With information technology integrated into so many aspects of our lives, having some computer science skills will be essential for the future workforce. However, less than half of all schools teach computer science. Furthermore, while 71 percent of STEM jobs are currently in computer science, only 8 percent of STEM graduates study computer science. These gaps are concerning, but there are efforts under way to close them.
Hour of Code is a worldwide movement designed to demystify code, to show that anybody can learn the basics and to broaden participation in computer science and other technical fields. Over 400 partners and 200,000 educators globally currently support the movement.
As part of Computer Science Education Week on Dec. 4-10, Fermilab partnered with Argonne National Laboratory on an initiative to bring Hour of Code activities and coding role models to local schools. Fourteen employees from Fermilab, along with several from various Argonne organizations, visited area elementary, middle and high schools and spoke about their labs, their careers and coding in general. They also assisted students with coding exercises.
This is the second year Penelope Constanta, application developer and system analyst, participated in Hour of Code. Over the course of one day, Constanta visited 13 classrooms at Oswego’s Fox Chase Elementary School, from first grade to fifth grade, with varying levels of coding experience. She explained to the children who had never coded what a computing program is, and for those who had, she helped with the coding tasks that they were asked to do.
“I did love the kids’ reactions when I asked them to ‘program me’ to move to a location in the classroom or do some simple task,” Constanta said. “At all levels, they were able to grasp the simple concepts that I introduced.” For all but two of the classes she attended, this was the first time these kids had heard about programming.
Scientist Adam Lyon spent a morning at Thomas Jefferson Junior High School in Woodridge.
“It was a lot of fun, and the teachers and kids were great,” he said. “The Minecraft and Flappy Bird projects were by far the most popular, though several kids told me that Minecraft is so 2015.”
Application developer and system analyst Kris Brandt attended both introductory and AP computer science classes at St. Charles East High School, where the students are already coding, so she didn’t need to introduce the concept of coding.
“Instead, my talk focused on scientific versus core computing at Fermilab and computing careers in general,” Brandt said. “They were also curious and impressed by some of the stats from ‘Computing by the Numbers,’ especially the amount of data we manage and the cybersecurity stats. Quantum computing was also a hot topic. They were a very curious and smart group of kids, which made the experience fun.”
Fermilab Chief Information Officer Rob Roser highlighted Fermilab Computing’s positive impact in the community.
“I am very proud of the enthusiastic participation from all branches of Computing in this important outreach event,” Roser said. “Reaching out through the schools and showing these kids that coding is both fun and accessible to them and that the end result can change the world is very powerful.”
The Fermilab participants and the schools they visited were:
Kris Brandt: St. Charles East High School
Penelope Constanta: Fox Chase Elementary School, Oswego
Lynn Garren: Churchill Elementary School, Oswego
Ken Herner: Lemont High School
Burt Holzman: Wolf’s Crossing Elementary, Aurora
Tanya Levshina: Morrill Math & Science Elementary School, Chicago
Adam Lyon: Thomas Jefferson Junior High School
Marco Mambelli: UIC College Prep, Chicago
Craig Mohler: Timber Ridge Middle School, Plainfield
Keenan Newton: Thornton Fractional South High School, Lansing
Irene Shiu: Boulder Hill Elementary, Oswego
Margaret Votava: Bower Elementary, Warrenville
Tammy Whited: Grace McWayne Elementary, Batavia
Michael Zalokar: Rotolo Middle School, Batavia
Marcia Teckenbrock is the communications manager in the Office of the Chief Information Officer.