A lot has happened since we last checked in at theCoderSchool in Ashburn (https://www.thecoderschool.com/locations/ashburn/). For one, it’s not only in Ashburn anymore! More than 200 students are now engaged not just in Ashburn but also a satellite location at Lifelong Education in Sterling and at a stand-alone facility in McLean. The school’s same philosophy persists throughout: first, that learning to code can change the world, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be fun. And second, that fitness is a key adjunct to learning.
So, this year, Skate N Code campers can start their day coding in Ashburn and skate at the Ashburn Ice House in the afternoon, and Kick N Code campers can play soccer in the morning with Loudoun Soccer and code in Sterling in the afternoon. In McLean, campers play soccer in the morning with McLean Soccer and code in McLean in the afternoon. The kids we visited in Ashburn were as excited about working on their game development as in hitting the ice because coaches in both locations target campers’ ability and interests.
Week-long subject matter camp courses come in a variety of topics from robotics to artificial intelligence to video game design and development. This year there’s even an “Intro to Python Programming” camp, one of the fastest growing programming languages in the world, and an opportunity to explore artificial intelligence for beginners.
Come fall, after-school classes will resume, both in person and online, with an added incentive. Nationally, theCoderSchool is a sponsor of the Congressional App Challenge (https://www.congressionalappchallenge.us/), a national competition for middle- and high-schoolers designed to spark kids’ interest in pursuing a career in computer science. Co-owner Ellen Hamel says, “We had the opportunity to go to the House of Code event at the Capitol in April, which was basically a celebration of last year's winners. It was such an inspiring and cool event. We talked to all the kids who had submitted apps for the challenge and that won for their congressional district.” Winners from each district get to pitch their app to Congress.
Winners also have the opportunity to rub shoulders with others in the technology industry like Amazon, Apple and Facebook. The prestige of putting such an award on their college applications motivates many, but others do it just to “change the world” as theCoderSchool motto promises, and to network with other kids with similar interests.
theCoderSchool’s approach to project based, individualized instruction is perfectly designed to encourage students’ ideas and help them figure out how to bring them to life, without stifling their own creativity. “While we teach them foundations and fundamental principles, we do also like them to do projects and build apps so that they can apply that knowledge in a more practical and tangible way,” Ellen explains, adding “It helps them engage with the material better, and retain it better, frankly, when it has more of a realistic purpose to it.”
Of course, the same could be said for theCoderSchool itself! Students benefit from some exceptional high school coaches who have achieved perfect scores on their AP Computer Science Exam or who attend the Academies of Loudoun in related advanced fields. Many college students and post-grads coach as well, all of them computer science or engineering majors, some of whom actually learned to code while attending theCoderSchool. These can coach in person or online, depending on where they’re enrolled.
This fall, robotics and AI classes will ramp up spanning 8-12 weeks each along with technical communication. “We're really trying to bolster our students’ abilities in public speaking and giving presentations, and we start by helping them effectively communicate what they've accomplished with code.”
Ideally, students will sign up for the whole school year in late summer, but there is rolling enrollment to accommodate students who might also be involved in sports or other activities. “We continue to sponsor youth sports throughout the school year and strongly encourage students to participate in both. Exercising both body and mind is important for both current and future success!” she says.