Winter break is a time when most students unwind and relax, using the few weeks to enjoy their favorite hobbies. In that regard, young Robert F. Smith was no different than kids today. During high school, he used his breaks to get more acquainted with technology, especially computers. He would tinker with these computers, learning how they worked through a trial and error process.
“I got hooked on technology,” said Smith. “The excitement of figuring a complex problem out creates a eureka moment. It’s one of the best moments in life.”
Smith turned his hobby of working with technology into a career, landing an internship at Bell Labs when he was a junior in high school. He then went on to study chemical engineering at Cornell University and later used those insights to found a successful investment firm, solely targeting technology, software and data companies.
Students who want to follow in the footsteps of Smith and make the most of their technological talents this winter break have many options. And, most of the options are programs that can be completed in the comfort of home.
Scratch is designed and maintained by the Lifelong Kindergarten Group at the MIT Media Lab and supported by Vista Equity Partners, the investment firm in which Smith is Founder, Chairman and CEO. Vista joined in a partnership with Scratch this past March and through its support, enables Scratch to offer its programs and services free of charge.
Scratch is a programming language and online community where students can learn how to program their own interactive stories, games and animations while also learning how to think creatively, work collaboratively and reason systematically. Once formatted, these student creations can also be shared with others in the online community. Scratch is designed especially for students ages 8 to 16, but children of all ages are encouraged to try out their skills at computer programming. Those between the ages of 5 and 7 can also check out ScratchJr.
Code.org® is a nonprofit dedicated to incorporating computer science as part of core K-12 education while also increasing participation by young women and minority students. All curriculum resources and tutorials are free, with thousands of projects and courses available right from the website. What’s more, some after-school programs around the country, including the Boys & Girls Clubs of America, have partnered with or continue to partner with Code.org, providing students with even more opportunities to learn about coding. Code.org also created the annual Hour of Code campaign, which will take place December 7-13, 2020. During this week-long event, there will be several one-hour coding tutorials translated into over 45 languages that students can participate in from the comfort of their own homes. In the past, some of these coding events have taken place at Vista, and the nonprofit as a whole is supported by the firm.
Boys & Girls Clubs of America
Aside from Code.org, Boys & Girls Clubs, which Smith supports and is a trustee in San Francisco, offer other tech programs for students to engage in over winter break. For example, DIY STEM is a hands-on, activity-based STEM curriculum designed for students ages 9 to 12 looking to further engage with scientific principles. DIY STEM is broken up into five STEM-related modules, such as Energy and Electricity, Engineering Design and Food Chemistry. Each module includes simple, fun, hands-on activities that expose pre-teens to science, technology, engineering and math.
Career and Technical Education Courses
Career and Technical Education (CTE) courses are another option for students who are looking to engage in technology beyond the parameters of a traditional winter break. In Smith’s hometown of Denver, CO, thousands of high school students each year enroll in CTE courses, many in the STEM field. These courses introduce students to tech industries that they can start working in right out of high school. Or, students can apply this learning to a traditional college degree, earning college credits while at home.
Learn more about the STEM-based winter break activities available for students in your area by contacting your local schools and Boys & Girls Clubs or by checking out the online activities and winter break classes from organizations like Code.org and Scratch.