Several Grade 4 Spence students recently teamed up to code with Grade 4 students from Promise Academy I and Promise Academy II—both of which are schools within Harlem Children’s Zone (HCZ). This weekend program, a partnership between The Spence School and HCZ, is known to our Lower School as Code Camp.
The students commit to working together for four consecutive Saturdays to deepen their understanding of coding by creating a game or animationusing the Scratch platform. According to Grade 3 Head Teacher Khairah Klein, who oversees Code Camp along with Lower School Physical Education Teacher Eileen Barrett, as well as Elizabeth Ahten and Christine Torres, both from HCZ, the program’s goal is “to create and build a partnership” with another organization, thereby teaching girls of all different backgrounds and levels of experience with coding to work together to create something.
Code Camp, which started over four years ago as part of a technology education grant to develop Spence's computer science program, was so successful at the outset, that it has been instituted permanently and runs every year in three different cycles for students in Grades 2, 3 and 4.
“When Eileen and I embarked on [this project], we realized the immense value there was in the girls building relationships with each other,” Klein underscored.
Klein used the analogy of driving a car to explain how the students assume different roles as they collaborate on coding a game.
“If you’re the driver, you have your hands on the wheel,” Klein noted, but “it’s the navigator who’s telling you what to do.” Similarly, in coding, the driver writes code based on the navigator’s guidance. “So, in essence,” she said, “It might be the navigator that’s actually crafting the game, but it’s the driver that’s putting the blocks together.”
“We teach the girls how to wear both hats,” Klein added, emphasizing that this helps them develop cooperative learning skills.
Barrett added that one great example of the girls’ teamwork is an activity in which the Code Camp students build code using command arrows made out of solo cups--rather than writing code with computers.
“The collaboration they have is spectacular,” Barrett reflected, noting that all of the Code Camp students see the code in different ways and have unique strengths that they draw upon collectively to create code.
Klein noted that Code Camp also provides opportunities to partner with Upper and Middle School students who work with the Lower School students as Code Camp interns. She added that when Code Camp participants see Upper and Lower School girls volunteering, they often ask to volunteer when they age out of the program.
“We now we have Code Camp alumnae from both Spence and Promise Academy who are interning with the second and third graders,” Klein shared. “They have been phenomenal.”
Beyond Code Camp’s emphasis on collaboration, Klein underscored that one thing “we really wanted to instill in them is…once you know how to use the blocks, you can add on and build [code] any way that makes sense to you.”
According to Barrett, “If they can think it, they can do it.”