Students learn to code without computers

Students learn to code without computers

Student used pen and paper until funds for computer lab came through
SWOT students writing out code on paper. Thanks to a fundraiser this past fall, students will be using computers instead.

Students enrolled at the Scholars Working Overtime (SWOT) program in Las Vegas have been learning how to write computer programming code in an unusual way—without computers. Throughout the fall, coding was practiced on pen and paper until the funds were raised to bring a computer lab to the program.

SWOT co-founder Ben Salkowe says the organization has been teaching students coding skills to expose them to new career paths, as coding can be used to program computers, build websites, and create mobile applications. “Our students feel like they have a superpower,” Salkowe says. “They are going to walk out of SWOT with computer skills that will help them get into college and advance their career opportunities.”

Founded in 2009 by Rachel Warbelow and Salkowe, SWOT is Las Vegas’ first college-prep, extended-day program for middle school students, which is housed at the city’s Eldorado High School. SWOT aims to transform its 100-plus seventh- and eighth graders who are academically one to two grade levels behind, to high achieving students and get them into college.

But with no computer lab of their own, Warbelow says SWOT introduced the curriculum this fall by giving students simple coding exercises, such as math algorithms, where they would write out basic coding symbols and commands on paper. She says the students have been largely focusing on HTML, CSS, and Ruby coding languages. “Initially, I would walk students through writing code, explaining what it meant, and what the computer would produce if done correctly,” Warbelow says. “Without a computer, students struggled to check their work and find errors. Paper doesn’t give you those instant results.”

To solve the problem, SWOT worked with fundraising website Indiegogo this fall to raise more than $40,000 to purchase 30 Mac mini computers and coding editing software. Warbelow says not only will students use the computers for coding exercises this spring, but they will also learn to write basic computer programs and build their own websites using Javascript.

Lauren Williams is web editor.