In less than an hour children are learning how to make a robot talk or creating photography animation and coding for Minecraft ™ thanks to an incredible partnership between Microsoft and the St. Charles Park District.
St. Charles Park District’s Youth Program Supervisor Alex Weidner said she has enjoyed watching children as young as six, master new computer skills thanks to the opportunity for creative computer classes offered for free, through Microsoft.
“I jump into these classes and hear 6-year-olds asking about instructions for animations and having a complete understanding and ability to master it,” Weidner said.
Through a partnership between the park district and Microsoft, Weidner is able to sort through a catalog of classes and select the ones she thinks will have the most interest to offer each season. The classes are taught by representatives of Microsoft with assistance from park district staff. Weidner said the instructors have been wonderful, engaging the students, answering questions.
Classes are free and open to all. Most classes are limited to less than 20 participants, which helps keep the classes small. Advance registration is required.
Weidner wanted to provide an online learning opportunity during COVID-19 for kids to continue broadening their technical skills and partnering with Microsoft who already offered this platform was a win-win. Most classes are scheduled for late afternoons, making sure students have enough time to relax a bit after school, get a snack and then join a class.
Most classes only require a laptop or tablet for the students to access the online classes, taught through Microsoft Teams, and the links to the class programs.
“Microsoft did a fantastic job creating these classes and being so flexible,” Weidner said.
This year she plans to offer Beginner Fun with Computers & Coding, Coding a Talking Robot and a Minecraft Hour of Coding, which she said seems to be the most popular class.
These classes are more than instruction, Weidner said, as she witnesses the students engaging with each other, asking questions, sharing stories and she is happy to see students have found the camaraderie of shared interests through the computer classes.
“The students are used to being in class with others online, they’re comfortably socializing and having conversations,” Weidner said. “The computer programming community is definitely growing.”
And, she is excited to see the diversity in the classes as well.
“I am seeing more girls register for classes than boys, and I thought that was very interesting,” Weidner said. “My sister is studying computer programming in college and said in most of her classes she’s the lone or one of a few girls. To see girls who are younger showing an interest is a huge accomplishment.”
While in the past classes used to be spread out over a series of weeks. Today students will master skills in a single class. The students can access the programming links beyond the class, so they can continue to work on a project, practice or demonstrate what they’ve learned to friends and family.