Cyber awareness for Teens: Hacking and Defense

What is the connection between securing your laptop and saving the lives of the astronauts on Apollo 13?

Students who join us for Cyber Awareness for Teens: Hacking and Defense, TechSpark Academy’s new course for 2017, will find out. This course takes place on April 18-21 at Champittet in Pully, Lausanne.

Today the scale of personal data that is stolen every day is hard to comprehend: in August 2013, Yahoo admitted that 1 billion personal records were compromised in a single breach.

But at a personal level, our data is often vulnerable because we don’t know the basic rules of how to protect ourselves. Three quarters of us use the same password many times, and so someone who knows one password knows them all! Hardly surprising that  40% of us have noticed a personal data breach in the last year.

Teaching our kids how to protect themselves online is a vital life skill, but it’s much more than that. In the UK, for example, the government has committed £20m to cyber skills training, both to help kids learn a vital life skill, but also to nurture talent to, in the words of the UK’s digital minister, “help identify and inspire future talent.”

So what does this have to do with Apollo 13?

In 1970, when three astronauts were stranded in space in a lunar module, the ground crew had just hours to design a way to attach a square CO2 filter to the circular opening of the lunar module’s filtration system, using nothing more than hoses from spacesuits, tube socks, and duct tape. They succeeded, and survived.

Learning the problem-solving skill that saved the astronauts, says Igor Krawczuk, a researcher in artificial intelligence at EFPL who created our Cyber Awareness for Teens course, is precisely the skill that will keep you safe online, and is also the skill that opens the door to discovering a fascinating world of real-life puzzles. This skill, you might be surprised to learn, is called “hacking”.

Hacking actually means using logic, improvisation and creative thinking to solve problems, he explains. It means being curious about how things like computer security work – and then trying to make them work better.

This priceless skill is what your kids will learn when they join us for Cyber Awareness for Teens. In 4 days they will:

  • master the skills they need to protect themselves and their computers online
  • the difference between “good” and “bad” hacking
  • how attacks such as phishing and social engineering work
  • use hands-on exercises and challenges to learn how attackers break encryption and passwords, and how to defend against them
  • … and develop essential skills to investigate the world around us

Cyber awareness: curiosity and critical thinking

“I want to help them to learn to explore, to try things. The students on our course will solve the sort of problems that they don’t see often at school, where they have a teacher who knows all the answers,” Igor says.

You don’t need any experience of programming to take the course, just curiosity and a willingness to experiment, Igor promises.

The first day of the course uses lateral thinking puzzles and exercises to show kids that “hacking” has very little to do with what they see in the movies. Instead we will show them how to use creative thinking to solve problems for themselves, even by learning something as simple as how to improve the way they use Google.

Afterwards they will use their new skills to learn how to protect digital devices by imagining how someone who wanted to break into them would do it, and to fix the security on a real network to defeat an intruder.

And by the time they have finished the course, the students are ready to demonstrate their hand-on skills to their parents. Afterwards they can go home and help their families and friends secure their information. But they will also have acquired a lifelong skill that will benefit both their studies and their lives outside school.

Why Our Teens Need to Learn to Code

Isn’t it time our teens and children learn how to code? Code is everywhere. It’s powering our smart homes, our smart cities and our smartphones. According to a recent study by le Figaro, European teens are spending up to one-fifth of their time during the week on media! 

The programming language Python is powering everything from web applications like Dropbox to Google’s Autonomous Car. Even NASA uses Python for the management of its repositories of models. 

Then there is Swift. Designed by Apple in 2014, Swift has become a dominant language with an appeal to young developers. From Yahoo Weather App to LinkedIn’s latest Slideshare app. In less than 24 months, Swift has quickly becoming one of the leading languages for apps.

If you own an iPhone, you have Swift in your pocket!

But not in our schools

Or, generally speaking, not so many of them. And that is a problem.

According to a recent study in Australia, 70% of young people are preparing for jobs that will no longer exist in the future. 70%! …perhaps there is some exaggeration here, but you get the point.

No, there is not enough computer programming being taught to children today. Not in Switzerland, nor in Europe, nor in the USA.

