It’s just a computer chip, nothing to be scared of.
In essence, that’s the mission Wanjun Zhang and Amanda Shih have for their non-profit Code Park – to promote equitable access to technology for everyone in Houston.
We met up with them at the BakerRipley Leonel Castillo Community Center where they volunteer and run weekly Creative Coding Workshops for young kids in the area.
“Creative Coding is based on the idea that we become creators of technology instead of just consumers,” says Wanjun. “It’s about taking ownership and solving problems.”
Through hands-on workshops and classes, students learn to make electronic cards, digital art, games, animations, and more while learning about science and technology. In this class, they discussed the meaning of binary and how a computer remembers information. They then created binary bead bracelets or key chains that were based on their initials.
By focusing on students from underserved areas, they hope to expose kids of all ages to the world of computer science, showing them how it can be used in everyday life.
“We’re giving them the power to say, I can do this if I want to. We want students to feel empowered to go into a tech career if they want, not to be scared of it,” explains Wanjun.
To them not everyone in the city has the same opportunities and ultimately that’s what they are working to resolve.
“We see some schools in Houston where students have the opportunity to learn coding, but others don’t have the teachers or resources to do it,” says Amanda.
The Grand Vision
Their hope is to continue bringing communities together to teach more people about coding and as a way to diversify the technology workforce in Houston.
“If we can make the tech workforce better reflect Houston’s diversity, the stronger that workforce will be and the better understanding they will have of how they can use technology to help their communities,” says Amanda.
The ideas it to build a larger network and connect students to resources and companies – while also bringing together technologists and educators. BakerRipley’s Houston Fab Lab will soon be part of that growing network in Houston.
“This is the way the world is going. It’s also about teaching technologists how to teach and educators how to tech,” remarks Amanda.
Volunteering their time to teach young kids and anyone who’s interested about coding, is incredibly rewarding.
“I think back to when I started learning English and how difficult it was. I didn’t move to the United States until I was eleven so I know how it feels not to understand something,” says Wanjun.
So she works to come up with creative ways of teaching students about coding.
“It’s pretty fun, it’s about figuring out how to give information in five different ways to kid that are all different ages,” says Amanda, who also runs a group for girl coders in Houston.
After hanging out with them for while it’s easy to get excited about coding.
“We really like the idea of demystifying technology for everyone, to help people do something beyond watching Netflix,” says Amanda.
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