How I Tripled the Number of Computers at a Site

computerA few weeks ago, I noticed there wasn’t a page or dedicated location on our website with STEM and Computer Science (CS) program information. I convinced my supervisor that we should have one, and he said he’ll speak with the appropriate people to make the change. He assured me it will probably get passed and I can look back on the site after my service is over and show others that I made everlasting change. However, that’s not what excites me and not what I’d consider a proud moment.

One of my proudest moments is doubling the number of computers at a club. It was easy too, for all it took was being a good listener and action-oriented.

The story starts at the end of a staff training at a new Boys & Girls Club (BGC). This BGC had only 5* computers, and they were joining after we already gave away most, if not all, of our loaner computers to other clubs. I suggested that they run the CS First program more than once a week with 2 different groups of kids to make the most of those computers. It was a good idea, but not the most ideal.

In the parking lot, I ran into someone (let’s call him/her Ashley) from the IT team who was onsite to fix a computer. We chatted, and I asked if there was any way to get more computers for this site. I was not expecting much because: the IT team is small with many BGCs to service, we always seem to be low on staff and resources as a non-profit, and they already gave some laptops to my program. However, it never hurts to ask.

I learned that some one from this BGC requested that the IT team remove 8-10 broken computers from the site a few months ago without specifying if they wanted the computers fixed and brought back or replaced. Ashley was really frustrated by this because they’re just sitting in her office. She strongly felt that she could probably save half of them (and if not, she could replace them), but it’s against policy for her to dedicate time to it without a formal request.

Long story short, I asked Ashley what she needed in the request for me to submit it myself. However, I thought it would make more sense coming from someone at that club, so I marched into the club director’s office (whose only connection with me prior to this was being CC’d in the same email once), and advised him accordingly.** It was a quick little meeting and he ended up submitting several IT requests as a result, including one to allow a staff I just trained to be able to submit IT requests herself. This is crucial to my goal of creating sustainability because having a non-VISTA staff close to the CS program submitting requests means neither the club director or myself are bottlenecks to the program’s success.

Because of the delay, I had to sit in traffic for more than an hour, but it was worth it to get the site more computers. Those computers would also be permanent and can be used for any program, unlike the loaner laptops we’d have to scavenge.

 

UPDATE: Ashley asked me if I was at the BGC site to let her know how many ethernet and power ports there were so she could know how many to bring the next day. I had no idea and was an hour’s drive away, but I knew someone at the club I could call who would be happy to let me know; Hayden was one of the staff I trained for the program. She was overjoyed to hear they were getting more computers and happily volunteered the information. With that info, Ashley said she could bring about 15 computers! We’re now tripling the number of computers within 5 business days!

 

 

 

*Sure, they didn’t have many computers to start with so doubling it might not sound like a lot to you, but each one makes a big difference to the 150+ high risk, low income kids who might not have computers at home that have to share those 5 everyday.

** Club director may or may not have been a ‘he’, I just assigned genders based on whimsy. I had to go back to the BGC because staff prefer face-to-face communication at most sites, and I didn’t know, at the time, who could submit IT requests at that site, so I wou. It turned out that only one with that power was the club director.

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Long overdue ‘About Me’ post

Hello world, I know I’m late

but writing about me is something I hate

Better tardy than never, I suppose

How’s my attempt to make it better in prose?

 

I’ll spare you and me the rest of it. That was actually the best of it.

….I still don’t have a traditional ‘About Me’ post, but I have a character card instead. I feel like it covers all the basics and should be a decent alternative.

 

isabelle about me

Phew. Blogging is hard.

‘Til next time,

Isabelle

Hack-a-thon at Chicago

Screenshot 2016-01-19 at 2.26.26 PM - Edited

On MLK Day (January 18, 2016), the Chicago team served the urban youth with the Blue1647 organization at the I-Have-a-Dream Hack-a-thon event. This event was an all day event, from 8 in the morning to 10 in the evening. Student participants, grades 7th-12th, learned how to code through creating prototype apps that addressed community problems. None of the youth were required to have prior coding experience, simply a deep curiosity in coding.

In honor of MLK Day, students identified community problems that were related to the issues that Martin Luther King, Jr. fought for. These community problems were violence and hate, voting rights, and unequal rights. The student participants worked closely with the BlueTeam and learned HTML and Materialize CSS to create their apps.

The first app was to join community members of disadvantaged backgrounds and provide them a space where they could advocate for each other. The second app was aimed to encourage young people to vote and provide them information in regards to voting. And the last app was geared towards decreasing hate crimes by promoting non-violence.

More importantly, all of our students had fun! They are looking forward already to attend another Hack-a-thon.

