Meet Alicia. At 16 years old and with just two years of coding, she came up with the novel idea of a program that would allow drivers to check the availability of public carparks – and breathed life into it in just two hours during her Data Analytics class. We finally got to catch up with our student, who took the time during her ski trip to Italy to respond to our questions.

Hi Alicia! Could you tell us about what your program does?

Alicia: It aims to help drivers check the availability of Singapore’s public carparks – all in real-time. The program allows the user to input the carpark number that they wish to park at. In response, the program will inform users of the number of lots available at the specified carpark. As such, the driver will be able to head to another carpark if that carpark was full, saving time and fuel.

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What gave you the idea for the program? 

Alicia: I remembered that there were several incidents where my parents encountered difficulties finding a carpark during peak hours and we wasted a lot of time driving around the area searching for an available carpark. It came to my mind that the data analysis program can be useful and convenient for carpark users to check real-time carpark availability beforehand. 

What were some considerations you had to factor in when making the program? 

Alicia: I considered my limited coding knowledge and decided to create a simple yet useful program. The program’s only function was to check for the carpark availability of the public carparks in Singapore which made it convenient and time-saving for the user. I hope to turn this simple program into an app that I can manage and upgrade in future, with more navigation functionalities.

“Don’t rush yourself to attain results and instead enjoy the process of learning!”

What were some challenges you faced when developing the program? 

Alicia: One of the challenges that I faced was processing the carpark availability data from the Singapore Government Data website. I had to manually go through the massive data and extract the carpark number and carpark availability by trial-and-error. Luckily, my Coding Lab mentor, Ms Mona Tan, was very patient and helpful. Whenever I faced problems in running the program, she will give me some pointers to guide me through my thought process.

Alicia, 16, a Nanyang Girls' High School student, picked up coding as she was inspired by the changes and solutions that arose from Artificial Intelligence and coding.
Alicia, 16, a Nanyang Girls’ High School student, picked up coding as she was inspired by the changes and solutions that arose from Artificial Intelligence and coding.

What advice would you give to young coders who are new to coding? 

Alicia: Don’t be too ambitious when you have just started to code! It is important to have a final goal in mind when it comes to a project, however, it’s important to take it step by step to reach your final goal, instead of rushing towards your final aim. As you get more familiar with the programming language and more experienced in coding, you will be able to constantly upgrade your project, reaching your final goal eventually. Don’t rush yourself to attain results and instead enjoy the process of learning!

Alicia, 16, is a student at Nanyang Girls’ High School. She started off with our basic Python (S101) course in 2017 and has since progressed to S201 Data Analytics and C++ programming, where she participated in the National Olympiad in Informatics 2019.

She has also taken on various projects to simplify sales analysis and performance reports at her uncle’s organisation, and has plans to create an app to showcase his products. She is currently in the Nanyang Science Mentorship Programme with I2RASTAR, where she regularly applies the MATLAB and Machine Learning techniques she has garnered.

Did you catch Tiny Thinkers at the National Library Board’s (NLB) kidsREAD 15th Anniversary Carnival?

Thinzar, the President of Tiny Thinkers, explaining the Junior Computational Thinking kits to the children at booth.
Thinzar, the President of Tiny Thinkers, explaining the Junior Computational Thinking kits to children at the booth.

On 9th November, Tiny Thinkers was invited to celebrate the 15th anniversary of NLB’s kidsREAD programme. Tiny Thinkers had a booth for children to kickstart their Computational Thinking journey with our Junior Computational Thinking kit. The kit, developed by Tiny Thinkers and supported by the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA), allows children to plan a character’s story and also included hands-on activities for parents to complete with their children at home.

President Halimah Yacob with (from left) Ms Low Tze Hui, Manager of Infocomm Media Development Authority and her son, Thinzar, President of Tiny Thinkers, Candice, Co-Founder of Coding Lab,
Our Tiny Thinkers team (in orange), Coding Lab Co-Founder Candice (third from left), and Amazon Web Services volunteers (in blue) taking a photo with President Halimah Yacob and Ms Low Tze Hui (far left), Manager, Infocomm Media Development Authority, and her son, Luke.

