Girls Learning Code – Roman’s perspective.


Instead of going to the field trip to New York, several people, me included, stayed in Toronto and volunteered at the Girls Learning Code camp. This is a special independent organization that helps children and adults to get familiar with various technological concepts, such as programming and web design. This particular camp was all about helping girls, from eight to thirteen years old, learn basics of web design in form of learning HTML and CSS.

Girls Learning Code

For me the camp started on Sunday before the first day, when I was going to the briefing and tutorial for volunteering mentors. I arrived about one and a half our earlier due to early departure because of unfamiliarity with the area and absence of traffic on Gardiner which is the scourge of my existence during rush hours. Therefore I was able to help with the setup of the camp which took about an hour.  There I met the camp coordinator Laura Plant, camp lead Kathryn Barrett and Lindsay Fry also one of the leaders. Then I and other three mentors, received rules and regulations forms explaining everything on how not to accidently sexually harass anyone, as well as some directions on actions during stressful situations. Particular point that attracted my attention was “Mentors are prohibited from… <other points> eliminating snacks.” I was quite curious what meaning did elimination mean in this context, total annihilation by eating or willful extermination using flamethrower – I did not know, but hesitated to ask Laura. Then Laura answered some general questions and we departed, anticipating the following first day.

On the first day I arrived half an hour early, at 8:00 AM to be there on time and meet everyone first. To do so I had to wake up at 5:00AM and take one of the earliest trains. On the spot I met few other mentors who were five to seven years older than me and long time working at different companies. Then the rest of the mentors arrived, the 80% of mentors who were FreshBooks employees and conveniently volunteered for half day while also being near work place. By 9:00AM first girls started arriving with their parents and one of the exceptionally extraverted mentors, whose name was Tyn, took them for a tour of the study area. After everyone was there Kathryn explained to girls the purpose of mentors such as myself, and a bit on corporate ethics – the trend was called “Warm Fuzzies” a bag where people could donate notes with positive feedback about the owner of the bag. As well as discussed several other formalities, such as general directions of the camp and learning outcomes. Then was the time to learn. I was assigned to a group called JavaScript, which I was proud of because some of the others were Python and Basic. The team started with generating the idea for the website. Due to my lack of educational knowledge I tried to not interfere with the process and only help with general directions, such as writing points out while brainstorming and voting for the best idea. Even though the cancer cell of “Endangered animals” was present in our group, all girls voted for the original idea of free WiFi. I call the topic above the cancer cell because 5 out of 8 groups were doing that topic, which does not mean it was bad, but rather rapidly growing in the closed society. As soon as the topic was selected, which took half day we went to have lunch. After lunch girls designed the logo for the team in Pixlr, looked at some basic ways to modify a website and studied some general structure of web pages. I was quite exhausted so I left as soon as my shift ended at 4:30PM.

The next day I volunteered was also the last one. Friday, was the presentation day, when girls showed their websites they made throughout the week to their parents and it seemed, the entire personnel of FreshBooks. I was very curious as to how my team managed throughout the week and what is the final version of what they planned looked like. This day Chris was also there so it was better and more cheerful than Monday. When I finally got to my group I discovered that they still were halfway through the task from last day. They inquired as to where have I been during the week, which surprised me, because I didn’t think they would remember me. So we had to rush through the Thursday assignment of making video using Mozilla Popcorn – web based video editor and to make things worse, also implementing it into the Mozilla Thimble – web development app. Since girls were relatively new to the software even with my help they were not doing that fast. Thankfully Kathryn came to rescue and helped the team. After lunch was final polishing round then girls went through the website practicing the presentation. And then the presentations happened… and it was over. Not much to say about presentations since parents were the target audience. Then everybody grabbed their Fuzzy Bags and left, while me and Chris stayed a little longer to help with the takedown of the camp. We helped to pack everything up and deliver it to the van, which took it to the mysterious place called – “The Lab”. Then me and Chris parted ways on the crossroads in front of FreshBooks building, I went north while he went south. Thus our bizarre adventure has ended.

Reflection: The experience received from this activity was probably incomparable to the New York one yet it was valuable. Girls were especially bright and picked up everything right away. As Kathryn wisely noticed – she learned all that in university, while kids can already get a hand of such advanced technology at such a young age. But personally the most important experience for me was to see the insides of a company such as FreshBooks which does financial advising for startup businesses and some promo-advertising. While mentoring on the first day I had a chat with a guy called Jeremy who is doing promotional video for FreshBooks and it was quite interesting to see how people use familiar to me technology to achieve such distant goals. Therefore as the conclusion every experience in life is valuable, yet some are more valuable than others and this one was definitely one of the important ones.