Students creating a foundation in programming and computer science.
GUEST COLUMN | by Ryan Seashore
Four years ago, we launched CodeNow as a nonprofit focused on helping underrepresented teens look under the hood of technology to learn about coding. To date, we’ve run 33 in-person trainings, and have seen over 1,000 students pass through our program, 80 percent of whom received free or reduced lunch. Many of our earliest students are just starting their college careers, and a good percentage have selected disciplines in computer science. Our imperative is to shine the light on coding for teens at the beginning of the pipeline, and we look for as many access points as possible to show any
We think learning to code is like playing a sport. How will someone know if they like it unless they try? Kids need exposure in order to learn whether it’s for them.
student that they can have a bright future in computer science if they want it. We do this through in-person workshops and trainings on weekends and summer break, and we often work with teachers and community groups to recruit students curious about coding. Through our CodeNow In A Box initiative we work with corporations such as Adobe, Bloomberg, Infor, Symantec and others who provide us with space, volunteers and funding.
We’ve witnessed firsthand the power of peer-to-peer learning during our in-person trainings – students can explain things to each other in very easy-to-understand, relatable terms and context. And when it comes to engaging with our program overall, our students are far from shy about sharing their opinions and ideas about how to solve the problem in front of them, and also how to improve what CodeNow does. We listen. We invite them back to keep learning or, in some cases, teach at our workshops. They influence curriculum and methodology, as we recently saw in our newest form of training: #CodeHow. (Our students picked the name.)
#CodeHow is a series of short concept videos, three to six minutes in duration, that feature CodeNow alumni explaining important programming and computer science concepts and ideas — for example, variables, arrays, if/else statements, and other introductory fundamentals. Each of the videos includes a key aspect students should understand about a concept. They are available on YouTube and free to anyone who is curious about learning to code.
Peer-to-peer learning is not a new idea; it is just a matter of who is creating the content and who the audience is. #CodeHow is unique in that it involves teens teaching teens about coding. There is no power dynamic affecting the learning process, and students share the status as fellow learners, making learning to code more accessible. For those doing the “teaching,” it is an opportunity to pay it forward and externalize their knowledge, both activities that positively affect learning. For those doing the learning, it has the added benefit of presenting a relatable model of what can be achieved, a “possible self.”
Not every school offers programming classes, and not every student has the resources to pay for coding education outside of school. The internet allows students with curiosity and interest to find the resources they need to begin learning. #CodeHow is designed to be a relatable starting point, where teens can try their hand at learning from other teens who not too long ago were in their position – just starting out, not sure where to look, but wanting to explore whether computer science might be for them. We think learning to code is like playing a sport. How will someone know if they like it unless they try? Kids need exposure in order to learn whether it’s for them. Our workshops and videos demystify programming, allowing teens to dive in and see if it’s for them.