Preface Nomad - Nathaniel

Greet Nathaniel: The Little Grown-up’s Coding Journey

From Scratch to App Inventor to Full Stack

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?

Preface Nomad - Sik Sik

Meet Sik Sik, the Bug Bounty Hunter in 2029

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.

Preface Hackathon

Nomad Hackathon — May 2019

Students’ apps to keep out tropical rain

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?

App Inventor team who created the best umbrella rental app in May Hackathon.

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…?

Words from Our Designers

Creating NOMAD for you

The builders behind NOMAD — Jason, Sam and Carmen

Remember the excitement you had when learning something new when you were young? We gradually lose this feeling when we learn through traditional methods, which either exert heavy pressure on how we absorb knowledge, or come with high barriers that deter us from learning something new. Learning should be fun, inspiring, exciting and accessible for everyone, and we hope Nomad can help every learner to bring that feeling back.

This is why we hold empathising real users’ needs to such high regard throughout the design and discussion process. We want them to embrace the idea that they can learn anything in the best possible experience through Nomad, regardless of their education background or learning style. Therefore, in between balancing how to adequately showcase Nomad’s exceptional features, we also had to make sure we were not neglecting the needs of our end users, ensuring that they are supported by an easily navigable user flow in their journey of stepping outside their comfort zone.

Scratch Japan

Students’ Game Earned Recognition in Japan

Paving Way for Bigger Stage in MIT Boston App Inventor 2019

Young coder is making a final touch before “Show & Tell” at Scratch Day 2019 in Tokyo

Preface Nomad was honored to be invited to Scratch Day Japan, the biggest coding event in Asia to present our students’ work to an international crowd. Coding teachers, Scratch coders and technology enthusiasts all gathered around the high stage while we presented “Let Snorlax Sleep, a game coded by our 6-year-old student. Is it just another game using a keyboard to play? 100% not. “Awesome” is the word to describe this game, as it cleverly uses the camera sensor to detect the gamer’s movement as the main control. Gamers can sweep the bugs off by swiping their hands in front of the camera, immersing in a 3D gaming experience. The applause and positive feedback from the audience reassured us the impact that Preface Nomad is making — we are not only showing our students how to make a game. We are empowering them to do something great, and become someone who owns the stage.

Let Snorlax Sleep” game

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) is hosting App Inventor Summit in Boston this year to celebrate their 10th year anniversary. It will be the biggest App Inventor conference to date.

Yet another proud announcement from us — Preface is invited by Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to participate in App Inventor Summit in Boston, one of the world’s largest coding conferences to date. In this August, we will join the event as a Premium Educator to host a 3-hour workshop demonstrating how to make the best use of App Inventor to create highly engaging projects. We will also introduce and exhibit the best works of our students to the top educators and developers coming from all over the world. To prepare for this big event, we are recruiting our brightest students and alumni to build a community-based project together. Talk to the Preface Nomad team if you are interested to know more!

In the coming Sunday (May 26), Preface Nomad is hosting a FREE trial workshop for anyone who wants to learn more about our upcoming Summer Bootcamps as well as the projects we are bringing to the MIT App Inventor Summit. In the 1-hour workshop you and your kids will get to try working on a simple project and get a taste of building something fun on their computers.

Reserve your seat now and prepare for the great summer ahead!

Summer Trial Class

Taste of Quality at Bootcamp Trial Workshop

A sneak peek at Preface Summer Bootcamps, for free!

Since the beginning of May we’ve been offering free trial workshops for kids and parents to get a taste of our Summer Bootcamps at Preface. The responses have been wildly positive and encouraging. For those of you who haven’t been to one of our workshops yet, here’re some unbeatable reasons to sign yourself up for our popular workshops with limited seats!

Our workshops are really, really fun.

During our 45-min workshop there’s no chance for anyone to cross their arms or scroll insatiably through their phones. Not even you — parents. While the kids will be highly engaged in our exciting (but safe) science experiments and code lab for simple fun game, the parents will get to know what Preface is all about from our lightning talk, demo stations and personal consultation with our education advisors, all in our spacious classroom set against the view of Victoria Harbour. Definitely something worth your time.

Our workshops are very, very open.

While there are schools that tend to keep the important stuff behind the scene, you will know exactly what’s going on at Preface. You get to see what your kids are learning in the classrooms and how they are taught; you will be invited into the classrooms and see what your kids have accomplished. You get to see the entire process, and the end results.

A chance to talk to our MIT Master Trainers.

