Christopher Anand is on a mission. “There are so many important issues relating to technology that citizens need to understand,” says Anand, associate professor in computing and software engineering at McMaster. “We need all citizens to learn a lot more about software.”
Wisely, Anand is starting with young people. One of his many outreach programs is Software: Tool For Change, an organization that offers free classes, camps, and tutoring to teach children math skills through coding.
Pre-pandemic, the programs were offered in person. In spring 2020, Anand and his team quickly pivoted to a virtual format. Now, they can easily reach remote communities and areas with limited bus service, so “there’s even more potential for outreach,” he says.
Last year, five virtual summer camps took kids on a coding journey, from designing simple animations all the way to programming a space vehicle that can travel from a space station to repair a satellite — and back again. “Several students were so excited they did all five camps,” says Anand.
He notes the way to engage young people is to provide real-world examples. Why do you need negative numbers? Well, you need them if you want to program a left eye on a smiley face. Anand points to the agency children feel with their favourite online games. “They’ll never talk about something happening in a classroom the way they’ll talk about Pokémon.”
It’s not only kids who are benefiting. McMaster students volunteer as mentors, which develops their communication skills and gives them teaching experience. Students from all Faculties are welcome — Anand’s team will teach them the computer science they need. About 60 students volunteered last year, a majority of whom were female. A McMaster student club, Start Coding, provides organizational support and encourages girls as well as marginalized youth to join.
Already a generous donor to McMaster, Anand has now stepped up with a gift of securities to augment the Algebraic Thinking Curriculum K-8 Fund, which helps support this program.
“I know my donation is going to have big impact,” says Anand, who points to the burgeoning need for graduates with coding skills. “I want to make this an interesting educational and career path for all children.
His other motivation is to ensure that more citizens — including our elected representatives — have a better understanding of technology. “Hopefully, we’re going to contribute to that, starting with children.”
“Then, who knows? Maybe some of these children will teach their grandparents!”
Read more about Christopher Anand’s outreach work in this inspiring kids to code story.
Are you a McMaster graduate interested in volunteering? Contact Dr. Anand at firstname.lastname@example.org.