847 hedy programming

Free in 50 Languages: The Hedy Programming Language Phenomenon

Felienne Hermans, creator of the Hedy open source programming tool that is now in 50 languages, talks about how native-language learning helps students around the world grasp programming. Learn about the value of teaching programming to all ages and how to get started even if you don't know anything about coding.

Felinne Hermans is a middle school teacher one day a week, and college professor four days a week. She created a natural language programming tool in Dutch and English. After she released Hedy as open source, it became popular in many places and now has been translated into 50 languages and is spreading throughout the world.

Hedy is a fantastic way to teach computational thinking and programming in an easy text-based way as students create flowers, music, and their own programs with the tool.

Named after Hedy Lamar, both a movie star and electrical engineer who created a method used in today's wifi routers, let's talk about how every school can teach programming to kids in their native language and how teachers — even those with no coding experience — can get started!

quote-story-847 frequency hopping
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    Felienne Hermans - This week's guest

    felienne HermansFelienne is the creator of Hedy, an open-source and free platform that helps kids aged 10 and above learn textual programming in multiple languages.  The platform has about 500K users a month, has been translated into 49 languages, including Chinese, Arabic, and Spanish, and has 400+ volunteer programmers, translators, and teachers who continuously improve and maintain it.

    To teach a child programming, a parent or teacher can use Hedy's built-in lesson plans or customize their kid's learning experience by authoring their own lessons and loading these into Hedy's user interface.

    Felienne holds a Ph.D. in Software Engineering and, for 10+ years, has been a strong advocate for finding better ways of teaching programming and guiding the young generation early into the programming world. She is also a professor of computer science education at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam in the Netherlands and a high-school computer science teacher one day a week at Lyceum Kralingen in the Codasium program, which teaches kids to code. Blog: https://hedy.org/

    🎙️ Show Notes

    Resources Mentioned:

    • Hedy: An open-source, free tool developed by Felienne Hermans to teach kids text-based programming. Available in 50 languages, Hedy is designed to make programming accessible and engaging for children worldwide. For more information, visit Hedy's website.
    • Hedy Lamarr: Discussed as the inspiration behind the name of the programming tool, Hedy Lamarr was an actress and inventor known for her work on frequency hopping, a technology that laid the groundwork for modern Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. Felienne uses Lamarr's story to challenge stereotypes and inspire young programmers.


    • You will learn about the significance of teaching programming to young children: Felienne discusses how programming can transition kids from being mere consumers in the digital world to creators, capable of expressing themselves in new and exciting ways through code.
    • You will hear about the importance of breaking stereotypes in STEM: The story behind naming the tool after Hedy Lamarr serves as a powerful reminder of the need to challenge and overcome stereotypes about who can be an engineer, scientist, or inventor.
    • You will understand the challenges of teaching programming: Felienne shares insights into the common obstacles faced by young learners, such as the precision required by programming languages and the patience needed to build complex projects.
    • You will discover the power of community and open source in education: The episode highlights how Hedy has grown through the contributions of educators and translators worldwide, emphasizing the potential of collaborative efforts in creating impactful educational tools.
    • You will learn about the potential of computational thinking across fields: Felienne and I discuss how programming skills are not just for future software engineers but can enhance creativity, problem-solving, and efficiency in any profession.

    This episode offers a compelling look at how programming education can shape the next generation of thinkers, creators, and innovators, making it a must-listen for anyone invested in the future of technology and education.

    📝 Transcript

    I used AI in either Premiere Pro or Riverside to help with this transcript. I did proofread it. If you see mistakes, just contact me and let me know. YouTube autotranscripts are not pre-viewed. Thank you!


    Vicki Davis (00:02)
    So today I'm so excited. We're talking with Felienne Hermans. She has a Ph.D. in software engineering, but we're really talking about this amazing open-source free tool that she has created, and hundreds of educators and programmers maintain around the world. It's in 50 languages and teaches kids 10 and up text-based programming.

    Vicki Davis (00:31)
    It's called Hedy, H -E -D -Y dot O -R -G. Thanks for coming on the show today, Feline. So, first of all, I'm going to ask the question everybody will ask. Why do you call it Hedy?

