Computer Science Education Week is a nationwide initiative suggesting that every student try coding for one hour. Learning the basics of computer science prepares students for a world that is increasingly dominated by technology. 90 percent of parents want their children to study computer science, and computing jobs are the number one source for new income. Despite 517,393 open computing jobs nationwide, only 42,989 computer science students graduated into the workforce last year. As technology continues to permeate our lives, the demand for employees in the tech sector grows with it, with one million more computer science jobs than people qualified to fill them by 2020.
American schools, however, don’t seem to be ahead of the trend. While the CS For All initiative has led some districts to see the importance in computer science classes, 40 percent of schools still don’t teach computer programming, and only six states have created computer science standards for grades K-12. The reason? Officials don’t think kids have interest in learning computer science. Although New York announced plans to offer all students programming classes by 2025, fewer than 10 percent of city schools currently offer any form of computer science education, and only 1 percent of students are currently in CS classes.
But students do have interest.
Living proof is CoderDojo, a global network of programming clubs for young people. More than 1,400 New York families have annually attended CoderDojo NYC since the chapter opened. At CoderDojo NYC, the mission is to create a fun, creative and collaborative out-of-school environment to explore STEM, where students can build memorable experiences with mentors to ignite passion for technology at an early age.
Coding bootcamps and specialized workshops can get expensive. But CoderDojo NYC, like all the Dojos, is completely free, volunteer-led and open to anyone age 7 to 17. The monthly workshops in the greater New York City area serve as an informal, creative and social environment for young people to learn to code and explore web, game and app development.
The NYC chapter of the nonprofit was co-founded by Carl Sednaoui and Rebecca Garcia in 2012. Garcia took to technology at a young age, teaching herself to code when she was 14. She’s now a Program Manager for Tech Jobs Academy as well as the CoderDojo NYC co-founder.
Garcia explained that there are more than 1,000 chapters of CoderDojo in 60 countries.
‘The idea is that anyone can start a CoderDojo chapter and provide open and accessible education for youth around the globe,” Garcia told us. “Any Saturday, type ‘#CoderDojo’ on Twitter, and you can see chapters from all over the globe coding and tinkering.”
At CoderDojo NYC, children create and build at the half-day hackathon-style workshops through project-based learning, Garcia explained. Projects are sometimes civic-themed or themed for the season. CoderDojo NYC will host a special all-ages event for Hour of Code on Dec. 10 where the theme will be climate change.
What makes the CoderDojo experience so successful is that students receive one-on-one guidance from a mentor, Garcia said.
“The special thing is that there’s only one volunteer for every student,” she said. “It’s very different from a standard classroom environment with one teacher and 30 students.”
These CoderDojo NYC volunteers range from more seasoned technology professionals to educators, designers and even students themselves learning to code.
“These people give back to the community through providing guidance and mentorship. They find it very rewarding,” Garcia said.
Children learn using MIT’s Scratch and Arduino’s littleBits programming tools. While students are definitely learning computer science fundamentals through visual programming, Garcia stressed the importance in sparking love of learning at an earlier age.
“It’s more about exploring creativity through technology,” she said.
Many students move on and learn more coding skills at longer-term programs that CoderDojo NYC has partnerships with, such as Girls Who Code and Nano Hackers Academy. One CoderDojo NYC student, Kiera Cawley, started coding when she was nine and went on to be the youngest person to receive a WWDC scholarship at 12 years old.
CoderDojo NYC maintains partnerships with schools in underrepresented areas and has a naturally occurring 50-50 gender ratio and ethnic diversity. The median age of attendees is 12 to 13.
One seventh grader from Queens, Rebecca Feldman, told the New York Times that she started going to CoderDojo NYC after she became discouraged at her robotics after-school program.
“I was one of two girls in the class,” she told the Times. “We kind of had to fend for ourselves.”
Garcia became a mentor for the student, who became known as Little Rebecca. Garcia recalled that Little Rebecca had never heard of computer science before, but after her first CoderDojo NYC session, she told her parents, “I really like this. Is this something you can do for a living?”
Learn more about CoderDojo on Saturday, Dec. 10 at Hour of Code during Computer Science Education Week.