The Cornell Column: Coding Programs

The students carefully enter the data they painstakingly collected into the computer program they had just learned to write. Taken line by line, the code first seemed like a foreign language, but when it finally ran, a bar graph appeared on the screen charting a correlation between birds and trees on Roosevelt Island.

LevittDianeCornellTechThis might sound like an ornithology lab for graduate students, but it was PS/IS 217’s Coding Off the Grid, a new program developed by the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) in collaboration with Cornell Tech and City University for New York (CUNY) for 7th and 8th graders. Coding Off the Grid students learned to collect and record data outdoors, then they used the Python coding language to create data visualizations. The program included a backstage tour of the AMNH’s bird collection and a walk through Central Park with AMNH Ornithologist Paul Sweet. At the end of the two-week session, students came back to the museum to present their findings to Cornell Tech and AMNH staff.

Coding off the Grid came to PS/IS 217 as part of the AMNH pilot through BridgeUP, a STEM program, which focuses on the intersection of science and computer science. AMNH provided the curriculum, training, and funding for Kelly Huang, a former middle-school science teacher at PS/IS 217, and three teaching assistants to lead this unique summer experience.

The program was just one of many in a very busy summer for Cornell Tech. Our second conference, To Code and Beyond: Access for all Students, brought together over 65 educators, nonprofit leaders, and policymakers to discuss how to bring computing education to New York’s diverse student body. Dr. Kylie Peppler, associate professor and director of the creativity lab at Indiana University, delivered a keynote address that emphasized the need to think carefully about the learning materials we use to teach computing. Differing materials can invite participation by students who might not normally consider computing. The full-day conference included discussion about computer-science standards, developing curricula for students from diverse backgrounds and learning styles, and making computing accessible to girls and students of color.

This fall, Cornell Tech will welcome 130 new graduate students to our temporary campus, and we will also be back to work at PS/IS 217. On October 30, our graduate students will come to PS/IS 217 for WeCodeRI, our annual tech event with upper elementary- and middle-school students. We’ll be creating spooky Halloween-themed projects using the coding language Scratch.

We are in the process of hiring a consultant to work with teachers at PS/IS 217 to build their understanding of computing education and to help develop curriculum and teaching strategies that appropriately integrate computing into the K-8 curriculum. We want to create a series of tech experiences that build on one another, with a focus this year on grades 4-8.

To learn more about our work on Roosevelt Island, you’re invited to our Town Hall Community Update. It will take place on Thursday, October 1, from 6:00-8:00 p.m. at the Manhattan Park Community Center (8 River Road). The town hall will give you a chance to learn about our programs, our campus construction, and most importantly, our commitments to and involvement in the community. We’d love to see you there, and are thrilled to be working so closely with staff and parents at PS/IS 217. Here’s to another great year of learning for all.

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