    Why the Program is nNmed Hedy

    Felienne Hermans (00:37)
    I'm happy to be here. It's actually named after Hedy Lamarr. Most people know that she was a famous movie actress, but she was also an electrical engineer. She invented an algorithm called frequency hopping, which is also in your Wi-Fi router. If a certain frequency gets full, then the network switches hops to a different network.

    And then if you look at pictures of her, if kids ask me, why is it named Hedy? I show them a picture and then they're like, oh, she doesn't look like an engineer. She doesn't look like an inventor. And it's so long ago and still we're battling those stereotypes. I personally also get this question like, oh, you don't look like a computer science professor. Oh, did you make a programming language? And it's just because of my gender. So we just need to keep breaking these stereotypes. And therefore I thought she was just an excellent role model.

    Why We Need to Teach Young Children Programming

    Vicki Davis (01:14)
    Talk about why you are passionate about teaching young children programming.

    Felienne Hermans (01:39)
    Software is everywhere, right? Apps on your phone, kids in the digital world all the time, GPT is everywhere in schools. But what I see is that kids are only consumers in the digital world. They look at videos, they look at TikTok, they look at Instagram, but they're never creators. So they…

    Vicki Davis (01:54)

    Felienne Hermans (01:59)
    they don't feel, oh, in this digital world, I can also make something. Whereas we do want kids to be creators. We want them to write stories to draw drawings and make songs. So why does this digital world that is so big and perpetual everywhere for kids? Why don't we allow them to create there? So that's what I really think is important. And these things also from the real world in the digital world are possible to create in Hedy. So you can use Hedy to create songs.

    drawings and interactive fiction all these things we want kids to do but then digitally.

    The Future of Citizen Programming

    Vicki Davis (02:35)
    This is exciting because computational thinking is so important because, basically, just like we can explain art or we can explain what we would like written, and AI can help us. We're reaching the point of citizen programming where we can describe a program we want. I mean, I'll tell you, I found this fantastic Airtable GPT.

    Felienne Hermans (02:50)

    Vicki Davis (02:59)
    I use Airtable to run this podcast. And it helped me write all these scripts that when this show goes live, I will change this to complete and it's automatically going to send you an email. Like that's really cool programming. And I know enough about programming to look at that script and know what it means. So we have to supervise AI. It's not enough to just tell AI we want this. We have to be able to supervise it, right?

    Felienne Hermans (03:13)
    Yeah, absolutely, and I think you also had a very key point there, saying I know a little bit about programming as soon as you know a little bit, you can also know what to ask the computer, but if you have no idea, like sometimes I let my students also interact with AI, and they really say like

    Vicki Davis (03:36)
    Mm -hmm.

    Felienne Hermans (03:41)
    Make me an app for this. But that's not detailed enough. You have to know what the ingredients are. I need a database. I need a button. And if you have this little bit of knowledge, then AI can make you more powerful. But if you don't know anything, it also cannot really help.

    The Community Around the Hedy Software

    Vicki Davis (03:56)
    Okay, so let's talk a little bit about the response you're seeing. Like you have a bunch of people working for free translating,

    Felienne Hermans (04:01)
    Yeah, this has been such a surprise for me. So I created Hedy for my own seventh graders to use as this project. I thought, oh, it would be fun if they had their own programming language. Why not? And then one of the core parts of the success of Hedy was this localization that we talked about. I built it in English and Dutch, which is my native language initially. And then once we had Dutch people started to add French and Spanish and German, just random people on the internet said, oh, but I also want to have a programming language.

    in my own natural language because it's easier for kids to learn. It feels more like their language is also part of the digital world. And then, just slowly, it started growing, and we got more and more languages, and we got teachers excited as well. So, a lot of our projects are not just about empowering students to learn programming but also empowering teachers. So, on our platform, teachers can create their own lesson plans so they can use our lesson plans, which are also free. Everything's free.

    Vicki Davis (05:00)

    Felienne Hermans (05:03)
    But if they want to, they can upload their own lessons. And then they can say, I like my lesson, and I donate it to Hedy. And then other people can also use the lessons from the teachers, and they get a little counter seeing that people are using it. So from the start, I think it was really created as a system because it's open source, where people could participate and help. And these translators, that's also something I didn't really count on, but the translators then become local advocates.

