Two California teens and longtime friends, Nikhil Cheerla and Vineet Kosaraju, decided to share their love of computer coding with young and old students alike, and came up with the idea about six months ago to teach free coding class at various public libraries around the San Francisco Bay area, including at the Mountain View (CA) Public Library. “Both of us were thinking of starting some kind of program to help people code, [with the idea that] people need to learn this,” says Cheerla. “…it was Vineet’s idea to do [classes] inside a library…an idea we both worked on together to get to where we are right now.”
The duo’s idea manifested in the form of the nonprofit organization, Math and Coding (visit their website http://www.mathandcoding.org/), which offers coding courses, entirely free to the public, taught by either Cheerla (age 15), a sophomore at Monta Vista High School in Cupertino, CA, or Kosaraju (age 16), a junior at The Harker School in San Jose, CA. Or, the classes are taught by the four other Math and Coding volunteer instructors, some whom are former students.
The duo teach the following courses in their local libraries: Web Design, Java, and Visual Coding. Each course is two and a half hours, with a half hour following class dedicated toward struggling students. Currently, the courses are offered at seven different library branches.
Karin Bricker, library manager of youth services and outreach at Mountain View Public Library, says the two have a “natural talent” when it comes to teaching and helping their students comprehend the sometimes abstract subject matters.
“I see them as being really outstanding teachers…” says Bricker. “They use analogies a lot in their teaching to make it clear so the kids understand.”
The public library branches where the two currently teach, which include locations in Sunnyvale, Saratoga, Mountain View, San Jose, and Campbell, are right in the heart of Silicon Valley, which certainly lends perspective with regard to how important learning coding is to both parents and prospective students.
“Even if you’re not going to be a programmer when you grow up, these students are going to…use these underlying skills of logic…to help them in their programming,” explains Kosaraju, who adds, “and they are going to be using them throughout their life.”
To help younger students grasp difficult concepts, both are fans of using “sneak tactics” in their teaching.
Says Kosaraju, “Especially in our younger video coding classes…It’s hard to explain why we’re doing this, so the way we explain it is…it’s kind of like a game, like Plants vs. Zombies, and it transitions from playing a game to making your own game. We’re trying to sneak in the coding through playing games.”
The two share they have both experienced difficult cases during their teaching, like with high-need students who have a tough time acclimating to new concepts, or who initially do not see the purpose of learning the skills.
“One kid didn’t own a laptop and started out thinking he was not really sure why coding would help,” tells Kosaraju. We kind of got him around to the idea that coding was something that you can actually make changes to. You can control things with your computer, you can change people’s attitudes towards coding.
The most rewarding part of the job for the two is when they have a “breakthrough moment” with struggling students.
“We had a student who was in our Java class,” says Cheerla. “He was falling behind, and because he came late for one class, things became confusing. So I just stayed back for 30 minutes after one of the classes, and he became one of the most advanced students in the entire class, which was really nice.”
He adds that one of the joys of teaching code is “when the kids actually finally are able to get the kind of same passion that you have for coding.”
If you are a librarian who would like to start your own “Coding for Kids” or “Java Programming” in your library, contact firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information about the nonprofit Math and Coding, visit http://www.mathandcoding.org/.
Terry Chao has previously written for DVICE, Dramafever, and Blackbook, and regularly waxes poetic about vegan food on her blog, Vegan Chao. She is perpetually on the hunt for the perfect vegan gummy bear, so feel free to shoot her a line on Twitter @veganchao.