Educational equity for all children, privileged or not, was urged by James Paul Gee in their preparation for today’s increasingly high tech world (2004). Though his message is over a decade old, it is still relevant. Not all children have the same access to a computer, a smartphone, the internet, or food for that matter. The article Fixing the Bugs: Teaching Kids to Code on a Zero-Dollar Budget by Mary Jo Madda highlights Google’s grassroots effort to make coding classes available to underprivileged children. The Google program, named CS First means Computer Science First and “provides free, easy-to-use computer science enrichment materials that target and engage a diverse student population,” (CS-First.com).
In my CU Denver master’s level games and learning course, we are dissecting game theory. One major lesson I’ve learned is that opportunity is key. All children can easily learn specialist varieties of language, or code, as part of assimilating popular culture (Gee, 2004, p. 11). CS First is providing such an opportunity for students to learn coding who otherwise would not have access to the technology or guidance.
Madda demonstrates how CS First is a great example of clever scaffolding versus reinventing the wheel. CS First’s Program Manager, Kate Berrio said, ““We didn’t just want to create [a new program], we wanted to look at what’s out there and what we could piggyback off of or scaffold around,” (Madda, 2014). SC First piggybacked off three key program components: a quality coding program, themed curriculum, and community mentors. As a supplement program, SC First’s target markets include after-school program, summer camps, and community outreach.
CS First scaffolded curriculum around the free online coding program, Scratch. With Scratch as the coding foundation, Berrio then took special care to integrate other subjects or interests into learning Scratch, such as fashion or music. Classes offer inviting names like “Scratch Music & Sound” or “Scratch Game Design.” Softening the term computer science proved to recruit more students.
Mentors of the program are called Gurus and, from my perspective, I find them to be the most pivotal component of the program. CS First says interested volunteers can learn alongside the students and offers a easy, well-planned lesson plans for each class. This is also assuming the hosting program has the “minimum requirements:
- Access to a computer lab or laptops
- Reliable internet/wifi connnection
- Access to students” (cs-first.com).
What’s even more exciting is CS First gathered data from all their pilot programs in Charleston, South Carolina, the third lowest state for wifi connectivity in homes. These are the exact children who more than likely, don’t have access to technology outside of school. Google collected pre and post club survey data to capture 1200+ students reactions to coding in their pilot programs from August 2014 to April 2014. Students responses included the following:
- “‘I can create things with Computer Science’ increased by 25%.
- ‘Yes, I do like programming’ increased by 29%.
- ‘If I get stuck on a computer problem, I might know how to fix it’ increased by 22%.
- ‘Yes, I think computer science is cool’ increased by 26%.
- ‘I don’t really understand computer science’ decreased by 34%,’” (sc-first.com).
I am most excited that Gee’s wisdom is being heeded at the very core of CS First mission to make computer science accessible to underprivileged children. Way to fight for equity Google!
Gee, J. P. (2004). Situated language and learning: A critique of traditional schooling. New York: Routledge.
Photo Credit: http://www.moultrienews.com/article/20150611/MN01/150619924/1036