It’s the Halloween season and Preface Hackathon is infested by a bunch of friendly ghosts! On last Sunday, The Nomad recruited teams of App Inventor and Scratch students to find these ghosts using machine learning.
Building “Ghostbusters” with MIT App Inventor
This year many friendly ghosts hid inside QR codes. The mission of our ghostbusters (aka the App Inventor students) is to bust as many ghosts as possible – all done with a self-built app. Students learnt how to build a mobile app that makes use of QR code scanning and image recognition plugin to accomplish their mission in the Halloween-themed campus.
MIT Scratch – Digital Costume using Facial Recognition
Physical Halloween costumes are so predictable. This year our Scratch students created their very own digital costume using facial recognition technology. In this Hackathon, they learnt how to design and wear their own digital costumes using Scratch, and build interactive Halloween games using the facial recognition tech and motion sensors.
All our students are ready for Halloween with their own shiny apps this year, what about you?
The story of a tech noob often starts like this: if I’m not familiar with how XYZ is built, I shouldn’t be using it.
This is often the case as far as machine learning is concerned. However, if we regress a little and apply the same pattern to the case of using a microwave oven, it doesn’t seem to make much sense —
If I’m not familiar with how a microwave oven is built, I shouldn’t be using it.
Many of us are not engineers by trade, yet most of us have used a microwave oven before, and this is exactly what was proposed by Cassie Kozyrkov, Google’s Chief Decision Scientist — a machine learning model is like a microwave oven. It doesn’t take an engineer to know how to use it.
Build that Winning Recipe, Chef. Not the Microwave.
In her short presentation at the TNW Conference, Kozyrkov explained: “machine learning is a general-purpose tool that helps other people solve their business problems”, much like how a microwave oven is built to make food edible. What business executives should do is not to train staff on how to build a “microwave”, but to focus on forming a winning business strategy and consider what tools would help achieve that strategic vision. In other words, in order to make Michelin gourmet, it’s more important for the chef to create that jaw-dropping recipe than to understand how an industry-grade oven is built. We can leave that to a professional engineer.
The Machine Learning Attitude – Test, test, test.
Thanks to the engineers, you don’t need to know how to build the tools from scratch. However, there’re some important aspects to think about when applying machine learning to your businesses.
In another quick machine learning talk hosted by Google, Kozyrkov demonstrated that not all machine learning models are created equal. Some models may perform better than the others for certain purposes. Let’s take an example from the world of cooking again – it’s like rice cooker versus saucepan for cooking rice. A saucepan can do the job but it’s not quite the same. So, how do you know which machine model is good for your business?
Repeat after me — test, test, TEST.
“Don’t be afraid to fail and make mistakes. Before attaining the state of perfection, a machine learning model would have to fail many times in order to know what to improve. Failure is a necessary step. Test as many times as you can.” Kozyrkov advised that this “machine-learning attitude” is something important to have when integrating the tool as part of your business strategy. If you’re too scared to make mistakes, it’s almost certain that you’ll never succeed.
Feature Engineering – Convert Domain Knowledge into Good Solutions
In the terminology of machine learning, the process of picking the right data for your model is called Feature Engineering. Does it take an engineer to build the right features? No, but it does take a domain expert to decide what sort of data should be gathered and how to weigh their respective importance when looking for the right solution for a business problem. Again, that’s similar to building a recipe. This applies to every industry. From our very own experience as an educator, it takes not only data scientists to find out the right algorithm for providing the best learning experience for our programming students, but also the domain knowledge from education experts, researchers, and scholars.
In short, it’s not difficult to apply machine learning to your business as long as it fits into your business strategy. The key is to try until you find the right approach.
Alright cheffies, whenever you’re ready – it’s time to cook up a storm!
If you want to know what the future looks like, find out what Harvard is teaching and you’ll know.
Harvard University is known as the cradle for future world leaders. What is taught at Harvard today has a huge impact on what the world looks like tomorrow.
So what is the most popular course in Harvard today? According to the college, the honor goes to CS50, a programming course designed for all non-majors to pick up one of the most important skills to have today. The same course is offered at Yale University.
You may think that Harvard students would learn programming in the hardest way. Surprisingly, CS50 starts off with Scratch as an orientation lecture for Harvardians. The lecture is fun, engaging, and wildly exciting, thanks to the minimalistic nature of Scratch.
So, what is Scratch?
In simple words, Scratch is a programming language that functions like normal computer code but is put together like puzzle blocks. It takes away the complex syntax that frustrates beginners, and allows students to see results quickly. It doesn’t take a genius to build useful apps with Scratch in just one day. Anyone can do it with Scratch, even a young kid.
