Girls build apps at techie camp

This summer, we’re publishing a short series on STEM in the summer, with visits to three STEM programs for girls. First, we visited Young Women’s Summer Institute from the Ohio Supercomputer Center. Next, we learned about the digital animation workshop hosted by Ohio State. For our final piece, we’re visiting OSLN member Summit Road Elementary. 

“Bacon will come into your life!”

Under Principal Melissa Drury, Summit Road Elementary has been providing abundant STEM opportunities for their young students. This week in particular, they host an app development camp for 3rd and 4th grade girls. Two students explain why the dog on their phone seems to know what I’ll have for lunch.

“It’s called an animal fortune teller; we’re not done with it yet.”

The designers, Nyomie and Cydney, don’t rest on their laurels; they still have bugs to iron out. It’s goofy, but they are all business. In a few months, they will enter the 4th grade.

Students at the camp work hard to develop their apps and fix the bugs.

This summer program is not an outlier. Summit Road consistently brings exciting and engaging programs to the elementary level in all aspects of STEM, especially computer science and coding. Neighboring eSTEM High School also contributes to the tech culture at Summit. Computer science and coding skills give way to an impressive robotics program at eSTEM. High schoolers shared their expertise last year through a partnership with Microsoft.

“Microsoft at Easton provided the software, and they trained the high school kids,” says Principal Drury, “and then the high school kids came back and worked with our kids during their recess.” Elementary students gave up their recess, one day a week, to code.

This week, they give up some of their summer to do the same. The app development program is run by TECH CORPS, a nonprofit that will reach over 1,400 students this summer. One TECH CORPS mentor, Kat, fills in the week’s details.

“Earlier this week we were going through tutorials with them to get familiarized with it, and now they’re on their own. They’re working on their very own apps.”

Students learn the basics with software similar to Scratch, using puzzle pieces to string together lines of code. This introduces coding logic without intimidating walls of text. Through a simplified user interface, students learn the basics of coding, paving the way for more complex computer science in the coming years. Regardless of how it appears onscreen, the students still do the heavy lifting.

“This is the youngest I’ve ever done it with,” the other mentor, Chris, mentions, but age does not seem to be a problem. Students sit as desks or claim floor space, working through the bugs that plague any app in progress. One team explains their whack-a-mole game.

“One fish is moving around, and the other fishes are blocking it, so it’s harder,” says Missy. “If you tap the fish that’s moving, you get points,” but they stop counting at 62. “I don’t want it to go any higher than that, because I’m not so good at tapping stuff.”

Missy, a student at the Techie Camp, demonstrates her fish game.

At times, their age shines through, but their apps show promise. Students present to their parents at the end of the week, giving the world a sneak peek at the innovators to come.

After they get through middle school, at least.

Interview and tour took place on Thursday, July 28, 2016. Written by Sam Bodary for Battelle Education.

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