Pivotal Mentors "Learn To Code"
Pilot Program

Starting in August of 2016 we partnered with Pivotal Labs to run our first "Learn To Code" program we dubbed the "Pivotal Mentors Program".

The Goal

The goal for the program was simple. Can we make use of the Pivotal Labs office and coordinate some of the engineers at Pivotal Labs to help students in the Cambridge area learn how to code? We simply wanted to start by providing positive software development experiences for students in order to hopefully inspire some to continue learning more once the program was over and ensure that all students felt capable of coding if they ever did decide they wanted to pursue it later in life.

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The Approach

Within this program we would focus on a number of ideas that we want to explore with The Puzzle School:

  • Having students test existing resources and provide feedback in order to find the best resources students can use to learn at their own pace.
  • Running retrospectives at the end of each sessions to get feedback from students around what worked and didn't that week.
  • Supporting students toward independent and small group projects they design themselves and will continue working on after the program has ended.

The existing resources we decided to test included:

We also developed a number of discrete challenge-based lessons, including a scavenger hunt focused on decrypting messages using algorithms.

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Charlie is really enjoying himself. He said what he likes most about it:

  • The one on one help
  • The mentors don’t tell you what to do, but they work with you to help you figure it out yourself (YaY)
  • Really enjoys the connection with the tutors/mentors

Charlie is finding communicating and learning easy in this environment. He does not have a lot of opportunities to interact with adults who inspire him the way the mentors in the program have so far. He loves that connection and he always leaves Monday night feeling so good about himself and his time at the open space. Before he went to bed he asked me, “Why can’t school be like coding class, I would be so excited to go in the morning."

Mary (Charlie's Mom)
The Results

For most students CodeCombat provided the greatest initial interest, but as the program progressed the students moved more toward the javascript game tutorials before becoming a bit frustrated with the copy-and-paste nature of the tutorials.

By the end of the program the clear feedback from students was that they preferred the discrete challenges, such as those offered in Project Euler, especially the scavenger hunt which provided an opportunity to decode messages and get up and move around the office to find tokens.

In general everyone seemed to enjoy the program. Every student said they would come back to the next program if possible. While there's clearly room for improvement, the simple act of bringing students into an interesting non-school environment and having them work closely with experienced and empathetic mentors seemed to be a real success even as we experimented with the curriculum each week.

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Moving Forward

We're already in the process of developing ideas for the next program. We have ideas for more discrete challenges, we're exploring a "Drawing In Code" pathway, and we're brainstorm around how to more effectively support students toward projects of their own creation.

We're also going to try and bring in more mentors from other software companies in the Kendall area. We were able to bring in a few for this past program and it went really well so hopefully the program can grow into more of a club where mentors and students can connect around interesting software engineering activities on a regular basis.

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“So this was the big secret historians keep to themselves: historical research is wildly seductive and fun. There's a thrill in the process of digging, then piecing together details like a puzzle.”

~ Nancy Horan

“As a kid, I was into music, played guitar in a band. Then I started acting in plays in junior high school and just got lost in the puzzle of acting, the magic of it. I think it was an escape for me.”

~ Michael J. Fox

“When you write non-fiction, you sit down at your desk with a pile of notebooks, newspaper clippings, and books and you research and put a book together the way you would a jigsaw puzzle.”

~ Janine di Giovanni

“I tell people all the time, as I was going through my process of being a comedian or being an actor and a writer at 'SNL,' I tell people that everything you do is all a piece of your puzzle to determine where you're going to end up at.”

~ J. B. Smoove

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