated to have been invited again by IMDA this year! Held at the Suntec Convention Centre last weekend (17-18 May), the exhibition hall was decorated with eye-catching LED installations on the ceiling and packed with exciting free activities ranging from VR games, coding competitions and esports challenges to interactive workshops. And of course, booths and booths of free food — Chicken waffles, yogurt, and pizza?!
Did you catch us last weekend? If you have not, sit tight and we’ll fill you in real quick.
On Saturday, we held our Robot shooter workshop where students were taught to make their own game app through the MIT App Inventor 2. Before you think, what? Workshop in the middle of a noisy, bustling exhibition? Be amazed as the workshop harnessed the marvels of technology to carry out a peaceful class, with the instructors’ microphone linked to the students’ headphones directly. Talk about learning in the 21st century!
On the second day, Sunday, we carried out our parent-child Quiz app workshop, where we taught participants how to use the Thunkable platform to design their own fully functional apps, launchable onto both Android and iOs app store.
While the workshops went on, along with a myriad of other exciting activities, the rest of our Coding Lab Team had loads of fun entertaining a steady stream of crowd at our booth. We zhng-edup (modified) some of our students’ Scratch games by connecting a micro:bit as a controller. Kids were seen motivated to beat their high scores and bypass the various challenges faced, especially the game Maze. Never estimate the brains of an 11 year old child!
Besides the snaking queues behind our monitor for the Scratch games, we had children try out our mobile app games (such as Robot Shooter and Bumper Car), also created by our very own students. And last but not least, many of the little ones were seen exhilarated by our friendly robot Photon, as they tried to program the robot to move to and fro.
Besides all the games and fun at our booth, our friendly team members had a very good chat answering queries of all interested parents and spreading the joys of coding.
We can’t wait to see you guys again at our next fair! We’ll be back as soon as you know it.
Meet Dylan, 11, who is already programming in Python. An avid learner, this young, driven boy has written solutions to problems that students typically encounter at the Pre-U level. Our team speaks with him to find out what motivates him:
Coding Lab: Hi Dylan! Tell us about yourself. How did you get started with Coding?
Dylan: My mum noticed my interest in solving maths problems and suggested that I learn coding as it is similar in nature as it uses logic to solve problems. She also bought some books for me to read for a start, to see if I have interest to learn coding.
Dylan’s parents: As parents, we always want the best for our children. Programming/coding seems to be an area of growth & career opportunity for the future; hence we want Dylan to be well-equipped with the right skill set to succeed in his life/career. Of course, he needs to have an interest in order to be able to do well. Fortunately, his interest in Math since young has helped him pick up coding quickly, and he liked it from the onset.
Coding Lab: How is your experience learning Coding so far?
Dylan: I enjoy Coding Lab lessons a lot. The small class size allows me to ask questions freely and interact with the teacher. This is especially useful because I am able to tackle the mental obstacles quickly when I am coding.
Coding Lab: What do you like most about coding?
Dylan: I find coding very systematic in approach and very challenging to the mind. In a way, it is similar to solving math problems. I find that it does in some ways help me in solving math problems at school.
Dylan’s Parents: It could be too early to tell if coding helps in his daily life, but it definitely helps train his mind to be more systematic in thinking. This mental training does help him in solving difficult Maths problems.
The process of building the code is fun because it makes me think & approach the problem systemically and to apply logic to the process.
Dylan’s Coin Sum Program
Coding Lab: Tell us about a favourite program you have written.
Dylan: I wrote a “Coins-sum” program. When I input a figure into the program, it will generate the number of ways that the figure can be divided by, based on our Singapore dollar denomination. I like it because it is useful. Creating the program requires me to put an if-loop within a while-loop. The process of building the code is fun because it makes me think & approach the problem systemically & to apply logic to the process.
Coding Lab: Do you think that learning to Code has helped you at school?
Dylan: My favourite subject at school is Maths. I find that Coding helps train the mind to be logical & systematic, both traits are useful in the application of Maths.
Coding Lab: What else do you do in your spare time (apart from coding!)?
Dylan: My hobbies are playing computer games & reading books on history & war. I also like to play Badminton & Carom.
