In Part 1 of this series, we introduced MathAndCoding, a nonprofit that offers teen-led programming classes for children in public libraries in the Silicon Valley area. In part 2, we offer a librarian's perspective as the host for this program.
As the first librarian to host it, Karin Bricker, library manager for youth and outreach services at Mountain View Public Library, had to overcome some initial skepticism. "They [Vineet Kosaraju and Nikhil Cheerla] are certainly capable, well-meaning kids. But they are still kids. So there was some initial back and forth early on in regards to curriculum."
MathAndCoding created a curriculum for the library based on the programming language Scratch, a language developed especially for kids by the Lifelong Kindergarten Group at the MIT Lab. It has a simple drag-and-drop interface that allows kids to visualize basic programming concepts.
As the MathAndCoding founders refined their processes and logistics, Bricker grew more confident in letting them move on to offer more advanced classes. In addition to visual programming and Java, MathAndCoding now offers classes on HTML, CSS, and template-based web design, as well as a Technology Day event where they introduce games and apps for different platforms.
MathAndCoding volunteers are now doing this at more than 12 libraries in the region. They are also considering expanding the program to other parts of the U.S. like Texas, where one instructor will be heading to college.
Bricker says that there is also another benefit, perhaps an unplanned one, to having teen volunteers. Per the city risk assessment manager and regulations, volunteers who work with children must undergo a Federal Department of Justice background check, which includes fingerprinting. However, if the volunteer is under 18, that is not necessary, as long as a librarian is in the room at all times.
From Proposal to Success
For Bricker, the 10 to 12 hours that library staff members spend now per 4- to 5-week session seems to be a good investment of their time. Initially they were perhaps less sure of its outcomes, but the program's mission certainly fits the mandate of the library.
"The library is a place for lifelong education, and needs to resonate with the community. [The concept of] family literacy is also very important in our community. Parents want the kids to have that opportunity to learn, but sometimes parents are not always the best teachers," says Bricker.
After working out some space (a dedicated meeting room rather than an alcove in the children's area) and equipment (laptops and netbooks rather than tablets) issues, MathAndCoding has become a core children's program for the library, with parents often asking about class availability for next sessions.
"We are getting people from the local area and outside since the website reaches other locales. The fact that we are a host site for Girls Who Code adds credibility to our programs as well."
Starting Your Own Coding Program
Having shifted from an initial skeptic to now a cheerleader for the program, Bricker's main advice to librarians interested in running such a program would be to define the scope of the program together with the volunteers, and see what ages of patrons you may not yet be serving at your library. While acknowledging that Vineet and Nikhil approached the library first, Bricker recognized that MathAndCoding would be a fit for a desired demographic and a worthwhile collaboration, and the program's success owes much to a librarian taking a chance on two young teens who were hoping to share their knowledge with others.
If you are interested in starting your own program, or getting in touch with MathAndCoding even if you aren't in the San Francisco Bay Area, visit this page to fill out MathAndCoding's online form.