Take this. Even in California’s Silicon Valley, home to Google, Apple, Facebook, LinkedIn, WhatsApp, CISCO (and many more) very few schools offer computer science in core class offerings. This is changing, but ever so slowly and it isn’t clear what type of programming will be provided.

More coding, please!

Nine out of ten parents want their children exposed to computer science. Educators and industry leaders believe that coding is a new type of literacy that should be available to everyone, starting at aLaura Robotics young age.

While we often hear complaints about how schools lag in math and science, we haven’t heard much disappointment about the lack of coding education. So why don’t schools don’t teach it?  Why are more parents asking?

Perhaps one reason is that schools simply don’t have the resources. As education costs rise, courses are cut and so is education staff. Or, maybe, parents just don’t expect schools to teach programming and mark it off as “generation” thing.

What’s the urgency?

Let’s go back to the Australian study. If 70% of their youth is ill-equipped for the future or work, we can be pretty confident our statistics look somewhat similar.

The job market of the future will increasingly require that we have to educate ourselves in the direction that economic growth is pulling us, that is, in the disciplines where jobs are available.

This path increasingly includes computer programming, and that is why — urgently — we need to teach more coding alongside math, biology, and chemistry.

So why should we be teaching Python and Swift?

Python is a programming language that is powerful and fast. It is friendly, easy to learn, and it is Open. According to coders (and TechSpark Academy students), whether you’re a first-time programmer, or experienced with other languages, Python is easy to pick up.

My favorite part: coding the games, then playing them. – Andrew, 15 years-old, Python student, TechSpark Academy

More importantly, it’s appealing to younger coders (like Andrew, above) and is excellent motivation and inspiration for further adventures in coding.

Spearheading change in Switzerland

Given that computer languages are becoming better, smarter, leaner, and easier to use, every student in Swiss and Europeans schools should have the opportunity to learn computer science.

The Swiss public and private sector are actively seeking computer literate workforces. The EPFL is actively seeking more applicants for computer science courses and encouraging more girls interested in computer science and communication systems to apply. Gaming companies can’t get enough qualified programmers. The Swiss government wants to more high-tech start-ups. Everyone wants a society that is aplenty with coding competency.

Make 2016 the Year Your Teen Learns to Code!

If you are even remotely interested in programming, it’s worth it! Once this course has ended, I can use my knowledge to create Apps for OSX. – Julie, 16 years old, Swift student, TechSpark Academy

TechSpark Academy was established in Lausanne Switzerland to help fill the gap until traditional education catches up.

Ted Python with TwinsOur mission is to expose students to coding in a fun and interactive manner during school vacations, including Easter and summer We very much enjoy working with young student instructors from the EPFL to spark the learning process of teens and pre-teens.

Whether your children want to become a computer scientist or not, learning to code stretches their minds, helps them to think better, and last but not least, opens their eyes to what the world looks like behind the screen of a smartphone.

At our Easter camp in Lausanne and Geneva this year, we will introduce 9-17 year-olds to current software used by professionals to build apps, websites and computer games with a focus on languages such Python and SWIFT.

Treat your tweens and teens to a genuinely different kind of camp this Easter or Summer and let’s make 2016 the year they learn to code! Our courses and locations are listed here

TechSpark Academy and Teen Coding: 2015 in Review

As 2015 rolls to an end, we’re thankful for the collaboration and teamwork that took place between student faculty, coding camp participants and industry professionals to launch our first series of TechSpark Academy coding camps this year.

It’s hard to believe it was only in January of this year that TechSpark Academy was born. It happened quickly.

I headed off campus from the EPFL Innovation Park for a bite to eat at our favorite sushi restaurant, Sushi Haiko at St Sulpice, with students and friends, and we came back with as partners with a plan for offering coding camps to teens!

TechSpark Academy Team

TechSpark Academy takes flight

Within a few weeks, we had found program sponsors, students from the EPFL to co-organize, create the curriculum and teach the courses. Six months later, in August 2015, we held our first four courses that that offered teens the opportunity to code and create.

  • Introduction to Programming with Python
  • Mobile App Programming with Swift
  • Adventures in Robotics with Arduino
  • Digital Film and Photography with Adobe

Our motivation was simple: bring digital to life for teens by exposing them to hands-on coding classes in an engaging and motivating, camp-like atmosphere. Let them discover how to create or co-create with friends without the pressure of an exam or scores at the end of the class.

