Thank you to Capital One for sponsoring this post
As a former classroom teacher, I can distinguish between social chatter and productive chatter. Social chatter was typical in my first-grade classroom as kids were transitioning between parts of the day or weren’t engaged in classroom tasks and had the power to create a ripple effect of off-task behavior. As the glass doors slid open to the Capital One Headquarters in McLean, Virginia last week, the sounds of productive chatter grew louder with each step towards where Capital One students would showcase their apps and later and celebrate the conclusion of the program.
Productive chatter is immediately recognizable because of the certain energy it contains as kids collaborate, connect, and work towards a common goal. For the past 10 weeks, 85 students from four Northern Virginia middle schools participating in Capital One Coders worked in teams to create apps with the help of MIT University’s App Inventor 2. On this particular evening, students congregated in glassed-in conference rooms. Productive chatter from those huddled around laptops spilled out into the hallway and space beyond as they made final adjustments to their apps.
Part of Capital One’s Future Edge initiative, Coders partners with schools and community leaders to foster a focus in software engineering in middle school-aged students. This initiative focuses on developing an interest in STEM subjects and helping today’s youth get the skills they need to succeed in the 21st century.
“I’d never coded before,” one girl told me after describing her team’s app and handing over a tablet for me to play. Another told me that the hardest part about what her group did was creating the code to make their vision a reality on the tablet before me. One boy proudly turned around his team’s laptop to display the lines of code he and his teammates wrote saying, “If we had more time, we could have made our app even better!”
It was an inspiring night where enthusiasm ran high among eager middle schoolers and left me wishing that our local middle school offered a similar course. It also got me thinking about middle schoolers and the best ways to teach our kids the skills they need to prepare them for a job market where many jobs of the future might not even exist yet.
As this group of students prepared to graduate from Coders like the thousands before them, they were asked to write a note with advice to future program participants as they get started. With colorful square cards before them and pens in hand, I watched as they shared words of wisdom to those who will follow in their footsteps, thinking about what I might say to a future coder.
Even though I’m a mom of a STEM loving daughter and have plenty of advice for parents, my advice for middle schoolers is different. Building apps and coding is fun but it can be challenging. Here’s my advice to future tween and teen technologists who participate in Coders: