Code.org San Diego Hosts Back-to-Back Bilingual Family Coding Nights

On December 11-13, 2019, Code.org San Diego (in UC San Diego’s CREATE) hosted three nights of coding for local elementary and middle school students and their families. The events, held in English and Spanish, were part of Code.org’s global initiative called “Hour of Code,” held during national Computer Science Education Week. The “Bilingual Family Coding Night” events were held at Montgomery Elementary School in the Chula Vista Elementary School District, Southwest Middle School in the Sweetwater Union High School District, and Sherman Elementary School in the San Diego Unified School District. Close to 200 students and their families attended over three nights. 

CREATE’s Minh Mai, Code.org San Diego’s regional program manager, and CREATE colleague Laura Santos (pictured above), in partnership with CREATE’s CSSI (CREATE STEM Success Initiative) Community Outreach and Engagement Coordinator Alberto “Beto” Vasquez, spearheaded the series of interactive, bilingual, outreach events to introduce, educate and spark interest in computer science in schools across south San Diego County. The events, also supported by a CSSI team of UC San Diego undergraduates and faculty along with students from local community colleges and local professionals, were part of the CREATE STEM Success Initiative (CSSI) at UC San Diego.

“Understanding computer science has become an essential skill that students need at an early age,” noted Mai. During CS Education Week, schools from all over the world were encouraged to host at least one hour of coding activities for their students.

UC San Diego undergraduate and CREATE student staff Angela Ojeda helped students as they learned to code.

“We selected schools that could benefit from learning to code and that have a diverse Latinx population, as Latinx populations are particularly underrepresented in coding careers,” Mai said. “By providing a bilingual program, parents and guardians who attend have a better understanding of the importance of computer science and its usefulness for their children in the future.”   

Code.org San Diego is a regional partnership with the national Code.org computer science education organization and is now housed in UC San Diego’s Center for Research on Educational Equity, Assessment and Teaching Excellence (CREATE). Seeking to expand access to computer science in schools, especially for women and underrepresented minorities, Code.org selected CREATE and its CREATE STEM Success Initiative (CSSI) team as a partner in early 2019.

“Because of UC San Diego’s and CREATE’s growing reputation as a champion of equitable computer science initiatives, we’re proud to provide CS education to districts, schools and students in our region,” Mai added. 

To prepare for Bilingual Family Coding Night, Mai and Santos spent hours assembling bilingual activities for the three evenings. Multiple practice presentations were held with the help of their CREATE colleagues, who provided encouragement and tips for providing effective instruction to the students and their families. 

Using materials from FamilyCodingNight.org, Mai and Santos developed an accessible bilingual curriculum to teach “Six Big Ideas” that exist in coding: Program, Repeat Loop, Code Efficiency, Debugging, Conditional and If-Else. Mai facilitated the coding program in English and Laura provided the in-person Spanish translation.

Montgomery Elementary School Principal Monica Ruiz welcomes students and their parents.

Each program opened with a welcome from the school’s principal, a short introduction to the evening, and a video in Spanish with English subtitles about the importance of computer science. Students were provided a link to Code.org’s Hour of Code video (studio.code.org/hoc/1 ) and engaged in 20 coding challenges before receiving a certificate of completion. Each evening, students and their families also enjoyed a dinner from Super Cocina in City Heights.

Each evening, Mai would invite “one brave soul” up to the front to help demonstrate the first activity. At first, boys would volunteer, but as the evening went on, girls became more comfortable in demonstrating their understanding. At the end of the event, a competition was held to name the “Six Big Ideas” with the winner receiving a set of miniature building blocks.

The first Bilingual Family Coding Night was held at Montgomery Elementary School. More than 50 students and their parents attended. Gerald Soosai Raj, an assistant teaching professor in Computer Science at UC San Diego’s Jacobs School of Engineering, was also in attendance. Raj has an interest in learning how to teach computer science to bilingual learners. Mai and Santos invited Raj to help demonstrate a coding program to the crowd.  

“Computer Science is becoming as important as reading, writing and mathematics,” Mai said. “If we inform, expose, and make parents feel comfortable with Computer Science, they will be great advocates for promoting CS education in their children’s lives.”

The second coding night was held at Southwest Middle School, where some students were comfortable with coding after learning experiences supported by Southwest Middle School Computer Science teacher Erin Barron, who was part of Code.org San Diego’s inaugural professional development program. Students used the time to work on various “Hour of Code” activities or on projects underway in their own classes.  Many helped their peers who were new to coding. 

Southwest Middle School students demonstrate their group coding activity. 

Finally, close to 100 parents and students streamed into the Sherman Elementary School auditorium for the third and final night of bilingual family coding. Participants attributed the larger number of Sherman parents and students to the success of the school’s Sherman Science Club and Noche de Ciencia, two outreach efforts supported by the CREATE STEM Success Initiative.

Ana Hermida (pictured above), an engineer from Qualcomm and ambassador with the National Center for Women & Information Technology’s TECHNOLOchicas project, spoke in Spanish to the group, inspiring them to explore Computer Science in school. 

When asked what they liked about Code.org San Diego’s Bilingual Family Coding Night, parents had the following to say:  

“It was age appropriate. Dinner included made it easier to be able to attend. The kids learned something new while having a blast.”

“Hands on activity…young adults of color representing!”

“Whole family learning.”

“As a parent, I had the opportunity to attempt the level of work my kids know. [The evening] reinforced something they were introduced to. Thank you for selecting our community. Equity Matters.”

Code.org San Diego plans to offer more coding nights in the future. A special thanks to CREATE colleagues who attended all three nights and made this effort a success, including UC San Diego CREATE undergraduate assistants Dana Chung, Gabe Innocenzi and Angela Ojeda; Clarissa White, California Reading and Literature Project (CRLP) program coordinator, sons William and Jallen, friends LJ, Anelah and Nayari; Yuka Nakanishi, CREATE chief administrative officer; Carol Schrammel, San Diego Area Writing Project program manager; Alberto “Beto” Vasquez, CSSI community outreach and engagement coordinator, and his son Daniel; and CSSI STEM Outreach Ambassadors Archie Baza, Ronnie Vasquez and Jonathan Padilla.

Thanks to the CREATE staff who served as the “audience” for a practice run of the event, including Susan Yonezawa, CREATE associate director; Rafael Hernandez, director, Early Academic Outreach Program; Carri Fierro, director, TRIO; and Debbie Costa Hernandez, executive director, CRLP statewide office. 

For more information on Code.org San Diego, contact Code.org San Diego Regional Program Manager Minh Mai (mlmai@ucsd.edu).