Tech Company Volunteers

2000px-Scratch_Logo.svgYou never know when a great opportunity will come knocking. A few weeks ago an opportunity knocked on my door that might just change my school forever. CTS, a regional technology company located in Hoover, Alabama asked me to help them fine-tune the design of an after school coding course they created to help young kids develop critical thinking skills. WOW! Great timing! It just so happens I’m looking for just that – volunteers with expertise – as I redesign my school’s technology program to reflect our commitment to developing critical thinking skills from preschool through 8th grade.

CTS is highly committed to volunteerism in the community. Staff members are strongly encouraged to make a connection with the community and are compensated up to 40 hours each year. During my short time with their volunteers I gathered that although the pay was appreciated, their true motivation comes from a sincere desire to help kids learn essential “college ready” skills. A quick look at the CTS website and it’s clear they mean business about giving back to the community. Prince of Peace Catholic School will be the first in the Hoover area to integrate the CTS program into the curriculum during the 2016-2017 school year.

SCRATCH  Blockly ProgrammingIn recent years, a handful of CTS employees, designed an after school program that introduces the coding program SCRATCH, developed by students at MIT. Scratch is free, and most kids love the challenge of building a computer games on their own. The team visits schools for 6 weeks and walks the learners (students and teachers) through a well designed, step-by-step program of building an interactive game using Google’s Blockly programming language, a kid-friendly drag-n-drop format that simplifies the decision making principles of computer programming.

I asked the team why they chose this volunteer venture and their answer was heartfelt. In short, these highly trained technology masterminds noticed a lack of technology related critical thinking skills in the curriculum of schools their own children attended. This motivated the team to take action and begin a program that, through mentoring teachers, could eventually be rolled into the regular school day as part of the STEM curriculum (Science Technology Engineering and Math).

The connection between computer programming and critical thinking isn’t a leap, but it isn’t obvious, either. Students using SCRATCH and other coding education programs, must engage in critical analysis to successfully create working programs. First they learn the fundamental terminology and knowledge behind coding, then string together commands in the order they think will produce results. When it works, they celebrate! When it doesn’t, they revisit each step and their understanding of the commands, followed by rebuilding the program.

cropped-cropped-p92301391.jpgCTS recognizes that to learn this process, students need agency over their creations, and an opportunity to learn at their own pace. All learners need support, encouragement and the freedom to make mistakes without serious consequences. This disciplined, character building process helps children develop the persistence they need to overcome challenges in any area of learning. Educators and behaviorists have long known the importance of “grit” (sticking to a task), an essential trait for success in high school, college, and beyond.

During the next few months I will work with CTS to further fine-tune their program so it can easily be offered to any school wanting to enhance critical thinking skills at the elementary level. I am hopeful that CTS will continue to utilize their volunteer task force to heighten the awareness of critical thinking through coding, and it’s importance to the overall success of children.

Image sources:

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