Our Scratch curriculum is designed into 2 parts, Theories and Applications. Much like a Computer Science degree, students first learn all the important concepts about programming, then they will apply what they’ve learnt in the Application phase and solve real-world problems in a programmatic way.
1-on-1 personal coaching
One difference that sets Preface apart from Harvard is the level of personalisation we offer. Each student will be trained by a personal coach. All lessons can be tailored to the student’s goals, level and interest.
At Preface, we serve a similar vision as Harvard for programming beginners. We want to make programming fun, and even addictive, so you will overcome the fear and lack of confidence for mastering one of the most important survival skills in the 21st century.
So if you want to learn Scratch before going to Harvard, come to us.
P.S. In case you wonder, here’s the first lecture of CS50 teaching Scratch:
It has been a busy summer for Preface — on top of coaching 300+ students in our Summer Bootcamps this year, our team has just returned from the MIT App Inventor Summit, one of the biggest developer summits in the world. During the 3-day summit, the Preface team interfaced with more than 1,000 developers and educators and presented the brilliant work of our students to the top technologists from all over the world.
Held by Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) right on their campus in Cambridge, MA, the summit was an eye-opening event that showcased the most innovative tech projects developed by App Inventor students and educators. Preface was invited as a distinguished educator to host an educator workshop, showcase our student project, and present an academic thesis about the community impact of Preface Hackathon.
Preface Coder project: Tin Hau Now and Then
Preface was invited as a distinguished educator to present the community project created by our students — “Tin Hau Now and Then through Our Eyes”. The project takes its audience back in time to see how Tin Hau has developed from a small village into the present-day neighbourhood through a series of thematic games and animations. The event participants were amazed by the quality of this project. Many of them asked if they could meet the little creators in person! The Preface team also had a lot of valuable exchange with other educators in how to deliver quality coding education using App Inventor. This gave us a lot of ideas for our upcoming App Inventor batch starting this September!
Educator Workshop: How to build powerful apps with App Inventor Extensions
During the summit, the Preface team held a 3-hour workshop about how to utilise extension and connect external hardware to App Inventor for the coding educators. The first part of the workshop introduced some useful extensions that quickly expand the capacity of App Inventor as a mobile development tool, such as the Material Card Extension. The extension allows developers to put together an intuitive interface that involves significantly fewer blocks to build. While the audience was already familiar with the usual functionalities of App Inventor, they were impressed by how extensions can streamline development processes so simply.
In the second part of the workshop, the Preface team shared their experience of building the T-Rex Runner project with the audience. The project was an arcade game built with App Inventor and controlled via external hardware. The standard package of App Inventor does not offer an easy way for users to connect an app to external controllers. However, with the use of keyboard extension, developers can connect the control panel of the app to a set of external hardware keys with which you can perform different controls. The T-Rex Runner game is an example of how the original control as a simple tap on the touch screen is translated into a press on a big arcade button with the use of key extension which is especially useful for adding a dimensional experience to a software product.
Academic Presentation: The community impact of Preface Nomad Hackathon
On top of the hands-on workshop and product sharing session, our founder Mr Tommie Lo also took over the academic podium and presented a thesis on the community impact of “Preface Nomad Hackathon” as an indispensable part of Preface’s programming curriculum. While the 1-on-1 personalised setup of Preface Nomad lesson allows a 100% attention from teachers to help students learn, Preface Nomad Hackathon serves as a complementary learning tool that adds a social element to the learning journey of Nomad students. It serves as a chance for all solo learners to collaborate with others and use what they learn individually to solve real-world problems together. The curriculum of Preface Nomad is designed in a way that focuses on growing the individual strengths and characters of each student while giving them the opportunity to learn from their peers without having to compromise for individual progress.
Participating in the MIT App Inventor Summit was an invaluable chance for the Preface Team to share their vision in coding education on a global arena and receive feedback from educators of diverse background. As summer is approaching the end, we can’t wait to share what we’ve learnt in this summit with our students in the coming school year!
Before we begin, here’s a question for you: what kind of company is J.P. Morgan? What industry does it operate in?
It seems like a no-brainer — J.P. Morgan is an iBank, also known as the largest bank in America. Except that it’s not just an iBank. We are with someone who has told us a scoop — the financial company is changing fast, and it’s reflected in its hiring strategy in 2019.
So, what kind of company J.P. Morgan really is?
Mr. Park Pu is the parent of one of our coding students, and a top executive in J.P. Morgan China. His daughter is just old enough to join the Scratch coding classes in Preface this year. However, back in the early days of Preface, the coding school was already on his radar.
