Let’s celebrate Women’s History Month with an extremely unique and highly interactive learning activity that honors the contributions of both Grace Hopper and Eugenie Clark, two luminaries in the fields of computer science and marine biology, respectively. Let’s write computer code for sharks!
The story of Grace Hopper is, while not well known, at least well circulated in the technology world —there’s even an annual event in her name, the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing! Grace Hopper was a truly remarkable woman, earning a PhD in Math from Yale in 1934, inventing the COBOL programming language, and rising to the rank of rear admiral in the U.S. Navy. Fun fact: Hopper coined the term ‘bug’ for computer errors! The programming portion of this Writing Code for Sharks activity is in her honor.
Eugenie Clark, on the other hand, earned her fame far away from a keyboard —she did her work underwater with sharks and other marine life. The amazing “Shark Lady” first became enamored with life under the sea during a chance visit to an aquarium at age 9, a story that reminds us how impressionable our children are at that amazing age. The shark sprite we are choosing in this coding activity is dedicated to Eugenie Clark.
What You’ll Need
- a computer
- Internet access
Request from your library (or buy from Amazon or your local bookstore) the children’s books Girls Think of Everything: Stories of Ingenious Inventions by Women, Grace Hopper: Computer Whiz (Famous Inventors) and Shark Lady: True Adventures of Eugenie Clark. Spend time reading all three to and with your kids to fully understand and appreciate these brilliant women and how their passions began as young children.
How To Start Coding Sharks
First, let me give a big high five to my computer coding pal Ryan E. Hamilton at Life of Dad for his help with this activity. Please check out Ryan’s wonderful Daddy Dev podcast with his young son to explore more lessons in coding for kids. He teaches kids (and me) a very valuable coding and life lesson: everything in the world functions with 1) sequences, 2) loops and 3) conditionals (if/then scenarios). That’s important knowledge as we begin to code our shark!
Now, visit Scratch, the free interactive online coding website for kids from MIT, and click through the Getting Started with Scratch tabs on the right hand side of the page. This will serve as a good primer for using the coding interface. Now click on New Sprite / Animals and select the shark (of course, after your child writes code for a shark underwater, she can go wild exploring the endless possibilities on Scratch). Next, pick the appropriate under the sea background for your shark (there are three to choose from) and begin selecting the sequences, loops and conditionals to make your shark dance, twirl, talk, and so much more.
While Scratch is obviously not only having your child write the code to make a shark (or any other sprite) move, it is introducing and reinforcing my friend Ryan’s assertion that the entire world functions with sequences, loops and conditionals. Once those basic coding principles are engrained, the next step is to become fluent in the languages of computer programming. But that is an activity for another day!