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Wrapping up the 6th Boston Python Workshop

by jesstess May 9th, 2012

The 6th Boston Python Workshop ran the weekend of March 30th at MIT.

Boston Python Workshop 6

This workshop marks a full year of diversity outreach with the Boston Python user group. Thank you to the amazing volunteers who have dedicated so much of their time this past year to making this workshop and this whole initiative such a success.

The Boston Python Workshop is a 1.5 day introduction to Python for women and their friends, focusing on beginning programmers. We had roughly 60 attendees and 15 volunteers staffing this event. This was the second workshop to utilize our grant from the Python Software Foundation’s Outreach and Education Committee; thank you to the PSF for supporting this outreach initiative here in Boston as well as other cities in the US.

The workshop structure was roughly the same as that of the 5th workshop:

Friday evening: laptop setup and first steps with Python

We assume no prior programming experience and require no prior laptop setup, so when you get to the workshop we help you install Python and set up your development environment, including installing a reasonable text editor for writing code and learning some basic command line navigation.

The bulk of Friday evening is dedicated to an online, self-directed tutorial covering basic data types and flow control. We reinforce the material through custom online CodingBat question.

Boston Python Workshop 6, Friday night

Saturday: interactive lecture and projects

  • 10am – Noon: an interactive lecture that builds on Friday’s material and covers lists, dictionaries, and iteration. Lecture ends with a state capitals quizzer that synthesizes the morning’s material.
  • Noon – 1pm: lunch and demos. Pam showcased a Lunar Lander clone written in PyGame that she’s creating with her son. Katherine talked about the excellent work being done with Boston University’s Artemis Project — a summer computer science program for rising 9th grade girls. I pitched matplotlib — a powerful plotting library and Excel alternative.
  • 1pm – 4pm: CodingBat review followed by splitting into groups to work through our afternoon projects.
  • 4pm – 4:30pm: wrap-up and next steps. Workshop alums are encouraged to attend the next monthly Boston Python Project Night, where we can continue to support them as they learn and practice Python.
Boston Python Workshop 6 attendees and volunteers

Saturday projects

We reinforce the lecture material through small, real-world Python projects. This is also an opportunity for attendees to collaborate and practice reading other people’s code.

  • Twitter: use the Twitter API to write parts of a Twitter client.
  • Wordplay: learn about regular expressions and how to cheat at Words with Friends.
  • ColorWall: program graphical effects for a pixel grid.

Reflection

We conduct an exit survey after every workshop and consistently get very thoughtful and helpful feedback from our attendees. I wanted to highlight an observation from this workshop’s exit survey:

I was listening to folks describing their backgrounds at lunch. You pulled in people from a wide range of interests an expertise. Yay for diversity!

We work very hard to advertise this event to a wide range of communities in the Boston area and to make sure that the event is accessible for as many people as possible, so it is great to see and hear that those efforts pay off.

One question we ask is about prior programming experience. This workshop, we got everything from an emphatic

“NONE”

to

“studied and did programming 30 years ago. Mainly C. Haven’t programmed in over 18 years. Gee — my oldest child is 18 … Even with that, I didn’t feel “old”, even with the teenager in the room :-) Looking to get back on the career track.”

How awesome is that? It is really gratifying to see people from such diverse computing backgrounds, as well as such a wide range of ages and cultural backgrounds, at our events.

Resources

Boston Python Workshop 6, Saturday projects

For more details about the 6th Boston Python Workshop, please check out:

Want to see an event like this in your city? Get in touch! Our material is all online and Creative Commons licensed.

-Jessica, for the Boston Python Workshop staff

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