Last month, I had the opportunity to speak to a group of students at Hancock College Prep High School here in Chicago. The talk was part of a larger event known as the Hour of Code put on by a great non-profit called Code.org. This was the third year the event was held, which is timed to coincide with Computer Science Education Week. The goal of the organization is to promote interest in the computer science field, increase participation by women and minorities, and encourage educational institutions to offer more classes and opportunities related to computer science. Students in participating schools are given the chance to listen to guest speakers, like myself, and participate in coding workshops that are designed to demonstrate core programming concepts in a fun and approachable medium. The coding workshops are great examples of interactive e-learning.
Computer Science education is something that I am very passionate about. When I was in high school, I had the unique opportunity to take a couple of introductory classes in basic programming. This had a large influence on me and the direction of my growth. I was motivated to continue pursuing my interest in the field, eventually leading to my decision to major in Computer Science in college, and ultimately to my current role as a Software Architect at NogginLabs.
Admittedly, the idea of talking to a group of high school students was intimidating at first (full disclosure: I actually googled “how to talk to high schoolers”). I wondered, was my experience even relevant to them and would my pre-millennium jokes still pass muster? I couldn’t help but think about how much the technological landscape has changed in such a very short period of time.
THE THINGS I THOUGHT WERE COOL (PROGRAMMING MY TI-83+ CALCULATOR) SURELY COULDN’T HOLD A CANDLE TO THE THINGS YOU CAN DO WITH THE LATEST IPHONE.
I put my reservations aside and whipped up a sweet powerpoint (replete with dank memes and hilarious gifs). Having not been in a high school since my own graduation, it was an interesting feeling to suddenly find myself thrust into the center of students making their way from class to class, chatting about homework, relationships, the prototypical. It gave me a sense of nostalgia, but also relief knowing that my own awkward high school days were long behind me.
I presented to two different classrooms, with students ranging from freshmen to seniors. I was delighted to find them courteous, attentive, and genuinely interested in the material. The students had some familiarity with the fundamentals of programming logic (one of the topics I was covering) thanks to the workshops they attended. I also gave a demonstration of one of my favorite projects, a game NogginLabs built in collaboration with Junior Achievement for upperclassmen in High School about budgeting time and money as a college student.
I think they were able to draw some parallels between this game and their coding activities, seeing the relevance of what they had just been introduced to and an example of a finished product.
When the final bell rang and school was dismissed, the students filed out, saying thanks and asking a few final questions. The teachers who coordinated the event at the school were very appreciative. They had just started a Computer Science curriculum, so this was a great way to inspire their students to sign up for the classes. I’m hopeful that my message reached those students in the room who are like I was at that age, and spurred a natural curiosity for how things work and a passion for exploring technology. As for myself, I learned plenty about communicating with a younger audience, finding common ground as a basis for connecting, and demonstrating enthusiasm for material I genuinely believe in.
If you are curious to know more about the Hour of Code, or the organization behind it, I highly recommend checking them out.