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Penn’s Graduate School of Education is helping to make coding more visual.

In celebration of Computer Science Education Week, GSE is organizing a series of programming workshops from Monday, Dec. 9 to Friday, Dec. 13.

The classes mark Penn’s involvement in the Hour of Code, a national campaign to increase enthusiasm for computer science and to encourage people all of all ages to learn how to code. The campaign is supported by figures such as Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates and President Barack Obama.

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GSE professor Yasmin Kafai has organized workshops for this week-long event in collaboration with the Free Library of Philadelphia.

Kafai stressed that the classes are “not about turning people into computer scientists,” but rather are meant “to give you a little appetizer” about what it means to program. She says that a basic understanding of this skill will be “essential” to a large number of people in their careers.

The classes work using stitch-cards provided by eCrafting Circles, a Philadelphia based online community which integrates technology and engineering into science education by using e-textiles — fabrics that allow digital components to be interwoven into them. Kafai, principal investigator of eCrafting Circles, explained that using these textiles assist student learning by moving computer technology into the physical world.

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A group of sophomores majoring in fine arts and digital media design have been helping to develop the concepts and graphics of stitch-cards — cards that incorporate e-textiles — with Orkan Telhan, a fine arts professor and co-principal investigator at eCrafting Circles.

Stitch-cards present a more visual way to understand computer programming, Telhan said. The cards “demonstrate the integration between design and technology” and have the ability to make computer science more accessible to groups that “feel a little bit marginalized” by current perceptions in computer science, Tellhan added. He hopes that events like these will help to address the issue of gender inequality in engineering.

Throughout the week, coding classes will be taught by GSE faculty and students, alongside members of the Free Library, at public venues across Philadelphia. GSE faculty and students will also be teaching at closed events at the Penn Alexander School and Lea Elementary Schools, and at one specifically for Penn students this Friday at GSE.

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GSE Research Coordinator Barrie Adleberg, one of the faculty members teaching the classes, encouraged students from all majors and minors to attend the class and “meet the challenge of the Hour of Code.”

The workshops are just one way in which eCrafting Circles is encouraging people to learn more about programming. StitchFest, a competition using an electronic textiles construction kit, will take place for the first time in February, as part of the PennApps 2014 Hackathon. Applications for StitchFest are available until Dec. 24.

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