Looking across the dark computer lab at Uplift Peak Preparatory, colorful puzzle piece-shaped objects are clicked and shifted around on dozens of computer screens. The scholars sit completely focused, headphones on, clicking stop and play, to refine the music videos they are creating.
“You have to move this sprite over with the other ones in order to make the whole scene,” said eighth grader, Pedro Estrada, using coding jargon.
Pedro is one of Mrs. Toliver’s eighth grade scholars participating in the Google CS First Coding program. Spanning two weeks, CS First is a free program designed by Google that helps middle school students get hands on experience with coding. The curriculum is based on a variety of different themes which allows scholars to explore coding through their interests.
During the class, scholars have learned to code within various contexts including music and sound, game design and fashion. The game design unit was especially a hit since the scholars were able to develop their own sounds and add them to their own scenes of dancing grandmas in space and dinosaurs chasing bouncing balls down an animated street.
The goal of the program is to increase interest as well as confidence in middle–school scholars who may not feel like they know a lot about coding. Since scholars are working directly with the technology, they are more comfortable and develop a sense of belonging in the computer science world. The Google CS-First website states that “75% of the population is underrepresented in computer science, even though exposure to CS leads to some of the highest paying jobs in the world”.
That statistic is exactly what Mrs. Toliver is trying to change.
“The IB curriculum teaches our scholars to be global learners. From this perspective it teaches them not only about the world that is around them locally, but it also teaches them from a global reach. So they’re learning how to build code and hopefully they’ll be able to code for the future. They’ll be able to bring about some type of change, some type of awareness, some type of voice that they definitely have impacted already. The statement of inquiry that they’re learning right now is ‘Code the world that they want to see,’ and through that they are designing a world that they would love to live in and prepare for younger scholars in the future.” she said.
So far, the program at Uplift Peak has succeeded in doing what it is meant to do. As eighth grader, Fatima Hernandez said, “I really like creating—especially the videos. I think I’d like to continue learning code on later on in life, especially if it leads to a good job.”
CS First presents the content in fun, easy to understand ways. With completion of each unit, scholars receive a sticker and eventually fill up their CS First passport which results in a Google certificate. Scholars were so engaged with the content that Mrs. Toliver added extra ‘showcase’ days into the curriculum so that proud scholars could show their peers the different things that they were creating.
“It definitely built confidence in all of our scholars, and definitely empowered some of our girl scholars who sometimes shy away from engineering, coding or any time of programming. It empowered them to execute the way that they have,” said Mrs. Toliver. “I teach them that they have the power, the power in their head, they already know this but the language itself and how to get around the language is something the curriculum has offered them. We’ve had a really great experience.”
As our scholars grow up in a world of ever evolving technology, it is important for them to learn how to maneuver around the tools at their disposal. Hand-in-hand with a solid IB curriculum and a college-preparatory environment, all Uplift scholars have an opportunity to explore their interests. Whether it’s building robots at Uplift Luna, reviving and donating computers at Uplift Summit or exploring STEM careers at Uplift Hampton, Uplift scholars certainly have a bright future of opportunity ahead of them.