Homer library shrinks the digital divide

Nov 3, 2017

Youth Services Librarian Claudia Haines teaches kids about computational thinking at the Homer Public Library.
Credit Aaron Bolton, KBBI News

The digital divide, the gap between those who have access to internet and technology and those who don’t, is more present in Alaska than most of the country. Along with that divide comes a lack of computer education, but some in Homer are trying to fill that gap. The Homer Public Library was one of 28 libraries across the U.S. to receive a grant from Google and the American Library Association aimed at teaching kids computer code, to build apps and learn more about computer science.

As technology seeps into every aspect of our lives, it’s not just changing how we complete daily tasks and communicate with friends or access information. It’s also shifting how those who are trying make information available do their work.

“Everybody is going to get a little pile of Legos, and your job is to build something,” Claudia Haines told a handful of kids, ages 11 to 14, in an urban styled library meeting room at the Homer Public Library.

Haines is the youth services librarian in Homer, and she tasked the kids with writing instructions on how to build their creation and see if their partner, who has to interpret them, can replicate it.

This is their first lesson on computational thinking, and it’s part of new seven-week grant-funded program.

The class aims to teach kids from fifth to eighth grade about coding and designing mobile apps. The idea of this particular lesson is to get kids thinking about how to communicate with a computer, that it’s only as smart as the commands and code given to it.

An educational coding program the kids will use to build their own mobile apps.
Credit Aaron Bolton, KBBI News

“Programming languages allow not only the computer to understand what you really mean, but other developers work together across the globe and make certain things,” Haines explained to the students. “So, there are different programming languages.”

As part of the program, high school sophomore Ian Cambridge will also help mentor kids as they learn JavaScript and other coding languages. Unlike his younger peers, Cambridge didn’t have access to this type of education when he taught himself code about five years ago, but he said he’s excited that the gap in computer science education is getting filled.

“You know I think that it’s a really cool thing. I think as a long as we keep inspiring them to be original and come up with their own solutions to problems ,that the solutions already exist, but you can learn a lot by doing something and feeling like it’s not part of a course,” Cambridge said. “You’re making your own thing and it’s different.”

This coding class won’t be the only program available. The $22,000 grant will also buy computers, programmable toy robots, which kids will be able to check out, and fund additional classes. 

Haines said the library plans to create a coding class just for girls, a holiday-themed course for families to make light-up cards and problem-solving classes younger kids.

“That’s what really we’re trying to do is create this culture from preschool up that gives kids this skill set, but we’re also hoping that the conversation about computer science and computational thinking communitywide grows,” she explained. “There’s really limited opportunities. There are no computer science classes taught in Homer schools, and we’d really like to figure out a way as a community to address that, not just here at the library, but in the greater scheme of things.”

Expanding computer science education is not the only goal for the library. App makers and designers from Alaska will also video chat with kids in the coding programs.

Haines said she wants to show kids that, even from rural Alaska, they too can break into the tech industry.