Students have returned to school and another year of education is underway. For some of them, though, the learning didn't stop over the summer.

This dose of fun STEM education didn't require a classroom – just an iPad, a Sphero robot and the SAS® CodeSnaps app. Students work together to navigate the robot through an obstacle course using snippets of code that tell it what direction and how far to go.

A handful of SAS employee volunteers brought this collaborative coding activity to students in a variety of age groups this past summer.

Riding high with robots

CORRAL Riding Academy is a nonprofit in Raleigh, NC, that equips adolescent girls in high-risk situations through a long-term, holistic equine therapy and education program.

SAS software developer Hailey Turner volunteered with CORRAL and thought it would be a great place to hold a CodeSnaps activity, in this case, for six girls ranging in age from sixth to 12th grade.

SAS employees demonstrate how CodeSnaps works.

"Through their equine therapy, the girls fall in love with their horses and I knew I needed to capture their interest with that," she says. "For the obstacle course, I designed 'horse jumps' for their robot to follow. When I introduced the activity/robot, I said to them, 'Today, we're going to pretend this is a horse.' They opened their eyes a little wider after I said that."

The girls took on the roles of lead coder, tester and domain expert. Then they set their robots loose on their respective horse courses. Each course was challenging, so the Sphero didn't make it through ideally. Turner assured the girls that things never work correctly for the first time in the programming world.

"At the end of our time, we discussed how each girl's specific interests could come into play in the STEM world," she said. "One girl loves to design and another loves video games. We brainstormed that one could be the graphic designer of the video games the other created! It was very cool seeing the girls make those connections to the real world."

Coding with girl power

Kathy Kiraly and Brittany Jones talk to STEM students.

Dr. April Reed, a professor at East Carolina University's College of Business, holds two weekly STEM Camp sessions on ECU's campus in the summer called "Girls on a Mission."

The goal of these sessions is to showcase technology to girls from the Boys and Girls Club of the Coastal Plains in fun and exciting ways. This includes a two-hour session using SAS CodeSnaps each week.

SAS employees Kathy Kiraly and Brittany Jones (both ECU alumna and instructors for SAS Education) hosted the two-hour sessions. They had the girls maneuver their Sphero robots through an obstacle course.

"The girls loved the Spheros," Kiraly said. "Brittany and I loved that they learned to work together, read directions carefully and in order, and learned the importance of measuring and testing. It makes technology not so scary and fun."

CodeSnaps goes big

Five SAS employees brought their CodeSnaps kits to a special STEM Day at Aspire AfterSchool Learning in Arlington, VA. Aspire runs programs to ensure kids in grades 3-5, critical transitional years in preparation for middle school, strengthen their literacy and STEM skills, so their peers do not leave them behind.

While Turner's activity was a more intimate affair, with the participants broken up into two teams of three girls each, this event was quite a bit more of an undertaking.

The SAS volunteer team – consisting of Agata Bogacki, Busi Akanbi, Liz Zarzar, Sam Nelson and Jackie Malkes – facilitated a coding exercise for 100 elementary school students. The students had a great time and the SAS volunteers were thrilled to hear that many students were interested in IT. For many of these students, it was their initial impression of IT/coding.

"Aspire AfterSchool Learning has already asked us to come back in the fall and conduct another STEM event," Malkes says.

See how you can create a classroom full of coders.

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Evan Markfield

Social Innovation Editorial Director

Evan tells the stories of how SAS, its partners and customers activate their curiosity to spark innovation and social impact to make the world a better place using data and analytics.

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