This past February I spent two weeks volunteering with La Choza Chula, a non-profit based in El Paredón, Guatemala, teaching secondary school students how to do computer coding.
In my position as a Teen Services Librarian in a public library in the United States, I’ve seen how important it is for youth to not just have access to technology, but also to understand how it works and be able to use it for their own benefit. When I heard that La Choza Chula was building a computer lab next to the secondary school, I asked if I could volunteer to teach students how to code, using a simple programming language called Scratch. Working with La Choza Chula, we decided to run a two-week series of classes for students in Tercero Basico (13 to 15-year-olds).
After initial introductions on the first day, we started with an activity where one group of students watched videos of people dancing while the other group waited outside. The students who’d seen the video had to explain to the students who hadn’t, how to do the dance – without demonstrating with their bodies. Obviously, it turned out to be more complicated than it seemed! Afterwards, I explained that writing code is essentially writing a series of very specific instructions, not that different from writing a recipe, only you’re asking a computer, not a person, to do something. As the class progressed, we continued to do fun “offline” activities to reinforce computer science concepts like loops, conditionals, and parallelism.
Over the course of two short weeks, students created a variety of animations and games using Scratch, including an “About Me” project, a dance party, a knock-knock joke, and a maze. Each project allowed them to learn and use different computer science concepts while exploring and sharing things that were important to them. On the last Friday of classes, we invited students’ families and community members to the computer lab for a “Fiesta de computacion.” The atmosphere in the lab was one of pride, with each student showing off their work, before receiving a certificate stating that they’d completed in the program.
At part of our program, we distributed surveys at the beginning and the end of the course. It was amazing to see how far students came in terms of their confidence in using computers. At the beginning of classes, only 35% of students felt confident or very confident using computers. However, by the end of the course 74% of students said that they felt comfortable or very comfortable writing code in Scratch. In addition, all the students said that they would like to continue with coding classes in the lab and 100% said that they believed that coding classes would help them in the future.
Whilst in El Paredón, I chose to stay in a local homestay set up by La Choza Chula. Don Lazero and Dona Angela took me in and always made me feel incredibly welcome. Dona Angela even made me atole, a traditional tea, when I wasn’t feeling well, and taught me how to use her foot-powered sewing machine. In return I played my ukulele for them and also ran ukulele workshops for kids on Saturday mornings at La Choza Chula.
I want to thank the staff and La Choza Chula, Isa (my translator for the two week period) and the other LCC volunteers, and the community of El Paredón for making my stay an amazing one, with sun, surf, good folks, and the opportunity to give back during my travels. Gracias!