The Science Near Me blog is a partnership between Discover magazine and ScienceNearMe.org.
When Jake Baskin attends hands-on coding events in classrooms during Computer Science Week, he’s learned to expect a curious occurrence.
“There’s always at least one student who is really upset when the hour ends,” says Baskin, executive director of the Computer Science Teachers Association, an organization that supports computer science education across the country.
Some of the kids his organization works with haven’t had any kind of exposure to the world of computer science. But once they try it out they “just can’t be pulled away from what they’re doing,” he says.
“They’ve gotten this bug and now it’s about how can I keep doing more and what comes next.”
That kind of reaction is exactly what Baskin is hoping for. A former computer science teacher himself, he says he got hooked on programming in college, where he initially wanted to major in English to pursue his interest in creative writing. But none of the people in his classes seemed interested in creating anything themselves. In an intro computer science course his roommate was taking, Baskin says he saw the possibility for unfettered creation. He hasn’t looked back.
Computer Science Education Week, or CSEdWeek for short, which kicks off December 4, hopes to open these same doors of creativity for K-12 students across the country by introducing them to one of the most powerful tools for creativity in existence: a computer. You can take part on Science Near Me, too, by searching for activities related to computer science and coding near you!
“This is an incredible opportunity to engage in a new superpower,” Baskin says. “It gives you these incredible powers that can have a real impact on your community and your world.”
Write Code, Have Fun
CSEdWeek started in 2009 with an initial focus on raising awareness among policymakers about the importance of computer science education. Even today, many schools don’t offer computer science courses, meaning many students don’t have an opportunity to learn about coding until college when their choice of majors might already be made. That’s a major loss for both students and the country as a whole, as demand for computer-science-related jobs is predicted to continue to grow in coming years, outpacing demand for jobs in many other fields.
CSEdWeek quickly expanded to include in-person coding demonstrations that show students not only how powerful coding can be, but that it’s more accessible than they think.
“We now look at CSEdWeek as an event to help everyone see that computer science is something that they can do and that they should do, and should be an integral part of K-12 education,” Baskin says.
The week-long event in early December is timed to coincide with the birthday of Grace Hopper, an early computer scientist who invented the now-ubiquitous compiler programs that make human code readable by machines.
During CSEdWeek, schools and other organizations across the country give demonstrations about computer science and give kids the chance to take part themselves. Simple programming languages like Scratch, and techniques like block coding, make learning the logic and thought processes behind coding easy, even for kids. One of the most popular event formats is the Hour of Code, which turns participants loose for 60 minutes to see what they can create. Many, even first-timers, emerge from that hour with their first program.
“It’s this chance to take a little bite and say, ‘Oh, this isn’t this big, scary thing,’” Baskin says.
In some schools, computer science students and their teachers will take on the role of coding ambassadors, visiting other classrooms at their schools and showing other students what’s possible with computers.
> Want to get involved? Find resources for students and teachers on the CSEdWeek website (which is, unsurprisingly, amazingly designed). Learn about modern leaders in computer science and find ideas for advocacy and lesson plans there.
Coding for Good
As the need for computer science expertise grows in the world at large, Baskin points to significant disparities still existing in the world of coding. Just 31 percent of computer science students are women, he says, and factors like race, income level, and disability can also hinder access to computer science education. And nearly half of U.S. high schools still don’t offer a computer science class.
“That still means that a huge percentage of students can’t even take a computer science class if they want to, because it’s just not available in their schools yet,” Baskin says.
With events like CSEdWeek, and others that show not only how easy, and important, coding is, Baskin hopes that will change. As artificial intelligence is poised to automate many elements of jobs, and play a more significant role in how society functions, understanding how computers work, and how software programmers think, will be vitally important.
More than that, Baskin argues, we need to highlight the huge influence technology plays in our lives, and the potential for both good and bad. Computer science literacy is a big part of that.
“It’s really important that beyond programming, students are learning about the impacts of technology in the world,” he says. He hopes that with more knowledge about coding and computer science in general, students will “understand that what is created can influence the world around us and think about how we can ethically and safely engage.”
Find Computer Science Activities Near You!
You can find ways to learn coding and other computer science activities anytime on Science Near Me. Our Opportunity Finder makes it easy to search for activities in any topic area, and you can narrow down your search by time, region, and lots more. For personalized recommendations about new activities near you, make a Science Near Me account today.
Try searching the site for things to do, or check out one of these hand-picked opportunities from us!
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Join in anytime during CSEdWeek and do an hour of coding! Get started with resources and tips for doing your hour, and join people all around the world making something cool.
If you’re a teacher in search of coding activities for your classroom, look no further! Terminal Two offers several immersive games teaching fundamental coding concepts, like Frog Squash Rumble and Dragon’s Apprentice.
Audience: Teachers and students
If your organization offers events, projects or programs that invite the public to engage in STEM, add it to Science Near Me!