Everybody Code Now
Everybody Code Now Comes to Fairfax
Swetha Prabakaran, TJ ’17, recognized as a 2015 White House Champion of Change and a Carson Scholar for her commitment to introducing coding to children of all ages, rolled out her organization’s first stand-alone workshop on Saturday, November 7th (see a news clip here). More than two dozen youngsters ranging in age from five to twelve – some with a bit of coding experience and others with none – showed up for a three-hour session at the City of Fairfax Library. After cheerfully handling the inevitable laptop and log-in challenges, and showing an inspirational video with appearances by such software giants as Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates, Swetha and her colleague, Lake Braddock junior Laura Sizemore, took turns lecturing and trouble-shooting as youngsters created programs in Scratch, a free online program designed to introduce kids to early programming in a cute, creative environment.
“Anyone having issues?” Laura asked, walking towards the back of the room. “How’s it going? Can I see it? Nice!” she said.
“Raise your hand if your cat does not move in the rectangle and turn,” Swetha instructed from the front. “Our cat ran off the page,” said one student.
“We have to tell the computer, ‘if I walk into a wall, stop,’” Swetha responded.
Swetha founded Everybody Code Now! during the summer after her freshman year. After taking her first TJ Computer Science (CS) course, she realized that coding had a unique ability to provide a sense of mastery and open new doors, and committed herself to helping others acquire the skill. The group has been active in the DC area since February 2015 when it ran its first after-school program at Hillside ES near Swetha’s home in Loudoun County’s Ashburn community. This past summer she helped run several week-long summer camps at various Loudoun County locations. Most of the instructors for both the after-school and summer programs were full-time teachers volunteering their time, although Swetha and other students have also served as instructors. The group kicked off its Fall 2015 session in November with a session at Leesburg’s Cool Spring ES.
Swetha’s freshman-year Computer Science teacher, Ria Galanos (see November 2015 issue), has served as a “personal mentor who has helped me immensely,” according to Swetha, who recruits assistants for her sessions from TJ’s Coding Lady Colonials 8th period club, sponsored by Ms. Galanos.
Early in her sophomore year, Swetha applied to become a She++ Fellow, with an eye to obtaining the backing of an organization that since January 2012 has worked to expand diversity in tech careers. She was chosen to attend the She++ #include Summit in the Bay Area in April 2015 (along with Pooja Chandrashekar, TJ ’15 — see the August 2014 and August 2015 issues — Satvika Kumar, TJ ’16, — see the March 2015 and June 2015 issues – Katherine Ann Van Kirk, TJ ’15, and Valerie Chen, TJ ’16), where she networked with others involved in CS outreach in their communities. Thanks to the contacts she made at the Summit, Everybody Code Now! currently functions as an umbrella organization with officers in 12 states and even some foreign countries.
Swetha, who was profiled in the Washington Post and elsewhere following her White House award, uses Slack and Trello daily to oversee her far-flung non-profit while maintaining a rigorous TJ schedule and participating in a full slate of extra-curricular activities.
The group primarily relies on social media, including their own Facebook page and Twitter feed, as well as neighborhood Facebook groups and community members to get the word out about their sessions. All classes are free. For more information, email Swetha at email@example.com. To contribute funds (for laptops, space rental, publicity, snacks, and more) visit the group’s website, everybodycodenow.org.
Project CODEt Reaches Students of All Ages
The most surprising thing about Project CODEt’s coding workshop was the silence. From 9:00am until noon on a December Saturday about a dozen mostly 5th-graders sat in front of laptops in the library of Centreville’s Virginia Run ES, headphones on, working on coding modules in Scratch. When, after an hour and a half, one of the five Project CODEt volunteers encouraged the students to take a break, none of them did. Instead, they worked through each module, getting help from the older students when needed, and volunteered at intervals to come to the large screen to share their creation with the group. After showing the short animated video they created — featuring a cat driving a car or a dog climbing a hill or any number of other clips — they returned to their seat and got back to work on the next module.
Three hours may not be enough to turn a complete novice into the next software start-up founder, but after the jumpstart students receive in one of these workshops, they have the confidence to continue their work on their own. One student, when asked if she would be logging in and working at home replied, “ Yeah, definitely.”
