Thank you Capital One for sponsoring this post.
How do you introduce kids to coding in a way that will keep them interested in learning the meaningful skills that they need for the jobs of today and tomorrow? You invest in their education like Capital One has done with its Future Edge initiative.
Last week, I attended Capital One’s C1 Coders Program graduation, an event to commemorate and celebrate 10-weeks of learning by upwards of 90 students from four Fairfax County Public Schools. The C1 Coders graduation I attended was a way to showcase the development of the unique apps each group of students created with MIT University’s App Inventor 2. Similar events were held around the country to showcase the apps developed by the 1,000 sixth, seventh, and eighth-graders nationwide who likewise participated in the program and spent the last 10 weeks learning about software engineering.
It was an inspiring night where enthusiasm ran high among eager middle schoolers and left me wishing that our local middle school was part of C1 Coders. It also got me thinking about middle schoolers, programs in schools, and the best way to teach our kids the skills they need to prepare them for a job market where many jobs might not even exist yet.
STEM is hot right now, but in order for kids to develop a greater interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics during a critical period in their education, it’s not enough to just develop programs that you hope will appeal to kids. As a parent and former teacher, there are five key steps that help get kids involved, engaged, and maintain their interest, and Capital One’s C1 Coders Program hits each one.
5 Components of Successful STEM Programs for Middle School Ages
Make programs available and it easy for kids to get involved
Making things easy is key to exposing kids to STEM learning. Programs during the school day or immediately after often do well because students are a captive audience. Hour of Code, for instance, does a fantastic job of introducing kids to coding during one hour of one school day, while C1 Coders, offered as an afterschool program, makes it easy for students from participating middle schools to get involved. Many of the students I talked to while they showed me their apps told me that C1 Coders was their first exposure to coding.
Provide age appropriate hands on learning activities
Kids of all ages learn best by doing. It’s just not enough to read from a book and then apply that knowledge. Today’s students are growing up in an era where interacting with content is key. By using MIT App Inventor 2, C1 Coders students were able to use the open source platform to get an introduction to programming and app creation, use the graphical interface to create a basic, fully functional app in about an hour, and then refine their ideas to the final versions they demonstrated to me at the graduation’s app showcase.
Guide them but let them be creative
The beauty of apps is that you’re only limited by your imagination, and the vast array of apps displayed at the graduation demonstrated that this is true even of beginning coders. When I asked students how they came up with their ideas, the general consensus was they created apps that were based off of what they liked and wanted to play. From trivia, coloring apps, to a falling down Homer Simpson app, there was no shortage of creativity displayed by middle schoolers. As independent and creative thinkers, the apps proved that they can flourish if provided with mentors who can support and guide them as they apply their creativity to their learning.
Celebrate their accomplishments
With nearly eight in ten middle-skill jobs in today’s workforce requiring digital skills and nearly half of all the jobs in the top quartile in pay require some coding knowledge or skills, it’s important to recognize the accomplishments of those in the C1 Coders program. While everyone loves having their achievements recognized and each of the participating schools could have held their own C1 Coder graduations, it was far more powerful for the four middle schools to come together on one night. It felt like a celebration, with students showing off their app creations to other participating C1 Coder students and families before a formal presentation in a beautiful space that felt official, yet fun.
During the presentation, Capital One’s Vice President of Technology, Jen Manry, shared her own story of how, at age nine, she told her mom she wanted to be an electrical engineer. She credited her mother for encouraging her love of STEM subjects and now, as a mother, she fosters her own childrens’ interests in the subjects. She inspired the audience by saying, “You’re the next generation of our workforce that will take the jobs of our future.”
Mayim Bialik then took the stage. While she may be best known to us parents as Blossom or for her role in “The Big Bang Theory,” to the middle schoolers, she seemed more like a friend.
“Stuff didn’t come easy to me,” the actress and real life neuroscientist told the crowd. “An understanding of science can enrich your life no matter what career path you choose. Understanding the science of the world around you is gratifying.”
Provide them with the tools to keep learning
So many times students participate in incredible educational experiences, but don’t have the materials at home to continue practicing what they’ve learned so knowledge is lost. To ensure that the participating Fairfax County Public School graduates of C1 Coders keep coding, Capital One outfitted each middle schooler with a backpack filled with swag, including a Chromebook.
“It’s a real computer!” exclaimed one girl as climbed the steps, clutching the laptop to her chest as she met her parents.
“Unbelievable. Unbelievable.” said a mother as she and her daughter left the graduation celebration.
As families were exiting Capital One’s headquarters, I kept hearing Mayim Bialik’s words in my head, “It’s because of programs like C1 Coders that we can provide opportunities that are thoughtful, creative and engaging” and wishing that every student had access to such an impactful program.
About C1 Coders
C1 Coders is part of the company’s $150 million Future Edge initiative that focuses on helping more Americans get the skills they need to succeed in the 21st century. Capital One collaborates with 20 schools and community organizations across the country in order to help today’s youth foster necessary skills they need for working in the digital age.
For more information about how Capital One’s Future Edge initiative provides community grants to help today’s students get the skills they need for the jobs of today and tomorrow, visit Capital One Investing for Good or and read Mashable’s article on how they’re creating opportunity and excitement for STEM careers.
Huge thanks to Capital One for sponsoring my attendance at C1 Coders graduation. I was compensated to attend, provide live coverage, and share my experience through this post. All opinions are my own and based on personal experience.