Cracking the Code to Computer Science

Posted by: tlaffernis, September 1, 2016 11:55 am
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Christine at Long Island City

To read this article in the September/October 2016 issue of Queens Library Magazine, pick up a hard copy from your nearest community library or click here for the PDF.

“It feels like a game. I want to keep coding after summer.” Mikayla, an 8-year-old getting ready for third grade, is definitely not a victim of the dreaded summer slide. Instead, she’s just wrapping up a session with Google CS First, the highly popular computer science program that’s got everything sleepaway camp doesn’t: coding, animations, and Minecraft-levels of addiction.

It’s the second time Queens Library has joined forces with the Mountain View tech titan, and applications to the program skyrocketed within a few days of the announcement. Over 1800 prospective students applied for just 300 places. The summer classes were varied: kids of all ages could apply to take part in Game Design, Storytelling, Fashion & Design, and more. All classes use Scratch, a teaching platform that allows for self-directed learning.

Mikayla took part in the Music & Sound class held at the Cambria Heights community library branch. Her mother, Marissa, is just as enthusiastic about the program. “I like the fact that they were introduced to Scratch, but the rest of the time they were working independently. She’s learned how to take direction. She’s inspired.”

She’s not the only one. Classmate Franco would “definitely take this class at school. One hundred percent.” A fifth grader who has grown to love coding, he’s excited by the curriculum each time he puts his headphones on. “It challenges you a lot,” he said. “Every day, you do something more challenging than the last time. It makes you very intrigued.” For another participant, Ariana, it’s all about the bite-sized pieces of information. “What I also like about the class is that when they teach you about coding, they do it with different steps.” Her mom, Tamara, is totally on board with this method. “She loves it so much; she can’t wait to show us projects at home. She’s becoming a coding geek!”

“The pilot of the Google CS First program has been a remarkable success,” said Queens Library President and CEO, Dennis M. Walcott. “It’s a testament to the power and appeal of accessible STEM education.” As a result of this demand, Queens Library is looking run Google CS First classes regularly, enabling kids throughout the borough to learn the basics of coding alongside their traditional schooling.

And it’s not just the educational element that keeps the kids interested. “My favorite thing about the class is making projects and chilling with my friends,” said Emily, a seventh grader who’s also on her school swim team. Because of her practice schedule, most computer science programs with all-day workshops didn’t fit into her summer plan. After doing her own research and learning about Google CS First’s flexible approach, she jumped at the chance to apply. “Emily’s always been interested in computer programs, and started looking into computer science programs on her own,” said her mother, Tina. “She really enjoys it. She even wants to volunteer to help in future classes!”

That enthusiasm for the future is something that all the participants share. “What I’m doing now is simple, but it could turn into something bigger when I’m older. I now see computer science and coding as an actual job,” said 13-year-old Christine. “It’s important because I don’t have to depend on other people to do things for me.”