If you ask what is the one thing that sets Preface apart from all other coding academies in town, it’s definitely our teachers. All of our teachers are MIT Master Trainers, meaning that they are not just another coding hobbyist who happens to be teaching your kid. Our teachers are professionally trained and experienced in their fields. If you’re unsure about anything regarding our courses, talk to our teachers. We encourage you to take the chance to understand as much as you can.

Want to sign up for our free trial classes? Sign up here.

Combining Coding and Psychology to Create Societal Impact

Originally published on MIT App Inventor official blog on April 22, 2019.

This is a guest blog by MIT Master Trainer Queena Ling.

Like many budding psychology students, Suki has a strong desire to aid those with special needs or suffering from mental health problems. Unlike her fellow psychology students however, Suki has taken her aspirations to the next level with her new mobile application – a mental health application built through App Inventor that aims at helping people combat depression.

Aided by a fundamentally sound coding skillset learnt through Preface NOMAD, the pioneer coding school in Hong Kong powered by A.I. technology in teaching, Suki has created a fully functional health application complete with an impressive range of features, including music to calm users and use of the web browser component to host web articles to motivate users, and educate them on how to overcome depression. A high school student with ambitions to study psychology at UCLA, Suki wishes to she can positively impact the mental health community in spite of her young age.

Suki hopes that adults and teenagers alike can find the perfect tool that they can draw strength from through her application, and hopefully empower them in their fight against depression.

Hacking School System with App Inventor at Preface

Originally published at MIT App Inventor Official Blog on April 22, 2019

This is a guest blog by MIT Master Trainer Anna Yu

Recently we sat down with the February Winners of Nomad Hackathon and interviewed them about the experience of learning how to code at Preface using App Inventor and Scratch.

Nomad Hackathon is a monthly coding event in which the young coding students in Preface create useful apps for the local community. In February, we witnessed two groups of coding students transforming into product makers. Brandon, Sik Kin and Macarius teamed up and created a loyalty app using App Inventor, while Jacqueline created an interactive translation app with Scratch.

The Beginning

(From left to right) Brandon Chan, Sik-kin Chan and Macarius Chan — the brains behind the Preface Coffee Loyalty App

Brandon, Sik Kin and Macarius have been coding for years now. None of them were older than 10 years old when they first started coding.

“I was five when I started learning Scratch”, smiled Brandon. At the age of 10, he has already coded up more apps than an average adult in Hong Kong. Both Brandon and Macarius started coding because they wanted to have their own creations. “I liked to play video games a lot, and I was very curious about how to make one myself. But then my day school doesn’t really teach us that.”

“I was five when I started learning Scratch”, smiled Brandon. At the age of 10, he has already coded up more apps than an average adult in Hong Kong.

The First Challenge

It’s a big problem that the local school system sees as non-existent. While there is some form of computer classes at school, it hardly matches the learning needs of school kids.

“My school doesn’t provide any coding classes until I get older.”

Jacqueline explained why she started coding at Preface.

Even when there’s a class, it still doesn’t guarantee a chance to learn. “The coding projects at school are sometimes too easy. By the time the teacher finished explaining what the project is, I have already done most of the codes for it”, shrugged Macarius.

Tackling the Challenge

The average class size of a day school in Hong Kong is 32 kids, all with different personal experiences, interests and needs in learning. The challenge for a teacher to ensure the teaching quality and class engagement is monstrous and, as a matter of fact, unrealistic.

Brandon compared his experience at school with Preface and revealed the fundamental difference in learning experience owing to the class size.

“The class is too big and the teacher cannot answer every question we have. However, at Preface, every group class has only two to three kids. Our teacher never fails to answer our questions. They also teach us how to find the answer ourselves instead of telling us the answer straight away. And the projects are so fun to work on.”

“At Preface, every group class has only two to three kids. Our teacher never fails to answer our questions. And the projects are so fun to work on.”

— Brandon Chan, App Inventor student at Preface Nomad

Sik-kin put his shyness away with excitement when he talked about the games he built with App Inventor, such as Space Shooting Fun or Farming RP.

“We learn really fast while making these fun games”, Sik-kin continued, “we like the challenges”.

— Sik-kin Chan, App Inventor student at Preface Nomad

Hacking Education with Hackathon

While they learn how to work independently in regular classes, our coding students learn to collaborate and leverage the strength of each other during Nomad Hackathon.