Dylan, 11, is currently studying at River Valley Primary School. He started off with our Python 1 (S101) course in late 2018 and has completed Python 2 S111.
Coding Lab is deeply honoured to have been invited for a live radio interview with Capital 95.8FM. Capital 95.8FM is a pioneering Chinese radio station which specialises in current affairs, finance, and lifestyle content.
In their 8th January morning show, co-founder Foo Yong Ning shared with Ko Ee Sim, host radio presenter, on the importance of digital literacy for the younger generation. Ee Sim is the anchor host for the station’s morning show which specialises on local current affairs and social issues.
As the interview was conducted in Mandarin, we present to you the translated radio transcript in English for easy reading below.
Ee Sim: Today we have with us the co-founder from Coding Lab, Foo Yong Ning. Good morning, Yong Ning! You studied Engineering in university right? Coming from a science and engineering background, is it natural to have a keen interest in computers and the like?
Foo: Yes I feel that this is the case for most people.
Ee Sim: Unless you were forced to learn engineering, it should be natural to be interested in this field, am I right?
Foo: Yes definitely. I am very lucky that my parents did not force me to learn engineering. I pursued the field voluntarily based on interest.
Ee Sim: It seems that you had completed your masters degree in Computational Design at MIT. After coming back to Singapore, why did you decide to open a coding educational centre for children?
Foo: The idea for our educational business did not arise immediately. Back then, I was working for an American MNC. Only in 2015 then did I think about starting a learning centre for kids. One fine day, I chanced upon a talk which gave me an epiphany. That talk made me realise how important it is for the new generation to pick up coding.
Ee Sim: Wow, since 4 years ago in 2015?
Foo: Yes, and what’s important is not just coding, but computational thinking too. Initially, it was more about how I could benefit my own children, given that we just had a recent addition to the family. However, gradually, we thought about extending our outreach to benefit more children around the country.
Ee Sim: Why is computational thinking so important to children?
Foo: In today’s age, computational thinking permeates every single aspect of our lives. For example, essential apps such as Google, Grab, and Facebook are all built on computer programs. They are all built on code, which requires computational thinking to be carried out.
Ee Sim: Indeed, we really cannot keep away from products of computational thinking because we use them so often. These applications are all products of man. If we possess computing skills and a solid foundation, we can definitely create more and better applications. In addition, understanding what goes behind these technological products may lead to a greater appreciation for it.
Foo: Yes indeed, but I must say that it is not just about inventing things individually. At work, we may need to collaborate and communicate with developers that some applications or processes need improvement. Computational thinking offers many benefits in this area as well.
Ee Sim: Do you think that the popularity of coding courses for children has soared since Coding Lab’s opening in 2015?
Foo: Yes definitely. More parents and children have started to recognise the importance of learning coding. On one hand, parents have realised the infiltration of coding in our everyday lives. On the other hand, the government has also highlighted the importance of digital literacy through its policies.
Ee Sim: Certainly, the government, private organizations and even MNCs are encouraging children to learn coding. What are your views on parents who send their children to learn coding at an early age?
Foo: This question is tough because the parents of our students all come from different fields, educational backgrounds, and socio-economic status. Therefore, it is very difficult to place them into one homogenous group. But if I had to pick out a specific group, it would be those who are very concerned for their children’s education and future.
Ee Sim: Do the parents who send their children at your centre know exactly what coding is?
Foo: To put it simply, coding is just the act of instructing computers to do what we want them to do.
Ee Sim: What are the benefits of learning coding?
Foo: There are many benefits to learning coding. One direct application is that we can build our own web programs like Google and Facebook, or even create video games such as Angry Birds. I must stress that what’s more important here is how computational thinking is cultivated through the process of learning coding. You must be wondering, what exactly is this ‘computational thinking’? Computational thinking is a skill that allows us to make use of computer science to solve problems. It is made up of problem decomposition and pattern recognition, abstraction and algorithm design.
Ee Sim: If I don’t intend to make my child a coder or programmer when he/she grows up, do I still need to send my child to learn coding?
Foo: That is a very good question. To answer that, let me ask you another question back: Most of us did not end up as Mathematicians, but why were we made to learn Mathematics when young?
Ee Sim: Yes, so it is just a skill. Perhaps in the future, computational thinking will become like Mathematics, a compulsory subject in schools.
