URI brings Family Code Nights to Rhode Island families

A student and her mother are coached by a URI Graduate School of Library and Information Sciences student (right) at a recent Family Coding event held at the Cranston Public Library. Photo by Ayla Fox.

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If you don’t think that clicking and dragging a few blocks together to solve a cartoon-based logic puzzle on a computer is exciting, more than two dozen elementary school students and their parents would beg to differ.

With a global explosion in the demand for coding know-how, comes an urgency to encourage interest in this critical area among youths. Knowing how to program a computer so it does what you tell it to is a proficiency that is extending past the edges of traditional computer science careers and is now a highly sought after skill in a wide range of jobs.

Thanks to a seed grant awarded by the Infosys Foundation USA, the University of Rhode Island’s Graduate School of Library and Information Studies is collaborating with the national FamilyCodeNight.org initiative to bring family coding events to several diverse Rhode Island communities through public libraries. The grant kicks off a program to train and enable staff from libraries across the state to offer their communities Family Code Nights and other computer science education programs, the first such statewide program in the country.

The first of three planned coding events took place recently at the Cranston Public Library. More than two dozen families participated, with third- through fifth-graders pairing up with a parent to do their first hour of coding and to learn some universal concepts in computer science.

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“We are introducing coding in an age-appropriate manner that makes it fun and keeps things moving along at a pace that works for kids,” said John Pearce, executive director of FamilyCodeNight.org. “We also directly involve parents in learning alongside their child, which in the K-5 years creates the most powerful kind of reinforcement of a child’s self-beliefs about their abilities. And because it’s fun! If the laughter and excitement throughout the room was any indication, I think we can say they were having a great time while learning.”

Greg Clifford and his 9-year-old daughter, Elizabeth, of Cranston, signed up for the coding event as soon as they heard about it. “My daughter is always looking for a reason to be on a computer. This was a useful way of focusing that interest in a way that would develop skills she could build on later. She thought it was great and we both enjoyed it very much,” Clifford said.

Valerie Karno, director of URI’s Graduate School of Library and Information Studies, noted that the premise of Family Code Night was that by bringing parents into the equation for this hands-on experience, students and their families would be more likely to stay interested and motivated over time.

“Reinforcing their interest and their success at this introductory level, and providing real-time coaching through our URI graduate students will help build confidence and keep these elementary school-age students coming back for more. Students and parents will have the seeds planted for important skills the world increasingly demands we all have,” Karno noted. “Conducting this instruction in a library setting was ideal and made it extremely accessible. Libraries have always been the community centers to which families turn for developing literacies of all sorts, and making computer and coding literacy available to families in this technological moment is a natural extension of what libraries do.”

Two additional family coding events, at the Central Falls Adams Public Library and the Providence Community Library, are planned for early 2019. The Central Falls event will take place at the Adams Public Library, located at 205 Central Street, Central Falls, RI, on Wed., Jan. 30, at 6 p.m. Details of the Providence event are forthcoming.

During the day-long training sessions, Pearce trained nearly 70 URI graduate students and community librarians, who, later in the evening, coached participating students and their parents during the Family Code Night program.

The Cranston Public Library partnered with the Cranston Family Center to recruit families from across the city for this program, according to Edward Garcia, executive director of the Cranston Public Library. “There is a growing interest among our young people in learning how to code as it is becoming an essential skill for the evolving workforce,” Garcia said. “We were thrilled with the standing-room only turnout.”

Infosys is a global provider of consulting, technology and next-generation services. The company announced, in the fall of 2017, that it would be opening a design and innovation hub in Providence, Rhode Island.

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