This week I participated in STEM Week and Hour of Code activities at Walt Disney Elementary School in Levittown, Pennsylvania. Over two days I had the pleasure of working with 5 groups and more than 100 kids coding in their 3rd, 4th and 5th grade classes.
Developers, Droids and Inspiration
During my time with the students, I introduced them to some of the people who are developers and coders here at IBM, such as Joshua Carr. We watched a video of his BB-8 Droid Demo for IoT. My favorite comment came from one little girl who simply said, “Oh my gosh! He is British! He must be a genius.”
More importantly Joshua’s demo instantly connected with the kids. We talked about things that they have seen on TV and in movies, which are science fiction today, but that they could make a reality. Then we started to talk about Space and going to Mars and what they could do to support programs such as SETI. And then, we talked about the cloud, mobile and the Internet of Things and how they are changing the world we live in. The kids got excited about coding.
I also shared a video featuring Lisa Seacat DeLuca, who is one IBM’s most prolific female inventors, with more than 120 patents to her name. It was awesome to see how excited some of the girls in the classes got. Seeing someone just like them, who was not only coding, but inventing things. It great to see, but more importantly, I hope it will inspire them. As we all know, there is a gender gap in STEM careers. We need more of these young women to help make our industry and others even better.
Kids Meet Watson
The thing which made the students the most excited, was when we talked about Watson and artificial intelligence. I was surprised how many knew about Watson playing and winning on Jeopardy. So we talked about cognitive computing, and what it means. We then looked at the code used to build some of the sample apps on the Watson Developer Cloud.
It just so happens that there were some students who had recently moved to the area from other countries, and were now learning English. So we talked about creating apps such as the Speech to Speech sample app, which could help them by translating speech in real time and speaking back to them in their native language. But I think the Celebrity Match app was the one that got them the most excited. I am happy to say that based on the app I am most like Drake, Jon Cena and Neil deGrasse Tyson, which gave me some instant street cred with the kids.
At the end of my time with each class, I asked the students what they would make if they could make anything. As you can imagine, the answers were awesome: their own video game, a unicorn robot, a spaceship to go to Mars, gloves and boots which could give them super powers…..the list was endless. But more importantly, the enthusiasm was endless. Mine and theirs.
How Can You Give Back?
So as I share my experiences, I want to thank the wonderful teachers and students at Walt Disney Elementary for allowing me to be a part of their STEM week. And I ask all of you reading this to see how and where you can do the same. Find out what your local schools, religious institutions, scouting organization(s) and/or community groups might be doing around STEM and Hour of Code. Share your time, your experience and your resources and help support kids coding.
IBM, our partners and the many user groups and technical communities that we work with, offer a number of programs for kids coding. Let us know how we can help. If you are interested in learning more or if you are part of an organization who is looking for support, leave us a note in the comments section below.