Holidays & Hackathons

Words cannot describe the full experience of throwing a Hackathon at the Clubs. Still, I fully recognize that this is a blog so I’ll try for you, dear readers. Going into the process of planning this event was intimidating to say the least. I’ve found many articles and resources detailing how to plan a Hackathon. The shortcoming of these is that almost none were youth-centered. Kelly and I challenged ourselves to make this event both accessible to beginners and challenging for youth with experience. Additionally, we had the support of HackOut and the other Code Corps VISTAs.

In the end, we choose MIT App Inventor because of its similarity to Scratch’s interface and the many online tutorials and resources. During the event, all of our attendees formed groups and coded Android apps for phones that helped improve the community. We provided subcategories (healthy lifestyles, sports, friends/family, academics) to give the theme more direction for youth. I was wholly impressed by the range of ideas/interpretations. Here are a few examples of apps:

CommuniMeet App: This app allows the user to send an invitation to a select group of friends/family to meet up anywhere! It allows groups of loved ones to stay close and connected.

Sports, Exercise, History App: This app allows the user to pick a sport (each group member picked one unique to their interests), learn history about it, and get a healthy lifestyle tip on how to play.

Everyone (volunteers included, bless them) worked hard to make the most of the event. During the day I saw a lot of brainstorming, hard work, collaboration, and the occasional dance break (never underestimate kids LOVE of the Whip/Nae Nae). My favorite moments were when I would innocuously walk by and kids shot out of their seats to show me their work. It was fantastic. The day ended with the App Showcase, each group showed off their apps with their Chromebooks and posters. We even had a fair amount of parents come out!

Overall, I would consider the event successful in a lot of ways. After talking with participants afterwards, most had positive experiences. Not to mention, there was a heightened amount creativity and collaboration than I’ve seen in CS First alone. I have no doubt that all these kids will create great things in the future.

Thankfully, the only issues we had all day were related to group dynamics (some groups were larger than others). We managed to stay on schedule and (mostly) on task. Planning the Hackathon was both challenging and rewarding. In the end, I learned a lot about myself and planning large events. Like anything I’ve planned, there are things to adjust and change for next time. Still, my philosophy is this: if the kids are content, I’m content. That said, I was even more content after getting a full night’s rest that night.

Happy Holidays everyone! I hope you feel inspired to create and code some ideas of your own.

Until next time,

Zenzele

 

Unlocking the clubhouse

I recently finished a book that asks what is the question: “How can women change to fit into computer science? Or “How can computer science change to attract more women.”

Boys and Girls Club in Green Country (North East Oklahoma) has a club house located at 1111 SE 9th St, Pryor, OK.  If you  google it you may first find Pryor, Texas.  It has recently been painted with four rich colors, green, blue, yellow, and red, that was donated labor and materials from Google.  For Google, who has a data center nearby that has been quoted to be the place where “Matrix” people are plugged in, these different colors represent different personalities types.

However, one of the “Must Reads books, if you read nothing else” for our VISTA CODE CORE, placed at different cities across America in Boys and Girls Club, is by the author of Jane Margolis and Allan Fisher. The  must read book is called Unlocking the Clubhouse: Women in Computing, and this book painted the walls of the club house differently.

Unlocking Clubhouse

There are more men then women in computer science.  When women choose to study computer science they ask themself:  “Does computer science has a place for me?” and “How come the boys know how to do this, but I don’t know how to do this?”

Who takes the AP (Advance Placement, a test that is an option in High School) Computer Science test?

  • In Oklahoma, there were only 359 computer science graduates in 2013, and only 13% were female.
  • Only 206 high school students in Oklahoma took the AP Computer Science exam in 2015; female represented 24%; Hispanic represented 12%, and black represented 7%.

*Statistics came from https://code.org/advocacy/state-facts/OK.pdf

A question we could ask ourselves when becoming Guru’s in CS First Clubs, a computer science enrichment club that offers materials free, is “Does Computer Science orientation allow for success and a sense of belonging in the discipline for all, including women and minorities?”

Some suggestions from this book were:

  • to provide information about gender issue (their example was in the women’s bathroom stalls a flyer called Stall Steet Journal)
  • have computer problems that are based off real data
  • form a Gender Equity Committee
  • provide more information on women or minority as role models in computer science (such as Grace Hopper and Ada Lovelance)
  •  have a computer science professional that is a minority or a women talk to those who want to study computer science

For Pryor, we are hosting a HackOut at Boys and Girls Club in December 2015, that is trying to allow youth to solve one of the communities pressing problems:  How to Hack out Boredom for the youth

If you want to volunteer as a judge to help at this event, you can register via volunteer spot.  If not, please consider hosting a CS First Club. Gurus wanted, who lead video based activities, and no experience in computer science is needed!