Ee Sim: Ok so we will be taking a break now, in the second half, Yong Ning will be sharing with you more about Coding Lab’s curriculum.
Ee Sim: In the first half our interview, we have established the importance of coding in today’s world. It seems that coding can be used in investment too.
Foo: Definitely. For example, in quantitative trading, computer programs are utilised to help traders decide on the direction of investment.
Ee Sim: Yes, the computer really does a lot for us. Humans are unable to handle large amounts of data without the help of computers. Also, if the process tends to be consistent in nature, doing it using computers will be much more effective.
Foo: Yes, the computer can analyse more data and consider more factors.
Ee Sim: At Coding Lab, what ages do you welcome and are the courses long or short term?
Foo: We have courses tailored for children from as young as 4 to 18 years old.
Ee Sim: Really? 4 years old? They don’t even know how to hold a pencil properly!
Foo: Actually at age 4, the main learning outcome is not so much about coding in itself, but to understand how to give instructions clearly. It is more about giving children a head start in computational thinking, learning how to structure their thoughts, and not coding per se. It is to guide the child to know how to give specific instructions to achieve their desired outcomes.
Ee Sim: How about primary school children?
Foo: As they are older, we use platforms such as Scratch and App Inventor to teach coding. These platforms are highly visual, and have a drag-and-drop based interface — perfect for children. These platforms allow children to focus on computational thinking and not worry about writing code because endless scripts of code tend to be intimidating to most people. Through these 2 platforms, they can create their own games and stimulate their interest in game design and programming.
Ee Sim: Wow so even primary school children can create their own apps! What kind of era is this? So what about secondary school students, do they learn something more complicated?
Foo: As secondary school students are more accustomed with typing, we teach them standard coding languages such as Python, which have very broad uses in the real world. For example, in one of our data analytics courses, we had a secondary school student who was very interested in stocks.
Ee Sim: Interested in stocks at such a young age?
Foo: Yes, due to family influence perhaps. After attending our data analytics course, he thought about how he could apply whatever he had learnt into stocks.
Ee Sim: So through your courses, children will achieve mastery in this fundamental skill which can be applied into solving problems in our daily lives?
Foo: Yes, students can apply computational thinking and coding knowledge to create anything of their interest — games, mobile applications etc. If they have a keen interest in Mathematics, we also have training courses to prepare them for the annual National Olympiad Informatics (NOI) competition held by National University of Singapore (NUS).
Ee Sim: Every child has different personalities and interests. As such, do you think that all children should pick up coding?
Foo: I feel that every child should have some foundation in coding. While it holds true that not everyone will grow up to be a programmer, I believe that in future, we will all need to come in contact with things related to coding. For example in the workplace, we may need to communicate with developers on how to improve their products and/or processes. Therefore, I believe that every child should have some knowledge in this field.
Ee Sim: For the past 100 years, our educational system has focused on writing and arithmetics. However, 100 years from now, coding may very well be incorporated into our compulsory syllabus as it has come to be a necessary skill.
Foo: 50 years ago, if someone had a good grasp of their languages and mathematics, they would be able to do well at their job. However, in the future, it may be computational thinking instead.
Ee Sim: Do you think that is possible to learn coding ourselves?
Foo: Like many other skills, coding is not impossible to self-learn; It will just be more difficult. Learning things by ourselves can already be a challenge for adults, much less for children. It is very difficult to learn things if we do not have a clear picture of what we are trying to achieve. Therefore, learning through a well-planned curriculum with good guidance is much more effective and time saving.
Ee Sim: Do our government schools offer coding lessons?
Foo: Yes many do. In fact, we have collaborated with various MOE schools to conduct coding classes. These schools reach out to us because a majority of school teachers are unfamiliar with coding. These coding enrichment classes offer students a glimpse into the realm of coding, and those who are enticed will come to us at Coding Lab to further their interest.
Ee Sim: Thank you. Today we are very happy to have the co-founder of Coding Lab to share with us about coding and its benefits.
Founded in 2002, Scratch’s drag-and-drop block-based interface has grown to be one of the world’s top visual programming languages. Colourful, intelligible and intuitive, this very friendly coding language is designed primarily for the young and beginners of all ages to the realm of code.
