Coding for Kids program at Twitter NeighborNest

Wednesday, 28 September 2016

The Twitter NeighborNest is running Coding for Kids, a program that introduces local children to analytical thinking through technology. Why? Twitter HQ is located in mid-Market next to San Francisco’s Tenderloin neighborhood, one of the city’s poorest. Our hypothesis is that by leveraging Twitter’s mentors to teach local children to think analytically and critically, we can prepare them for school and adulthood.

Coding for Kids started in 2014, when a few Twitter engineers expressed an interest in teaching children the basics of computer programming and even donated equipment to get the initiative off the ground do it. The current curriculum leans on’s Hour of Code, a puzzle piece-like graphical interface for creating computer programs, and Spotkin’s Contraption Maker, a Rube Goldberg-like physics game that teaches users to build complex machines from simple, primitive, household items. This makes it easy even for non-engineers to help with the workshops.

Since NeighborNest opened in 2015, our key Coding for Kids partners have been Catholic Charities Maureen & Craig Sullivan Youth Center (@CatholicCSF) and Boys and Girls Club (@BGCSF). It has been inspiring and rewarding for us to get to know the kids and staff members who have visited regularly.

I have steered the class as a volunteer since 2015, learning a lot about our young participants along the way. For example, they love Minecraft, assembling Raspberry Pi computers, and free snacks. They don’t like presentation slides, however, nor sitting for more than a few minutes! One of my most valuable takeaways is that the class syllabus means nothing if the kids aren’t learning anything practical and effective. Teaching is always about the needs of the students, not the wants of the teacher. Steven Laliberte, Education Director at the Boys & Girls Club, said that the coding workshops were popular not only with the students, but also with their parents: “Coding is big and happening in education, it helps kids relate to what they do and what they love to do, and it’s something totally different…everyone perks up about it.”

To that end, we constantly ask ourselves: are we accomplishing what we set out to do — cultivating analytical thinking to prepare children for school and adulthood? Inspired by literature from the Effective Altruism movement, we have spent a good portion of 2016 considering how to change the curriculum to produce outcomes that better correlate with the impact we want to have. While we haven’t made any major changes yet, when we do, we intend to also come up with a way of measuring whether it brings us closer to our goal. We’re optimistic and excited to continue our impact in this vital space.