“I’ve never missed a single Hackathon after I started having coding classes here. I want to see what other kids are doing and learn from them”, said Brandon.

The high relevance of the Hackathon projects to real-life problems is proved very effective in motivating students to practise what they’ve learnt.

Hackathon is much more valuable for their learning than a simple exercise or exam that only challenges their short-term memory. Coding is a brand new subject for young kids; it requires a brand new approach in delivering the know-how. The century-old setup of an overcrowded classroom is failing hard as our new generation of learners has told us. Getting the approach right is half the battle done; at Preface, we place a strong focus on the approach. We keep our classes small, our projects relevant, and our students highly engaged.

Coding is a brand new subject for young kids; it requires a brand new approach in delivering the know-how.

At the end of the day, we give them a stage — Preface Hackathon is not just another coding class; it is a platform for the young students to prove to themselves — and the community — that they have learnt something exciting.

Sik-kin concluded our conversation with a big picture of himself in the future.

“I want to be a professional coder when I grow up, and teach young kids about coding with what I know from my years.”

Although Sik-kin is only 10 years old now, his vision doesn’t seem too wild for us. We are confident that our young students will give back to the community in their own ways in a not-so-distant future.

Congratulations to our February Winners again!

Envisioning a World Powered by Artificial Intelligence

Image credit: Engadget

Over the past century, fiendish sci-fi plots like The Terminator or The Matrix have always portrayed scenarios where sophisticated AIs end up manipulating the human race. Coupled with the idea of robots and computers taking over a multitude of our jobs, incremental AI developments have widely been perceived as menaces that bring future sufferings.

However, instead of worrying about job replacements, Preface celebrates the impending displacements of tasks with the impact of new technologies. The automation of repetitive tasks is a key advantage of implementing such technologies, leaving humans with greater capacity to deal with higher-level tasks, resulting in the facilitation of efficiency and innovations.

One pick for innovative concept is Toyota’s e-Palette, an on-demand city platform with autonomous and multipurpose driverless shuttles serving across the city. These shuttles have an open interior design layout that enables companies of all kinds to use them in accordance with users’ needs, whether it be mobile meeting rooms, retail outlets, restaurants, emergency medical clinics, on-the-road e-commerce or more. Imagine being able to call up a mobile fitting room before placing an order on online shopping sites — no longer will you buy goods that do not match your expectations and have so much hassle returning them. Its flexible framework empowers businesses with mobility and resource optimization, while supporting their customers’ lifestyles with better convenience, productivity and efficiency. Yet, other potential benefits are there to be explored in the real world.

Statistically, 47% of digitally mature organisations have a defined A.I. strategy. — Adobe

In 2019, we are going through a significant transition from an information-driven era to an AI-powered age. The problem of information overload has been forcing us to change our behaviour, from receiving information passively to having quality learning experience. With the advancement of AI, machines can assist us by handling vast amount of behavioural data and suggest us personalised recommendations accordingly. Just as the case of Toyota’s e-Palette, the Education field deserves to undergo the same intensity of revolution for more efficient and effective outcomes.

Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it’s stupid.” — Albert Einstein

Educators need to know what theories or explanations in textbooks cause most frustrations to learners, and what pedagogical methods work for diverse groups of learners. An education based AI machine is best to provide us with objective recommendations of the learning method and pace for each individual learner. In this way, the collaboration of human teachers and AI machine would help to educate the next generation of humans to be smarter than ever.

The Idea Behind the NYR Campaign

There was an idea. That emerging knowledge did not need to be hard to learn. That Preface, as an education and tech company, could be the ideal educator to deliver this knowledge. Hence, since its inception in late June 2018, Preface Coffee has served as a platform for workshops that aim to create conversations on emerging knowledge essential for the technological era. Held by Preface educators and guest speakers, Preface Workshops remained a staple event through the months, slowly building the reputation as a hub for new knowledge in Tin Hau.

As we approached the turn of the New Year, there was a thought. Why stop at emerging knowledge? Many people have various skills and particular topics that they’d love to learn about, but have no clue on where to start their journey — none more so than individuals who are looking to learn something new in the upcoming year. Fuelled with the idea of motivating people to not only make, but complete New Year Resolutions in learning, we set up the New Year’s Resolutions Campaign.

As a channel that provides participants with greater access to learning their topics of interest, the NYR Campaign incentivises individuals to place learning as a priority in their lives. The result was instantaneous, with Preface Workshops reaching record attendances in the first month of the campaign, and effectively ignited public interest in new knowledge.