By John Sterling, Senior Director of Software Engineering
Teaching the value of coding to Maine’s next generation of techies!
The annual Maine Science Festival is a four-day event hosted in Bangor, designed to bring together Maine’s science organizations to showcase the great work being done throughout the region and encourage greater interest in science. One of the many benefits the festival provides is an opportunity for local students to get hands-on experience and exposure to careers in STEM.
With the broad focus of the event on science of all kinds, this year Educate Maine sponsored an evening event focused on technology. I was excited to represent CashStar’s engineering team at this Tech Night, where I gave a hands-on talk in hopes of inspiring the future generation of Mainers to consider careers in the ever-evolving tech space. Specifically, my talk outlined the steps needed to start a coding club. With after-school programs shown to be key pillars in breaking down many barriers to interest in technology, clubs and extra curriculars are a great way to integrate computing, coding and other technology practices into the K-12 curriculum.
I was both surprised and encouraged by the energetic bunch of mostly middle school students, many of whom were armed with laptops and ready to learn. Most had an interest in coding but very little, if any, experience.
Having founded the coding club at Freeport Middle School and serving as its advisor, I offered advice for these motivated students, starting with an overview of my hands-on experiences. The key points I stressed include finding a coach, identifying a focus area, and building a welcoming, safe environment that encourages diversity. Together, we then reviewed the key questions the students need to ask themselves like what languages and frameworks should we use? We landed on Python, which is a predominant coding language used across many industries by top tier technology companies of all sizes including CashStar, DropBox, Google Search, NASA, Yahoo and YouTube.
During the second half of the session, we hosted a live coding club. I shared a curriculum that highlights input, output, variables, control structures and algorithms—using hands-on exercises to teach. The students walked away knowing more about coding, some tools they can use should they want to start a coding club and experience writing code in Python!
Other talks that night included a Code.org AppLab session led by Dani McAvoy, a session on women in STEM by the Society of Women Engineers and a talk on coding with Scratch presented by the Maine Math and Science Alliance. It was great to see young students from all different backgrounds across the state of Maine, and their excitement and energy around the events and programming. With kids like this, the future of our state looks bright!