Indeed, developed by the MIT Media Lab, Scratch has been weaved into the educational curriculum of schools worldwide, from enrichment classes to even Computer Science introductory courses in universities. Today, the Scratch online community – with a population of 35 million registered users – has amassed over 37,000,000 shared projects and counting.
Just like us all, Scratch has come a long way, constantly improving and transforming. By now, you should have already heard of Scratch 3.0 which was only just officially launched in January 2019.
All of us are familiar with the Scratch which we have all grown to love; thus the impending change may feel a little intimidating. However, no need to fear, the Coding Lab Team is here!
Let’s welcome Scratch’s new changes with open arms, as we hold your hand and guide you through these uncharted waters in this article, together.
Below are 5 things you need to know about Scratch 3.0:
A sleek makeover
The first most striking difference in this new version is the new interface.
The layout has been rearranged to a more intuitive order from left to right. Everything is now displayed more prominently and clearly for you to see.
One feature which speaks out to us notably is the visualization of angles which makes it easier for young students to understand directionality.
Our favourite and colourful blocks are still there, but are now bigger and better. It is now so much easier to drag, drop, and type in the spaces of those little boxes.
In addition, there is also morespace to unleash your creativity with unlimited scripts using the new function that instantly expands the canvas laterally.
The more the merrier
Indeed, the most exciting new feature hands down is the fresh collection of characters, backdrops, and sounds.
From llamas to even mermaids, the ways you can express your creativity with the new range of sprites are limitless.
Always wanted to dress your human sprite up? Your dream came true – Now you can play dress-up with your favourite sprite doll using the wide array of costumes available.
After choosing your characters, dress them up and take them out on an adventure with the new backdrops – to the farm, over the hill, or out into the galaxy. Endless fun and possibilities await!
As for the new sounds, there are three new categories such as Space, Sports, and Wacky.
The new hover-to-preview interface of the libraries is much more intuitive and friendly for the young. Children, especially, will be all on the floor over the new sound effects, for sure!
Edit like a pro
The improved paint editor is now more sophisticated and comprehensible, making it easier for children to navigate through the tools and functions, as they unleash their artistic talents.
Even more exciting is the upgraded sound editor, which now enables users to trim tracks, adjust the speed, play with sound filters, and even play the sound in reverse.
Any Scratch educator can assure you that the sounds are always a huge favourite among kids, and we believe this new feature will certainly leave young children exhilarated.
If you were wondering where the Pen and Music blocks have gone to, do not fret – no blocks were harmed in the making of Scratch 3.0. These blocks have just moved into the “Extensions” section, located snugly at the bottom left-hand corner of the screen.
These extensions allow Scratchers to bridge the gap between the digital and physical world. Users can now incorporate Scratch to program physical devices such as the micro: bit, the mBot and interactive LEGO robots.
Moreover, we can now integrate Scratch with Google Translate, connecting coders of all languages around the world.
Scratch on the Go –Anytime, Anywhere
Last but not least, good news for mobile fans: Scratch will now be available on tablets and Chromebooks!
Powered by HTML5, it runs on all browsers (excluding Internet Explorer) and Flash player plug-ins are now made redundant. Just finished a Scratch class and having high-tea at a nearby cafe with your child or waiting for the train? You can now review or edit your child’s programs on-the-go!
Goodbye 2.0, Hello 3.0
Though it may look foreign on the surface, deep down, Scratch 3.0 is still the Scratch we know and adore. In no time, the previous version will feel antique, just like an outdated Apple iOs. All existing accounts and projects will continue to work and the platform remains free of charge.
We’re absolutely psyched for the new version, how about you?
We sent our intern to Japan to teach over the summer holidays. He shares his 4 key takeaways on how children learn.
Monday, 1400H: The plane touched down at Haneda airport. It was my second time in Tokyo, but it certainly felt different from my first. As I breathed in the cool air and looked around me, I felt a sense of excitement as to what would await me the next day, when I would first step into the Coding Lab Japan campus and have my first interaction with the students and teaching team.
Tuesday, 0800H: Finally! After a quick ride on the efficient subway, I was about to take my first step into the Coding Lab campus – easily identifiable with the Signature Coding Lab emblem visible on the glass door. My time in Coding Lab Japan was about to begin.
