Several educators and technology professionals gathered at Barriques in Middleton last Thursday for coffee and conversation about computer programming. We Think Big hosted its second “Happy Hour of Code for Educators,” an opportunity for teachers to learn more about teaching coding and integrating technology into their curriculum.

The event aimed prepare teachers for the Hour of Code, a global event that takes place each year to introduce people to computer science through learning the basics of a coding language. Over 200,000 educators and tens of millions of students have participated in the Hour of Code since its launch in 2013.

Kathe Crowley Conn is the founder of We Think Big, a nonprofit started in 2015 to create innovative educational opportunities for students. Crowley Conn partnered with educators, several area school districts and companies around Dane County to determine what change teachers wanted to see in their classrooms.

“We went around to the school districts and teachers and asked them ‘what do you wish you can learn that you are not learning now?’" she said. "(Coding) was one of several areas.”

We Think Big hosted its first “Happy Hour of Code for Educators” last year. Over 60 educators registered for the event, with the majority of them leading their students through the Hour of Code.

“We did a couple of these (coding preview events) last fall and followed up with teachers,” Crowley Conn said. “80 percent of our teachers did the Hour of Code and the other 20 percent said that they were going to.”

One of those educators was Lisette Venegas, a second-grade teacher at Sugar Creek Elementary in Verona. This December will mark Venegas’ fifth year of participating in the Hour of Code.

“(Computer science) is what the future is all about. I am teaching the future, so why not get (students) on board?” Venegas said.

Venegas teaches in a dual language immersion program in Verona. Her students take half of their coursework in English and the other half in Spanish. Venegas said she is aware of the lack of representation of women and Latinos in technology fields. Although the Hour of Code offers its curriculum in multiple languages, Venegas said it is difficult to find other resources in Spanish.

“(Coding) is not something the Hispanic community usually has access to. If I can open this up to the students in my classroom and it is something that they can take home and pursue afterwards, then it’s worth it,” she said.

During the “Happy Hour of Code,” technology coaches were on hand to assist educators with developing engaging coding projects for students. Dr. Christina Outlay is a professor of information technology at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. She found out about the “Happy Hour of Code” through the Madison Women in Tech group and decided to sign up as a coach. Outlay founded colorcoded, a program that exposes girls of color to summer camps, workshops, and internships in computer programming.

“I am pretty passionate about introducing more kids to technology in general,” Outlay said. “There are lots of different efforts going on in Madison right now and as much as I can contribute to existing efforts, I’d like to do that.”

She remembered when one of her college professors asked her to build a website for the psychology department. Outlay’s initial exposure to coding caused her to reevaluate her entire career trajectory.

“I graduated with a psychology degree and became a computer programmer,” Outlay said. “(The website) wasn’t anything fancy, but it was enough for me to really take a liking to web development and computers in general.”

Outlay echoed Venegas observation about the lack of people of color and women involved in computer science. She hopes that programs like colorcoded and the Hour of Code help to increase interest in the field among under-represented groups.

“As a professor (a lack of diversity) is what I see in my classroom as well. Very few women. Very few minorities, especially Latinos,” Outlay said. “What I try to do is just be as visible as I can so that youth and other teachers can see that we are out here. I’m out here. Maybe others will follow along.”

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