Unlocking the Secrets of the Internet (and So Much More) - KIPP Nashville

Unlocking the Secrets of the Internet (and So Much More)

Students in Ms. Garrett’s tenth grade AP Computer Science class are hunched over their laptops. You can hear the clacking of keyboards and every now and then a loud laugh and a, “Woah!”

In this assignment, students are working with hexadecimals, creating their own images by using numbers in specific patterns to make a certain color. The “Woah” typically comes after a student has figured out the right pattern and their creation begins to emerge.

“I am designing a heart and my initials. Heart for compassion and caring, and initials for identity,” explains Joseph.

Over the past several months, students have spent time talking about how information is sent across the Internet. Using that knowledge, they then went through the same process of creating the Internet that the founders of the Internet did when it was created.

“I’ve never heard any of this before, but it surrounds us every day all day,” says Abibi. “I’m really enjoying learning about it.”

As a generation who has been surrounded by technology for their entire lives, herself included, Ms. Garrett says, “Few people actually stop to examine what is going on when they post a picture on Instagram, listen to a song on YouTube, or send a text message to a group of friends. In this class we learn about all of that and more! Students now know how filters on Instagram work and how to create them. They know why certain songs sound better on YouTube than others, which is based on the type of file and file size. They now know how information, like text messages, are sent across the Internet. It’s always great to see a student have a light bulb moment in class and see them ‘get it’, but it is especially nice for these students to have light bulb moments about things that they experience in their everyday lives.”

“I really enjoy this class, because I never thought the Internet would have so many secrets,” says Estrella. “So much of it is coded in zeros and ones.”

The computer science class, along with a robotics club, is made possible by a grant from Amazon’s Future Engineer program, and FIRST, a STEM non-profit (For the Inspiration & Recognition of Science and Technology). The Amazon Future Engineer program is designed to facilitate STEM education in classrooms and is being implement in 53 KIPP schools across the country.

“I think that it is extremely important that our students have access to a computer science class before college, because at this point in our society everything involves technology,” says Ms. Garett. “In this ever-changing world, society is becoming more reliant on technology to function.

Giving students the opportunity to take an AP Computer Science class before college, gives students the opportunity to access jobs in the field. In this class, students learn the foundation skills that all computer scientists and introductory technology jobs need, and hone other skills that are relevant to a variety of careers, like problem- solving, critical thinking and collaboration.”

For students like Joseph, who have dabbled in computer science outside of school on their own, this class is an exciting opportunity to dive deeper.

“I’ve been waiting for this class for years,” says Joseph. “I’ve been thinking about doing computer programming or computer science since elementary school. I want to create games or write computer programs, or maybe both. I’m going to make the most technologically advanced car and house. I’m going to make it all. I love it all and I love computers.”

More than half of the students taking computer science at Collegiate are women, and as a woman teaching this group, Ms. Garrett says she takes the responsibility seriously.

“STEM and Computer Science specifically are male dominated field. I think when my students – especially my female students – see me teaching, it sends the message that no matter what, no matter your background, or gender, race or orientation, Computer Science is something that they can excel in. It is a field that has many opportunities and they should not be hesitant to dive in based on demographics.”

Throughout the rest of the year, students will spend time learning how to program and code in JavaScript, where they’ll work on designing apps and websites. The year will end with a unit on data and privacy, along with discussing the impact of big data collection. By the end of the year, KIPPsters will have “created the Internet” and will be able to discuss the implications – both beneficial and harmful – to society.

The impact of the Internet is something Estrella says she’s very interested in, “Since I got into computer science class, I see it more as an opportunity to help everyone have access to the Internet.”

Ms. Garrett adds, “At the end of the day, my favorite part about the class is my students. I really enjoy seeing my students excel in a class, that at the beginning of the year they weren’t excited about or were extremely nervous about.  I love seeing their passions come out in projects and in class through their work with computer science. The greatest joy I have from teaching the class is knowing that in about ten years, these students will be in a job or career field, computer science or not, and they will remember something from this class that will help them in the future.”