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MessageMedia volunteers help kids learn to code

Jonatan Castro, Julian Choquette, and Kevin Forster are three MessageMedia staffers who recently volunteered their time and expertise through CS in Schools.

CS in Schools is an Australian initiative at RMIT University, and is focused on addressing the shortage of secondary school teachers who feel qualified to teach computer science. Some schools struggle to teach coding and most successful coding classes are run outside of school hours, which means that many kids miss out on this valuable skill.

The program’s approach is to help teachers confidently teach computer science to high school students through in-class professional development.

This is where our employees come in. Jonatan, Julian and Kevin each gave up their time, initially to learn some skills to work in a classroom, and then to actually help teachers with classes in two Melbourne schools throughout the first term of 2019.

At the completion of term one, we met them to discuss their experience.

Where did you volunteer?

Julian: Jonatan and I were volunteering at Eltham High School, where the principal was very keen on working with CS in Schools. The class time for Year 7 media was split between media and coding, and we alternated in helping in the coding classes.

Kevin: I volunteered at McClelland College, which is just out of Frankston.

MessageMedia volunteer Julian helps kids learn about code.

How did you find the experience of helping teachers and kids in a high school?

Jonatan: It was an amazing experience! It was challenging as I’ve never done this before, especially doing practical lessons with kids. But the kids were asking questions, having fun, and getting really hands-on.

Kevin: It was interesting and challenging with a large class and a wide range of abilities, as some kids had done some coding before, and others hadn’t at all. I found we had a lot of assumed knowledge. For example, many kids didn’t know how to email as they’d only used messaging apps before. And they wanted to touch everything as if it was a touchscreen, because they weren’t familiar with a keyboard either!

Julian: Volunteering was great, the kids were well behaved although some were noisier than others! It was really refreshing to see the material interpreted through ‘new eyes’. With an engineering background, this stuff comes naturally to me, but it was all new to them. For example, we did an exercise where the kids followed a script by taking instructions and drawing a map that corresponded. When I presented it, mine was all circles, boxes and straight lines, but many kids drew the steps of the town hall, flowers, and other details. I thought, maybe they got the point and I’d missed it!

What was the highlight of your volunteering in term one?

Jonatan: Seeing the moment when the kids just got it. For example, the kid who the previous Friday had been really frustrated, hitting the PC, was saying “this is so cool” the following week. Of course, they saw the other way around too!

Julian: At the end of term, it was seeing more than half the class writing their own computer game and picking up the concepts.

Kevin: Similar to Julian, I set an exercise with a town map. A couple of them put a story behind it, such as why they were going to the hospital and other locations, so they took the parameters of the task and expanded on them. We’re from an IT background, so we see just the task, but they had this real creativity that some of us have nearly forgotten. It really gave me that sense that this is not just a job, you can actually be creative.

What would you say to someone considering volunteering?

Julian: It’s a really rewarding experience, and there will probably be a lot that will surprise you along the way (all good things!). It’s not so much about the content, so your level of knowledge of programming language doesn’t matter so much. It’s about how you relate to the kids and inspire them to pick up these skills.

Kevin: You will spend a few hours outside of the classroom prepping and adjusting according to the ability of the class, but I would definitely do it again.

Jonatan: Go for it! It’s an amazing experience, you learn a lot, and you’ll feel good!

Thank you, Jonatan, Julian and Kevin, and good luck for your next term!

About CS in Schools

CS in Schools, backed by industry and funded by donations from technology industry leaders, is based at RMIT University. Co-founded by Hugh Williams, the organization focuses on helping teachers teach computational thinking and coding in Australian schools. In 2019, CS in Schools is working with eight schools across Victoria, including Catholic, public, and private schools in both country Victoria and metropolitan Melbourne. In 2020, CS in Schools plans to expand to work with 100 teachers across Victoria.