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I Spent 200+ Hours on Zoom Teaching 7 Year Olds to Code

… And here’s what it taught me about life! Starting in 2017, I’ve always spent one week of my summer teaching girls to code through Girls Get IT. It’s been a fun side hustle and way to give back to my community, but I hadn’t ever considered its potential as a profitable business.

Lately, however, I’ve been making a conscious effort to identify what ventures cause me the greatest joy and to pursue those more fiercely. Simply put: each summer, Girls Get IT was the highlight. So my best friend and business partner Angelica and I decided to turn Girls Get IT into our full time business over summer 2020.

When we made this choice back in December 2019, little did we know what summer 2020 would have in store for us and that we’d actually be starting our small business at the height of a global pandemic…

Nevertheless, we pivoted to a Zoom classroom model and adjusted our scholarship outreach to target families affected by COVID-19 and those who identified as BIPOC. We identified that now more than ever there was a need in our world to give hope to and cultivate creativity and problem solving skills in the minds of young people.

The resulting eight weeks were some of the best I could have asked for. I got to spend my days sharing with young girls two of my greatest passions: computer science and feminism. Of course, we had our fair share of “Oops your mic is on mute!” and “Can you please put other devices away?”, but overall we were blown away by how much our campers were able to teach us, the teachers.

Here are the greatest lessons I learned from spending 200+ hours on Zoom with 7 year olds…

Lesson 1: You are never too young (or even too old!) to get started coding.

To anyone out there who is considering getting started with learning computer science, let this be your sign. Get started! I promise you that’s the hardest part, taking the first step. My campers were as young as 7 years old, and they were able to do it, so you can too. We all are, in some way or another, reliant on technology (just look how quickly our world had to shift to be virtual). Learning to code is one of the greatest superpowers and gifts you can give not only to yourself but also to the future of our world.

Lesson 2: Resilience comes in all shapes and sizes.

A camper of mine cried on day two. After all, it was only inevitable that we’d have a few meltdowns. When I took her into a private Zoom breakout room to ask what was wrong, she said only 5 words “I just can’t do it”, referring to her first coding challenge. Upon looking at her screen, I saw that she had no code even written. I tried my best to empathize with my camper and understand how she could feel so defeated when she hadn’t even made any attempts yet. But then I remembered a Ted Talk from Reshma Saujani, founder of Girls Who Code, where she had described a similar phenomenon with a student of hers.

Reshma cited that oftentimes when students express feelings of helplessness around problem solving it goes back to a fear of being vulnerable. And, in fact, in many cases if you were to hit undo enough times on the student’s screen you would see many attempts (sometimes even correct attempts!) at solving the problem.

Yet, students, especially those who identify as female and have been socialized towards perfection, would rather show no work at all with a blank screen than show a teacher any attempts towards progress that may be imperfect.

For this reason, at Girls Get IT, the number one thing we emphasize is growth mindset. Resilience is an exceptionally difficult concept to teach; it happens day by day through an ongoing process of tearing down narratives that girls should strive for perfection. After two weeks in our growth mindset focused classroom, my camper who cried on day two was actually offering to lead lessons herself and take other girls, who may have been feeling overwhelmed, into Zoom breakout rooms to answer their questions. You see, we work to rebuild systems and communities that encourage failure and imperfections and celebrate vulnerability and bravery.

Lesson 3: Mindfulness Matters.

We open each day of camp with a mindfulness exercise. Although my campers would often push back on this and call it “boring”, I asked them all to give me five minutes each day. That’s all. And the rest of the day would be theirs. But for five minutes each and every day, we took a moment to be present with one another and find peace. Our mind is a muscle, just like any other muscle in our brain, and it deserves exercise and care.

And, with a little coaxing, by the end of each camp session, meditation seemed a little less boring (or at least I hoped it did) :).

I am so grateful to have been able to spend my summer working with curious and caring minds, and I’m hopeful for the future of our world. Thanks for reading!

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About the Author

Los Angeles, California | Co-Founder Trill Project | Harvard Class of 2022 | Insta: @geoorgiaaa | Twitter: @geomessinger


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