Thank you to President Halimah Yacob, Mr S Iswaran (Minister for Communications and Information), and Ms Low Tze Hui, for stopping by our booth to find out more about Tiny Thinkers and our goals for the children of Singapore!

Luke showing President Halimah Yacob what he learned from the Tiny Thinkers Junior Computational Thinking kit. (Source: President Halimah's Facebook page)
Luke even had the opportunity to show President Halimah Yacob what he learned from the Tiny Thinkers Junior Computational Thinking kit. (Source: President Halimah Yacob’s Facebook, MCI Photo by Lee Jia Wen)

Tiny Thinkers is proud to have been able to collaborate with NLB to reach out to more parents about the importance of Computational Thinking in today’s digital economy. This is especially relevant as this year’s kidsREAD programme was focused on promoting Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts and Mathematics.

A volunteer from Amazon Web Services guiding two young children through the Junior Computational Kits.
A volunteer from Amazon Web Services guiding two young children through the Junior Computational Kits.

Throughout the year, we worked closely with NLB to hold free one-hour workshops titled ‘Tiny Thinkers On The Go’ at Tampines and Jurong Regional Libraries, where our Junior Computational Thinking kits were also distributed. We hope that participants of all our Tiny Thinkers events enjoyed completing the kit activities and that this jumpstarts their interests in computational thinking!

Thank you to all the Amazon Web Services (AWS) volunteers from AWS InCommunities and Connect@Amazon for collaborating with us for this event!
Thank you to all the Amazon Web Services (AWS) volunteers for collaborating with us for this event!

We also want to thank our Amazon Web Services volunteers who helped us to guide the children and spread the word about computational thinking among the event’s participants! We couldn’t have reached out to as many people without their assistance, persistence and love.

Mr S Iswaran, Minister for Communications and Information, dropped by our booth to have a chat with Thinzar, President of Tiny Thinkers, and our Amazon Web Services volunteers.
Mr S Iswaran, Minister for Communications and Information, also dropped by our booth to have a chat with Thinzar, President of Tiny Thinkers, and our Amazon Web Services volunteers.

Tiny Thinkers will also continue to collaborate with NLB next year, where free Junior Computational Thinking Kits will be given out to 3,500 participants of the kidsREAD programme to equip them with the tools to be digitally-ready.

More children trying their hand at our Junior Computational Thinking kits!
More children trying their hand at our Junior Computational Thinking kits!

If you weren’t able to get a kit this year, fret not! We know that as parents, we all want to give our children a headstart in this digital age. Do keep a lookout on our Tiny Thinkers page (or Facebook page) for updates on what we’re doing and on our future events!

Another Amazon Web Services volunteer assisting participants in Computational Thinking.
Another Amazon Web Services volunteer assisting participants in Computational Thinking.

2020 definitely looks like an exciting year ahead for our Tiny Thinkers!

About kidsREAD
A nationwide reading programme launched in 2004, it encourages positive attitudes towards reading and aims to inculcate good reading habits among young Singaporeans of all races, and especially those from low-income families.

For more information, please click here.

About Tiny Thinkers
A non-profit campaign by Coding Lab that aims to empower and educate parents to kickstart their little one’s journey in Computational Thinking.

For more information, please click here.

Coding Lab was invited to be a part of Project We Care Garden Party at the Istana on 1st September 2019. Our founders and volunteer tutors were on-hand and eager to impart their coding knowledge to people of all ages at the booth.

Coding is for everyone of any age!
Coding is for everyone of any age!

The bi-annual social wellness event by the People’s Association reached out to 1,500 beneficiaries from low-income families, the less privileged children, and the elderly. Visitors to Coding Lab’s booth were treated to a programming feast as they got to code Photon robots to ‘eat’ mooncakes, ketupats, putu mayams and cupcakes (Each delicacy representing one of the major ethnic groups in Singapore!).

Our Founders with Mr Chan Chun Sing, Deputy Chairman of the People's Association and Minister for Trade and Industry, at the Project We Care event.
Our Founders with Mr Chan Chun Sing, Deputy Chairman of the People’s Association and Minister for Trade and Industry, at the Project We Care event.

Coding Lab has been working to bring programming to communities as part of this initiative. Our volunteers have taught Python to youths and conducted workshops on app usage for the elderly. We are proud to do our part in spreading digital literacy in Singapore.