I stepped through the glass doors, and here’s what I learnt:
Entertain their curiosities
In Japan, I had a very young student who was very nervous and afraid in class. But I soon found out that she loved to play the piano. She was fascinated when I introduced the different musical instruments in Scratch, and we had great fun creating music related projects together. I realised just how important it was to pay attention to the children’s curiosities and interests, as that would be what gives them their intrinsic motivation to learn. We need to ensure that we discover the topic that the child is interested in, and engage them by combining it with programming concepts to build a fun project.
Moral of the story:Children will be curious, no matter which country they are from. They are always fascinated about how things work, and more often than not, there will be a mischievous student in class figuring out how to take it apart. Taking note of what they are curious about is a good way to find out more about the child’s interests, and these are going to be your best allies in grabbing and holding that child’s attention.
Understand how they Learn
Although many of the students in Japan do not take English as their first language, communication was no issue as I was able to help them understand key concepts by switching between different methods of teaching. I alternated between drawing it out, to using real-life examples (acting it out sometimes!), and most importantly, encouraging them to try it out by themselves. The satisfaction when they finally got it and were able to write their lines of code brought a huge smile to my face.
Moral of the story:Children learn and develop at different rates. It is important to understand how they learn, and adjust our teaching methods accordingly. The process of figuring out the child’s learning style will require time, observations, and trial and error. At the end of the day, it is completely worth it, just to make a difference in the child’s life.
Explore through Play
Whether in Japan or Singapore, students are always excited about playing with their own games after they have created them. They often get absorbed in experimenting with their projects, oftentimes changing a value here and there which makes a huge difference to the difficulty and gameplay of their games.
Encouraging students to experiment with the games they have learnt to create reinforces what they have learnt and also helps to build confidence in their own abilities. Sometimes the results of their experiments can surprise you!
A student in Japan was playing with one of the tech toys at Coding Lab – an Airblock drone – during his break time and he could program the drone without much help even though he has not done it before, as it was similar to what he had learnt in Scratch.
Moral of the story:Children love to play! Play is one of the main ways in which children learn. Give the children some time to play and experiment on their own; you’ll be surprised by their concentration, and what they can achieve.
Challenge them at the Right Level
Whenever any of the students got stuck writing their code, I would ask them to take a quick break if they needed to, and challenge them to solve the problem when they return. More often than not, they quickly got into solving the problem, as solving a challenge given by a teacher gives them a great sense of accomplishment.
However, it is important to take note of the abilities of the children, and challenge them at the right level. Giving them a challenge that is not within their capabilities will discourage them, doing more harm than good. It is important to observe the capabilities of the children, and create challenges that are slightly outside of their comfort zone.
In the Coding Lab curriculum, there are many different problems and challenges available, designed for different levels of abilities to bring out the best in your child.
Moral of the story:Challenges and competitions are a great (and fun) way to get the children involved and motivated. This way, you can push the child to achieve more, and build their confidence.
Wednesday, 1630: As I boarded the flight back to Singapore, I couldn’t help but review the memories of my experience in Japan. All in all, it was amazing and I really enjoyed the chance to make an impact in the students’ lives during my time in Coding Lab Japan. On top of that, I experienced the wonderful culture of Japan and visited many beautiful places.
I have truly learned a lot from the teams in both Japan and Singapore and the experience has been invaluable.
Coding Lab was privileged to be a part the Parents’ Learning Festival 2018. Our founder, Mr Foo Yong Ning was an invited panelist where he addressed issues on S.T.E.A.M. Learning in this digital Age.
Key issues debated included the way learning has changed in the 21st Century (where students are now taught to think and apply what they have learned, rather than rote memorisation of notes), as well as the implications of this in countries all over the world, comparing the technology adoption rate of Singapore with other countries such as China and India (Eg. Cashless Payment and mobile apps).
Our co-founder, Candice also gave a talk on Coding: The Language of the Future, where she shared more on how coding is not a separate subject, but rather, a language or a skill that can be applied to all disciplines, including Math and Science.
Whilst the parents were busy with their talks, students also had lots fun with their first foray into coding at our class conducted during the festival.
