Grads teach coding to high schoolers

Nov. 25, 2012, 11:17 p.m.

As undergraduates, Jeremy Keeshin ’12 M.S. ’13 and Zach Galant ’12 M.S. ’13 taught introductory computer science to their peers as teaching assistants in the perpetually overenrolled CS106A. But after graduating, they decided to take their teaching to a younger group: high school students.

“We want to make the issue of computer education in high schools a national issue,” Keeshin, co-founder of the CodeHS computer science education platform, said. “I think this is an issue that a lot of people can get interested in.”

While an education in computer science remains extremely popular at Stanford, where it is the most popular undergraduate major, and in Silicon Valley as a whole, Keeshin and Galant launched CodeHS in an effort to address what they saw as a critical lack in coding literacy among high school students.

“We just see it as a very, very underserved area right now,” Keeshin said, noting that only 5 percent of high schools nationally offer Advanced Placement courses in computer science.

Keeshin also criticized the vocational nature of existing computer science education programs, claiming that CodeHS offers a more broadly applicable approach to the subject.

“That [vocational approach] doesn’t really educate people on the fundamentals in the right way,” Keeshin said. “We can introduce [them] in high school in a fun way, in a way that’s really about learning in the right way.”

CodeHS, which uses short online videos to explain concepts to students, was launched last year and since then has mostly been utilized in summer programs and an after-school initiative in East Palo Alto. Keeshin expressed optimism for future growth in the site’s use, noting that CodeHS’ use of Javascript makes the platform more accessible through common web browsers.

“The way it works in web browsers makes it really easy to get started,” Keeshin asserted. “What’s really important [though] is that it’s not about the program language. It’s more about the problem solving than the syntax of language.”

Part of the potential for increased CodeHS usage lies in the founders’ recently-launched CSinHS crowd funding campaign. The fundraising effort aims to raise $100,000 in order to teach 1,000 high school students the fundamentals of computer science.

While the CSinHS campaign has a significant way to go before reaching its fundraising target — in just over a week and with four more to go, the campaign has raised just over $10,000 — Keeshin said CodeHS has several unique features, such as access online tutoring as a unique feature.

“When you get stuck, you can ask a question, you can send a message to a tutor,” Keeshin said. “They give you feedback, they help your program … That doesn’t exist on any [other] website right now.”

Keeshin framed the focus on educating high school students as a means of simply keeping up with international competitors and of contributing to renewed economic growth and employment within the United States.

“There’s a very clear path we can take to improve education around the country [and] address some of the job issues,” Keeshin said, noting that on an annual basis the number of jobs created in computer science exceed the number of computer science graduates by 100,000.

“It’s really obvious that this is where we’re going and that this is an important skill,” Keeshin said. “People use computers every day but don’t understand what they’re doing … If we can do something to kick-start this, that’s a real change we can make.”

Marshall Watkins is a senior staff writer at The Stanford Daily, having previously worked as the paper's executive editor and as the managing editor of news. Marshall is a junior from London majoring in Economics, and can be reached at mtwatkins "at" stanford "dot" edu.

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