“I noticed you guys back when you had a smaller office on Lau Li Street. It’s nice to see you grow into a bigger space. I think it also means that more parents are seeing the importance of coding education gradually.”
He brought Ashley, now 7 years old, to Preface for her Scratch classes around the same time he witnessed a rapid change in the hiring strategy of J.P. Morgan.
“J.P. Morgan spends more than US$10 billion in technology every year. At the moment we hire more programmers than Microsoft yearly. This will continue to be the hiring trend in the entire industry.”
Earlier this year, J.P. Morgan announced the launch of JPM Coin, their very own cryptocurrency. The digital currency is not money per se, yet it allows J.P. Morgan’s clients to settle transactions between their accounts with the digital currency. The product is currently in trial.
Launching the service means a big deal — the corporate finance world was notorious for its reluctance in adopting new tech too fast too soon. The fact that J.P. Morgan has swiftly joined the bandwagon of cryptocurrency means that the financial industry is not only ready to change the way it operates, but also how the entire world perceives new tech in finance.
Pu revealed that JPM Coin is not the first technological project J.P. Morgan piloted. “J.P. Morgan helped build the mobile payment systems that everyone now uses across the U.S.. Without the involvement of a financial institution of such scale, it wouldn’t be possible to make any digital payment system available at a country level. As much as it is a financial company, J.P. Morgan also makes an investment in its tech department bigger than any outsider can imagine.”
The exponential increase in the demand for technical personnel inevitably means the career of some might be jeopardised, even for those who are in the prestigious roles.
“J.P. Morgan has recently introduced an A.I. system to review all the standard legal documents produced internally. In a short length of time, the system is able to complete the amount of work that would take considerably longer by human. A huge part of the legal team is now replaced by automation. We expect that continual development in technology will form similar trends for other functionalities, especially the ones that involve a lot of repetitive manual work.”
J.P. Morgan is not the only one who is having this transformation. Goldman Sachs went through a similar change years ago — the CEO even made a bold statement that “Goldman Sach is a tech company” because the company hires more engineers than Facebook in absolute terms. It’s perhaps far-fetched to say Goldman Sachs is a 100% tech-maker, yet the boundary is getting blurry. The financial industry is indeed one of the biggest driving forces behind technological advancement.
It is crucial to keep learning new skills, and the most important skills to learn is how to reinvent oneself whenever needed.
From an industry research done by Goldman Sachs Research, it is suggested that as automation plays an increasingly prominent role in a workplace, there will be a bigger need for the workforce to reskill and upskill throughout the lifespan of one’s career. It is estimated that about one-third of the workforce will need to transfer to a new occupation in the next 5 years. It means that the marketers of today would be the programmers of tomorrow; the programmers of today may become the new data scientists in a few years. In other words, it is crucial to keep learning new skills, and the most important skills to learn is how to reinvent oneself whenever and wherever you are.
Here comes the summertime — arguably the busiest time of the year for Hong Kong school kids. Most run a full schedule every day to juggle between holiday classes and relaxation. Nathaniel, on the other hand, seems to have mastered the art of handling both at the same time.
“It’s not a problem for me to get here every day. I really enjoy the programming classes.”
It’s 11:00 am. For the next five days, Nathaniel would stroll into the sun-lit learning space of Preface in the hustle of Tin Hau for his new Full Stack Programming class. He has just graduated from the App Inventor program which he attended throughout the whole academic year. If age is a common denominator, he is much ahead of his peers indeed.
“I started coding around 2 years ago on Scratch at school. But I quickly moved on to App Inventor after coming to Preface. It’s much cooler. It’s impressive to see how much stuff you can make with App Inventor. You can make games but also a lot of useful applications. The scale is very different.”
It’s tempting to think of Nathaniel as someone in his late teen years by the way he talks. In reality he is just 13. and very much in love with every second of gaming on his phone. How did he end up learning to code, then?
“At school we get to learn HTML, but it’s more like filling in the blanks; we practise the syntax quite a lot, but the experience is rather flat — it doesn’t explain why we write the code in certain ways. It’s just the hands-on. However, the concepts behind are really important because they build the backbone of a good program. I like how the teachers at Preface emphasize that aspect of coding. They tell us the whys, not just the what. They always make me think about the code, like a real coder.”
Back in April this year, Nathaniel was invited to take part in the Preface Nomad Easter Special project — recreating the classic easter egg game hidden in Chrome browser — “T-Rex Runner”. The game was later built into an actual arcade game console and put out at Preface Coffee for visitors to play. The whole project was to show that programming can empower anyone — even kids — to do something great.
