Software Development

Delaware’s Kai Coders helps kids explore their digital side

Plus, a #MILLSUMMIT ticket discount, the latest EDGE Grant recipients and more Delaware tech news.

Kai Coding's Deanna Bledsoe teaching an in-person session.

(Courtesy photo)

Editor’s note: This story first appeared as a newsletter alongside a roundup of Technical.ly’s best reporting from the week, job openings and more. Subscribe here to get updates on Delaware tech, business and innovation news in your inbox on Thursdays.


During the COVID-19 shutdown in 2020, Deanna Bledsoe, the Hockessin-based IT director at the Delaware Office of State Treasury and holder of a degree in elementary education, got the idea to combine her tech and education skills to virtually teach kids coding.

Bledsoe’s then-third-grader daughter, like other kids, shifted school and activities to virtual, including Girl Scouts. Virtual scouting was particularly challenging at first, until Bledsoe noticed the large number of tech-related badges available for scouts to earn.

“It’s totally different than when I was a kid,” Bledsoe said. “There are all these STEM badges. I said, ‘How about if we do some of these?’ and it was really cool. And then that just kind of spawned. I hadn’t had this much fun programming in years.”

What started as lessons for her daughter’s troopmates became Kai Coders, offering eight-week, after-school classes of up to eight students that meet virtually to learn and apply code — Scratch for intro students in third through fifth grade, up to (by student demand) Python for more experienced coders in fourth through sixth grade.

The virtual aspect allows kids from just about anywhere to participate, though for now, the majority of the students served are from the local area.

And, as schools have reopened, Bledsoe has added in-person community outreach events to Kai Coders’ offerings.

Headshot of Deanna Bledsoe

Deanna Bledsoe. (Courtesy photo)

“That would usually be me going to a local school,” she said. “I do a lesson, and then within 15 minutes we are coding, and at the end of that one hour you will have something to show to your friends or to your family.”

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The purpose of the coding classes isn’t necessarily to create future software developers, though Bledsoe does hope to see more kids, especially girls, take an early interest in coding and see a future in a STEM field as an obtainable goal.

“For me it’s just awareness and having fun,” she said. “I really focus on fundamentals. So it doesn’t matter what language; it doesn’t matter if you’re a computer programmer down the road, honestly. A lot of it is conceptual, just understanding how things work. We just break it down to: You run into this stuff in real life, you just didn’t know that’s what it was called,” like loops.

The virtual classes are up to two hours a week, with 10 to 15 minutes of instructions, 45 to 50 minutes of working on projects, plus a second optional hour of “computer lab” where Bledsoe remains present to answer questions and offer feedback.

The classes also foster soft skills, including teamwork, interpersonal skills and sharing, as well as creativity and confidence.

The last night of the program is demo night, Bledsoe said — “because as programmers, that’s part of what you do, you demo your work. And it’s really kind of an interesting skill. It’s a little bit of public speaking, even if it’s virtual, how to present, who’s your audience? We practice that and how to give constructive feedback, to be positive with your peers and that type of thing. It all builds up to this final presentation of their choosing.”

Projects have ranged from simple Scratch animations to old-school Asteroids-type games.

“The sky’s the limit,” she said. “A very beginner project could be to animate your name. Part of that is at least one of those letters has to be something that you created, either you can draw it on paper, you can draw it on the screen, but I want it to represent you. What do you like to do? I want that name to tell me something about you. [Another example is] I had a group of kids learning Python doing a spring-themed video game.”

Get discount tix to August’s #MILLSUMMIT

The hybrid #MILLSUMMIT returns next week from Tuesday through Thursday, with days two and three taking place both live at The Queen and virtually.

Are you a software developer or startup founder interested in being profiled in Technical.ly? Visit me at the Technical.ly table at The Queen at 1:30 to 2:30 p.m. and we’ll talk! (Of course, you can always reach out to me with story ideas at holly@technical.ly, too.)

Technical.ly newsletter subscribers can get a free virtual pass to the summit, valued at $149. You can also use our code as a discount toward a $199 1-day in person pass or a $299 VIP pass. These free passes are limited quantity and first come first serve, so grab one before they’re gone by emailing Technical.ly Managing Editor Julie Zeglen at julie@technical.ly.

And if you miss out on that code, you can always get 10% off your ticket price using the discount code TECHNICALLY22.

Register here

What else happened in Delaware this week?

  • The 10 winners of the fifth round of Delaware Division of Small Business’ Encouraging Development, Growth and Expansion (EDGE) grants have been announced. The STEM Class winners are Carbon Reform (Newark), Cosmos Pharmaceuticals (Middletown), HARTLON (Wilmington), G-Flash (Newark) and Moonprint Solutions (Dover).
  • Healthy Communities Delaware announced a $3 million combined public-private investment in communities, between the State of Delaware and Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield Delaware, targeted to support place-based, community-driven initiatives. The $1.5 million investment from Highmark Delaware’s grant fund, BluePrints for the Community, matches a $1.5 million investment from the State of Delaware in a public-private partnership to advance health, well-being and equity.
  • The US Food and Drug Administration has approved Wilmington-based Incyte’s Opzelura cream for the topical treatment of nonsegmental vitiligo, a chronic autoimmune disease that causes skin depigmentation. Incyte’s shares had a reported increase of 1.5% to about $80 per share.
  • Are you tech-savvy, creative and looking for a part time job? The University of Delaware Institute for Public Administration is looking for a communications specialist to work 20 to 25 hours a week. Duties include helping with web maintenance and design, writing content, managing social media, and editing the First State Insights podcast.
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