May 13, 2016
In January of this year, President Obama announced the Computer Science (CS) for All Initiative that would make CS a core skill taught in K-12 public schools. Although the wheels for coding are churning, the initiative requires a great deal of funding and will take time to move into action.
However, on the state and city level, organizations and governments are coming together to create educational opportunities so that community members may already get a jump start to begin learning components of CS. One city in particular, Newark, is working with local company Gadget Software to produce a free class focused on mobile development. Dubbed Gadget Labs, the program focuses on three project areas that results in an minimal viable product or MVP.
Although there is no shortage of online classes that teach you to code, the completion falloff is staggeringly high. Gadget Software took a different approach to their curriculum, one that would result in higher retention and completion rates.
“It’s designed to get results quickly,” said Dan Crain, CEO of Gadget Software. “Students get excited about creating software on the fly, on your phone or tablet, right in front of your face. Instead of 6 months of complex understanding, mathematical arrays… ours are very accessible.”
Their secret sauce comes in the form of their “outcomes first, technical skills after” mentality. They also use a scaffolding system, rather than a typical memorization approach to learning. According to Crain, the issue with starting on a technical level comes down to grasping the big picture.
“If you can’t place how the technical details affects your outcome, you’ll never get to the outcome,” said Crain.
These programs have very low barriers of entry. As far as prerequisites go, you don’t need to bring anything except the desire to learn and a fascination with how computers function. The way the system is organized, you can work through it, then work your way up to more complex actual algorithmic coding. You start by getting results immediately.
Following their curriculum,you will be able to bring simple functionality to the app they are building. Crain and his partner Max Riggsbee, Gadget Software COO and Chief Product Officer, felt this approach made the most sense given the subject matter and how people absorb learned material. Musing back on his school days, Crain highlights why memorization and digging right into the technical CS world can be challenging.
“I had 5 years of spanish, but I didn’t learn it. I learned it structurally. It’s different from going to Spain and learning it conversationally. Coding is the same way, they learn as if they are in a conversation, rather than a highly structured way. It’s different from others [coding classes] for this regard,” said Crain.
Gadget Labs’ Goals
Beyond bringing a diverse set of students into the mobile app development world, Crain thinks of Gadget Labs as a way for the community to get involved. Newark may be the first to have begun adopting their class, but others have reached out to implement the class series in their cities as well.
“From our standpoint, I think it’s fantastic to provide an accessible way for a broad group of people to try this stuff. To see if it turns them on. You can show any subject matter, physics, sociology.. Show it to a large group of people. Some will find it interesting and not attach, and others who will and open their mind to the possibility of intellectual expansion,” said Crain.
Because coding and CS classes have not been a core value, it’s often excluded from participating. With Gadget Labs, students are finding new things they are capable of. They are demystifying the perceived challenges of creating apps.
“If some portion of the people who attend get excited over the fact and go to the next step, to me that’s just awesome,” said Crain. “It’s nice to see a city really stand behind its residence.”
Like other coding programs and bootcamps, when the class is complete, there is still more to be gained. There are a lot of positive effects that ripple outward as a result of these kinds of programs.
“A lot of employers in the city, ton of tech startups in Newark agreed to bring a lot in as interns so they can touch real-live work,” said Crain. “The other thing that is happening, our whole approach to delivering STEM edu, and more specifically mobile app creation (backend frontend work), it is getting a lot of traction in continuing education. In professional development areas, we’ve been awarded a bunch of interesting contracts to provide for continuing education in a lot of places. It’s pretty substantial.”
Beyond finding jobs and internships, students are also bringing others into the fold.
“Students show to parents, parents say I want to learn that. Interest from community colleges or municipal programs, they are interested in delivering this to the community. It’s an interesting side part that we did not expect,” said Crain.
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