Teach computer science to grade schoolers? You bet, say FedEx IT professionals
Three years ago, I participated in a Junior Achievement teaching event at Combee Elementary, a local school near Lakeland, Fla. I worked with kindergarteners that morning and had a blast; the children were like sponges. As I was leaving, I asked a guidance counselor if there were more ways to help the school, and she said yes. Soon after, a way I could directly help fell in my lap.
Mark Bracken, an IT manager with employees at the FedEx Lakeland office, asked us to develop programs in schools and the community to promote science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) activities, and to encourage students to pursue technology careers. I volunteered for this group.
Then, a fellow employee told me he was teaching his children to program. I knew the ages of his kids, 4 and 9, and asked about the program he was using. He guided me to code.org. I visited the site and it quickly became clear that this was the solution, a way I could help.
Lesson modules and plans were all there – and FREE! I found fellow employees to volunteer as instructors and we chose Combee Elementary to launch a code learning program using code.org materials, as we knew that the school had no current technology classes.
Implementing Code.org Project Solutions
Using code.org lessons and planning tools, we started the 20-week pilot program on Sept. 3, 2014 with fifteen students.
On the first day, they asked if we were going to teach them about applications. We said, “No, we are going to teach you to write them!” That seemed to spark an interest.
We held the class once a week throughout the semester, with FedEx instructors rotating each class. I was always present as either instructor or assistant. While we experienced challenges along the way – such as room layout, equipment and lack of commitment by some students – the class worked on these issues and they eventually worked out; we solved them together like a FedEx Development Team.
In terms of our teaching approach, we worked on each code problem together, with one student always being the driver. Our students began to use words such as functions, parameters, loops, if/else, among others, as easily as any IT professional.
At the end of each class, an instructor would take five minutes to tell students how they got into IT, what college they went to and what they do for FedEx. We always gave them a snack and prizes to keep them coming back.
Two of our instructors went to Combee Elementary. That fact has had an impact on the children. We stressed to them they can do it, too – study hard and become successful. We are very pleased that one student has decided to be a computer programmer. We hope more will join him.
Pilot Class Graduates – And Expansion Plans
We started with fifteen students and nine completed the program on Jan. 21. In conjunction with school leaders and the Polk County School District, we hosted a graduation ceremony and party on Jan. 28.
We’re pleased that two graduates are moving forward as student technical advisors for the second code.org class, which begins Feb. 4. The school has selected fifteen students to join the class with five alternatives in case some change their minds.
We’re also piloting a similar program at another area school, Mulberry Middle School, again using code.org lessons and planning tools. Five FedEx IT employees have volunteered to teach this class of fifteen students. Our first class was held Jan. 22. All fifteen students arrived on time. There was a feeling of excitement among the students – they were really looking forward to the class.
Once we got introductions over with, we started with the first topic, which lays the foundation for terminology and computer science concepts. They are a very aware group of students, concerned with fuel consumption and working to make the world a better place. We are looking forward to sharing the next 20 weeks with these students on their journey of understanding of the basics of Computer Science.
Are we making a difference?
With nine students graduating and a supportive school district, we believe our pilot program has been a success. Our students were exposed to technologies they might not have ever known about. Realistically, we know not all of them will become IT professionals, but maybe one or two in each class will, like our future computer programmer. Maybe one day he will be working on a FedEx IT team. How cool would that be!?
I am so proud of our students, my fellow FedEx employee-teachers, FedEx and the school for allowing us to try to make a difference in the lives of these children, and in a larger sense, the communities in which we live and work.