Tag Archives: F. Megumi Kivuva

Teaching kids to code with cultural research and embroidery machines

Caption: University of Washington researchers taught a group of high schoolers to code by combining cultural research into various embroidery traditions with “computational embroidery.” The method teaches kids to encode embroidery patterns on a computer through a coding language called Turtlestitch. Here, a student stitched plants with code, then hand-embroidered a bee. Credit: Kivuva et al./SIGCSE

Textiles and computing are more closely linked than most of us realize. It was a surprise (to me, anyway) to learn that the Jacquard loom was influential in the development of the computer (see this June 25, 2019 essay “Programming patterns: the story of the Jacquard loom” on the Science and Industry Museum in Manchester [UK] website). As for embroidery, that too has an historical link to computing (see my May 22, 2023 posting “Ada Lovelace’s skills (embroidery, languages, and more) led to her pioneering computer work in the 19th century“).

The latest embroidery link to computing was announced in a March 14, 2024 news item on phys.org, Note: A link has been removed,

Even in tech-heavy Washington state, the numbers of students with access to computer science classes aren’t higher than national averages: In the 2022–2023 school year, 48% of public high schools offered foundational CS [computer science] classes and 5% of middle school and high school students took such classes.

Those numbers have inched up, but historically marginalized populations are still less likely to attend schools teaching computer science, and certain groups—such as Latinx students and young women—are less likely than their peers to be enrolled in the classes even if the school offers them.

To reach a greater diversity of grade-school students, University of Washington researchers have taught a group of high schoolers to code by combining cultural research into various embroidery traditions—such as Mexican, Arab and Japanese—with “computational embroidery.” The method lets users encode embroidery patterns on a computer through an open-source coding language called Turtlestitch, in which they fit visual blocks together. An electronic embroidery machine then stitches the patterns into fabric.

A March 14, 2024 University of Washington news release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, describes the research in more detail, Note: Links have been removed,

“We’ve come a long way as a country in offering some computer science courses in schools,” said co-lead author F. Megumi Kivuva, a UW doctoral student in the Information School. “But we’re learning that access doesn’t necessarily mean equity. It doesn’t mean underrepresented minority groups are always getting the opportunity to learn. And sometimes all it means is that if there’s one 20-student CS class, all 3,000 students at the school count as having ‘access.’ [emphases mine] Our computational embroidery class was really a way to engage diverse groups of students and show that their identities have a place in the classroom.”

In designing the course, the researchers aimed to make coding accessible to a demographically diverse group of 12 students. To make space for them to explore their curiosities, the team used a method called “co-construction” where the students had a say each week in what they learned and how they’d be assessed.

“We wanted to dispel the myth that a coder is someone sitting in a corner, not being very social, typing on their computer,” Kivuva said.

Before delving into Turtlestitch, students spent a week exploring cultural traditions in embroidery — whether those connected to their own cultures or those they were curious about. For one student, bringing his identity into the work meant taking inspiration from his Mexican heritage; for others, it meant embroidering an image of bubble tea because it’s her favorite drink, or stitching a corgi.

Students also spent a week learning to embroider by hand. The craft is an easy fit for coding because both rely on structures of repetition. But embroidery is tactile, so students were able to see their code move from the screen into the physical world. They were also able to augment what they coded with hand stitching, letting them distinguish what the human and the machine were good at. For instance, one student decided to code the design for a flower, then add a bee by hand.

“There’s a long history of overlooking crafts that have traditionally been perceived as feminized,” said co-lead author Jayne Everson, a UW doctoral student in the Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science & Engineering. “So combining this overlooked art that is deeply technical with computing was really fun, because I don’t see computing as more or less technical than embroidery.”

The class ran for six weeks over the summer, and researchers were impressed by the interest it elicited. In fact, one of the main drawbacks researchers found was that six weeks felt too short, given the curiosity the students showed. Since the technology is affordable — the embroidery machine is $400 and the software is free — Kivuva plans to tailor the course to be approachable for kindergarteners to 5th-grade refugee students. Since they were so pleased with the high student engagement, Kivuva and Everson will also run a workshop on their method at the Computer Science Teachers Association [CSTA] conference this summer.

“I was constantly blown away by the way students were engaging when they were given freedom. Some were staying after class to keep working,” said Everson. “I come from a math and science teaching background. To get students to stick around after class is kind of like, ‘Alright, we’ve done it. That’s all I want.’”

Additional co-authors on the paper were Camilo Montes De Haro, a UW undergraduate researcher in the iSchool, and Amy J. Ko, a UW professor in the iSchool. This research was funded by the National Science Foundation, Micorosoft, Adobe and Google.

I wanted to know a little more about equity and access and found this in the introduction to the paper (link to and citation for the paper follow or there’s the PDF of the paper),

Efforts to broaden participation in computing at the K-12 level have
led to an increasing number of schools (53%) offering CS, however,
participation is low. Code.org reports that 6% of high school, 3.9%
of middle school, and 7.3% of primary school students are enrolled
[ 4]. Furthermore, historically marginalized populations are also
underrepresented in K-12 CS [4 , 9]. Prior work suggests that there
are systemic barriers like sexism, racism, and classism that lead to
inequities in primary and secondary computing education [9].

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Cultural-Centric Computational Embroidery by F. Megumi Kivuva, Jayne Everson, Camilo Montes De Haro, and Amy J. Ko. SIGCSE 2024: Proceedings of the 55th ACM [Association of Computing Machinery] Technical Symposium on Computer Science Education V. 1March 2024Pages 673–679 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1145/3626252.3630818 Published: 07 March 2024

This paper is open access.

The Computer Science Teachers Association (CSTA) 2024 conference mentioned in the news release is being held in Las Vegas, Nevada, July 16 -19, 2024.