by Megan Fawcett and Sophia Sountsova
We first heard about Kids Code Jeunesse (KCJ) early in April 2020 from a post in one of our IBM Slack channels. IBM GBS Canada partnered with KCJ to leverage its training material to teach coding workshops. In the Covid world where everything must be done virtually, these online coding workshops were a great learning opportunity for students ages 8 to 16, keeping them engaged for at least an hour while providing parents with some reprieve to tend to other things. We each wanted to share our personal experience with this wonderful initiative and encourage others to get involved, to start a similar initiative in their organization, or even leverage the KCJ resources with children in their lives.
At first, we both felt reluctant to sign up. We are both business consultants and the majority of our day-to-day activity does not include reading and writing code, let alone teaching it. Nonetheless, with more free time than ever (let us remind you that this was at the start of the pandemic), we decided to volunteer and facilitate our first KCJ workshops.
We both started in mid-May 2020 with a Scratch workshop for kids ages 8 to 12. Scratch is an introductory programming tool targeted at younger children since it is a block based visual programming language, meaning there is little to no typing required! There is a panel with animations and endless possibilities for creating things like race games and chat bots that make for a good starting point for kids learning to coding.
Sophia: I was eager and anxious in preparation for my first workshop, but I had a great partner with whom I met multiple times over the week and who led the workshop on a late Thursday evening.
I was not prepared for how rewarding the experience would be. I had previous experience working with children in person, but it was astounding to witness children pick up the basics of code so quickly online. During my first workshop last May, the kids were engaged and asked lots of questions. Right then and there I knew I had found my calling; I was already excited for the next session.
My second session was a Python workshop in June which I decided to lead. Slouched over my kitchen table in 30-degree weather, I spent evenings preparing. That week was extremely busy at work as I had just started on a new project and was still learning the ropes, which meant that by the time I had finished working on my project and putting together the workshop program, it was 10pm. My hard work and preparation paid off as my first Python workshop as a facilitator was a success! Much like the prior workshop, the children absorbed the material and quickly followed along. It made me think: “I wish I had learned Python when I was 14!”.
I excitedly signed up to volunteer for the second round of workshops offered Fall 2020. I once again led a Python workshop and practiced the material with my friends! I also signed up for the third round which passed this winter. During the third round, I met many IBMers who were new volunteers to the program — it was great to see so many more people join and become interested in teaching. Needless to say, the third round went by just as smoothly as the first two.
Megan: I was previously exposed to Scratch through computer science courses I took in school. My professors often used it to introduce and ease the class into more complex concepts. A combination of this, and admittedly my desire to fill my extra time during the first stay-at-home order (again, we’re talking early stages in the pandemic) led me to eagerly sign up for 4 sessions right off the bat. Soon after my first workshop, this quickly became the highlight of my week.
During most sessions the kids would ask if we could go longer than the allotted hour for the workshop in order to continue working through their projects and allow for enough show & tell time to see everyone’s finished projects. I preferred teaching the younger age group with Scratch since I personally found them to be more engaged with their cameras on and eager to share their projects. It was amazing to see kids at as young as 8 years old be able to build the various games and put their own creative flair on it.
Our takeaway: We are both grateful to work at a company that has giveback initiatives such as this (and more!). KCJ workshops teach coding in a way that is palatable and fun for kids and develops key skills such as problem solving and critical thinking that go beyond coding in Scratch and Python. In Round 3 alone we held 48 workshops, had 107 students register, and collectively donated over 100 volunteer hours! If any IBMer is reading this, we highly recommend joining this fantastic giveback initiative. We are always looking for more participants so if you are interested, please reach out to either of us via Slack or email! Otherwise, you can find out more about the Kids Code Jeunesse Organization here or run through a session yourself with the materials found here.