When Noah Rossi was in middle school just a few years ago, he became frustrated with the lack of computer science being offered.
“There were computer classes,” he said, “but they were about teaching us to use the computer, not creating things with the computer.”
It’s a major distinction that shows how much more quickly tech education should be evolving, versus how quickly is actually is. Twenty years ago, kids needed to learn the basics in the classroom. Today, most kids, even if the only tech they’ve touched is a smartphone, are well past a ’90s-era computer class by elementary school.
Rossi knew what he wanted to have learned in middle school and high school at Newark Charter School. He felt so strongly that the computer science he had to learn on his own should be a project-based curriculum that he started developing Ground UP Computer Science, a summer program for students in 4th through 8th grades, nearly five years ago.
“Something like 60 percent of high school students don’t have access to computer science,” he said. “Another 26 percent have access, but don’t get a real feel for it.” All in all, he said, only about 20 percent of high school students have access to real computer science classes in school.
Rossi ran a pilot of his proposed Ground UP summer camp at NCS. “It was one week — five days, three hours a day,” he said. The school subsidized some of the software and equipment, which campers are allowed to keep — an important part of his model.
“We want kids to create these projects,” he said. “They should be able to take them home and continue to use what they learned.”
Which means, yes, campers take home a computer — a Raspberry Pi, inexpensive enough to be viable.
“The computer’s not the expensive part,” he said.
Actually running the camp is the challenge.
After successfully testing the program, he’s been able to partner with other programs who will offer his curriculum this summer, including SummerCollab’s Tyler’s Camp at Salesianum, Newark Parks & Rec at the George Wilson Center and NCS. The various program partners give Ground UP the inclusiveness he was going for.
“Inclusion is one of the really big problems,” he said. Tyler’s Camp, which focuses on closing the achievement gap between low-income kids of color and middle- and upper-class kids, will offer Ground UP in two blocks over two weeks this summer, serving 20 students.
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