Our goal was for teens to dip their toes into ‘the world of coding waters’ to see for themselves that the water is warm and friendly, not hot (and scary) or too cold (and boring). In fact, we wanted the waters to feel so good that they come back and dive in later on in life.

Our hope was that the teens would leave, with at least one aspect of the coding, digital creation or organizational thinking around programming. We were sure that something would find a place in their life-skills toolkit.

To do this, the people teaching the courses were crucial to success. We wanted instructors who would inspire and who could relate to participants and the EPFL student body became a key success factor and partner in TechSpark Academy from day one.

Students between the ages of 21-25 taught the courses, and the August summer camp was a huge success. Our hunch was right: peer education hit the sweet spot. You can read the student’s comment here.

Frits and Yu

So why learn to code?

“Everyone should learn how to program a computer because it teaches you how to think.”

It’s been 20 years since Steve Jobs said those words. In 2014, Great Britain became the first G7 country to introduce computer science in school curriculums for all children aged 5 to 16.

By the age of seven, British school children will be expected to be capable of writing and debugging a simple program. By 11, some will be exploring computing concepts once considered appropriate for undergraduates.

Science, Technology, and Innovation are critical ingredients of young people’s future, whatever education pathway and career they choose.

With millions of tech jobs available globally set to constantly increase, learning to code is one of the core skill sets required to ensure 20-th century literacy.

Our mission is not to turn children into computer scientists – even if some may be stimulated to do just that! Our mission is to open a teen’s eyes and encourage them to move from consumer to creator and understand what powers the smartphones, tablets and computers they use very day.

Laura Robotics

Achieving our 2015 Mission

Like any Start-up or small company, getting operations up and running is often a lot harder and much more work that we ever expect.

Thanks to an agile team with a can-do attitude, 2015 was a great year for us and full of hard-won successes for our small team.

Here’s are five highlights we are extremely proud of in 2015:

1. We ran our first two-week camps on the beautiful Champittet Campus!
Thank you to all the students (and parents) who signed up and participated. We had a wonderful time learning with you!
We are extremely grateful to Philippe De Korodi, Champittet School Director, who welcomed us with open arms and allowed us to use his classrooms and computer equipment!
Additionally, Matthew Roberts, Secondary ICT Coordinator did everything in his power to make our lives easier during the camps. Thank you!

2. Marilyn Stelzner from Global University Choices visited TechSpark Academy at Champittet. She discussed with us the importance of extra-curricular learning, especially when doing an IB and planning to attend a US or UK college.

3. John Dines, Advanced Analytics at Expedia, Inc. in Geneva joined ourPython workshop.
John works with Python every day developing algorithms and methodologies to optimize the user Expedia client experience and to model and predict consumer purchase behavior

4. We attended the European code week (10-18 Oct) in Geneva and metGabriella Fumagalli, the Europe Code Week Ambassador for Switzerland!
Thank you, Gabriella, for encouraging is and offering your support!

5. We signed an agreement with Ecole Internationale de Genève
ECOLINT, Campus des Nations, is where the IB diploma was born, and we are extremely excited TechSpark Academy will partner with ECOLINT to run two camps in 2106!

  • March 29th to April 1st
  • July 11th to 15th

A big thank you to Richard Allaway, Technology for Learning Coordinator (and Author of who found us on the internet and decided to reach out to us!

What’s coming in 2016?

More camps, in more locations, and more fun! We’ll be offering beginning courses as well as advanced courses for our 2015 alumni.

We also hope to offer camps in Dubai and Rabat, Morocco with the help of our latest additions to the team, Adam Ztot, who joined us as Head of Programme Development this year and Rita Farah, our Programme Coordinator for the Middle East and Gulf. Stay tuned for more news about programs and courses in 2016.

From our team to your teens, we wish you and your families healthy, happy and hopefully even a code-inspired New Year. We look forward to answering your questions about upcoming camps and welcoming your teens to TechSpark Academy in 2016!

Learn more about upcoming courses and sign up for our spring camp here.