Moira Casey
“There are many schools near Silicon Valley that don’t provide students with the opportunity to learn programming,” says IBM volunteer Moira Casey.
Moira Casey
“There are many schools near Silicon Valley that don’t provide students with the opportunity to learn programming,” says IBM volunteer Moira Casey.

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IBM volunteer: Moira Casey, IBM advisory software engineer

Introducing high school students to the latest technology

There are many schools near Silicon Valley in California that do not provide students with the opportunity to learn programming or study the latest technology trends. Anzar High School in San Juan Bautista is one of them.

I have served on local site councils in Anzar’s school district for many years and have pointed out this head-scratcher: not providing students—near what is arguably the global center of technology innovation—perspectives on advanced technology.

One day last November, the Anzar High School Principal, Charlene McKowen, asked if I had any ideas on how to address the gap. An upcoming two-week intersession after the winter break could provide an opportunity.

An intersession is a time when electives are offered that the students don’t typically get during the regular school year. We agreed that was the time to provide some activities about technology.

A curriculum built using IBM Activity Kits  

My first stop was to look at IBM Volunteer Activity kits. I knew I could provide a good portion of the two weeks by using the content in these kits.  My colleague, Scott Deane, an IBM software engineer apprentice, volunteered to show the students how Python Programming is used with a Raspberry Pi.

Mark Cisneros, one of the teachers at Anzar, would be my partner and we devised an agenda that included technology, and to mix it up, sports. Specifically, teaching the group of 23 boys and four girls how to play cricket; an idea sparked by one of my other IBM colleagues, Sahana Basavaraju. 

For the two-week intersession, we were able to use the school computer lab, so each student had use of a dedicated computer. An integrated development environment (IDE) for Python was preloaded and machine learning accounts were set up ahead of time based on information in the machine learning activity kit—I created an account in the IBM Cloud then added individual accounts for the students.

Below is the agenda that was approved by the school board for the two-week intersession.  For most of the topics, the IBM Activity Kits provided the supporting materials such as presentations or educational modules. In all, we made use of six IBM Activity Kits including Introduction to Artificial Intelligence, Chatbots for Good, and Trading Coffee with Blockchain.

For learning Scratch programming, we used tutorials available on  https://scratch.mit.edu/. For Python, we used the Python 3.0 videos published by https://www.csdojo.io/. We covered variables, lists, for loops, while loops and Python dictionaries. We used the Anaconda IDE.

  • Internet of Things – Video and discussion
  • Securing the Internet of Things - Video and discussion
  • Introduction to Scratch programming
  • Introduction to Artificial Intelligence – AutoDraw Project
  • Machine Learning project – Scratch programming language
  • Intro to Programming – Python programming
  • Introduction to the Blockchain - Video and discussion
  • Chatbots for Good
  • Introduction to the Sport of Cricket

As you can see, the IBM Activity Kits really helped us construct the two-week agenda and definitely shortened the amount of time it would have taken to build all the activities.

Everybody wants Pi

I ran all the activities, except learning how to play cricket, and the two weeks flew by. Yet at the end, the kids still wanted to do more.

A funny thing happened during the machine learning exercise. There were some weird warnings when the kids clicked ‘build’ to update the model. We ignored the warnings and kept going.  Turns out the server was in England. After lunch, I got an email from someone in England apologizing about the warnings. They never had 20 users build at the same time. I showed the kids the email, pointing out that everything on the cloud is public. I also told them that they made Anzar High School famous in a computer lab somewhere in England!

The kids stressed that they really wanted to program using the Raspberry Pi computers. They were hooked when they saw the Raspberry Pi IoT device interact with the Python programming code. This makes learning to programming much more interesting. We now know to make it an emphasis in the future.

Based on the success of the intersession, one of our next steps is to start a club like CoderDojo and tailor it to the school’s needs.

For next year’s intersession, the emphasis will continue to be on Scratch programming, machine learning, AI with AutoDraw, and Python programming with Raspberry Pi.

These students are ready! And so are the volunteers!


For over 100 years, IBMers have created positive change in the world through their day-to-day work and their service in local communities. Since 2004, over 300,000 IBM employees and retirees have contributed more than 20 million hours of volunteer service.

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Activity Kits

IBM’s volunteer Activity Kits include everything you need for a range of activities.