In the final week of July, 27 middle school students from 10 area schools came together for the SPARK! Exploration summer program. All in grades six through eight, the students participated in three days of workshops ranging from visual coding with Processing to creating songs with Python to physical computing with Micro:bits.
"We're throwing a bunch of computer science concepts, skills, and programming platforms at them so they build up their toolbox of tools to solve all sorts of problems," noted Kim Wilkens, co-creator of the program.
Wilkens and fellow Computer Science Program Coordinator Zach Minster created SPARK! Exploration to involve younger students in computer science, problem solving, and a mini-hackathon experience. Many of the workshop leaders were their current high school students.
In the final two days of the program, students used the skills learned in workshops to work in groups to solve real-world problems. This connection was what has led Noelle Robinson '22 to volunteer for her second year.
"I want to help kids be inspired to pursue computer science because it can help you with anything," she explained.
Thanks to support from sponsors WillowTree, the CFA Institute, and the University of Virginia Research Park, the program was available at cost with scholarships. A companion program, SPARK! Launchpad, ran earlier in July for high school students.
Photos from SPARK! Exploration are now available on the School's SmugMug account.