Teens Get The Code

Isis Davis-Marks PhotoOn Tuesday, an excited group of middle schoolers learned about the importance of geographical mapping systems.

“We are going to learn about how to use a program called Geographic Information Systems, which is also known as GIS,” Alfredo Herrera, a city government GIS analyst, told a room full of sixth to eighth-graders assembled at 200 Orange St. It was day one of a three-day “Digi Camp” organized by the city and sponsored by Microsoft, aimed at closing the digital divide.

“We can use it to look at maps in order to make certain decisions,” Herrera said, “such as where to build buildings, such as hospitals.”

Standing in front of a screen with large project map of the city, Herrera explained Thow GIS is used for a variety of different projects and analyzing data.

“You’ll be able to do an activity on your computers where you’ll be able to search for different locations in order to learn how to use the program,” Herrera said.

Many of the students were eager to learn about how the technology worked.

“Today we looked at maps, and the teachers told us how to search for different places,” rising sixth-grader Safia Elmammann said. “ I like to do gymnastics, so I looked for places where I can practice while I was using the program. I like working with computers, and I’m able to learn more about them in my technology class in school.”

This is the fourth year New Haven has staged the summer Microsoft digi-camp for local students in grades 6 to 11 to learn about technology and computer programming. This year, enrollment in the camp is capped at 75 students.

The camp, which started Tuesday, gives local students the opportunity to learn more about technology.

After the opening ceremony, which featured speakers including Mayor Toni Harp, students were divided into four groups to learn about trobotics, 3-D printing, and laser cutting.

City Controller Daryl Jones helped organize the event.

“It isn’t always in the standard curriculum to teach computer science to kids in schools. Right now, in New Haven, there are around 600 vacant jobs that could be filled if people had necessary skills in computer science,” Jones said. “We want to begin to educate the kids here in the summer, but we want to continue to teach them about computer science and coding throughout the year.”

Students had the opportunity to engage in hands-on activities by learning about laser cutting, making designs using different computer programs, and listening to guest speakers explain how technology is used in different careers

According to an email sent out by the program, fewer than 40 percent of public schools teach computer science or programming. The camp seeks to change this by exposing students to different aspects of computer science. The camp is giving students the opportunity to learn about technology from different perspectives: Students don’t just sit in a room and code for three days.

On the first day, students had the opportunity to go to different workshops with other students in their age range.

Other activities during the camp, including a presentation given by two speakers from the FBI, highlighted the importance of computer science in the government. The agents explained how knowledge of computer science helps agents to complete important day-to-day tasks in the office and how it also helps to complete investigations. They stressed that monitoring criminal’s usage of social media was especially important for solving crimes.

“I really liked learning about what the FBI agents do,” said sixth-grader Teja Vaughn. “I learned how to code in school, and I want to be an FBI agent someday. I was excited to learn that the agents solve crimes by using social media.” 

The camp runs through Thursday.

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