Nathaniel coded up the game with Edison, another coding student of Preface, in just 2 hours. The outcome was great and everyone loved it. During the public showcase, it sparked a lot of interest from the grown-ups and kids who were lucky enough to try this game and see what’s behind the scene. It inspired a lot more people to start coding this summer.
That’s pretty much the level of impact we’d love an App Inventor student to achieve. Nathaniel was ready to take on a new challenge — Full Stack Programming.
Despite similarities in the fundamental concepts, Full Stack Programming is quite a step up from App Inventor, the design of which is carefully (and colourfully) put together for programming novices. Nathaniel is way past the novice stage, but Full Stack Programming is a big step up. How is he handling the challenge so far? His 1-on-1 programming coach, Mr Tommie, gave us some thoughts.
“There’s a lot of genius in him. Sometimes he is impatient for what he already knows, but that’s because he has a real thirst for things he doesn’t know, for which he wouldn’t stop drilling until he reaches the very bottom. Coaching him is fun — he has a tempo of his own. It’s very exciting to see how he learns. It’s something less noticeable when you put him in a group class.”
So, how are you handling your new challenge so far, Nate?
“It’s really HOT! It’s so different from App Inventor. But it’s so hot because it’s not easy!”
Right, we get it. Is there any application you would like to build at the moment?
“A library app for the Central Library. I visit the library quite a lot to get books. But it’s annoying when I forget my library card. Would be nice if I can store my library card in an app and use my phone to borrow books instead. I’m going away to the UK for my studies soon, but I’m coming back to Hong Kong six times a year! Maybe I can use my free time to build a prototype and test it.”
Sounds good. You know you can swing by Preface Coffee anytime when you work on your project. Drink is on us.
“Maybe I’ll come here for a Double Espresso after my visit to the Central Library. JUST JOKING! I’m more of a tea person.”
Again, it’s tempting to think of the 13-year-old as a mature person. But boy, can we ever tell?
Our students will show you why programming is for everyone, one story at a time.
There’re really no excuses for anyone to say “programming is too difficult to learn.”
The bright-eyed Sik-kin Chan, or “Sik Sik” as his peers and teachers would call him, is one of the first coding students at Preface. At the age of ten, he has already been coding for two years. “I’ve never thought that I could build an app for the grown-ups to use, in an actual shop. Not when I just started coding two years ago. Now there’s an app up and running in Preface Coffee and I was one of the builders behind. The 8 year-old me wouldn’t believe that this is happening.”
Like any other post-millennial kids, Sik Sik grew up with many mobile devices around him. Although gadgets are common, something was boggling his mind — how are these games made inside a screen? They don’t look like other physical toys at home. He raised this innocent question to his parents — that’s how he first heard about “programming”, and all the wonderful things that could follow, if he knew how to code.
However, the computer class at school didn’t teach him how to code. It’s a class of 32 kids. To make sure everyone’s mind was present in the classroom, the teacher spent about ⅔ of the time keeping the classroom orderly.
For the precious time left, the teacher showed them how to use the PowerPoint. There’s no programming elements in the class.
Outside school, Sik Sik takes his Chinese tutorial class at Preface. Surprisingly, it’s also where he first discovered the kind of programming classes he wanted to take.
Sik Sik usually arrived early for his Chinese class, and he saw some kids doing something on their computers in excitement. “They were putting some puzzles together on the screen. It looks like a game but there’s a teacher in the classroom.” It was the first time he saw someone coding with a tool called “App Inventor”, building the “things” that live behind the screen of his iPad.
He then decided to take the App Inventor classes at Preface. It was a bit of a learning curve at first. “The first thing I had to learn was how to think like a programmer, which is quite different from the usual way of thinking. It was a bit awkward at first and I couldn’t get used to it. There were always a few steps missing in my program and it was frustrating. But Mr Sam guided me how to think in a more systematic way. ‘Remember how you talk to your 3 year-old brother? How would you ask him to get a pencil for you?’ Although he never really gave me the answers directly, I would eventually find the answer myself with the method he taught me.”
“I think the best thing about learning coding at Preface is the Hackathon. I get to test what I learn by finishing a project in a very short time.” In the monthly Hackathon at Preface, all the coding students had to churn out and present finished products on a stage. Everything happens in 2.5 hours and there was no time to waste.
“It was nerve-wracking every time, and collaborating with other kids is very challenging! I feel really satisfied though every time I finish a project.”
It’s a question we ask almost every kid: what do you want to be in the future?
