Summer is supposed to be a time for relaxing, no studying and ignoring everything that may have anything to do with school or using our brains for most of us. However, when your parents worry that your brain might actually stop working if you don't do something useful, quite often you end up coming back to school more tired than you went away. This year, as one of my more interesting activities (between looking after a farm and writing a full diary in Chinese...) I got to go on a computing course in Cambridge. New this year, it is already so popular that it has received bookings for next year.
So, everybody agrees, computer coding is boring, right? It's literally just typing words from a piece of paper onto a screen. So why would I go on a one week course that could end up just burning loads and loads of useless words into my permanent memory? Well, on this course, I got to make my own computer game, programme Instagram filters and even code a drone to fly around an obstacle course. Not only this, but some of the stuff wasn't even given to us on a piece of paper... We had to work out our own way to make a power up appear or change our photos to have multicolour stripes appear across it (like the gay pride Facebook profile pics recently).
Throughout the week we worked off an online work sheet, taking the code and changing it to fit our own programmes. We would work through the activities in pairs (apparently it stopped people making so many mistakes, but I think it was to force us to socialise; sometimes stereotypical nerds can be stereotypically antisocial...), stopping every so often for one of the helpers to explain the reason we're doing the next part and how it actually works. If we got into trouble with our coding- it wasn't working (which happened way more often than it should have; coding errors are a lot harder to spot than you would think) or you wanted to make your programme do something weird (like you want your photo filter to colour in people's eyes red) then one of the teachers or interns would come over and work out what needs changing, show you, and then explain why that was a problem/why what they did worked. The atmosphere was great and really encouraging- it was normal to make mistakes and sometimes you could work out a piece of code that even the teachers struggled with, just through trial and error.
So, what did I actually make during this week? Well, here are some pictures of each of my finished projects- a flappy batman game (like flappy bird but with batman and power-ups) with it's own website and a high-score log, a couple of different filters over pictures of Totoro (the cats were a different group's; despite the fact that we were mostly glued to our screens, we still had time to socialise) and a drone about to take off (not sure if that's the one I programmed or the one that another group hacked mid way through the course and got to work off a remote control- you can't really tell by a picture of it sitting on the floor...).
The question that is probably now really bugging all of you is "what on earth does this have to do with maths and why am I reading this?". Well, maths is actually the core element of coding. Yes, part of it is being able to learn the language, but a lot of that is based on maths and the algorithms that you're writing normally need sums and equations. Game programming requires an understanding of probability to make the right amount of power ups. You need to be able to calculate how many pixels you want a picture to be to the right or down on a page. In fact, the whole base of a computer is written in binary- a series of 1s and 0s. Maths applies to all aspects of computing, whether you're having to use it or not. And as to why you're reading this, I think that lots of people learn how to use Excel in year seven and think that that's all there is to computing. I'm trying to prove that computing can be fun and can help you create things relevant to you. Also, lots of people don't appreciate how big of a part of our lives computer programming play. All the technology and apps you use have to be programmed before they work. Programming is a huge sector to go into work in (not only that, but if you get good you could be the next Bill Gates).
Cambridge Coding Academy is a summer school for 14-21 year olds and I would seriously recommend that anyone with a passion for maths of even just the slightest interest in computers go, if they get the opportunity. This year they also ran an all girls course for about a third of the price and hopefully that will keep running next year.
Finally, I just wanted to direct anyone who might be interested to a fun piece of software for laptops/computers for experimenting on. It's called Sonic Pi and you can use it to create your own music, but using computer code. It is hugely fun and you don't need any knowledge of computer languages to use it- everything is clearly explained on their website and simple to use. It's also free. Have fun with it!