Computer Science For All [CS For All]
Dev published on 2016-02-02T18:35:42Z

President Obama announced a new plan to make computer science accessible to all kids, regardless of background, demographics, gender or race. We are very excited to see this type of support coming from leaders who will influence how funding is made available to schools, communities and organizations that do the heavy lifting of bringing this type of education to all kids.

As the word spreads on social networks like Twitter #csforall is filling with support statements from leaders around the Nation. Here on Long Island, we have been working with top Computer Science programs at Universities like Stony Brook, St. Josephs College, Adelphi, NY Institute of Technology and others to make programs available to all kids.

In fact, in the Mineola School District in Nassau County, we have been implementing a unique and cutting edge technology program to chase the very goal that the President's funding is aimed at achieving. As Superintendent Dr. Michael Nagler stated here recently, this innovative district is leading the way in implementing coding in the classroom using instructional methods and tools that very few are aware are so accessible to empower education.

Because of this awareness by leaders, and the risk taking to build incubated relationships that test the limits of what is possible in advanced classrooms, kids with skills and proclivities in this area of learning are finally having the opportunity to shine. More is needed, more kids need access, and it is certainly inspiring to know that leaders see and hear that reality calling.

Jobs are not the only reason to engage computer science. In fact, it could be argued that the exploration of creativity, building defensive skills in modern society, being able to use and work with data in a literate way personally are all at least as empowering reasons to engage the topic. And while diversity is certainly needed and a strength within any endeavor, every school and family needs help accessing this area of learning. If we have seen anything stand out in our time working in communities teaching kids to code it is that access to this type of learning, or the lack of access, cuts equally across most demographics.

An hour of code is certainly a start... but more than this we need meaningful engagement, and we need tools that bring real world skills into reach of kids of all ages. The young kids I work with, starting at 5+, do not just want to be given coding games and routines to learn from, they want real tools to express their creative ideas with and through. That is why kidOYO and OYOclass learning platform puts real world code editors, domain names and website hosting opportunities in front of kids to use in telling the story of their interests.

When we first started teaching kids to code using tools like Scratch, or to make Minecraft mods in professional developer tools like Eclipse, or to write python apps and build javascript games, the number one failure point in all of our live events was setup complexity of the tools we were using. With 150 people in a given room all trying to learn, it became a real challenge to fix install problems so that coding education could start.

So that was the first challenge we solved when we built the OYOclass platform. You are using it now as you read this article. It is web-based, and it contains many features that bring both privacy and empowerment to kids in our programs. From courses and challenges that students and mentors engage, to badges and portfolios for documenting student learning and achievement, code editors for html, javascript, python, java, ruby, c, c++ and many more languages all accessible with one button click directly in the browser... this tool has helped us raise the bar on how much education can take place in limited time frames.

Now we need to get more teachers exposed and skilled up in this type of education. Once kids quickly move beyond sequential thinking exercises using mass media brands... they want tools that help them expose their own creativity. Kids want the same kind of empowerment that most older people do, and they quickly learn when their tools are not under their own control. Conversely, when they are provided the empowering structure of true coding education, their is no limit to what they can achieve. We see it all the time.

We are privileged to be doing this work, and to be fueled directly by parents who want more of it for their kids. By working with some of the top school districts in the country, and top Universities in our own back yard, we are optimistic that the kind of educational opportunity kids will be receiving in all schools is going to dramatically improve in the years ahead.

There are many challenges, but solving problems is what computer science and engineering more generally is all about. The importance of bringing creative art, music, and other fields of study outside of the technical sphere into this area of learning and sharing is critical to our success. As parents, we understand this. As teachers, we want this. Now we need to keep the pressure on funders and support structures to make sure that we don't pigeon hole our goals into too narrow a scope of success. Jobs are not the only measure of success, and as our mentors often tell us... sometimes working for others just isn't the goal.

Celebrate creative learning and computer science, and lets show the world that art and data are not disconnected outcomes, but are critical for the success our diverse communities need.

@Dev

Author

Kids Learning to Code, Make, Own at New York Institute of Technology

Join Community