When Shaams Nur was a sophomore of Hoover High School, he noticed a lack of programming education in Alabama and wanted to help change that.
In late 2019, he started planning what they called HooverCodes with friends Leo and Victor Song, a camp for children ages 8-14 to learn how to program using a website called Scratch.
After success in their first camp in Summer 2020, they expanded to what they call HooverCamp in November and December, which offers week-long courses in both programming and entrepreneurship. They conducted the camps again in June of this year and plan to repeat them in the summer of 2022.
In elementary school Nur was in the enrichment program with the songs. They were taught to program with Scratch.
“We wanted to make sure everyone had the same chances,” said Nur.
The HooverCamp course lasts two hours. In the Coding class, students will learn the history of coding and other important things about the technology industry. During the week, the participants create their own coding project.
Entrepreneurial students look at case studies of customers, examine what makes a startup company, and learn marketing skills. Everyone creates a business plan on google slides and a guest judge comes to judge each of their pitches.
That year, fourth grader Alex Roy introduced the entrepreneurial class to a shop that sells bookmarks that contain seeds for planting. All of his proceeds would go towards saving rhinos.
It kind of showed us the potential of HooverCamp. The most amazing thing is not even how them [Sara Hwangs] is 5 years old or how she did it [an animation] in less than five days. It’s the fact that she used coding to amplify her voice and be an activist.
In summer 2020, 5-year-old Sara Hwangs created an animation in the programming class called “Love Knows No Colors”, which shows four little girls of different ethnicities. She composed and sang a song to put it in the background of the animation.
“It kind of showed us the potential of HooverCamp,” Nur said. “The most amazing thing isn’t even how she is five years old or how she did it in less than five days. It’s the fact that she used coding to amplify her voice and be an activist. ”
Alabama Governor Kay Ivey sent summer camp students an encouraging video wishing them good luck and calling them “the future of programming and STEM.”
The HooverCamp has had guest speakers from the Alabama Department of Education, the University of Alabama, the University of South Carolina, the University of California, Berkeley, Mercer University, Kind, Microsoft, Khan Academy, Google, Coursera, and alumni from Yale and Brown universities .
Nur and the Songs donated $ 500 of the enrollment fees they received for classes to Hoover High School to purchase calculators and $ 400 to the Hoover Public Library for webcams and children’s books.
Although HooverCamp brings many things to the kids who sign up, its reach is still limited due to fees and time restrictions. Just said it would help if public schools could start teaching kids in elementary or middle school more about programming and entrepreneurship.
“I think they do a good job programming because they do the code lesson every year,” Nur said. “But when it comes to entrepreneurship, I think we need a lot more attention.”
Ron Dodson, who will retire as assistant principal for Hoover City Schools on September 1, has overseen curriculum changes for the system. He said that over the past four or five years there has been a call to view computer technology knowledge and business skills in a broader context than just the electives.
Entrepreneurship is incorporated into a ninth-grade career prep course where students discover they can work themselves if they want, but for the most part, this is a separate branch of the business academy, Dodson said.
However, more attention is paid to coding.
Hoover launched the Riverchase Career Connection Center two years ago to prepare high school students for a variety of careers, including programming. It has a full career path in programming called Cyber Innovation Academy that prepares students for careers in programming.
However, the center was founded right at the time of the COVID-19 pandemic, so it hasn’t received the attention it deserves, Dodson said.
Even in the world of computer technology, there is little consensus about which skills should be the focus.
“In IT, it’s really like getting on your horse and riding west, and there aren’t a lot of sheriffs telling you what to do,” said Dodson. “It is exciting and a little uncertain how we as schools are preparing for it.”
Dodson said he was fully committed to Nur’s efforts to teach programming and business skills to children at an earlier age. He believes it will boost the younger kids’ confidence so they won’t be so intimidated by computer science when they get to high school.
“I think the most important thing is to share the odds,” said Dodson. “We try to enable children to make decisions earlier … and know what options they have to give them confidence. That is the meaning of those earlier years. “
For more information about HooverCamp or to register for a future camp, send an email to [email protected].