Computer Science is Hands On
We Code Juntos
Through CME Group Foundation’s grantee, Universidad Popular, an after-school program called We Code Juntos has been underway serving youth in South Lawndale and Chicago Lawn. We Code Juntos takes a practical approach to Computer Science education, believing that young learners want to be able to apply right away what they are taught in their classes or else they lose interest. For that reason, Universidad Popular is committed to making sure their youth see for themselves the benefits of joining their programs. As part of its coding lesson plans, We Code Juntos has added projects that encompass trade skills and career exploration as well. They present students with challenges that require trial and error and hands-on learning.
In January and February of 2023, We Code Juntos used a welding opportunities lesson plan as a building block for their projects, allowing youth to create a cube using cardboard and a hot glue gun. As noted in the lesson plan:
In actual welding, it’s not just the connecting material that melts… the two metals being joined together melt as well! This makes a welding bond even stronger than a hot glue bond.
When the program facilitators found that this example of welding with the hot glue gun did not really give justice to the true impact of welding, they decided to take the lesson a step further by bringing actual welding opportunities to students as the youth were given the opportunity to solder a wire led cube and weld a metal cube. The activity was quickly brought to life in a new way! The youth will then transition to coding to complete the activity.
Angel Benitez, high school senior from Little Village, joined the We Code Juntos program at a time when he needed academic support in math and science. He reflected on his experience noting the staff there:
[It] really helped me a lot. Before, I didn’t listen to anybody, but after getting involved I started earning As and Bs.
This computer science project doesn’t require welding- but it does need a pool! Across the city, the Union League Boys and Girls Club of Chicago is offering underwater robotics to students both at their own club locations and within programs that run at school sites. Serving 150 students across 14 sites in Chicago, the program guides students through a real-world engineering and design project centered around building an underwater robot. Beyond the experience of building and programming an underwater rover robot, the program provides a supportive ecosystem for students through an out-of-school learning environment.
Within the program, students are on small teams all working to solve a complicated problem: how do they build a robot that can move underwater to complete challenges, like pick up a starfish, unlock a door, and move a set of keys? Students across the Union League Boys and Girls Club were plugging away at tackling this challenge, with some groups in rooms working on drilling holes to finish assembling their robots, others practicing using the motor to move it around the pool, and others timing each other competitively, cheering when they made it through the underwater course. And they have good reason to feel competitive: last year they came in first place in the Navy Great Lakes Regional Competition and went on to compete in the International SeaPerch Challenge at the University of Maryland!
Amirali Jivani, Technology and Science Director, for Union League Boys and Girls Club, has big dreams for his students:
I want them to work at Tesla someday. I want them to be able to build an autonomous robot and win this competition. I want them to be prepared for any job they want to have. And we can do that here, it starts with this.
We continue to see our grantees go above and beyond to give students hands-on learning experiences!