In the first week of December, thousands of schools across the country participated in the Hour of Code, a coding initiative designed to expose students to computer science.
However, one Mountain View elementary school was not involved in the event – only one teacher had been holding the Hour of Code for her students at Monta Loma Elementary School in previous years. Our club, Computer Engineers of the Next Generation (CENG), decided to change that. We worked with the school’s principal and teachers to bring the program to all of its 423 students for the first time.
CENG comprises 15 Los Altos High School students aiming to introduce historically underrepresented minorities to computer science by offering free after-school coding classes. We teach weekly coding classes at Monta Loma and Santa Rita School in Los Altos to third- through sixth-graders. We split our team between two classrooms of different skill levels. We teach the classes in eight-week sessions and hold four sessions of classes per year.
Sustaining two classes at a time requires a lot of work for the team to maintain order among the students and ensure that all the students are progressing. So when presented with the challenge of holding Monta Loma’s first schoolwide Hour of Code, we were quite apprehensive about the concept of each member of our club running a class alone. The Hour of Code would be many students’ first exposure to coding, and we wanted to ensure that it would be a positive introduction. However, we didn’t know how excited they would be, and we were concerned about the short attention spans of the younger students that we didn’t usually teach.
The two of us each led a kindergarten and first-grade class, each 50 minutes long. We led them through coding challenges where kids gave the computer “instructions” on how to reach given goals. The younger classes worked on a maze challenge where they controlled an angry bird using drag-and-drop blocks to stop a green pig. The students progressed quickly, staying motivated even as they reached the more advanced concepts of while loops and limited space.
The third- through fifth-graders coded a Minecraft maze game. Twenty-six older students that had taken our regular coding class served as junior mentors to help us teach the kids, making sure that everyone had access to one-on-one assistance.
By the end of the class, our worries that the students would be unwilling to learn or uncontrollable had dissipated. Instead, we found it touching how excited they were to push on with the challenges and ask for help – teaching the younger students was also an adorable change from our usual third- through sixth-graders.
As we were leaving the classroom, the kids were complaining about how the class had already ended and shouting melodramatically when we told them they could continue coding at home. Not only did their shouting affect our ears, but it also opened our eyes to how big of an impact we could make on a community with just two hours of time, and we hope to improve the lives of students around us through CENG.
For more information, visit cengclass.org.
Isabella Borkovic and Michelle Zhu serve as treasurer and vice president of operations, respectively, of CENG. They are juniors at Los Altos High School.