On Friday morning, students packed into the auditorium of Linsly-Chittenden Hall for a day of lectures. The audience jammed to Kidz Bop renditions of recent pop hits and eagerly waited for the day to begin. This was not a typical Yale lecture. The students were all middle schoolers on campus to learn about computer science through Yale undergraduate organization Code Haven’s Demo Day.
The event, which attracted 170 students across six different New Haven middle schools, lasted from 10:30 a.m. until 1 p.m. Students listened to a keynote speech, participated in interactive lessons and learned about computer science in action through presentations by Yale students.
“The goal is to showcase how computer science intersects with various disciplines and to get the students excited about their own coding projects that they will be working on next semester,” said Sanya Nijhawan ’20, a co-president of Code Haven.
Demo Day is one of the major events hosted by Code Haven, a 16-week program that focuses on increasing access to computer science among middle school students. For the first half of the program, students learn basic concepts of programming using a language called Scratch. For the second half, students build their own mobile applications using App Inventor.
Demo Day occurs in the middle of these two halves, explained Darwin Leuba ’21, the events co-chair of Code Haven. He helped organize the event along with Stephanie Bang ’21, the other co-chair.
The first activity of Demo Day was an interactive lesson on compression, which is a computing technique that allows information to be transmitted more efficiently. To illustrate this concept, co-curriculum director Caitlin Westerfield ’20 led students through a whisper-down-the-lane activity. While it was difficult for a row of students to properly transmit a paragraph, a two-word message was communicated perfectly.
After the lesson, the students heard from a series of Yale students in five-minute “lightning talks.” The first “lightning-talk” speaker was Francis Kigawa ’21, who created a web application called Kiwi. The app, he told students, allows owners of a Google Home device to program a keyword that triggers a message that is sent to the users’ friends and family.
“I made this app with three of my friends at a hack-athon in New York City that we ended up winning,” Kigawa said.
Another lightning speaker was Sophia Sanchez-Maes ’19, who described her work with NASA, noting the importance of knowing how to code. Computer science allows scientists to simulate conditions on unreachable planets, she said.
“It’s not just about making apps and software — it’s about understanding the universe around us,” she said.
Other lightning talks covered the basic technology behind self-driving cars, interpretation of text messages and emojis and autonomous boats, Leuba said.
Of the participants in Code Haven, 43 percent said the program is their first exposure to computer science, according to the Code Haven website.
In the regular Code Haven class sessions, which occur during the school day, groups of about five Yale students visit seven different classrooms across six New Haven middle schools.
“Our mission is to inclusively increase access to computer science among middle school students, but increasing access doesn’t just mean access to curriculum — it also means access to the idea that a computer science career might be right for them,” Leuba said.
Jessica Pevner | firstname.lastname@example.org .