- To find opportunities for early exposure to Computer Science, as the earliest class offered is in high school;
- To teach the various skills surrounding the subject in a manner that appeals to younger students while teaching them about its day-to-day applications;
- To diminish the stereotypes surrounding computer science by demonstrating its both valuable and interesting lifelong skills;
- To provide opportunities to all aspiring Computer Scientists, and give them the tools they need (knowledge, and a work space or computer) to fully master their skills;
- To promote the Women in Computer Science movement, by allowing young girls to express interest in a STEM field in an environment encouraging curiosity and technology-based exploration without the presence of social stigmas.
Project CODEt’s first official activity (CODEt is pronounced “codette,” as in “cadet”) was manning a booth at the Silverbrook ES STEAM night last April (STEAM is STEM – science, technology, engineering, and math – plus art). Based on that first successful event, the team planned and conducted nine four-hour workshops across the region this past summer, reaching 300 students, including: “Building My Website!” “Stories and Games with PlayLab,” “CS+Art, and “How do I APP that?”
Rupali Dhumne, TJ ’17, was surprised by how much she enjoyed her first Computer Science (CS) course at TJ. That experience showed her that girls could enjoy CS if they were exposed to it before being turned off by negative stereotypes of an all-male, anti-social environment. She decided to help more girls get early exposure to CS. Hoping to find others who shared her interest in CS-based puzzle solving and her thinking about the value of early exposure, she joined TJ’s 8th period clubs Coding Lady Colonials (CLC) and Women in Science & Engineering (WISE). Like Swetha (above), she also applied for and was awarded a She++ Fellowship, which encouraged her to turn her outreach ideas into a program.
After brainstorming with a CLC officer who is also a member of WISE, Eleni Georgiou, TJ ’17, Rupali decided that the best platform for illustrating coding’s versatility and making it more accessible was to integrate it with non-STEM subjects that youngsters, especially girls, were already interested in. Project CODEt, now a 501(c)(3) non-profit that teaches coding to interested boys and girls throughout the region, was born. (For more on Project CODEt’s founders, see this interview by journalists at Gique, a nonprofit organization aimed at inspiring and educating youth in STEAM.)
In addition to Rupali, CEO, and Eleni, Chief Communications Officer and VP Operations, the group’s leadership team includes TJ juniors Sishaar Rao, Chief Program Officer; Jenny Zhang, Chief Financial Officer; Jessica Wang, Chief Development Officer; and Jessie Shen, Chief Technology Officer. The officers are supported by a Production Team made up of TJ students and others who reach out to their communities and school districts, along with an Advisory Board made up of senior industry and academic professionals.
In January, they held their most ambitious event yet, a half-day Saturday workshop at Rachel Carson MS featuring the theme, “CS +”. TJ Principal Dr. Evan Glazer started off the program with a keynote address before an eager crowd of 70 middle school students hailing from Fairfax, Loudoun, and Arlington County schools. While highlighting TJ student work that lies at the intersection of CS and an array of other subjects, he shared his own enthusiasm for using CS and data analysis to investigate and solve a diverse range of problems. Next, a CMU graduate who spoke live from her home in San Francisco gave an inspirational talk about how she combined her two seemingly unrelated interests in CS and fashion into a technical career in the fashion industry. Students then split up to attend two of three available mini-workshops: CS + Fashion, CS + Biology, and CS + Gaming. The afternoon concluded with an interactive expo featuring TJ student CS + projects.
Not satisfied with reaching Northern Virginia students, Project CODEt volunteers crossed the river to conduct a web design workshop for a group of 30 middle school students, most of them novice coders, at Prince George’s Community College. The organization also has chapters in California and is hoping to establish a presence in both India and England.
HackTJ Brings Over 450 Student Hackers to TJ
TJ’s 8th period club Coding Lady Colonials, members of which are involved in one or both of the above outreach organizations, is also the group behind TJ’s enormously successful hackathon, HackTJ. For the third year, TJ has hosted its own 24-hour overnight coding event. This one, with 462 student hackers, filled the school’s new gym to capacity, with some students occupying overflow seating in a nearby common area.
For the first time, HackTJ was incorporated into the spring schedule of Major League Hacking (MLH), the premier college hackathon series. Because of TJ’s hackathon experience and because the event already met many of MLH’s values criteria, it was only the second high school hackathon, after Silicon Valley’s Los Gatos HS, to appear on MLH’s calendar. The MLH connection attracted new sponsors, and MLH staff assisted during the planning stages as well as at the event.
This year’s winners included Best Web App, WordPolo, that helps Chinese language learners perfect the correct tonal pronunciation of Chinese words; and Best Mobile App, Edge, that helps customers protect against fraudulent charges by letting them know when their restaurant tip doesn’t match the one their server put into the system.
