TechWomen has started its first Virtual Delegation and I am one of the delegates from the Silicon Valley to Cameroon. On 14 June, I gave the online keynote speech on “Building a Global Network.” On 17 June, Maryann Hrichak and I (TechWomen Mentors) are leading a session on “Introduction to Physical Computing” with 100 students in Douala and Yaoundé, working with TechWomen Lead Fellows Janet Bih Shufor and Gisele Beatrice Sonfack.
Maryann and I will introduce the online discussion through the history of computing and weaving, specifically Jacquard looms, considered a precursor to modern computing technology. The idea for this approach came from my daughter Jessica Dickinson Goodman who was one of the Mentors on the 2018 TechWomen Delegation to Nigeria during which she gave a workshop on “Teaching Binary and Encryption Through Weaving.” Our Physical Computing session this week will be relatively short but we plan to cover the relationship of physical objects (like looms and yarn) to computing devices. We will show parts of the hands-on video “Personal Jacquard Weaving” and will end with a more futuristic view in the video “Knightscope – Present and Future” from Knightscope, the robotics company where my long-term TechWomen Co-Mentor, Mercedes Soria is Executive Vice President of Software Engineering, and Chief Intelligence Officer.
Some key dates from my introduction: 1804 Jacquard loom, 1837 Babbage Analytical Engine (programming by Ada Lovelace), 1884 Hollerith punched card tabulating machine (used in 1890 U.S. Census). Punch cards and paper tape continued in use until the 1990s.
Gisele and Janet will lead the students through an exercise using the MIT Media Lab’s Scratch program. Gisele wrote this about the exercise: “To control a system, or automate its operation, we use the variables which can be random or fixed depending on the type of sensors, we apply the conditions. Loops are uses to do the same thing infinitely. These concepts are the basics of physical computing.” This is their handout.
Here is our 17 June 2021 session plan:
- 10 minutes – Introduction to Physical Computing (Katy Dickinson & Maryann Hrichak) on Zoom, including Arduino weaving video segment
- 25 minutes – Scratch activity in two Zoom breakout rooms with about 50 students each, one in Douala (lead by Gisele), and the other in Yaoundé (lead by Janet), with ten TechWomen mentors helping
- 5 minutes – Reflection (Katy Dickinson & Maryann Hrichak) on Zoom, including Knightscope robots video
TechWomen is a mentoring program of the US State Department – Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.
Thanks to Jeannice Farrer Samani, Janet Bih Shufor, and others for their recommendations on materials below. During our TechWomen-Cameroon Physical Computing session, I knew many of the girls might have network connection problems or would not fully understand the Zoom-based presentations because we spoke in English and many of them are French speakers. I want the “References and Resources” to present inspiring materials they could read later. I selected physical computing examples focused on weaving and robotics and included women and girl role models not only from Cameroon and Africa but also from the U.S. I hope that the girls will find these materials helpful!
References and Resources:
- Adire African Textiles, “Loom Types in Sub-Saharan Africa,” Adire African Textiles (accessed 16 June 2021).
- Ismail Akwei, “All-girl Robotics Team from Ghana Wins World Robofest Championship in the U.S.,” Face to Face Africa, 20 May 2019.
- Lea Albaugh (Carnegie Mellon University, Human-Computer Interaction Institute), “Personal Jacquard Weaving,” ACM SIGCHI 2021, 7 May 2021. Arduino Team, “Weaving Just Got a Lot Better Thanks to this Arduino-controlled Jacquard Loom,” Blog.Arduino.CC, 5 June 2021.
- Black Nerd Problems, “Black Women in Robotics: Giving Birth to the Future,” BNP (accessed 14 June 2021).
- Gilda Nicole Brown, “Weaving, Coding, and the Secret History of ‘Women’s Work,'” FastCompany, 6 November 2019.
- Jessica Dickinson Goodman, “Teaching Binary and Encryption Through Weaving,” FeelingElephants, March 2018.
- Ron Eglash, “Teaching Kids how coding is in hair braiding, quilting, weaving and Latin Music,” PreparationTech, video 33 min. 6 sec., 21 November 2020.
- FIRST Global, “Team Cameroon 2019,” FIRST Global (accessed 15 June 2021).
- Christine Hauser, “Afghan Girls’ Robotics Team Overcomes Setbacks to Win Contest in Europe,” New York Times, 29 November 2017.
- Ayanna Howard, “Make Robots Smarter,” TED-Ed, video 6 min. 17 sec., 6 February 2013.
- Chris Mellor, “Enterprise storage: A history of paper, rust and flash silicon,” The Register, 9 September 2013.
- Danielle Newnham, “Interview with Robotics and Mechanical Engineer Camille Eddy,” Code Like a Girl, 21 March 2019.
- Xaviera Nguefo, “Xaviera Nguefo Kowo, Robotics for Development,” Africa News Agency, 26 March 2021.
- Inna Lazareva, “From Robots to Girl Power, Getting Cameroon’s Women into Work,” Reuters, 29 July 2018.
- Chanelle Lutchman, “Robotic Team Breaks World Record,” Independent Online, 6 September 2018. (“Robotic Team from South Africa Wins Gold.”).
- Middle Tennessee State University, “Predict and Prevent: Q&A with Alumna Mercedes Soria,” MTSNews, 27 January 2020.
- MIT Edgerton Center, “Physical Computing,” MIT Makerspace Resources for K-12 Educators (accessed 15 June 2021).
- MIT Media Lab, “Scratch,” Massachusetts Institute of Technology (accessed 15 June 2021).
- TRT World, “Cameroon weavers use old skills to revive faltering tourism,” TRTWorld – News/Africa, 15 January 2018.
Additional Information from TechWomen Mentor Suzette Shipp:
- Culturally Situated Design Tools (CSDT), “Cos-Computing Outcomes – Upstate NY High School,” CSDT (accessed 22 June 2021).
- Nettrice Gaskins, “Hair Braiding is Technology,” Recess, August 2014.
- Snobette, “An Interview with Conceptual Hair Artist Joanne Petit-Frère,” Snobette, 24 May 2020.
- Joanne Petit-Frère: Instagram post 25 February 2018, Instagram post 31 March 2020, Instagram post 25 June 2019, Instagram post 25 June 2019.
Updated 22 June 2021
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