It’s Coding Lab’s honour to be a part of Project We Care Garden Party at the Istana, where we were able to showcase and share with others the joy of coding and programming. Thank you to the People’s Association for giving us the opportunity to participate in this meaningful initiative to give back to the community – we can’t wait for our next corporate social responsibility event!

About Project We Care

Started in 2012 by People’s Association, the project aims to rally businesses to contribute to meaningful causes in the community and to encourage volunteerism. The bi-annual Garden Party @ Istana partners with corporations to bring joy to beneficiaries through fun and engaging activities.

To find out more about Project We Care, click here.

Coding Lab and Tiny Thinkers were at the inaugural Smart Nation & U event on 30th November and 1st December to spread the coding word to families through fun. If you weren’t there, here’s the rundown on the things that happened!

Wai Yee, our Operations Manager, sharing with a parent what we do here at Coding Lab.
Wai Yee, our Operations Manager, sharing with a parent what we do here at Coding Lab.

The collaborative two-day event between Smart Nation and Digital Government Office and National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) was held at Downtown East to share how new technologies are transforming the ways that we work, live and play. Indeed, the future is digital and it is essential to spark interests in tech – especially in our children.

A participant using a micro:bit to play a Scratch game.
A participant using a micro:bit to play a Scratch game.

Coding Lab engaged children with our wireless micro:bits, which were connected to Scratch games on the laptop. This gave them a peek into what we do in our Young Computer Scientists (for ages 7 to 9) and Advanced Computer Scientists (for ages 10 to 12) classes.

Lakshmi, Head of Marketing at Tiny Thinkers, getting parents and their children acquainted with the workshop and tips on how they can navigate in a Smart Nation.
Lakshmi, Head of Marketing at Tiny Thinkers, getting parents and their children acquainted with the workshop and sharing tips on how they can navigate in a Smart Nation.

On the other hand, Tiny Thinkers held free Tiny Thinkers On The Go workshops that distributed free Junior Computational Thinking kits for exciting parent-child activities.

Parents working on the Junior Computational Thinking kits alongside their child, and with the help of a Smart Nation Ambassador.
Parents working on the Junior Computational Thinking kits alongside their child, and with the help of a Smart Nation Ambassador.

We would like to thank our participants for joining us at our workshops, as well as the Smart Nation Ambassadors who were on-hand and actively facilitated learning among parents and children!

Coding has no age limit – we shared information on coding with people of all ages!
Coding has no age limit – we shared information on coding with people of all ages!

Coding Lab and Tiny Thinkers are pleased to work with Smart Nation Singapore once again at the Smart Nation & U event, to move towards the goal of Singapore becoming a world-class city with a leading economy powered by digital innovation. We look forward to the next time that we get to join forces again!

About Smart Nation Singapore
It is a nationwide initiative by the Singapore Government to harness the power of technology to build a Digital Economy, Digital Government and Digital Society. It was first announced by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in 2014, who described the goal and future of this nation-building initiative as a Singapore “where we can create possibilities for ourselves beyond what we imagined possible”.

For more information, please click here.

How to choose the first programming language for your kids

Which programming language should I choose? Can my child really pick up programming when he is only 9 years old?

These are some of the common questions that we hear  from parents. Choosing the first programming language for kids can be a little confusing. However, if you are planning to send your children to kids coding classes, you may wonder which language your little ones should start with. Computer programming for kids should be a fun and enjoyable experience. You should choose a language that is easy to learn, lets your kids learn the basics quickly, and provides a strong online community to support its users. The options are many; hence the confusion. However, don’t worry! Here are some tips on how to choose the first programming language for your kids.

Important things to consider

First things first, identify your objective. What do your kids want to accomplish with coding? Once you have a set goal, choosing a language becomes easier. For instance, Python (the reigning global #1 language in popularity) is a great option for those planning to create games or seeking a lucrative career opportunity, going forward. Some other factors to consider include:

  • Whether it is easy to use for beginners – Ideally, your kids should start with a coding language that lets them understand the basics without having to learn the complex vocabulary and syntax first. If your kids speak English, you may want to choose a coding language that has a vocabulary similar to that of the English language. Also, check the level of difficulty one has to face when learning a language. You can join online forums and read reviews to get an idea of what would be the right choice for your kids. Another alternative to foster a child the interest in programming is to provide them with coding books so that they will be exposed to what programming world is all about.
  • Whether they have a strong community – If they have an active, responsive community, you can ask questions and get the answers quickly. This makes learning easier for your kids. Most of the popular languages have a large, responsive community. Let’s take a look at some good options.

