Business & Real Estate

Local company offers children keys to 'Embark' on careers in coding

Photo Courtesy of Embark Labs
Children participate in Embark Lab’s Google Spring Academy.

Embark Labs has embarked on a new path for teaching children computer science.

The Peninsula-based company, founded in November by Jessie Arora, works with children – some as young as 6 years old – using a project-based approach. Los Altos native Brian Van Dyck is Embark’s director of curriculum and instruction.

As part of its approach, Van Dyck and Embark’s other instructors spend more time on developing younger children’s critical-thinking skills, according to Arora, and focusing on the more creative aspect of the “learn-to-code movement.”

“Beyond coding, these are the skills that all students will need to be successful in the future – no matter what career or discipline they choose to pursue,” she said.

Early Embark events included “Scratch Day at Google,” during which participants ages 6-13 used Scratch, an interactive programming language, to create simple games and other apps.

Arora said the best part of her job is “seeing how excited the kids get when they figure out how to debug something or get through a challenge they were struggling with.”

Arnav Deyal, a fifth-grader from Santa Clara, attended an Embark Labs program last year. He described how when the students “got on to Scratch, we got to explore without rules and explanations.”

“After explanations, it all made sense,” he said.

Arnav added that the most challenging part of the experience was “getting the code to work.”

And his favorite part?

“Learning binary code,” said Arnav, who would like to attend future Embark programs.

According to Arora, more than 200 students have attended Embark programs.

Rusi Batchu, a third-grader from Santa Clara, attended an Embark program in the spring. She said the most challenging aspect of the experience was “getting my program to mimic the intended solution.” Rusi added that her favorite part was “brainstorming ideas and coming up with solutions.”

Embark Labs offers three courses in Mountain View and Menlo Park, with 15-20 students per class. Students learn computer science basics through offline games and puzzles and use free coding software (Lightbot, Blockly and Scratch) to create projects.

The four- to 10-day programs cost $350-$898, depending on the course and location. Arora said Embark intends to reserve 10 percent of its spaces for scholarship students. Participants are asked to bring their own laptops, though this summer the company plans to offer Chromebooks for students to use at its pop-up lab in Menlo Park.

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