Clojurebridge experience as teaching assistant
I have been learning Clojure/ClojureScript over the last three months in my spare time. I felt lucky to be asked to volunteer to be a teaching assistant for the ClojureBridge event held at USwitch on the 19th and 20th Feb 2016.
I was feeling apprehensive initially due to my limited exposure to a functional programming language and most of the teachers and teaching assistants were either working full time with Clojure or had several years of playing with Clojure and were using a Mac while I have used Windows laptop to play with Clojure. The environment was friendly and everyone was ready to help each other making everyone feel welcome.
Clojurebridge is an event aimed for people identifying themselves as female or nonbinary with the purpose of introducing Clojure and widening the Clojure community. The event was sponsored by USwitch and Shutl mainly and made possible with the 6 teachers and several teaching assistants giving their Friday evening and Saturday to the community happily. Some of the attendees with some experience in Clojure decided to be a teaching assistant instead of being a student on the day. Our roles were versatile.
I am still settling in my new job I started this month working longer hours to get comfortable with the different technologies used. which didn’t leave much time to prepare additional material for the event. I did a talk sharing my experience about learning Clojure at London Clojurians Group beginning of this month
I was thinking of building something fun may be a game to inspire the audience to start playing for Clojure but did not have enough time to build anything. I spent the time familiarising and working through the exercises of the ClojureBridge curriculum to get ready for the event
Since I have experience using Clojure on a Windows laptop, I was helping mostly students having windows to install the tools needed for the ClojureBridge event, i.e. leininghen, lightable, github (to pull clojure projects from github) and java jdk during the install fest on Friday evening to get the CLojure setup for Saturday. There were around 25 attendees trying to download the software around the same time causing the internet connection to drop several times slowing the download for the student I was trying to help.
We were pampered with pizzas, salad and beers which were welcome especially after a long day at work on Friday evening. The organisers, Denise Yu, Chris Howe-Jones, John Stevenson and others made sure we have tasty healthy food and drinks to keep going. For breakfast, bagels with different fillings, pastries, coffee and juice were provided. Much to our delight, we had chinese food for lunch followed by ClojureBridge cookies which I was reluctant to eat because they look perfect.
We started Saturday morning with lightning talks by John Stevenson, Philip Potter and Chris Ford (live music code compiling @ http://ctford.github.io/klangmeister/).
The attendees were divided into three categories: new to programming, developers with no experience with Clojure and adventurous developers with some knowledge of Clojure. Teachers and teaching assistants picked the level of groups they were willing to teach. I picked the group with no programming experience. I was the teaching assistant and Waldemar Schwan was the teacher. He has done a brillant job teaching by using examples and the girls in our group were soon enthused to ask questions.
The newer version of LighTable 0.8.1 does not have the instarepl and the curriculum still has reference to instarepl. Waldemar was ingenious to suggest using a new file (.clj) to write code and evaluate line by line. The advantage was the student could save their work and evaluate only lines they wanted to run. Unfortunately LightTable seem to crash randomly on the attendees’ laptop and my classic solution was to close and reopen LightTable. Almost all attendees have a Mac with a few exceptions who had Windows. The UI of lightTable is similar with different keys to perform different actions.
The girls were amazing and were adventurous enough to go beyond the exercise. They tried to do a S shape and K shape with the Walk the Turtle exercise. (S and K are initials of two of the attendees) and one went on to create her extended family tree using map of maps. The inherent use of parentheses seem a hard to get used to but they would instantly correct it if their line of code does not run. The terminology was confusing one of the attendee thought vector was a list while list is a different data collection which was not mentioned in the curriculum. We got asked questions regarding immutability of data and tried our best to explain the power of immutable data collections. However it was harder to explain mutability of the atom and how it works well with immutable data collections to maintain states of an application.
The morning went smoothly and the afternoon I felt the attendees needed some time to process whatever was covered in the morning to continue with more concepts.
We finished the day with a retrospective so as we can get the feedback of the attendees to help improve the event in the future. Everyone seem to have enjoyed the event. Some wanted it to last longer while others wanted it to be shorter.