Let Kids Lead: CS First Members as Advocates and Program Assistants

I’m reposting this from my personal blog I recently started, CS in the Clubhouse. It was originally posted August 19th.

The Goal: Kids as Leaders

One of the primary goals of the Boys & Girls Club movement is to foster leadership skills and self-confidence in our members. Each of our programs is targeted at one or more of our five Core Program Areas: The Arts; Character and Leadership; Sports, Fitness and Recreation; Health and Life Skills; and Education and Career. Our experience with CS First has been exciting because, in running the program, we have found that kids are sharing with each other and finding the confidence to become leaders in the group.

“Can I Talk About the Program?”

I was at our Blazers Boys & Girls Club in Northeast Portland to do one of our new monthly check-ins with the staff there, when something very cool happened at Club Meeting prior to the program. We had a new CS First module starting up and one of the staff members was standing at the front of Club Meeting telling the kids about CS First. This staff member was fairly new at the Club, and had not had the opportunity to run CS First yet, so it wasn’t the most compelling introduction. So, one of our kids raised his hand and asked to come up and tell the group about the program instead.

Now, this is not a usual occurrence, at least in Portland. Before I came on board with Code Corps, I spent two and a half years working directly with kids delivering programs, and I can count on one hand the number of times kids were so excited about a program that they wanted to get up in front of their peers and try to convince them all to join. This is what has been so awesome about CS First: it has inspired kids to talk to other kids and let them know that they can learn about technology, and it’s great.

Collaborative Problem Solving

One of the core ideas of CS First is that in technology, as in many things, you don’t always succeed the first time you try. One of the great things about CS First and Scratch is that kids are encouraged to help their neighbors solve problems, and in the process they gain confidence in their own ability as leaders. In July, I ran CS First at two different Clubhouses and in each case we found children who excelled at solving problems they came across. In each case, these kids (one boy and one girl, both of demographics that are underrepresented in the tech community at large) were excited to help their peers solve problems, and in both cases we were able to have these kids become helpers for the whole group. CS First further supports this process by asking kids to put up sticky notes thanking those who helped them solve problems during the program. It is an enormous confidence booster to know that your peers are looking to you for guidance, and to see yourself as a knowledgeable leader who knows about computer science.

Building on the Foundation

We’ve already seen that CS First builds a strong foundation of kids helping other kids and naturally developing their leadership skills. The task for us as facilitators, then, is to help nurture this process and provide opportunities for these kids to keep building on the foundation of leadership we’ve established. In the very near future, I’ll be speaking to our Club Directors about establishing a process for these kids to become official helpers for CS First. The perception of what kind of person succeeds in computer science is a huge determining factor in what kind of kid chooses to pursue it. As kids from backgrounds that are underrepresented in IT practice leadership in the field, and others see people like them succeeding, we can change that perception and allow kids to succeed where they would have struggled before.

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