Computer Science students help Rochester seventh-graders engage in Hour of Code

Dec. 24, 2015 --  Each year, millions of students around the globe get a basic introduction to computer science through the Hour of Code, sponsored by a nonprofit coalition that includes Apple, Microsoft, Amazon, the Boys and Girls Club of America and the College Board.

Thanks to 14 students from the Department of Computer Science, this year’s Hour of Code was especially meaningful for 60 seventh-grade students at John Walton Spencer School 16 in the Rochester City School District.

The University students, led by Mikayla Konst ’17, visited the school throughout Computer Science Education Week earlier this month.

“The first two days the UR students introduced computer science and talked about why they were studying CS and what coding is in general,” said School 16 math teacher Molly Gildea.  “They also answered general questions about college.  They were incredibly well received and my students engaged in a great conversation with them.”

During the next two days they helped the pupils sign on to the Hour of Code website and get past points of frustration or points where the students were stuck.

“The Hour of Code site is fairly self guided, but in the past my students have struggled and since there is usually only one of me, it can be stressful,” Gildea said.  “This time there were 4 to 5 University of Rochester students to help during each session.  It was really wonderful.  The last two days my students did a more complicated coding task (Minecraft) on Hour of Code.  Again the UR students were incredibly helpful explaining how to get past the difficult parts.”

The outreach effort dovetails perfectly with the computer science department’s involvement in the BRAID (Building, Recruiting and Inclusion for Diversity) project, an initiative led by the Anita Borg Institute and Harvey Mudd College to increase the percentage of women and students of color majoring in computer science.

BRAID funding has enabled the department to send a total of 33 of its female students to the national Grace Hopper Conferences for women in computing the last two years, where they’ve had a chance to attend talks and network with corporations and recruiters.

Other department initiatives to improve female and minority enrollment include curriculum changes, innovative recruiting efforts, creation of a welcoming environment, and outreach to K-12 students and teachers – such as the visit to School 16.

The project was set in motion last year after Marty Guenther, the department’s undergraduate coordinator, contacted Gildea, whose husband Dan is an associate professor in the department.

 “I'm so happy that Mikayla (the outreach coordinator for the UR Women in Computing student group) was the organizing force behind this effort,” Guenther said.  “This is a very busy time of the year for the students. To volunteer to do this outreach in the last week of classes was certainly difficult. It’s a credit to our students that they understood the importance of these outreach efforts and made the time to go."

Som Liengtiraphan, Steve Gattuso, Lia Klein, Gianna Macri, Demeara Torres, Anya Khalid, Hassler Thurston, Chris Perkins, David Fink, Viet Duy Nguyen, Edward Newton, Maria Janczak, and Vivian Li joined Konst in mentoring the School 16 pupils.

 “My students had a wonderful time and learned a lot and I think it really opened up a new world to them,” Gildea said. “This time we had almost 100% engagement with the work.  The students were very focused.   Some of them even continued to work on the other projects on the site at home.”