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  • Gabriela T. Richard

#HourOfCode workshops at Philadelphia Public Schools

#HourOfCode is a call to arms sponsored by and Computer Science Education week. More importantly, it’s an opportunity to break down barriers of who learns to code, how accessible coding can be, and what constitutes coding. This week, we at UPenn GSE took it upon ourselves to teach coding in traditional and non-traditional forms, to learners young and old, across Philadelphia. My mentor, Yasmin Kafai and colleague Orkan Telhan, along with coordination from Barrie Adleberg, lead the organizing efforts, and I happily got my hands dirty teaching code! Workshops were held in local public schools (Penn Alexander and Henry C. Lea), the Graduate School of Education at UPenn, as well as at Free Library branches throughout Philadelphia. Information about our efforts can be found here, here and here. We taught coding in Scratch and created our own stitch cards (fashioned from stitching cards) — Yasmin’s brilliant idea — to teach basic electronics, as a way to get individuals to see all of the nuances of coding and building.

On a personal note, it was incredibly infectious to hear the glee from students as they watches their favorite celebrities, sports players and even President Obama encouraging them to code. I find it fascinating to explore how media can play a role in breaking down barriers and stereotypes to access (just as popular media can often create them). It’s amazing how opening a workshop to enthusiasm and excitement — that coding is fun, powerful, and empowering — can create the right kind of atmosphere to make learning resonate personally and meaningfully to kids.

In light of continued coverage of the widening gender gap in computer science, it is ever more important to think about ways we can address inclusivity. The recent Changing the Equation Event, where Black Girls Code was featured, offers great solutions to the problem, which include teacher education and pre-college course requirements in computer science. However, we also need to continue efforts to address the equity and inclusivity gaps… not all of this can be solved with informal learning activities, but we can continue to think of meaningful ways to structure them to incentivize students to be engaged and inspired to learn to code, create, and define their pathways in new and diverse ways. I’m inspired by what we do here, and what important organizations like Black Girls Code do because they continue to find alternative yet meaningful ways to “change the equation.”

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