    Vicki Davis (05:10)

    Felienne Hermans (05:31)
    If someone has done all the work to translate it into Farsi or Czech, then they will send all their teacher friends an email saying, hey, I made this. Now you also use it. So, this community then helps spread the word. So yeah, I didn't, of course, ever think that some small thing that I made for myself could have hundreds of thousands of users every month.

    Vicki Davis (05:31)


    Well, and what I love is that you teach middle school and use this with middle school one day a week, and then you're a college professor four days a week. And this is an interesting model because the best college professors I've ever known without a doubt actually make time to spend in a classroom. That's just what they do. And they stay really close to kids. So, when you work with

    Vicki Davis (06:15)
    Your age 12 kids, and you're teaching them programming. What are some of the challenges that you find as you're trying to teach them the methods of programming?

    How Programming is Different from Other Subjects

    Felienne Hermans (06:23)
    Yeah, so what's really hard about programming is the unreasonable preciseness of the machine. And Python has that something like C, or if people are aware of it, it has all these curly brackets and semicolons. Python is already a little bit closer to natural language, but still, if you forget a bracket or you forget a comma, then a teacher can look at something and think, oh, that's almost correct, like half points for that. But a machine will say, “beep -bop”.

    Vicki Davis (06:43)

    Felienne Hermans (06:53)
    No closing brackets. And I think that is really hard for kids that they want to quickly build something really cool. And they think, “oh, in programming class in three weeks, we will have our own app.” And they say, “oh, I want to build a game.” So they come in with all this enthusiasm, but then building a game actually means writing thousands of lines of a cryptic language that you have to practice like a second language, like Spanish or French for English speakers.

    Vicki Davis (06:54)

    Felienne Hermans (07:21)
    And there's a lot of practice involved. And then this initial enthusiasm that they have for the topic, it's sometimes really hard to keep that because the work is so hard. And then 12 -year -olds have limited cognitive stamina. So after 10 minutes, they're like, this is hard. This is boring. Yes, I don't have a better answer. It can also be exciting. of course.

    Vicki Davis (07:32)

    It can be, it can also be exciting. As I work with my seniors and 10th graders on AP Computer Science principles, You've got to be able to talk to people who don't do programming. There are so many things that happen when you teach programming that cannot happen any other way in any other subject.

    Vicki Davis (07:59)
    incorporating teaching some sort of programming.

    Felienne Hermans (08:01)
    Yes, yeah, because once they get it, once they're over this hub, then they're like, oh, but now that I know this, I can also do this. At one point, we teach functions so that you can group a few lines of code and then you can repeat the group. So you can make, for example, a flower. That's one of our examples where you draw one petal of the flower and then you turn a few degrees and then you do another petal, petal, petal, petal. And then, with a very small amount of code, you can create…

    Felienne Hermans (08:31)
    beautiful colored flowers, and then kids are like, oh this was really hard to learn, but now that I know it, I'm like a wizard

    Vicki Davis (08:41)
    it's a lot like the learning pit that James Nottingham talks about. I had him on the podcast not too long ago. It's like you start and then you feel like you're in a hole and you're like, “oh, oh dear. There's a whole lot I don't know.” And it's like, climb, climb, climb, climb, climb. And then when you crest that hill, you know, the other day, the light bulb finally went on last month in my AP class. And we were talking about something, and I was, you know, just communicating like,

    Vicki Davis (09:07)
    you would probably communicate with your college kids. You say, oh, you need to do this and make a parameter here and iterate your list. And I'm just throwing out all this stuff. The kid looked at me and said, “Ms. Davis, I understood every single thing you said.” And I'm like, “yes!” you know, but

    Computational Thinking and Programming Impacts Every Field

    Vicki Davis (09:27)
    It starts with those little conversations at a young age, and then you can build, and then you can build. Then you can build until you get to a point where you're like, okay, whether I go into to be a doctor, or I go to be an accountant, or a lawyer, or a college professor, or a teacher, or whatever, I can now have a skill that I can apply to make my profession better.

    Vicki Davis (09:54)
    because this is not about making everybody be a computer science.

    person, right?