As always, organizers recruited mentors from TJ’s active alumni ranks, as well as parents and others from the community. The 57 mentors who helped with this year’s hackathon included the following TJ alums:
Kevin Caffrey, TJ ’02
Peter Foley, TJ ’13
Emily Goldfein, TJ ’11
Jason Ji, TJ ’05
Sean MacIsaac, TJ ’98
Esha Maharishi, TJ ’11
Michael Martinka, TJ ’87, Parent ’17
Tammy Metz, TJ ’99
Christopher Spiller, TJ ’98
Dan Tran, TJ ’06
HackTJ by the numbers:
- one quarter of participants were from outside TJ
- over 10% of participants were from outside FCPS
- girls made up over a third of participants!
- 57% had never attended a hackathon before
- over half had never built an app or website before
This year’s sponsors, who not only contributed fantastic prizes but also covered the cost of food, custodial services, and the electrical boost needed to supply a gym full of laptops with uninterrupted power for the duration of the hack, are: Ntrepid, Universal Consulting Services, Inc., Pebble, Yext, Capital One, KPCB Fellows, mongoDB, RazorX2, Realthread, Filestack, L’Oreal USA, Palantir, OPSClick, Big Parser, TIC, MIT Launch, MakeSchool, Bookholders, and Phone2Action.
See a video recap of the event filmed and edited by Luca Frix, TJ ’18, here.
Senior Arvind Chava has been tutoring underprivileged youngsters since he was a sophomore. Today, dozens of TJ students volunteer with STEMWISE, the non-profit he founded to provide tutoring, instruction, and coaching in STEM and other subjects. Arvind, who was profiled in a Washington Post article about his work, is personally committed to helping economically disadvantaged students from diverse backgrounds.
STEMWISE has branched out from its beginnings at MAS Alexandria Community Center to tutor and instruct young students at ten locations throughout the County, all of which serve primarily underprivileged families. Through their training sessions for the Math Kangaroo competition, volunteers have coached students to state and even national awards. The group participates in events, such as the Hour of Code event held at MAS Community Center in December, where TJ students talked about artificial intelligence and the applications it has in everyday life and the defense industry. In addition to working with children in person, the volunteers have created over 100 online videos – publicly available on YouTube – on subjects as varied as geometry, AMC8 problems, JAVA programming, mobile app design, and the scrambled paragraph portion of the TJ admission exam.
Assisting Arvind on the STEMWISE leadership team are his younger brother Akhil, junior Abdalla Osman, and TJ seniors Joseph Chetupuzha, Joshua Learn, Charles Ro, Ashwin Sivakumar, and Julian Vallyeason. Abdalla is preparing to run the non-profit with Akhil’s assistance after Arvind graduates, although Arvind plans to remain involved.
On a recent Thursday afternoon, Arvind could be found explaining long division to a handful of youngsters at Sacramento Neighborhood Center. The Center, located in an ailing Route 1 strip mall, is an inviting place with a classroom, well-equipped computer room, and friendly staff who appreciate the extra attention that Arvind and his TJ colleagues offer. Arvind and his team see many of the same kids from week to week, checking in with their parents, and even keeping track of their grades. Thanks to the special attention of STEMWISE volunteers, the kids’ attitude about learning has improved along with their skills.
STEMbassadors Teach Coding and Robotics, Connect Music and STEM
STEM Saturdays at Kent Gardens ES got under way in January with two back-to-back sessions featuring offerings for every age level: “Code Studio” and “LEGO Robotics” for grades K-2; “Bristlebots Robotics” followed by “Code Studio” for grades 3-4; “Advanced Math” and “Full STEAM Ahead” for grades 4-6.
Since 2011, when STEMbassador liaison Margarita Collantes, Parent ’15, founded “STEM Saturday University” at Kent Gardens ES, her children’s former elementary school, high school volunteers have been an integral part of the program. STEMbassadors from TJ and McLean HS make the hands-on classes possible by providing assistance to the young students as they work through introductory math or coding exercises or assemble miniature robots.
TJ STEMbassadors Jenny Zhu, TJ ’16, Ben Bae, TJ ’17 (pictured), Nathaniel Choe, TJ ’17, and Arthur Browne, TJ ’18 assisted this winter, joined by McLean junior Andy Broom (pictured), sophomore Khyati Sharma, and freshmen Ralph Whitfield and Chris Ertman, Collantes’ son.