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Superheroines and Superheroes at the Computer Science Department

Who says that programming is boring?

12.05.2017 von

The pupils had fun programming their comic-strips. Image: Jessica Bagnoli

From May 8th to 10th, graduate school AIPHES invited pupils from the Justus-Liebig-School Darmstadt to the workshop „Adventure Data Journalism“. They spent exciting days at TU Darmstadt's Department of Computer Science and were introduced to the world of programming. In a case study, the seventh-grade girls and boys took on the role of assistants to a data journalist who is supposed to analyse texts about a certain issue and to present the results in an interesting short film for a chief editor of a fictitious online magazine.

Enthusing pupils for Computer Science

In the workshop's case study, a fictitious online magazine, named „Zeitzonen“ (time zones), plans to publish a big article on the „debate of the year“. The magazine's chief editor charged a data journalist with automatically selecting new, exciting data from a text corpus and to present this data in the shape of an interesting story, which should be presented in a short film. The pupils' task was to help the data journalist due to his inexperience with data analyses. The fact that the chief editor was introduced as a woman was part of the workshop's concept, which was specifically designed to promote gender equality and to enthuse girls for Computer Science. This idea was welcomed enthusiastically on the very first day of the workshop as the first group was predominantly female and voted for the discussion topics „Should there be more female superheroes?“ and „Do we need more female supervillains?“ as debate of the year.

The classes were grouped in small teams before they could experiment with word clouds. The participants learned that word clouds are images which are made of words that appear frequently in a text. Those words are often arranged in the shape of a cloud -hence the name- whereas the individual size of a word indicates its importance or frequency in the analysed text.

Word clouds and „Scratch“ ensure creativity in Computer Science tasks

Image: Jessica Bagnoli

After the groups created word clouds, they were introduced into the visual programming language „Scratch“ in order to be able to construct interesting animated stories out of their word cloud analyses about female superheroes and supervillains. Scratch is celebrating its 10th anniversary and is based on the approach „everyone can code“; it was specifically developed for beginners, particularly for children and teenagers, to enable easy access to the field of programming in an educational and playful manner. The pupils engaged themselves creatively and had a lot of fun constructing their comic-strips while at the same time experimenting with the programming language. The visual stories about the debate of the year were then presented at the end of the workshop and caused laughter and applause from the audience. The classes participating on May 9th and 10th had a lot of fun as well and also programmed visual stories about other topics (Should figures of the Marvel universe be role models? and Are Marvel figures cooler than Superman?). All in all, the Scratch concept proved to be successful once again.

The workshop was developed by Dr. Judith Eckle-Kohler with advice from Dominik Heun from the Justus-Liebig-School Darmstadt. He had co-developed the didactic concept of the „Lernlabor Abenteuer Technik“ that is led by Dr. Jens Gallenbacher, who organized workshops for over 5.000 pupils between 2011 and 2014. The workshop was held by the Computer Science students Nadja Geisler, who is part of the Computer Science Department's Gender Equality team, and Benjamin Hättasch. The pupils have been supervised by dedicated students and by IT specialist trainees (Fachinformatiker*innen) from TU Darmstadt's Hochschulrechenzentrum.


Adventure data journalism is a workshop for pupils, developed at the graduate school AIPHES, which focuses on furthering equal opportunities. Graduate school AIPHES (Adaptive Information Processing from Heterogeneous Sources) is situated at the Department of Computer Science at TU Darmstadt and is led by Prof. Iryna Gurevych. AIPHES was founded in April 2015 and is a cooperation between TUDA, Heidelberg University and Heidelberg Institute for theoretical studies. AIPHES conducts fundamental research concerning automatic text analyses, structure recognition and summarization on information, all of which are relevant for practical applications.