CSed Week event immerses the next generation of leaders in technology

 |   MSNE Staff

As part of our mission to empower every person and organization on the planet to achieve more, we understand the importance of computer science education in individual empowerment. Our partnership with Cambridge Public Schools (CPS) has allowed us to further this mission as CPS continues to incorporate computer science into its curriculum. 

In celebration of Computer Science Education Week, we were honored to host all CPS seventh graders — more than 450 of them — for a day of tinkering and learning at our Microsoft New England Research & Development Center (NERD). The students had the opportunity to engage in discussions with our employees, practice coding, tour our space, and learn more about different Microsoft programs and tools. The following schools participated:

  • Vassal Lane Upper School 
  • Rindge Avenue Upper School 
  • Amigos Elementary School
  • Cambridge Street Upper School
  • Putnam Avenue Upper School
Students bring ideas to life while creating in Paint 3D.

After welcoming remarks, the students split up into groups to begin the day’s activities. In one activity, students explored Paint 3D in The Garage. In an opening video, they learned that technology is a canvas and a source for inspiration — a place where you can bring big ideas to life. Using what they learned and with the help of Microsoft employees, students collaborated with peers to create a variety of designs, from gingerbread figures to whatever they could dream up together.

In another activity, students learned how to use micro:bits. Micro:bits are handheld, programmable micro-computers that can be used for all sorts of cool creations, from robots to musical instruments. These devices can be coded from any web browser in Blocks, Javascript, Python, Scratch, and more. In a workshop led by Microsoft employees, students used micro:bits to learn the basics of coding. In collaboration with their peers, they worked to display their team names on the devices.


Students learn to code using micro:bits, tiny programmable computers.

Gina Roughton, assistant director of Educational Technology at Cambridge Public Schools, expressed how this visit tied in beautifully with the district’s computer science education initiatives. Opportunities like this one get students excited for future opportunities in the field.

“The big thing they take away is that careers and jobs exist in computer science beyond sitting in front of a computer,” Roughton said. 

The trip was part of an initiative to prime CPS seventh graders to become interested in taking computer science-related courses when they attend high school in a few years.

While Massachusetts currently has 17,548 open computing jobs, only 67% of public high schools across the state teach computer science. CPS is one of the districts working hard to close that gap. 

Last year, the CPS Ed Tech department built and designed a Computer Science Playground for all sixth grade students. The playground exposed students to computer science concepts and ways of thinking.

To further this important work and support this year’s event, we were honored to collaborate with CPS and the Cambridge Community Foundation (CCF) to deliver one of Microsoft’s digital skills grants. CCF is one of Microsoft’s nonprofit partners bringing digital skills and computer science education to young people. 

“This whole program is intended to roll into all Cambridge Public Schools curriculum,” said Aimee Sprung, former director of Technology & Civic Engagement at Microsoft and current director of strategic partnerships for our AirbandUS initiative.

“The hope for today is that it will ladder up to all the computer science offerings for grades K-12,” she said. “This is not just a field trip to NERD, but a real-world connection and a glimpse into real-world engineering. We’re sparking these students into future education in computer science.”

To round off the day, students toured the facility, took part in demos, and discussed daily life and technology with a variety of employees from different teams. The students were engaged in a variety of topics — from mixed reality to social media algorithms.


Terrell Cox speaking to CPS students visiting NERD.

NERD GM Terrell Cox speaks to the next generation of leaders in technology.

The day was productive for educators as well. CPS teachers and administrators in attendance will bring these skills to the classroom to further integrate computer science into their daily curriculum. 

We know that limited access to digital skills threatens to widen the income gap between those who have the skills to succeed in the 21st century and those who do not. Events like these are crucial in closing those gaps. 

“It is so important to cultivate the next generation of technologists and engineers, said Terrell Cox, NERD GM. “Outreach to local students is an important part of what we do. The more kids interested in STEM, the brighter future we are all going to have.” 

Learn more about how Microsoft is trailblazing a path for computer science education here.

Lead image: A Microsoft employee teaches a group of CPS students how to create in Paint 3D. All photos by Dana J. Quigley.