Millions of youth nationwide Monday embark on Computer Science Education Week — with its “Hour of Code” shared by 1 billion young students globally.
Left behind will be many Chicago Public Schools students learning from home during a pandemic shining a harsh spotlight on the digital divide.
“I was going to ask my school for a small budget to send some kind of electronics kits home to my students, just so they’d have something to do, because our kids don’t have access to computers at home,” said Mike Tyler, a computer science/robotics teacher at Chicago Excel Academy of Southwest.
The Chicago Public Schools alternative charter high school for students ages 15-21 is one of six on the South and West sides getting an assist from Google this week: 1,000 computers gifted to students, delivered to their doorsteps.
It’s part of a suite of CS Week initiatives by the tech giant that include a $5 million grant to take global a CPS program started by Chance the Rapper.
“This was so very on time, even better than what I’d hoped for my students. They’re sending us 200 Raspberry Pi 400 kits, so our students can actually learn to build their own,” Tyler said. “This will be a big help until we can get them back into the classrooms.”
Also receiving the bounty of next gen mini-computer kits are students at Kelly College Prep, Spry Community Links, Phoenix Military Academy, Little Black Pearl Arts Academy and Lindblom Math & Science Academy.
The gift is being made only in the third-largest school district — the first in the nation to make computer science a graduation requirement for all high school students. It was an initiative pushed for years by former Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who recognized the crucial need for the computational and problem-solving skills it offers students for 21st century careers.
Other Google initiatives marking the weeklong celebration of the critical thinking, logic and creativity learned through computer science — while advocating equity in access for all students, particularly communities of color underrepresented in technology — are being rolled out nationally.
Code Next Connect will make lemonade out of lemons, by expanding Google’s Code Next — a free immersive computer science program for Black and Latinx high-school students currently operating in three locations nationwide. The virtual revolution helped realize longstanding plans to grow the program, and Google now will offer it online to students of color nationwide.
That’s aligned with the theme of this year’s CS Week: #CSForSocialJustice.
“We aim to provide Black and Latinx students with skills and technical social capital — that web of relationships you can tap into. Our Googlers across the country can now pour into these students, and we’re really excited,” said Google Diversity STEM Strategist Shameeka Emanuel.
“What we are saying is social capital extends to industries, and because we don’t have enough Black and Latinx professionals in the industry, the ability of our youth to build that network is hindered. So we’re helping them build that social capital with each other and with the Googlers and their coaches, who are also Black and Latinx.”
When Emanuel began his computer science push in 2013, it was estimated computer-related jobs and career paths would dominate nearly three-fourths of all new STEM careers. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicted nearly 760,000 new jobs to be created in computer and information technology by 2020 — but only 40,000 bachelor degrees in computer science to be issued by American universities in that same time.
Google as in the past will offer “Hour of Code” resources for educators, families and students, via its CS First platform.
Added to the annual celebration in 2013, “Hour of Code” has grown from a one-hour introduction designed to demystify coding — 35,000 events reached 15 million students in 167 countries that first year — into what today is a global movement reaching 1.78 billion students in 180+ countries.
This year, 65,356 events are offered in over 45 languages, and Google’s CS First Unplugged will offer a printable booklet of computational thinking activities — acknowledging the digital divide in lack of computer access thrown into high relief by the pandemic.
Being rolled out not just nationally but globally is the initiative traced to Chance the Rapper’s lauded efforts to enhance enrichment programming in the cash-strapped district he attended; 80% of students are low-income, and 85% are students of color.
His SocialWorks foundation in 2017 launched its New Chance Fund gifting a cohort of elementary and high schools $100,000 over three years for arts and literature programming. In 2018, he added a cohort for computer science programming. To date, the Fund has raised $5.1 million from supporters like Google, investing in 51 schools.
Among the first urban school districts to offer a computer science pathway for K-8 students, Chicago has built on data finding future success when kids learn early to both use and create new technologies.
So Google last year supported the SocialWorks effort that taught video game design to middle school students, their culminating projects weaved into a video game for Chance’s “I Love You So Much” collaboration with DJ Khaled — the first time an online game rather than video was released for a single.
Google had connected CPS’ Office of Computer Science with the Scratch Foundation, the world’s largest free coding community for kids, for that project. Scratch offers resources to create interactive stories, games and animations they can share with others worldwide.
That led to CPS and Scratch collaborating on a family creative coding night last year, where students and their families came together to create using code. The event was so successful they again collaborated on a “Virtual Creative Family Coding Nights Implementation Guide” rolled out as a model for districts nationwide.
“There was a lot of success with the implementation, and it just caught fire in the middle school space,” said Troy Williams, CPS interim director of computer science.
Due to that success, the $5 million Google grant will fund a new Scratch Education Collaborative, a global network of community organizations developing and sharing resources and training for educators and youth from historically underrepresented populations engaging in this S.T.E.M. (science, technology, engineering and math) field.
“The decision to make computer science a graduation requirement came from an equity standpoint. Prior to that, it was only offered in selective enrollment schools or schools that had a lot of resources — mostly on the North Side,” Williams said.
“As a result of the social injustice things that happened this year, Google wanted to make an impact specifically in the Black community and felt CS Week offered a great opportunity, especially during the pandemic, to provide support and resources for those students who don’t physically get these sorts of opportunities,” he said.
“Our students being able to have access to these Raspberry Pis and other resources supplements the learning they’re doing in the classrooms, and brings another level of engagement where they can create on their own. It really helps toward closing the digital divide and the learning gap as well.”