Challenging Youth at the UW to Think Like Computer Scientists

Sabet Vallejo tailors her Algorithmic Thinking course to her students, spacing out topics to provide in-depth understanding. 

This course is so valuable in the sense that it gives high-schoolers or people getting ready for college a good background in coding.

 — Sabet Vallejo

Every summer, UW Youth and Teen Programs offer half-day and full-day camps and courses designed to make learning fun for students entering grades 1–12. Kids can choose from a variety of topic areas like art, drama, science, technology and writing.

This year, Youth and Teen Programs expanded past the summer months: learners can now take remote enrichment courses to keep learning all year long from home via Zoom. Courses are taught by UW instructors and other subject-matter experts like Sabet Vallejo, who taught Algorithmic Thinking: Programming Logic Fundamentals remotely this fall.

Whether she’s teaching in-person or remotely, Sabet Vallejo knows that she needs to keep her students engaged, particularly with a younger class. 

“I think the key to teaching, whether online or not, is to keep students interested and to make them feel successful,” Sabet said. “That’s especially true with younger groups: they need to stay engaged and interested.”

While working with her class of high-schoolers this August, Sabet made sure that every student’s voice was heard — especially those who were reticent to speak up in front of the whole class.

“Students could ask questions via the group chat box, but I also encouraged them to reach out to me outside class. And anytime they had a really insightful question in private, I encouraged them participate and share that question with everyone,” she said.

Sabet’s Algorithmic Thinking course, which teaches high-school students how to think like computer scientists, can be challenging, but students ultimately gain a vital skillset through hands-on learning in the lab, coding as a team and sharing presentations at course’s end.

“The materials are pretty intense, in terms of the technicality of it, but the class is so useful,” Sabet said. “This course is so valuable in the sense that it gives high-schoolers or people getting ready for college a good background in coding.”

Because of the material’s difficulty, Sabet quickly learned that she needed to pace her students to avoid overwhelming them.

“I think the most important lesson I learned from this format is that we can’t introduce heavy-duty materials to the students every day,” she said. “Because of the intensity of the topics, it’s better to space them out to give them more of an in-depth understanding.”