LAHS students teach coding to elementary students

Traci Newell/Town Crier
Los Altos High junior Anyka Chan, center, helps fifth-graders at Santa Rita School during a Computer Engineers of the Next Generation after-school class last week. The organization, run by Los Altos High students, provides free computer science courses in local schools.

With the goal to offer free computer science courses to kids at a young age, a group of Los Altos High School students launched Computer Engineers of the Next Generation.

The group of nine students offers the after-school classes to local fifth-graders with the aim of creating a diverse workforce of computer engineers for the next generation.

Computer Engineers of the Next Generation provides the after-school courses free of charge to students and the school, and focuses on serving minorities, girls and low-income students.

“We want to be able to share computer science education with everyone,” said co-founder and Los Altos High senior David Ding. “Especially at a young age – that is when kids are very creative.”

Ding said he was inspired to launch the effort because his family couldn’t afford all of the science and technology enrichment programs he wanted to take when he was younger.

“We wanted to provide this free program so kids who want to learn but maybe haven’t had this opportunity in the past can experience the world of computer science,” he said.

Coding curriculum

The founders of Computer Engineers of the Next Generation designed their own curriculum using Scratch and JavaScript, offering eight-week courses to fifth-graders at Santa Rita School, Monta Loma Elementary School in Mountain View and a summer camp at St. Athanasius Church.

They teach students at all computer science learning levels.

“It just depends where they are at when they start the course,” said Alice Lee, a local parent who helps the organization. “If they are super-beginners, we teach them; if they are intermediate, we want to challenge them and give them a more rigorous curriculum. It depends on the student.”

The coding activities usually begin with an objective – like building a rectangle – and the kids then work on animating their creations. Computer Engineers of the Next Generation leaders use the Khan Academy platform to teach their JavaScript lessons. Last week at Santa Rita, fifth-graders were creating dice and using probability to simulate a roll.

“When I was in fifth grade, I didn’t have too much computer science knowledge, but the general concepts are very intuitive, so all kids are able to learn this,” Ding said. “The students are great and very creative at this young age. They are able to grasp the concepts even better than I thought.”

On the last day of class, which is today for the Santa Rita course, students wrap up their final projects and show their parents everything they have learned.

“Great bonds are forged and we spark an interest in … computer science,” Lee said.

Anyka Chan, a Los Altos High junior who will be leading the group next year, said she wanted to expose kids to computer science earlier than she had been.

“Before high school, I really hated computer science because I sort of had a few hints of what it was about,” she said. “But I was exposed to it way too quickly, and I didn’t think I would understand anything.”

After taking Intro to Computer Science her sophomore year, Chan discovered that she loved coding.

“I really wanted to share that with other students,” she said. “I wanted to expose them at a younger age, at a lower level.”

This month, Computer Engineers of the Next Generation is scheduled to begin teaching a course at Monta Loma, focusing on students most in need.

Moving forward, Lee said the plan is to secure nonprofit status for the group so that students can fundraise for a projector instead of using a borrowed one. The schools they teach at provide laptops for the fifth-graders during lessons.

Ding said he hopes that the group’s impact will spread. He specifically encouraged Mountain View High students to start their own chapter so that more local youth might benefit.

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