Coding class seeks to close the education gap in Stamford

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STAMFORD – Charlotte Primo’s Chromebook screen displayed floating images of gallons of milk, humans, and a black cat.

To an outsider, the imagery might seem absurd, but during Beyond Limits Computer Science class in Stamford, this is just another successful mission.

The task was to write code that would create an animation inspired by the 1979 arcade game Asteroids with the milk and human, in Primo’s case, scrolling the screen as the player steered the cat up and down, trying to capture as many jars of milk as possible. possible and dodge competing humans.

Here’s how the sixth-grade Scofield Magnet Middle School student described it: “Cats love milk. Humans love milk too, I guess, so the human is trying to get the milk, but the cat wants milk too. So the human is the enemy.

All around the Stamford Peace Youth Foundation classroom on a Thursday afternoon, middle school students were working on their own version of the game.


Nathalee Polacarz, a sixth grade student at Scofield, created one in which the player controls a spaceship, trying to collect aliens while avoiding asteroids.

Adiel Crosby, also a sixth-grade Scofield student, did one where the player maneuvered Pittsburgh Penguins hockey star Sidney Crosby, who tries to catch hockey pucks and avoid goaltenders.

Patrick Burkat, another sixth grader from Scofield, has created a football-themed game in which you control a goalkeeper. The objective is to capture as many balls as possible, avoiding oncoming football players.

First offered this year, the free, eight-week Beyond Limits computer coding course is made possible through funding from Amazon Future Engineer, a program that provides computer learning opportunities to disadvantaged and low-income youth. The last class is Thursday.

The program is not free for Stamford Peace, however, as the organization paid for two instructors to be in the classroom with the sixth, seventh and eighth graders and purchased Chromebooks for the course.

For many of the 16 college kids and girls in the class, this class was one of their first forays into coding.

That’s mainly the point, said Andy Sklover, co-founder of the Beyond Limits program.

“It’s about leveling the playing field for us,” Sklover said, referring to the fact that the program is available to students who are entitled to a free or reduced price lunch.

Brian Kriftcher, co-founder of the Stamford Peace Youth Foundation, said there are many extracurricular options available for children from affluent families, but not so much for low-income students.

“Well-off kids are trying to get all the benefits,” he said. “So you don’t need tutoring, but you sign up for tutoring; you do not need university preparation assistance, but you opt for university preparation assistance; and it became this mega company.

“Every mall has a for-profit tutoring center, and it’s not for low-income kids,” he added. “And so, the gap that has always existed has just widened. So we are trying to reduce this gap.

During the course, students from five colleges were introduced to the Python programming language, described as an entry point for students to learn a professional-level coding language. The language is a step up from Scratch, an easy-to-use drag-and-drop programming tool that many students in the class had used before.

Sklover said coding has been found to be beneficial in helping math students, making it more fun to learn.

“We read about the benefits of coding and applying to math,” he said. “Critical thinking and coding problem solving works great with math, to give it more life and context. “

In addition to the coding course, Beyond Limits offers math and science tutoring six days a week to approximately 175 students during the school year.

While this program was only a one-time program, Sklover said it was possible that they would offer a high school coding course, and he expects there will be more opportunities to do so. ‘offer similar courses in the future.

Sydney Eben, a junior in the computer science class at Westhill High School, and Francis Alvaro, a 2017 graduate from Westhill High School and a first year computer science major at UConn-Stamford, are the two on-site teachers.

Eben said it took students a few weeks to really understand Python technology.

The penultimate class was the first time she felt the students really understood.

“It’s hard to be cast in a language like this,” she said.

Primo agreed.

“If you make a small mistake, like say putting a lowercase letter (when an uppercase letter is needed), it won’t work,” Primo said.

Alvaro, who did not have access to a coding course when he was in college, said such a course would have been of tremendous benefit to him.

“It would have made the ease of entering IT a much smoother transition,” the UConn student said.

ignacio.laguarda @

stamfordadvocate.com


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