We are featured in the August – October 2018 issue of Little Magazine! Read on to discover what our Founder, Yong Ning and our Curriculum Advisor, Julius have to share on why Coding is so important for the children of today’s digital age.
Our team had the opportunity to catch up with our talented student, Josephine, 14. A member of her school’s Infocomm club, she started with Coding Lab in 2017, where she was first introduced to Python programming. She has since progressed upward and can now count programming in C++ as another skill under her belt. This humble and intelligent student shares with us her journey in programming and why she enjoys the challenge it poses for her.
Hi Josephine! Could you share with us how you got started on coding?
I started coding at the end of 2017, mostly due to school’s influence because I am in the Infocomm club. I like computers so I thought I might as well try coding and see if my interest lies there. So that is how I started researching on coding – lessons and which ones I can join.
How was the learning experience and what did you like about it?
I started with Python and it was very fun! Honestly! It was new and it was fun. It was something other than school work so it was great. I guess afterward I became more and more interested so I kept continuing the lessons. And I think another part of Python that I really enjoyed was Python Perfect which was basically coding challenges. I would work on different challenges each week, to devise a solution to the problems. I really enjoyed it and that kept my interest sustained.
I started with Python and it was very fun! I really enjoyed Python Perfect which was basically coding challenges.
I know you are preparing for the NOI competition. How does it differ from your previous Python lessons?
NOI is a completely different language – which is C++. Initially, the first day was quite hard to convert over to C++ because the syntax is quite different. But right now I find it quite fun.
How does C++ compare to Python?
I think it’s the same. Both require logical thinking and designing algorithms. But C++, because it is an NOI lesson – the challenges are really hard. Harder than the Python ones. So they are quite hard to deal with and I feel like my brain is exploding sometimes (laughs) but it is still fun!
How does it help you in school? Do you think it is an essential skill to learn?
When I code in school, I do see some of my friends getting interested in it. They will ask me about it. I told my CCA teacher that I am taking Python lessons outside of infocomm because Infocomm doesn’t do any Python lessons. I enjoy thinking – especially the application of school mathematics to Python. I get really excited when I see lines and lines of code (yes, really!).
I enjoy thinking – especially the application of school mathematics to Python.
What career would you like to pursue in the future?
I cannot very confidently say I would like to code for the rest of my life (laughs). But definitely more towards the area of Science. I think it is an extremely important skill to have because society is fast-paced now.
Technology is getting more and more advanced so in the future, it will be hard to survive in the world when you have absolutely no idea what is happening behind the computers, the AI, and the robots.
Josephine, 14, is a student at Raffles Girls’ School. She started off with our basic Python course and recently attended our NOI preparation class this summer. The National Olympiad in Informatics (NOI) is organized by NUS School of Computing annually to spur interest within the school community and to create more awareness among the students and teachers on the finer points of programming, which involves useful algorithmic techniques and problem-solving skills.
#Girl Power: Meet Sarah, our talented young coder. Starting from ground zero, she has come a long way – after all, she clinched an Honourable mention at the National Olympiad in Informatics (NOI) in March 2018, in just less than six months of learning to code. How did she do it? Read more from our plucky student as she shares with us her journey with coding and how it has impacted her life.
Q: Tell us how you got started with coding. What do you like most about it? Sarah: It was Coding Lab that sparked my interest in coding. In the past, I’d never imagined using a computer for anything more than a Google search. But after a few lessons at Coding Lab, as I began to take my first steps into the Python programming language, I fell head over heels in love with coding. My interest surprised even myself! My teacher Mr. Foo is truly inspirational. As I started with no coding experience, he guided me with infinite patience and would be more than happy to fill the board with diagrams and explanations just to make sure that I completely understood a concept. His enthusiasm really got me into coding- passion for coding is contagious! I started out with the Python meets Math course and I think it’s a great course for easing complete beginners like me into computers and coding. After you complete the course, you’ll have enough programming knowledge to read and understand code, pick up new languages and, most importantly, explore things through coding.
