A willingness to learn. That’s all Alan Dai says people need to delve into the world of technology and computers, no matter what their age. It’s a mindset that he keeps at the forefront whenever he is teaching students about computer programming, something he started this past summer at the Town of Colonie Library.
Dai offered a free coding camp for elementary students, and recruited some of his fellow computer science peers from Shaker High School to help. Dai incorporated “Scratch” into his lessons, a free programming language and online community where users can create their own interactive stories, games, and animations. He then built an entire curriculum for the summer course, as well as a website that students could reference when they went home.
“By the end, I was teaching them things that you might not learn until a couple of years into your college degree, but I didn’t see why they shouldn’t be exposed to some of the concepts now.”
Dai says the key for him was taking his own knowledge of computer programming and transferring it to younger learners’ levels of understanding.
“You’re trying to think about how they would imagine it, or how they would reason about a certain problem,” he said.
While the coding camp was a summer volunteer activity, Dai didn’t take a break once school began again in the fall. He currently offers half hour sessions each week at the town library for senior citizens, to assist them with any computer or technology needs they may have.
Dai says he hopes to hold another coding camp during this upcoming summer, and spawn some interest from freshmen and sophomores at Shaker High School to help him. His hope is that the camps continue to run even after he graduates. He says ultimately, getting more elementary students interested in computer science is key to their future.
“It’s like legos, but even better,” said Dai. “Kids can find an outlet for their creative expression. Once you move beyond the basics, you can do almost anything, whether it’s making an app, a game, or a website. If they get early exposure, these kids can do just about anything.”