Sik Sik painted a self-portrait in words about his future self, with a cheeky smile, “I picture myself as ‘the Man in the Chair’ type of guy, you know, like a hacker behind the scene, tackling hard problems in order to close the security breach of some important systems, working inside a confidential building.” His voice raised a little bit in excitement as he continued, “I want to be a professional coder when I grow up, and teach young kids about coding, like Mr Sam.”
It’s probably still a long way for our little Sik Sik to become that “Man in the Chair” he talked about, but we’re properly proud of how a 10 year-old has been coming along. He gives me one less excuse to procrastinate, but keep on trying and trying, until that status of “Man in the Chair” is achieved.
Tonight’s the night — Preface team is speaking at EdTechXEurope in London to share the experience of disrupting the global landscape of education as an innovative startup.
EdTechXEurope is one of the largest European education summits held yearly in London. Each year the Summit gathers more than 150 educational organisations as well as hundreds of speakers and opinion leaders to show how their projects are shaping the future of education. As the winner of EdTechX Global Award of 2018, Preface is invited to the event as one of the thought-leading speakers to share our vision as an industry disruptor about how the technology of Machine Learning will eventually retire the traditional classroom learning mode, why — and more importantly how — personalisation will become the ultimate future of education.
Words can’t convey how excited we are right now. Stay tune for more pictures and updates on how the night goes for us!
This is the moment we realised how far we’ve come in this journey of changing education.
Last week, Mr Tommie Lo, our Founder & CEO, was invited to deliver a talk on how Deep Learning technology will provide personalised education that the society truly needs — right on the stage of TEDx, an organisation that needs no further introduction on how impactful it is for spreading ideas among the global community.
It was an unbelievable experience for us, and we already know that there will be more to come. 2019 is looking amazing ahead.
If you’ve missed the live TEDx talk, here’s a quick recap of our presentation:
Classroom as a form of knowledge delivery was a legacy from Prussian Model of Education in the 1800s to meet societal needs resulted from the Industrial Revolution.
The classic model met the needs of the society perfectly when standardisation was sought after, but is failing hard in the present day society where uniqueness and creativity are the focuses.
The “1-teacher-to-many-students” model is a catalyst for communication gap: few students progress quickly while a huge number are left far behind.
Preface Nomad uses Deep Learning technology to tackle this problem: using feedback data collected from each lesson, Preface Nomad provides personalised lesson materials in a much more cost-effective manner, making it possible to adjust the teacher-student ratio to 1:1. Instead of spending too much time in preparing personalised lesson materials for every single student, teachers can focus their time on doing the actual teaching, and greatly improve the learning experience of every student.
Personalisation is the key for effective education; 1-on-1 learning model will replace the traditional form of classroom, in a speed we couldn’t imagine before the time of Deep Learning technology.
Our participation in TEDx is only a start. Stay tune for more exciting announcements in this space.
To learn more about our personalised Ruby-on-Rails web programming course, head to here or chat with us.
Nomad Hackathon is a monthly event where all our young coding students meet and build projects that serve the community around them. Being notorious for its tropical weather, it’s rather tricky to stay dry in Hong Kong in the rain season. What’s the hack from Preface coding students to keep the moist away?
Umbrella rentals on demand
What’s the one essential to have when you need to be on the move under the rain? A trusty umbrella, of course. The trouble of carrying one around though is a big put off. At the same time, our App Inventor students saw it as an unnecessary problem in nowaday’s sharing economy — we share everything from videos to bicycles and even homes. Why not umbrellas, too? It should be there when you need it, and gone when you don’t.
There born the idea of Preface Coffee’s “Umbrella-To-Go” app. The cafe is launching an umbrella rental service this summer — for $50 anyone can rent an umbrella from Preface Coffee. Upon returning, guests can redeem a drink for free. Our baristas will be using this app to keep track of the rental record and send reminders to guests who are yet to return the umbrellas.
We will first soft launch this service at Preface Coffee, and slowly add more collection points around the district of Tin Hau, Hong Kong. Expect to see a troop of Tin-Hau dwellers crossing the zebra lines holding up black umbrellas (or the blue cups from Preface Coffee) later this summer!
T-Rex Runner Game in Preface Coffee
For the younger students from the Scratch class, they created a mini game for people to play while waiting for the sulky rain to stop. It’s a mini game called Baby T-Rex Runner. You may have encountered this game from Preface Coffee already, but this one is new, you know, with a cute baby T-Rex. The winning version from Alvin features a gigantic, earth-piercing rainbow in the background. It’s his ultimate tribute to anyone who’s patient enough to wait for the rain to stop, for the rainbow to show its true glory.
With these creations from our students we are all set for the summer rain to hit. Now we’re just waiting for the rain to come. Time to play a round of Baby T-Rex Runner, maybe…?