CodeFest Miami (go.fiu.edu/codefest) is a computer science education outreach program created in 2014 by FIU’s School of Computing and Information Sciences (SCIS) with generous assistance from industry partners and the organizing team Cristy Charters, Mario Eraso, and Steve Luis. This year there were 117 elementary and middle school children that attended, and the 9 “little sisters” from SCIS Big Sisters/Little Sisters initiative.
At the start of the fall semester, 10 elementary/middle schools are visited weekly by 40 FIU CS/IT student mentors, who teach computer science principles and coding through an engaging curriculum designed to introduce 200 students to the computational skills that are essential in the 21 st century, but are currently missing from the K-5 and K-8 curriculum in Miami-Dade County Public Schools.
SCIS, a Code.org partner, uses Code.org’s K-5 curriculum. After teaching the basics in computational thinking such as “What is an algorithm?”, “What is abstraction?”, “How to make functions?”, “What is a conditional statement?”, and “What is a loop?”, the FIU volunteers begin teaching Scratch to their group of students, showing how to apply many of the concepts that have been covered.
The culmination of this outreach is a half day event held during CS Education Week called CodeFest Miami hosted in FIU’s TechStation, an advanced CS/IT training facility. Volunteers, students, and special guests participate in a “hackathon styled” an activity where students with newly learned coding skills are challenged to solve an important societal a problem such as urban transportation, fighting disasters, using technology to help the sick and elderly.
Students must work as a team to brainstorm, design and code a Scratch program that demonstrates a narrative through animation, which realizes their solution to the challenge. FIU mentors circulate the floor of the event providing encouragement to the teams and answering coding questions.
The best teams are selected to present their Scratch creation to the rest of the teams, while a group of judges decides which Scratch creations meet the highest standards. The final teams receive recognition for their great work and the participants are encouraged to keep learning so they can apply computational thinking to solve any problem in the future.
The four winning team featured animations of conceptual devices to help the disabled improve their lives. Their ideas ranged from apps that help the blind send and receive text messages via speech-to-text functions to using technology to replace damaged nerves to improve movement. CodeFest Miami was also able to buy prizes for the four teams of 3 students each and to award the top 4 apps created by the middle and high school students from the community.
After CodeFest Miami is over, FIU students continue to mentor their group of elementary students on a weekly basis, to keep teaching them more advanced computer science topics, and apply them in different coding environments such as Code.org’s App Lab.