Advancing computer science education from middle school to high school through middle school and beyond

At the US Department of Energy (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory, a summer camp is more than just a stand-alone science experience—it’s part of a larger, multi-camp journey to coding that spans middle school through high school and beyond.

As part of Argonne’s commitment to supporting the growth of science, technology, engineering and mathematics of the future (STEM) leaders, Argonne hosts several interconnected summer camps that focus on a STEM field: coding and computational science.

I have already done two camps with Argonne; as soon as I’m old enough for the next camp, I sign up. Each coding camp has a different focus, so I like the variety of discovering something new each time. — Sofi Rodriguez, Big Data Camp student

Learning to code is critical in our increasingly digital workplace and society,” said John Domyancich, Argonne Learning Center Manager. These computer skills open countless avenues and opportunities. To be more effective, we need to introduce and support skills in middle school and high school. Therefore, we design these camps to build students’ confidence and proficiency in writing code to investigate and solve problems. »

A DOE Office of Science user facility, the Argonne Leadership Computing Facility (ALCF) plays a key role in summer camps by helping to develop the curriculum, teaching coding lessons, and organizing facility tours that give students first-hand insight into the lab’s supercomputers.

Big Data Camp students learn about Aurora, Argonne’s future supercomputer. (Image by Argonne/Educational Programs and Awareness.)

The first camp to take place every summer is CodeGirls. The five-day program serves as the first step for girls in grades six and seven to experience coding for the first time, no previous experience or knowledge necessary. More than just introducing girls to the basics of coding like the Python coding language, the camp also invites female lab researchers to visit the camp and share how they turned their coding interests into successful careers.

Isabella Schultz, 12, after participating in CodeGirls this summer, plans to apply what she learned about coding platforms at camp to weather projects at a weather club she founded in school.

Like CodeGirls, Coding for Science Camp focuses primarily on Python and also does not require students to have prior coding experience. However, Coding for Science Camp caters to high school students rather than college students, and therefore offers more detailed and challenging experiences. In particular, Coding for Science offers coding activities that connect computational science with current scientific challenges such as disease modeling.

Before, I thought STEM and the coding fields were good, but they weren’t for me – they wouldn’t be that interesting or challenging,” said high school camper Akshara Arvind. I was definitely wrong, because there’s a lot more once you start coding.

The instructor stands in front of a computer screen projection.  (Image by Argonne/Educational Programs and Awareness.)
Joseph Insley, leader of Argonne’s Data Visualization and Analytics team, shares his work at ALCF with Big Data Camp students. (Image by Argonne/Educational Programs and Awareness.)

Finally, Big Data Camp, offered only to high school and senior students, creates a workshop-like professional environment that not only advances students’ computer skills, but also prepares them to STEM pathways to university and future careers. Many Big Data campers have attended previous Argonne camps and programs. In fact, some students signed up for Big Data Camp because they enjoyed the previous camp(s).

I have already done two camps with Argonne; as soon as I’m old enough for the next camp, I sign up,” said Big Data camper Sofi Rodriguez. Each coding camp has a different focus, so I like the variety of discovering something new each time. In fact, Big Data Camp has helped me realize that I can combine computer science with my other interests like psychology, and pursue a career that supports both interests.

Sam D. Gomez