Sarah, with her family, trekking in the USA
Q: It took you less than six months to participate in your first coding competition. How did you manage that? Sarah: Well, The one thing I like most about coding is the freedom and possibility it presents. The fundamentals of coding are quite simple, but there’s so much that you can do just using variables, functions, and loops! I understood this when I was learning Python, but only truly appreciated it when I began learning algorithms and C++ to take part in the NOI. Mr. Foo started teaching me sorting algorithms about halfway through my December break, and I still remember my delight when I realized that I was beginning to explore coding at deeper and very relevant level. That’s why I decided to try out the NOI as a personal challenge. It was tough, but fun!
“After learning about graphs and data structures, I saw how coding can be used for modelling and organizing real-world information- just thinking about it makes me excited!”
Q: That’s really impressive! Not many would dare to compete so quickly! How did you feel about it? Sarah: Well, I think I just felt that there was nothing to lose! I was definitely a little nervous before the competition, but I always saw it as just another stepping stone to an even better understanding of coding. I faced a steep learning curve while preparing for the competition, but I enjoyed every minute of it.
Sarah, receiving her award at the NOI competition in March 2018
Q: Now that the competition is over, what else do you think you want to do with coding? Sarah: I’ve really just brushed the surface of computer science. Coding is really a language, and just like someone learning a second spoken language, I’m still learning how to express myself and get my ideas down in clean (and readable!) code. I know that this only comes with practice and experience, so in the meantime, I plan to continue my journey into the awesome world of algorithms. I really want to be able to understand algorithms on a high level so that I can comfortably modify them and use them to solve complex problems. I hope that someday I can even design sophisticated algorithms myself! Apart from that, I also want to explore coding for modelling and simulations. That also makes me very excited.
Q: Designing algorithms – that’s fantastic. Could you share with us why you think learning to code is so important? Sarah: Coding is an important skill to have not just because people with a coding background earn higher salaries- more than that, coding gives you power over the technology that will only play an increasingly significant role in your life. Speaking from a teenager’s perspective, there’s never a day when I don’t use my phone or computer. Coding also opens your mind to a different way of thinking.
“I find myself applying the logic and analytical skills I’ve picked up in coding both in school and in everyday life.”
Q: Apart from coding, what else do you like to do in your spare time? What’s a typical day for you like; how do you unwind at home after school? Sarah: Well, to be honest, coding has slowly become the hobby I really enjoy- but I still love baking! When I’m not studying or coding, I’m usually in the kitchen covered in flour or busy scouring blogs for recipes. I’m also learning tai chi fan, which I find a fun and challenging exercise. And yes! fishkeeping is one of my hobbies and I rear Discus fish at home.
Q: Coding, baking, fishkeeping – way cool! so what do you think you will end up doing when you grow up? Sarah: I’m still rather tentative when it comes to my career aspirations, but I really want to study math and computer science in college. And I honestly can’t imagine myself in a job unrelated to either of these fields- so maybe I’ll end up as a coder, who knows!
Q: We hope so too! Lastly, in the current field of STEM, there is sometimes the mistaken impression that it is ‘only for boys’. How do you think girls can be encouraged to pursue their passion in Math, Science and coding? Do you have any tips for young girls who want to code? Sarah: To all girls who are thinking about getting into coding, my advice is to not be afraid and try it out! It’s never too late to begin coding, and everyone- even experienced coders- has been a newbie at some point in time. If you find that you really like coding, then go ahead and explore at your own pace, and don’t forget to enjoy every moment! Starting to learn how to code is the hardest part.
“You’ll definitely encounter problems and get frustrated at times, but with patience, there’s nothing that you can’t achieve. There’s no one who can’t or shouldn’t learn how to code.”
Also- speaking from experience, it’s easy to be overwhelmed by the troves of information online. Don’t let this get the better of you. Just take things step by step. Break down a hard concept into bite-sized chunks. If you need a couple days to process something, that’s perfectly fine! Coding is a lifelong journey. Personally, even though I’ve learned a lot in the past few months I only feel that the more I learn, the more I realize that I don’t know.
“It’s weird but true- so just be sure take the time to appreciate what you’re learning, and don’t be intimidated by the vastness of coding, because that’s where all the possibility lies, and that’s what makes coding beautiful!”
Sarah is currently a JC1 student at Hwa Chong International. She attended Python Meets Math class from 2017 – 2018 and received an honourable mention at the 2018 NOI competition, in less than six months after she picked up coding.
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