    Felienne Hermans (10:13)
    Code can help if you want to be a fiction writer. Code can help. It can make your life easier and more interesting, and it can help you create other things. OK, so let's let you give a pen call. We've got features listening to the OTP.

    Vicki Davis (10:22)
    Okay, so let's let you give a pep talk. You got teachers listening to this who were like, okay, Feline, I don't know a lot about all this stuff but I know the importance of teaching code. Is this approachable and usable for teachers anywhere? And if so, how do they get started?

    Teaching Programming One Step at a Time

    Felienne Hermans (10:32)
    but I know the importance of teaching code. Is this a…

    Yes, absolutely. One of the things about Hedy that we haven't talked about yet, apart from it being multilingual, is that it's gradual, a step-by-step language. So in the first level where you start, level one, you have five different codes. And your kids cannot do anything else. Because you just mentioned Scratch that people might be familiar with. This is a block-based programming language. That's really cool. It allows you to do a lot of things. But all the blocks are always available to kids. So then…

    30 kids that you have, they're all doing different things and it's super hard to maintain the classroom as a teacher. In Hedy, level one just has a few codes. So the kids are constrained, and you as a teacher, you don't have to learn everything at once. You also learn the first few codes, and then you go to the next level, and then it's a little bit more. And then you go to the next level and it's a little bit more every time we offer a new concept. And all the levels also come with built -in PowerPoint slides that you can use and then it…

    Concepts are explained so you can use this if you want to in this classroom-facing teaching where you show everything Step -by -step and then students do a little bit of work We have a back end; also as a teacher you can log in and you see an overview of what your students are doing Where they are we have built-in quizzes so you can keep an eye on who is performing and what do they really understand and all of that is also free and We have a teacher community. So if you're stuck

    we can pair you with another teacher who has a little bit more experience so that you have a buddy that you can send an email to. And then people that are in the system, they volunteer as, oh, I want to be a buddy. And then you can be couples with help. So we really try to help people get started. So, um, hedy .org? hedy .org.

    Vicki Davis (12:07)

    Wow, that's awesome. So they just go to your website, h- e -d -y, hedy .org.

    Felienne Hermans (12:27)
    There's a button on the website that says try it now. So you click try it now, and you can immediately start programming. And then if you want to, you can create an account. You just say I'm a teacher and then you get access to all the teacher features, like creating a classroom and inviting your students into your classroom. And one thing that's important specifically for people in EU, we are GDPR compliant. So you can create accounts for students without an email address, without private information. You call them student 12345.

    Then you can use the platform, and it's entirely GDPR proof. This is also explained on the website but for you

    Vicki Davis (13:02)
    Felienne, thank you for coming on the show.

    Vicki Davis (13:04)
    This sounds like a really novel approach and I'm excited about it.

    Felienne Hermans (13:04)
    Thanks, Vicki.


    Disclosure of Material Connection: This is a “sponsored podcast episode.” The company who sponsored it compensated me via a cash payment, gift, or something else of value to include a reference to their product. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I believe will be good for my readers and are from companies I can recommend. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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    Vicki Davis

    Vicki Davis is a full-time classroom teacher and IT Director in Georgia, USA. She is Mom of three, wife of one, and loves talking about the wise, transformational use of technology for teaching and doing good in the world. She hosts the 10 Minute Teacher Podcast which interviews teachers around the world about remarkable classroom practices to inspire and help teachers. Vicki focuses on what unites us -- a quest for truly remarkable life-changing teaching and learning. The goal of her work is to provide actionable, encouraging, relevant ideas for teachers that are grounded in the truth and shared with love. Vicki has been teaching since 2002 and blogging since 2005. Vicki has spoken around the world to inspire and help teachers reach their students. She is passionate about helping every child find purpose, passion, and meaning in life with a lifelong commitment to the joy and responsibility of learning. If you talk to Vicki for very long, she will encourage you to "Relate to Educate" or "innovate like a turtle" or to be "a remarkable teacher." She loves to talk to teachers who love their students and are trying to do their best. Twitter is her favorite place to share and she loves to make homemade sourdough bread and cinnamon rolls and enjoys running half marathons with her sisters. You can usually find her laughing with her students or digging into a book.

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