Popular programming languages for kids

Scratch – Suitable for Ages 8 upwards, Scratch is one of the most popular language options to start your kids on programming. It is the introductory programming language in many acclaimed universities around the world, including the Harvard University. This graphic based coding language is easy to learn and is highly recommended as the first language to start on. We also like the fact that preschoolers as young as 5 can create their own programming stories with their Scratch Junior for tablets!

MIT App Inventor – Like Scratch, MIT lets your kids’ innovate and improve their creative thinking ability, using a simple drag and drop interface. It also gives them a chance to create video games on their mobile devices, making it easy for the whole family to beat each other’s high score over dinner.

Python – We would recommend that your child moves on to Python after he has gotten a sold grasp of programming concepts and computational thinking using Scratch or MIT App Inventor, both of which cut down the tedium of memorising syntax and let kids skip straight to the actual programming with immediate output that they can understand.

That being said, the best thing about Python is that it can be used for many purposes, starting from creating web apps and video games to extracting data from the web. If your kids are good at mathematics, they will love to see the practical application of their math lessons in Python. Also, starting from 2017, 19 schools in Singapore will include Python as a key component of the “O” Levels for the subject, Computing.

Final thoughts

Starting your child on programming, like any new skill, requires constant practice. Regardless of which language you choose, computational thinking is an integral part of life. Don’t underestimate how you can help them along by spending quality time with them; for example, asking them to solve debugging puzzles every night, or even debating logically based on facts over dinner over different topics. Let them design robot cars that carry the keys to you every morning, or maybe even a doorbell for the house. Hopefully, these little projects will continue to inspire them to not only pick up programming, but also adopt it as a lifelong hobby.

Myths about Kids Learning Coding

The fastest learning happens from ages five to twelve years. If you want your kids to learn to code, you should enrol your children in kids coding classes as early as possible. Learning programming helps kids think analytically and develop their problem-solving skills. However, there are still many misconceptions about who should learn to code. For instance, some parents have a misconception that one should have extraordinary IQ and math skills to be able to learn to code. Even many schools in Singapore have not made it a part of their curriculum as yet. Here are some common myths about kids learning to code.

Kids are too young to learn to code

Age is no bar for anyone, including kids, to learn to code. In fact, many governments all over the world are considering whether they should include kids programming classes in the school curriculum. Writing code is a healthy exercise for the mind and with the introduction of visual languages like Scratch and Alice, it has become much more interactive and easier for the kids to learn to code. Nowadays, kids can even learn to code on online platforms that combine gaming with coding.

Young girls should not be encouraged to code

Another rumour floating in the coding world is that girl children should not be taught to code. Computer science is wrongly seen as a subject only for males. In fact, the world’s first programmer, Ada Lovelace, was a woman. The lower ratio of female programmers to male programmers should not discourage you from sending your daughter to kids programming classes. It can help them think better.

Coding requires a lot of time

This is not true because children can pick up programming quite easily. Teachers often do not integrate coding into the curriculum because of the little classroom time. The fact is that coding can easily be combined with other conventional subjects. However, coding classes outside school can engage kids better, by way of interactive games and activities.

Coding needs expensive devices and technology

Introducing kids to coding need not be an expensive process. Some websites offer free resources, lessons and tutorials and apps like Tynker and LightBot to make coding fun. The Raspberry Pi computer is an affordable tool to start with. By sending your kids to coding classes, you can expose them to beginner-level hardware and technology. If all kids in a class do not have their own kits, collaborative coding projects can help.

 

It should be taught only to aspiring computer programmers

This is a blatant lie, as knowledge of computer programming is desirable in most fields today. It is estimated that by 2020, most job descriptions would require candidates to have basic IT skills. Thus, why computer programming courses for kids in Singapore is on a rise. Even otherwise, computer programming is a lucrative and rewarding career option.