Computer Science for All Students: CSSparks Sparks STEM Interest at the Mall

| Aimee Sprung


When I was in high school, asking my mom to drop me off at the mall on a Saturday was a chance for a little independence and some time with my friends.  A movie was probably the highest level of entertainment I could expect.  Now, thanks to a terrific new program called CSSparks, students can try their hand at programming and learn a bit of computer science.

On Saturday, September 28, Christine Hsieh, Grace Ding, Kasandra Yee, along with Kelly Powers—last year’s STEM Teacher of the Year and driver of some fantastic programs from MassCANlaunched CSSparks.  CSSparks is an exciting new program for teens by teens, designed to make Computer Science accessible to all students.  It is even conveniently located at the Natick Mall and the Microsoft Store is proud to host CSSparks.

At the event, I had the opportunity to sit down with Christine, Grace, Kasandra, and Kelly to ask all about CSSparks.

CSSparks2What is CS Sparks?
MassCAN CS Sparks is a group of computer science (CS)-focused STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) student leaders who share the goal of spreading computer science education to K-12 students. CS Sparks plans and coordinates outreach programs throughout the year designed to spark students’ interest in computing.

Why is it important for students to have access to Computer Science?
Computer science has become an integral part of everyday life. We have so much daily contact with computer science without ever realizing it: through our phones, credit cards, even walking through automatic doors! Public awareness about how the technology around them works is very important in the world of the 21st century.

Additionally, the logical problem-solving skills taught through programming teaches students critical thinking that can be applied to any situation. For example, if you are lost in a department store and have forgotten your phone, what do you do? Computer science teaches you how to go through the problem in steps. If lost, first look for your friend. Can’t find friend? Wait at the front of the store. Else, friend not coming? Ask store manager to call on the intercom. Problem-solving skills are essential and computer science can be the method by which a student learns these skills.

CSSparks3Who should come to CS Sparks’s events?
Everyone! While the outreach is geared towards elementary, middle, and high school students, anyone with an open mind and who is ready to learn computer science is welcome to attend!

What is your favorite tool to get students started in CS / programming and why?
Apps and Robots! The majority of students have used an app, so they are comfortable with the interface. It is always fun to see students physically play with an app that they’ve just created! The software used to create some apps is incredibly accessible, so students can make a fully functioning app on a web browser. When possible, robotics is a great choice for sparking student’s interest in programming. The ability for students to write code and see the direct result of what they did in the form of a motor whirring, or a wheel turning is super exciting! Even better, robots like The Finch and Lego Mindstorms have interfaces of drag-and-drop coding that are both easy and fun to learn. Computer Science is a diverse topic that creates an exciting, creative, and interactive learning experience!

How do I find out about an upcoming event or still have questions after one?
Don’t worry! We regularly post on our website about any upcoming events. Have any questions or concerns, email us at [email protected] or tweet at us at @MassCSSparks

P.S. November is our library outreach month. Have your public library contact us and we will run a CS event for the community!

And…. in December we celebrate Admiral Grace Hopper’s Birthday  and her contributions to the field of Computer Science during National Computer Science Education Week starting December 8th 2014!

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Aimee Sprung

To keep up with Aimee you need to be up early. Like 5 AM early. Then you have to squeeze in Crossfit, grow STEM education programs, collaborate with community leaders and still keep up with her family - 2 boys require high energy. Or you can hit the snooze and sleep soundly knowing Aimee has that all covered.