Teaching Computer Programming Through Making

[I serve on the Board of the Neighborhood Learning Alliance (NLA), a non-profit in Pittsburgh, that serves African-American and lower-income families in the region. We have developed a program called the Tech Warriors that trains high school and middle school students to work with younger children on STEM-related projects, similar to what is described in the Mindshift article below. It’s important to use technology as a hook. Coding and computational thinking are tools for success. Google Pittsburgh has helped NLA in a variety of meaningful ways. It’s great to see their efforts in Oakland, California.]


Making computer programming a part of the K-12 curriculum is becoming  a rallying call in the United States. But just because you teach a subject doesn’t mean you get kids interested in it. So the real challenge is how to get kids, who might not necessarily be into computers, to pursue a career in coding?

Google and MIT’s Media Lab are trying to answer that question at Code Next,  an after-school program located in the Fruitvale neighborhood of Oakland. Coding programs put on by tech companies are often in a Google office or held at a local school. But Code Next is a storefront space in a shopping center next to the Fruitvale BART Station. The idea is to capture high school students from this working-class neighborhood.

Valeria Fornes, 14, says that, until now, the extent of her computer skills has been helping her dad troubleshoot his smartphone. She goes to a high school a few miles up the street.

“The most fun thing I’ve made is using the 3-D printer and I made a game,” Fornes said.

By game, Valeria means a board game. The one she made had little pieces that fit inside the board. It took a few tries to make those pieces fit, she said, but she figured it out. What does making a board game have to do with coding computers?

“Everything’s just a big puzzle,” Fornes said. “Like if something doesn’t work, you have to rearrange almost everything.”

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