35 students came from 20 schools across the region to joins us for the first ever SPARK! Exploration Program, a computer science learning and hackathon experience for middle school students. As with our SPARK! high school hackathon, the ages and abilities were wide ranging and so we began the week fostering a diverse community that problem solves and collaborates together. Seven high school youth mentors also joined us to be role models and share their passion for computer science with the 5th through 8th grade participants. Mid-week, participants had the opportunity to join 2 workshops (Game Design, Web Design, Computer Vision, Hummingbird Robotics or Micro:Bit). Then they began taking all they had learned and worked on projects they have defined for themselves. On Friday afternoon, we held a Demo Party to share the projects with friends and family.
"We want younger students to know that computer science and tech activities are things that anyone can do, even those with no experience and those whose general hobbies and interests lie outside the boundaries people would traditionally define as 'techy’. These age groups are times of rapid identity formation, and we want these tweens and teens to try on as many 'hats' as possible. These summer programs are low-pressure environments to try on this 'hat' and see if it fits." - Zach Minster