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Teens to Know

This Jewish Teen Is Making Computer Coding Accessible to All Kids

Computer programming classes are essential when it comes to opening doors in the technology industry. Coding and programming skills can open the doors to lucrative and interesting careers — but not everyone has access to this type of education.

Noah Rubin, 17, learned to code at a young age, sparking a lifelong passion. But once he realized how prohibitively expensive coding classes can be, he decided to do something to level the playing field.

In 2016, the Boca Raton, Fla. resident created canCode, a non-profit organization that trains teens to teach computer programming skills to kids who may not have access to such expensive extracurriculars. His revolutionary work with the program earned him recognition as one of this year’s Diller Tikkun Olam Award recipients.

Through Rubin’s hard work — he’s partnered with local after-school programs and community centers —  canCode has served over 300 students, trained 17 teen mentors, and expanded to 10 sites that teach coding to elementary-school aged children. When the Covid-19 pandemic altered learning formats this spring, Rubin and his team successfully transitioned to a virtual teaching model and have even expanded their outreach through this new forum.

Kveller chatted via email with Rubin, who is a senior at Rosenblatt High School at Donna Klein Jewish Academy, to learn more about his groundbreaking work with canCode, how his Jewish values inspire him, and his plans are for the future.

 What inspired you to start canCode?

I was fortunate because, at a young age, my parents introduced me to computer programming through extracurricular activities. These piqued my interest in computer programming. I realized that the programs I had been sent to were too expensive for many families. Computer programming is not yet taught in public elementary schools, and I knew that underprivileged kids could benefit from being introduced to it.

I started canCode in 2016 when I realized I could be the one to bring it to them. I partnered with the Youth Activity Center, an after-school program that serves underprivileged children. I started teaching computer programming workshops in Scratch; I developed my curriculum with my students in mind, and it is always being improved, just like any good software. Since I received funding for canCode in 2018 through the Palm Beach Philanthropy Tank, I have been rapidly expanding, impacting hundreds of children at almost a dozen sites.

How does learning to code inspire and empower kids?

I always tell my teenage teachers that the first 10 minutes of our canCode curricula are the most important. This is because kids often come into their first workshop skeptical and/or reluctant, to say the least. Teaching elementary schoolers after school is no easy task, but our canCode workshops make learning to code fun and exciting. Every workshop is structured around problem solving and the creation of a video game. We allow the students to discuss ideas with their friends, be creative, and have fun implementing new features into their games. Learning to code is empowering for our students because they get to take their crazy ideas and turn them into a real video game or project.

 Why did you decide on a teen-led approach to your program?

Teenagers are relatable and great role models for elementary schoolers. They are quick learners, great public speakers, and passionate teachers, and canCode gives teenagers the opportunity to share their passion for computer programming with their communities.

How were you able to keep canCode going during the Covid-19 pandemic? 

After piloting a two-month series of online workshops for our partner center, The Youth Activity Center, and proving that our workshops (after being adapted) can be taught online, I started to expand the program — canCode not only engaged all of our existing partner centers, we also added on many more. Through July and August, canCode taught over 10 workshops per week, each serving a different underserved community. After training my team of teenagers how to teach online, canCode engaged all 12 teenage-teachers to teach, and they also took on more leadership positions. This gave them a meaningful way to give back during this time of isolation.

 How did your peers first respond to your idea? Were people receptive from the get-go?

Most of my friends didn’t think much of canCode, they just knew that I spent a lot of time working on it. They knew I taught elementary schoolers how to make their own video games, but I didn’t talk about it much. After I won the Philanthropy Tank, a $15,000 award to kickstart community service projects, many of my peers became more interested.

As for the teenage teachers, some of them are friends, but many were complete strangers. I recruited teens to become teachers through computer science teachers at local high schools, robotics coaches, and honor societies. Many more students were interested in becoming a teacher than I initially thought, and it has been empowering to train them.

What is one of your proudest moments in your work with canCode?

I get such a great feeling when a student or a past student runs up to me to give me a hug or a high-five, followed by a question about computer programming for a game they are working on at home. I was shocked the first time it happened, five years ago, and I love it when my students take the initiative to learn more on their own. I think that all of my teenage teachers would give a similar answer — it’s what drives us.

 How do your Jewish values motivate you?

My parents and Jewish day school have passed down so many amazing traditions and important Jewish values to me. A dedication to community service and tikkun olam is one of those values that I have learned and practiced from a young age. This, in combination with another strong value in my family and Judaism, education, is much of what drove me to start canCode.

What do you think this advocacy will look like for you once you go to college?

I’d love to continue teaching STEM to underserved communities while in college. In addition, I hope to work on a tech product or app that improves people’s lives — maybe working on prosthetic limbs or an invention to help the elderly.

 Do you have any new projects in mind for moving forward?

At the moment, I’m focused on keeping canCode running and making sure that it is sustained after I go off to college next year.

Header Image courtesy of Diller Tikkun Olam Awards. Design by Grace Yagel.

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